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.
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.
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.
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.
Having owned a Saab, a Mercedes, and a Jaguar, I take nothing away from those vehicles. They were quite nice and no, that’s not meant as an understatement. With gift-buying time here (and the number of car commercials seems to have increased), there can be the urge to spend more than is necessary. What actually set me off today is another Christmas party we attended last night at a place I won’t mention. It involved an activity which most everyone enjoyed and there was a nice buffet. There is also a bar/restaurant and we were among the last of the group to arrive. Most already had drinks and the group was moving to the area where we would have our party. The host told us to go ahead with everyone and thought there were drinks waiting there; if not they would be along shortly. There was a bit of a delay with that and I told Hubby I would just go back to the bar and get the first round for the two of us. Now, in somewhat of a degree of fairness, when I ordered a draft for him and asked if they had sauvignon blanc, I did not specifically ask if they had it as a house wine. I did see what bottle it was poured from and therefore when given the check showing the glass as $17.00, I was stunned. While that was the only glass of that I drank, it did raise my hackles. One of two things applied; either they priced all their wines absurdly, or the bartender simply decided to sell me a more expensive type than mention what their house was. I don’t care for either answer, and that brings me back around to what I am willing to pay for.
I certainly indulge at times in expensive things. By the way, the Mercedes and the Jaguar were both purchased used (low mileage) through Carmax. As much as I appreciated those vehicles, it was the cost and inconvenience of service that caused me to turn away from luxury brands. That includes having to run premium gas in them for the best performance. For us, in many cases, it isn’t about can we afford a particular thing – it’s are we getting what we consider value for that item? In some situations, absolutely – like when I booked us first class last year on the Acela train to NYC. Many times though, it is not, which is why we didn’t dine in the famous, ridiculously priced NY restaurants. We’ve had that experience in other cities and don’t need to repeat it too often. The same with gifts; it can be appropriate to spend extra for something truly wanted. Measuring a gift simply by the cost is not our style though.
For those not familiar with our geographic situation, we live about two miles from the Homestead-Miami Speedway. There are only two accesses into our gated community; one from a primary street leading to the Speedway and the other is around to the side. During the three days of NASCAR racing, traffic is terrible. Due to a circumstance of timing, this year is even worse because of construction on two major streets. Those of us who live here are coping as best we can with the daily inconvenience and the correct answer from yesterday until around noon on Monday is be off the streets by 11:00 a.m. Due to extra commitments Thurs and Fri, there was no way to get to the grocery store until this morning. I managed to get there and back before 10:30. With Hubby shooting for the paper – something he absolutely loves as I have previously explained – he is at the Speedway for around ten hours each day with literally miles of walking in going from spot-to-spot. As a member of the press, he has access to the media center where they have food and beverage. However, it’s more of a grab something in between events and the chance to have a real meal is limited. By that same measure, it’s difficult to know exactly when he will get back home. Once the race ends, there is the post-race ceremony, then traffic. Friday night is of course pizza night and that’s easy enough to heat up when he finally makes it in.
Tonight is somewhat complicated because we will have company and the scheduled time to eat around 7:30 is probably doable. The menu though is such that everything can “hold” if needs be for a later start. At the moment, a pot of a sort of stew is cooking to be cooled and put into the other refrigerator. That will be for tomorrow night as it re-heats pretty quickly. The other rule is all comfort food. What Hubby doesn’t know is it will include apple pie as a special treat.
I have mentioned before how we had not expected to be assigned to Italy. There are very few Army installations as most are Navy and Air Force. Notwithstanding the charm of living in a seaside village for 18 months in Tuscany, the jobs we had were intense and did not allow nearly as much time for travel as we might have wished. On the other hand, when you are in the virtual heart of Tuscany, you don’t have to travel far to enjoy yourself.
Anyway, as I’ve also mentioned, we learned how incredibly regional cuisine is, and one of the sauces we were not familiar with was Amatriciana. In it’s simplest form, crisp up diced pancetta, remove it from the pan. Use the rendered fat to saute onions and garlic, add tomatoes, a splash or so of wine, red pepper if desired, add pancetta back in, stir thoroughly and serve over pasta.
