Wednesday, May 18, 2011

New York: World Trade Center, Greenwich Village & SoHo

We've decided to play this entire trip by ear because we make plans to visit someplace and then don't end up there. Like yesterday, we decided to head to Greenwich Village, which we finally ended up in, but we started out riding the subway all the way down to the World Trade Center site. The site itself is hard to see because the fencing is completely covered by a mesh-type material with future plans of the site on it. However, the view of One World Trade Center and the building progress is rather spectacular. Not only is it humbling to see, but it definitely sends a message to the world that America is determined to rebuild.

We also passed an empty lot with a fence that was covered in decorated tiles and are dedicated to all those not only affected by 9/11 but who want to make a statement about the will of America to persevere.

We eventually ended up in Greenwich Village at Washington Square Park where the squirrels are extremely aggressive and probably rabid. One gentleman, who let me take his picture, was feeding the squirrels peanuts and they were going nuts (I crack myself up). At one point he was actually bitten by a squirrel who apparently mistook his finger for a peanut. Yep, squirrels are all cute and whatnot until they get rabies and start going for body parts.

We walked up to SoHo and past the film crew that is currently shooting MIB 3. No sign of Will Smith, but he's probably keeping a low profile after all the residents started hating on him for parking his 57' trailer on their street. Apparently his ego is as big as his trailer. Celebrities, sheesh. We oundd a great little hole-in-the-wall restaurant that served up an awesome margherita pizza and we ate the whole thing. All that walking makes a gal hungry.

I did get to see a cousin of mine who I haven't seen since I was a little girl. She happens to be in town on business and treated mom and I to dinner, where I had the best cannoli ever. What a great time we had catching up and hopefully we won't wait another 35 years to do so.

Today, it's off to Brooklyn with a friend of my folk's. I'm in search of the best knish in town. I hope they serve that thing with gravy, but if not, I'm okay with that too.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

New York: A Rainy Day 2

Because of the rain, we decided to forgo Ellis Island (I'm hoping for a clear enough day so I can get some great pictures of Lady Liberty from the ferry) and instead head up to Central Park and take in some Museums.

We hit the subway, got our MetroCard and headed up to the American Museum of Natural History. Besides walking, which is the best way to see things in this city, if you're going to travel anywhere the subway if the way to go if you want to get somewhere quickly. There are a lot of interesting people on the subway and I'm pretty sure I saw John Lennon. Many of the people were wearing tennis shoes. My mom commented on this and I reminded her that we both got new shoes out of my insistence that no one wears their Nike's around this city.

The American Museum of Natural History is huge, covering four blocks and holding over 30 million specimens and artifacts. According to the folks in line behind us it's nothing compared to the one in Chicago. This one had plenty for us to see and we didn't even get through the entire museum. There are dinosaurs, forests, ocean life, gems, planets, African history and animals, a planetarium, IMAX theatre and much, much more.

Next stop was Rockefeller Center, which is smack dab in the middle of THE shopping district (also where NBC Studios is located but I was more interested in finding the FoxNews studios) and close to Radio City Music Hall. We did go into Saks Fifth Avenue where we were approached by a gal who insisted she spray us with some new 'grassy' perfume that 'everyone is wearing'. Celebrities must stink. The one store I wanted to go in, Michael Kors, is by appointment only. Apparently my personal assistant forgot to call. She's fired.

Saint Patrick's Cathedral is awesome and my indoor pictures can't do it justice. It's okay to use a flash inside but I felt uncomfortable with that. Primarily because people were there praying, and lighting candles and I didn't feel right interrupting their private moment with God by shooting off my flash to get that perfect picture of the Cathedral. The stained glass is incredible as well is the architecture so if you do ever visit Rockefeller Center, go across the street to the Cathedral. Totally worth it.

