Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving: Central Park WEST style!

Is there any better way than to spend Thanksgiving watching the parade above the balloons with dear family and friends?!  Ok, maybe with MORE of our dear family and friends, but we have had the ulitmate in NY Thanksgivings for the past 4 years watching the Macys Thanksgiving Day parade from our friends' balconies.  

Camera out the window shot!

Central Park West-2008

The parade is a wonderfully spectacular event full of color, excitement and grandeur.  For those who have never witnessed it in person, a trip to NYC at Thanksgiving-time is a MUST at least once in a lifetime!

We trekked in the night before and had a blast trapsing around our old haunts.  It was so great to eat at Ollie's.  I LOVE the Sesame Chicken and Moo Shu Pork.  The kids think their egg drop soup is the best around!  Oh, how I've missed our house account at Ollie's and their fast, efficient delivery!

Then we joined the throngs of people getting a sneak peek of the blowing up of the balloons the night before.  I remember going a decade ago when it was really a non-event!  You just went and walked around and were amazed at the size of the balloons up close and talked to the balloon handlers.  Now, there are mazes to get through to even watch!  There were even printed indication signs and police barricades galore so it's turned into a full event in and of itself!

A trip to Pinkberry was not missed despite the near freezing temp and Pinkberry was once again adored by the kids!  They have grown to love the tart frozen yogurt creation as much as I do!  Luke entertained the customers while dancing to the tunes playing. Sophia had a gleeful smile as she finished the last bite and Wesley licked the cup clean!  Bliss.

Then back over to the Eastside to stay at our friend's pad!  It was actually soothing to sleep to the sounds of the city that night. (garbage trucks, street noise and the whooshing sound of the buildings--what is that sound?)  What a great night's sleep!

We had a wonderful day of parade watching, great food, even better friends and just plain Thanksgiving tradition!  The balloons were larger than life as usual and the colors parading down Central Park West were so vivid and striking!  There was a pink and orange dance team that was so eye-catching with their swishing pom poms!  The kids loved seeing the Bolt balloon and Santa bringing up the rear, of course!

Bow Bridge, Central Park

The Park was spectacular at mid-day!  The weather was nearly perfect and the mood was cheerful!  We went to our favorite spots by the lake and the Bow Bridge and then made our way over to the Bethesda Fountain area where the same entertaining Afrobats were starting their annual show.  They chose Wesley to be their token cute kid to earn them even more money and gave him his street name, "White Chocolate" and afterward they shared a little of the profits with him.  He was thrilled!  The did a stunt and jumped over him.  It was so cute and one that Wesley will remember for a long time!

Afro-bats @ Bethesda Fountain with "boy with stick" aka White Chocolate--LOL

White Chocolate returns with $1.25--woo hoo!

Dinner was outrageously fabulous prepared by Varan, an Israeli chef.  He went over the top with so much this year.  There were 5 different toppings and spreads for the cast iron baked corn bread, and sausage galore stuffing, extremely moist turkey and wonderful fixings.  Wow!  I was so full that I actually had to pass up pie this year!  

Diane & Chef Varan

Wesley led a "what are you thankful for" discussion and he reminded us that his two favorite holidays are what hit the top of his list: Halloween and Thanksgiving!  Sophia was thankful for the earth and Evan for family.  Me, I'm thankful that we've had this great family tradition of spending Thankgiving in a warm and gracious home these past four years and the good friends that have been such wonderful hosts!  These traditions are part of the tapestry of our life!

It's been a crazy year of ups and downs and health and sickness for all at the Thanksgiving table, but what I went away with this year is... wow, we are all blessed with so much, what are we going to do with those blessings to shape our lives and impart to others? What great lessons we have learned this year and what even greater lessons do we have to look forward to next year!

Let us all be thankful.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

When Two Worlds Collide

(Post by Evan)

Regular readers of this blog recognize Liz’s passion for keeping alive the graces that accompany the art of entertaining in the home through her Gourmet Club posts. I am the lucky beneficiary of her efforts, having been educated in many of the ways of social etiquette, and also being able to eat some truly fantastic food. While I truly enjoy high-end cuisine, I spend a lot of time preparing more traditional cuisine (grilled cheese, anyone?) for our family. Last night these two related, but distinct areas had a humorous intersection.

You just have scroll down a little to read about Liz’s “SPICE Dinner” event, and my “Holy Smokes!” debacle. Go ahead, refresh your memories. I’ll wait…OK, let me set the stage now. Wesley was having a good day. He had just returned from his Judo class and wanted tacos for dinner. We had just had our taco salad a few days ago, so it didn’t really sound good to me. He was insistent, and I didn’t have anything else to counter with, so tacos it was.

The prep was simple. The onion was stronger than normal and made me cry as I chopped it. This time I double- and triple-checked that I had the chili powder and not the cayenne when seasoning the ground beef mixture. Liz and the kids prepped everything else. As we were getting ready to deploy everything to the dining room, my eyes seemed to be still teary, and Liz and the kids started to cough as if something were in the air. I felt the urge to cough as well, and couldn’t figure out where the irritant was coming from. Unwilling to believe that I had repeated my cayenne pepper disaster, I tasted the seasoned beef mixture and couldn’t believe it when my mouth ignited with flame. I quickly picked up the bottle of chili powder that was still sitting on the countertop just stared at it in disbelief. I sprinkled a little onto my finger and put it on my tongue. Yep! Cayenne. And the truth was beginning to come into focus.