I often use the “party trays” for events that come with cheese and salami, etc., A few years ago as I was looking at the leftovers, I decided to do a variation of this sauce. I had salami, pepperoni, and ham. I thin sliced rather than diced. I crisped everything up and set that aside. I used one can of tomatoes,but in addition to garlic and onion, I added sun dried tomatoes and some roasted red peppers (we almost always have a jar in the fridge). In the way of most Italian sauces, this one is not long cooking. This can cook for as little as ten minutes before putting the meat back in. Give it a good stir, and cook another couple of minutes before serving over pasta. I didn’t give proportions, but one can of tomatoes basically manages enough sauce for 2-3 servings of pasta. In our case, I use a fair amount of meat, but that isn’t necessary.
The trip up was easy and uneventful, passing old familiar landmarks. There aren’t many motel choices in Minden and I waited too long to book the “nicest one”, but I like the alternative. There are also limited dining options, especially for someone alone and not needing to take leftovers. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, they did finally allow liquor by the drink although based on what I’ve seen, there may not be package stores. Those are in the adjoining town; a short drive to the west.
Interestingly, quite a few years ago, the gas station/food mart next to the motel where I mostly stay included a small café (no beer and wine) with food that quickly gained them a reputation. While they do have some packaged “grab and go” items, everything else is made to order and the menu has quite a variety of burgers and sandwiches, to include gator. Aside from the fact I can get gator in Homestead, it really isn’t something I am overly fond of. I am a bit surprised they don’t have catfish at this place, but I’ll be going to the traditional spot for that today for take-out for Daddy’s “treat lunch”. Anyway, the point is, this place is about more than good food. It’s friendly service and people who apologize when there are delays – which they try to keep to a minimum. I am only here a few days each year so perhaps they have “slumps” I’ve simply never observed. On the other hand, there was the year I was here four times and it was the same. I did indulge my “spicy taste” with the jalapeno burger last night and they were liberal with the peppers. As it turns out, my friend who would have made for my “seventh” meeting isn’t available tonight so I might stop in at the Italian place. That’s the one where they converted an old bank and the building is charming.
Segment two, three and four of the trip are completed; five and six yet to come – may possibly squeeze in a seventh. Yesterday was pleasant although hot. Mariners on Sibley Lake continues to be a favorite spot for brunch and when you pick an early enough time, a table by the window is usually available. I have now had my next to last culinary “must” of Natchitoches mini-meat pies and they were as delicious as always. The prime restaurant for them wasn’t open on Sunday, but most everyone does well with them. My friends are doing fine and have a couple of nice trips planned for next year to include their first time to Paris. I’ll send some tips later as well as the link to the Paris card where they can get museum and Metro passes combined.
My aunt and cousins are also doing well; three of them came by for a visit and we all got caught up on everything. My aunt is adapting to her need to slow down and the massive pine tree in front of the house did have to come down since my last visit. By the time they carefully removed it and extricated all the roots, there was speculation a pool was going in. Not that it would make sense in that spot, but apparently it was a quite a large hole. The house – originally purchased by my grandparents – has been updated somewhat over the years, yet the welcoming front porch and much of the floor plan are still the same. The drive up to Minden was easy enough and I head out in a few minutes to go see how Daddy is doing. Not sure if will be meeting with another old friend either this evening or tomorrow; we’re trying to see if schedules will sync.
As I have mentioned in the past, Natchitoches is the town in Louisiana where I lived the longest – 4th grade through college. Daddy was transferred to Minden (1.5 hours north) during my senior year of college. In leaving after graduation to go into the Army, I did not return for 20 years. It was, in fact, a high school reunion that coincided with our travels that brought me back into the “circle” of the three women I knew best in high school and college. I did use parts of Natchitoches in the creation of the fictional town of Wallington, Georgia for the “Small Town” quilting series. Aside from it being the oldest town in Louisiana (contrary to what some people believe about New Orleans), its modern recognition comes from Hollywood. That is the “Horse Soldiers” for the 1940s folks and “Steel Magnolias” for later generations.
Anyway, unlike so many towns that struggle with downtown revitalization, they have succeeded mostly by becoming a city of different festivals. The “Christmas Lights” – again made famous in the movie – had always been a draw and attendance literally exploded after the movie became so popular. Subsequently, the idea for even more festivals took hold and I’ve lost count of how many they have now. Like everywhere that does this, parking has become an issue, but there’s not much way around that. There is a charming art gallery and it’s another place where artists can choose to work in the store in exchange for exhibit space. The woman on duty yesterday also happened to have some notecards she and her husband had done. Since we don’t need more pieces of art at home, I always buy cards. Granted, the artist doesn’t make much, but it is a level of support.
Lunch with friends yesterday was in another fairly new place and the friend crawfish atop salad was good. Brunch is later today with other friends, then I will probably be off the grid until late Monday afternoon.