We did go to the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art and I have come to realize that I do not appreciate much of it. Either some of those artists were crazy, on drugs, or both. We did see Cezanne, Monet, Picasso, van Gogh and few other Impressionists. I did like the photography display, especially the black and whites that depict life in such a simple way. If I could figure out how to make millions off of painting crooked squares on canvas I totally would. Or, by creating stuff like this fur covered spoon and cup... When I saw this, all I could think about was all that fur in my mouth. Ack. (See, I'm such a realist with very little room in my brain for the abstract.)

Today, it's pouring rain so we've decided to head down to SoHo and Greenwich Village and see what we can find. I hear the shopping is excellent.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

New York: Day 1

Our first day in New York City was a rainy one and when we arrived at where the Empire State Building is located, we looked up, then looked at each other and said, "Is that it?" Mainly because the fog had rolled in, obstructing our view from the 45th story on up. Luckily, but the time we meandered (well, walked quickly, because no one meanders in the city) past it for the second time we caught a glimpse of the entire building.

We are staying down in Chelsea, around 19th Street. Our trek today led us all the way up to 36th and Broadway. Or Madison. And I think it was 36th East and we're at 19th West. Anyhoo, it was raining when we left the apartment today so we thought something indoors would be good. Like shopping. So we headed up to 7th Avenue which is the shopping district. Let me just say that shopping in New York is slightly different than shopping in Bend. I mean Bend has all of the stores that NYC has...Banana Republic, Gap, American Eagle, Macy's and even Rite Aid. But the SIZE of the stores in New York - holy cow. I walked into Macy's and I've never seen so many clothes, and perfumes and make-up counters in my life. They just went on and on for three stories. I even went into the Louis Vuitton section just so I could say I shopped Louis Vuitton(not that I could afford anything).

There are approximately 82 billion people in New York City and by the time we came out of Macy's, at least half of those people were cruising the sidewalks. One thing I noticed is a lot of people here smoke. Maybe we're just health freaks in the west and if I take into consideration that my town has 80,000 people versus the billions that live in New York then per capita, it's probably about the same ratio. Did I mention how many people are in New York?

People in New York walk fast. I guess everyone needs to get there yesterday. So as mom and I pounded the pavement I told her to just keep moving and don't suddenly stop - because you'll be trampled to death. One thing I noticed is that when the crosswalk flashes the little orange hand, meaning do not cross, it's more of a suggestion. Even when the cars are coming, if the mob of people crossing the street is big enough, then the car will stop so just stay with the crowd and keep walking. It must suck to drive in the city.

We did go to the Pierpont Morgan Library Museum today and all I can say is wow. (Disclaimer: If you click on the link, a painting of a naked woman may be what comes up on the website. It is not porn. I don't know why artists liked to paint naked people way back when or why the museum chose to make that a highlight on their website.) Pierpont Morgan (father of JP Morgan) is the one who started the Morgan financial institution. He was a collector of rare books, paintings, writings, diaries, etc. I saw one of the original Gutenberg Bibles, letters from John Quincy Adams and George Washington, music manuscripts from Bach, Beethoven, Chopin and even the Star Spangled Banner. I viewed the diaries of John Steinbeck, Nathanial Hawthorne, Charlotte Bronte, Henry David Thoreau and many others. While we have the wild west and Oregon trail history out where I live, there is nothing like reading an original letter commissioned by our very first president, George Washington. The picture is of the ceiling in the library's rotunda.

There are a lot of mom and pop places and I'll admit, I really enjoyed taking in all of the sites. I even cracked up when I saw a sign that read "You's Excellent Cleaners" because how New York is that. (Come to find out it was Yau's, not You's, but I prefer my version.)

Tomorrow, if the rain isn't pouring as it's supposed to we'll be heading out to Ellis Island, the Jewish Heritage Museum and Ground Zero. I'm guessing it will be a most humbling day.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Running Amok in New York

In approximately 4.2 days(who's counting) I will be flying out to New York City with my mom where we will spend nine whole days celebrating my 40th birthday. It's a gift from my parents and if that doesn't qualify them for mom and dad of the year I don't know what does. Even without the trip they are the most awesome parents ever and if you try to debate me on that I'll leg drop you faster than the 'oof' can escape your lips. Just kidding. Okay, maybe not.

My first concern about running amok in Manhattan for over a week was my wardrobe. And shoes. Mainly because we will be doing a heck of a lot of walking as I plan to eat my way from SoHo to the Upper West Side and on over into Brooklyn. From what I've read, (and I believe everything I read) New Yorkers don't wear tennis shoes (how gauche) while out and about so I took my mother shopping for new shoes, because we will not look like hicks from the sticks while we are there. We now have some fabulous footwear and won't have to endure any pointing and laughing. I also used this trip as an excuse to invest in some new clothes and while dithering over what to pack realized that a small part of me is either concerned what complete strangers who will never see me again will think of me, or I'm just vain. Probably the latter.

I found a great little studio for us to stay in (because hotels are way too expensive) and we will be parking ourselves in Chelsea. Come to find out, Chelsea is known as the gay and garment district. I told mom, "Well, we won't have to worry about men hitting on us and there will be plenty of awesome shopping."

Probably the one thing I look forward to the most (besides the food) is going to Ellis Island. I have been in deep discussions with my dad about this and the thought of walking the same path that my dad's parents walked over 90 years ago as they departed the ship and stepped onto Ellis Island is a pretty big deal. He had their names engraved on the American Immigrant Wall of Honor and I already know where I will find the Szabo's and Kozma's.

Mom and I will also walk the Brooklyn Bridge, take in a Broadway show (Billy Elliot), shop, visit Central Park, see the Met, try to get my mom in the same photo frame as the Naked Cowboy, visit Ground Zero and spend a day sightseeing with a friend of my folks who lives in Queens - and promises to take us out for the best knish ever. What's a knish? Seriously, I had to google it but after seeing what it is, I wish there was a Jewish bakery here. Oh yeah, and my cousin, who I haven't seen since I was a little girl will be in NYC at the same time so we'll meet up with her.

Hopefully I'll be sharing my trip as it happens, but I'm a really lame blogger anymore and my brother said tweeting is gay. Which kind of cracked me up given where we're staying. Of course I'll be riding the Twitter like the subway. You're welcome.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Why Did I Not Know About This Sooner

I think I really became interested in cooking when my kids and I moved to a tiny town at the base of the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming, not long after my divorce. When the three of us arrived and moved into the old farmhouse we brought the population of that town up to a whopping 220. Across the street to the north was a ranch with several noisy steers and to the west was the Last Chance Tavern, complete with a drive up window, in case you wanted to get something to go. I'm not sure the drive up window got much traffic since we were pretty well at the end of the road before you hit the dirt heading up the mountain. But at least one had options.

I worked in a town of about 15,000 several miles up the road but loved the solitude and quietness of our humble abode in the sticks. We moved into our house in Big Horn on a lovely day just after Christmas with temperatures hovering in the 50's. A week later it was being dubbed as the worst winter in ten years. If you've never been to Wyoming in the winter you're missing out. It's blowing snow that is so dry it piles up in drifts along the road side fences making it next to impossible to see where the edge of the road stops and the shoulder begins. On many a night, driving those several miles home in the dark I'd ask my son to keep his eyes peeled for the fence posts on his side of the road and my daughter to be on the lookout for the fence posts on her side of the road. Every now and then I'd hear from the backseat, 'uh, mom, you're getting kind of close to the fence. And that's how I'd keep all four on the road. As they say, it's all part of the adventure.

I had a lot of time during those winter evenings and on the weekends, so I began using that time to experiment with my cooking. I'd find recipes that sounded interesting and tweak them to fit my taste. I don't know that I've ever followed a recipe exactly as it's written, mainly because I tend to treat recipes more like suggestions than absolutes. I'm the type that never (or very rarely) uses exact measurements but throws everything together based on sight and taste. Some days I go heavy on the paprika and some days I like an extra jalapeno. Maybe that's why sitting down to write out a recipe is so tough for me - because it's never exact and always changing. (At least that's my excuse for not posting more of my recipes.)

Anyway, all these years later, in a quest to continue the expansion my culinary aptitude I recently discovered cooking lasagna in the crock pot. I'm sure it's been around forever but when I read about it I thought, "huh, that sounds good" and proceeded to give it a try(I know, I'm so yesterday). I've now made a vegetarian version which is really good, but if you're a strict carnivore like me the meat version is what it's all about. I wish I'd known about this years ago because this beats baking lasagna in a pan and being all worried about how it looks on the plate. Simply because this is so good you won't care how it looks when you scoop it out of the crock pot.

Crock Pot Lasagna

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 3-1/2 hours

1 lb. Mild Italian Sausage
2 14.5 oz cans Tomato Sauce
1 14.5 oz can Crushed Tomatoes
1 14.5 oz can Diced Italian Style Tomatoes
2 Cloves Garlic, minced
1 tsp Thyme
3.5 oz Pepperoni, diced
5-6 Cups Spinach
12 Lasagna Noodles (Uncooked)
15 oz Ricotta Cheese
3 Cups Mozzarella, grated
1/2 Cup Parmesan Cheese

In a non-stick skillet crumble and brown the Italian Sausage until cooked through and no pink is showing. Add the tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, Italian-style tomatoes, garlic and thyme. Let the sauce come to a nice boil then cover, reduce heat and let simmer for 10-15 minutes.

In a 5-6 quart crock pot, cover the bottom with about 3/4 cup of the sauce. Top with 4 of the noodles, breaking them to fit along the bottom of the crock pot. **(Do not cris-cross the noodles.) Completely cover the noodles with about 1-1/2 cups of sauce, half the spinach, half the ricotta (drop by spoon fulls over the spinach), 1 cup of mozzarella, 1/4 cup Parmesan, and half of the pepperoni. Repeat one more layer. For 3rd layer use remaining noodles, sauce and mozzarella. Cook on low for 3-1/2 hours and until the noodles are tender.

Serves 6-8, or 4 very hungry boys.

**For a vegetarian version, omit the meat of course, and add zucchini, squash and grated carrot to the sauce.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Nothing Says Sacrifice Like A Union

For the past several days I have diligently kept up with the news coming out of Madison, Wisconsin regarding the bill that would reform collective bargaining and limit union's rights. It's fairly safe to say that the Capitol building is a hot bed of activity and Governor Walker has indeed started a firestorm that could potentially spread across the country to states that are experiencing similar fiscal shortcomings. Okay, fiscal disasters. Or bankruptcy if you will.

The main reason I've been so caught up in the union news is because like the teachers in Wisconsin, I am also a unionized public employee of my local school district. However, the similarity stops there. Because unlike the teachers in Wisconsin, I don't feel like I'm entitled to everything and anything. But then, I don't march to the beat of the union drum.

It wasn't my choice to become a union employee, per se. In my district, when you accept a job you have to pay union dues, period. It's kind of like the mafia, they are going to 'protect' your business and you are going to pay them a monthly fee for their service, whether you like it or not. Because if you don't, you end up with a few broken knees, or swimming with the fishes, waking up with a horse head in your bed or you just disappear.

Politically, I am not aligned with my union and I don't agree with their rhetoric and sentiment. I'd prefer merit raises versus step-increases and I think if you do a crappy job your employer should have the right to fire you. Oregon is a no-fault state (one of it's few merits, besides the mountains I live by) unless you are in a union. Then you can do a crappy job forever and continue to get your pay increase every year like clock-work. I believe in integrity, honesty and working hard for a paycheck. I don't believe I'm owed anything just because I'm in a taxpayer funded job nor is it my right to have cushy benefits and expect the state to fund my retirement.

That's why I have been so appalled while watching the events in Wisconsin unfold. I mean, exactly WHAT are these teachers doing? They say it's for the kids? Well, please explain to me how abandoning your classroom and shutting down schools is benefiting the children and their taxpaying parents that fund your salary. You say the state is taking away your rights. Your right to what? Receive less of the gravy train than you are currently receiving? Because let me tell you, if I received a quarter of the annual benefits you'll still receive under the new bill I'd consider myself in hog heaven.

I guess what's most appalling to me is what these teachers are sacrificing through their actions. By calling in 'sick' and accepting fake doctor's notes they are teaching kids it's okay to lie and deceive. They have sacrificed honesty, integrity and truth. And when you don't like what someone else believes in, do whatever is dishonorable in protest no matter what the cost. Especially when you feel it encroaches on your rights or entitlements. Because nothing should ever get in the way or be sacrificed for that. Nothing.

This Isn't Chick Food

The girl to boy ratio at my house has me outnumbered 5 to 1 and consists of three young men, one husband and BozDog. Chick food doesn't really fly around here and frankly, I'm fine with that. I prefer steak and potatoes over lettuce and carrot sticks and I think turkey bacon is an abomination. I mean, why would you want to ruin an incredibly perfect food by trying to make it out of poultry. Not that I don't like turkey and whatnot because I do, but I just think it has it's place, like on a nice toasted double-decker club sandwich. With bacon. And don't get me started on tofu. Ewww. (Sorry Candy.)

There is nothing that makes me happier than knowing I've made a meal that everybody loved eating. I know this to be especially true when I go to make breakfast in the morning and find the leftovers from the night before gone. Vanished. Like whoever was stalking the refrigerator late at night couldn't get enough of whatever I served at dinner so they went back for more. When no one was looking.

The other night I made my version of a quick Chicken Fried Steak with Parmesan Baked Smashed Potatoes. I know, that's a mouthful but trust me, we enjoyed every bite. I whipped those steak and potatoes out in no time and then threatened the boys with their lives if they didn't leave the left-overs for breakfast. Okay, maybe not, but they do think I'm pretty awesome for making steak and eggs the next morning.

Quick Chicken Fried Steak
6 Cube Steaks
Flour (A cup or so)
1 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Paprika
1 Tsp Pepper
Canola Oil

(This is so easy because there is no egg and milk wash.) Pour some flour into a pie plate, enough to dredge all of the steaks in. Add the salt, pepper, paprika, OR you can use seasoned salt instead of the other seasonings. Mix it all up. Salt and pepper both sides of the cube steak and place in the flour mixture(really press the flour mixture onto the cube steak. You want it well coated). Set aside on a separate plate. Do this for each steak.

In a frying pan, add enough Canola oil to cover the bottom and turn to medium-high heat. You want the oil to be hot enough so that when you set the steak in there it really starts to sizzle. (At this point, put a little more flour on the steak, because if you're going to make gravy the more flour mixture the better. Trust me.)

Cook the steak for about 3 minutes (the bottom should be really golden and crispy) and then turn, frying for another 3 minutes. Don't crowd the steaks. Cook 3 or 4 at a time and when those are done cook the remaining. It should look like this.

Place them on a paper towel to absorb any of the excess oil. Serve these right on top of the Parmesan Baked Smashed Potatoes with a little gravy. (Gravy? Just add a little chicken stock to the drippings along with some of the left over flour and stir, stir, stir until it thickens.)

Parmesan Baked Smashed Potatoes
10 medium red or yukon gold potatoes
Olive Oil
Parmesan Cheese
Salt & Pepper

Scrub potatoes and place them in a large pot covered with water. Bring to a boil and cook until fork tender and drain. Place the potatoes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil and with a potato masher lightly smash the potatoes skin and all. Give a really good drizzle of olive oil all over the potatoes and sprinkle with salt, pepper and lots of Parmesan. Bake at 425° for 12-15 minutes until they are nice and golden brown.