After the glorious display of spices as part of the Spice dinner, it would have been a waste to just throw them out. In fact, it would make absolute sense just to return them to their original containers so they could be reused later. However that only makes sense if you actually succeed in returning the spices to their original containers. A close examination of the chili powder container revealed a telltale demarcation between the brighter red cayenne pepper, and the browner chili powder. (This finally explains why my second attempt to make the taco salad meat last week was still mouth-burning.)

Needless to say, the “chili powder” has now been removed from circulation and will be replaced at the next possible opportunity. As for the tacos? They actually became burritos when, unwilling to redo the meat, we reached for can of refried beans and heated it in the microwave. Wesley didn’t notice and Liz and I had a good laugh.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Amy, Lauren, Mary, Kirstin, Martha, me, Mayumi, Lisa & Rachel

Here is the picture from our junket to the Martha Stewart Show.  We were lucky enough to get to have her photographer snap a few photos of our Gourmet Club group with her as the centerpiece when we went to her show in September.  It was quite a surreal experience being in her studio with all of the hoopla and the picture to me looks like she is a cardboard cutout because she is so well put together and flawlessly made up.  She was lovely.  I on the other hand could use a new stylist!   LOL

Thanks, Martha!

***note, I thought it was quite interesting that the photographer grouped us according to hair color.  I don't think it was an accident.  Martha loves order!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

SPICE Dinner

For my gourmet club this year, my partner and I came up with the theme SPICE showcasing Moroccan food.  It was quite an ambitious undertaking since I didn't know much about Morocco nor have any of the items to complement the dinner like serving pieces, ingredients and decorations.  I wanted to be challenged so I plugged along with researching and practicing recipes and ideas with Mayumi.  We even went to the local Moroccan restaurant Zitoune in Mamaroneck and talked at length with Alain, the owner. Then we came up with a menu that was beautiful and delicious! My rad friend Diane had visited Morocco last year so I picked her brain all about the Souk with it's sights and sounds. My friend, Nicole who is a TV gourmet maven in Westport, CT told me about Moroccan preserved lemons that take 4 weeks to cure.  I knew it was a must to make these for our take home gifts.  I washed, sliced open and stuffed with kosher salt over 130 lemons and then watched them brine in 3 large jars on my counter for an entire month. They are a great flavor for chicken or stews.  And so pretty!

 The night was a cold and rainy night, but we still put out paper lanterns that lined the walk and invited our guests in with Moroccan music playing.  We set up my sideboard in my dining room with all sorts of fruits, spices and herbs like you would find in a Souk in Morocco.  The aromas of the spices were so intense and inviting.  My favorite part of the dinner was the Persian Love Cake with flavors of cardamom, lemon zest, rose water and saffron!  It was such an unusual array of flavors that worked so well together.  I also loved the couscous with the carmelized onions, raisins and pinenuts and the bisteeya was unusual and delicious too.  

Go here for the recipes and more photos!  If anyone wants to have a Moroccan night, I'm an expert now.

It was so great to get together with my girlfriends who share a passion for good food and cooking!  Can't wait for next month and the next and so on and so on!

And a shout out to Evan who was an absolute superstar throughout it all!  He was so great with helping with ideas, practicing, getting ready and of course keeping the kids at bay!  I love you, Evan!

Be jealous, be very jealous...

The Smith family lives in Business Week's Best Places to Raise Your Kids Winner:

See it here.  You should all move here to New Rochelle with us.  According to Business Week it is bliss.  New Rochelle must have a great publicist!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Holy Smokes!

(Post by Evan)

When you have a skill that you're adept at, it's quite possible that while executing said skill, that the entire cerebral cortex may not be completely engaged. Do you really think about how much force to turn the steering wheel with when changing lanes? For the musicians reading this, do you actually remember which notes make up a C-major chord when playing it ? I don't. One of the things that I like to think I'm good at is cooking. Besides having attended culinary school and owned a restaurant, it's something that I just do. While I do use recipes for new dishes or for baking where precision counts , I generally manage to get by just using the gray matter for more routine cooking tasks. Unfortunately for me and my family, tonight was one of those night's where the old synapses failed me.

I was the first one home tonight and looked through the freezer for what me might have on hand. The ground beef caught my eye as did the cilantro sitting on the countertop in a vase of water. Something Mexican-flavored started to materialize in my head. Liz arrived just minutes later and with her input, we opted for one of our favorite family standbys: taco salad. Within minutes, I had thrown together the hot part (ground beef, onions, garlic, kidney beans and seasonings). Liz had done all the prep for the cold parts (lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, avocadoes, sour cream and tortilla chips). The table was set and I was just about to bring the hot part to the table when I checked to see if it needed any salt. That was when it became obvious that something had gone horribly wrong.

I blew on the spoonful of the meat mixture to prevent scorching my lips or tongue, but as I placed the spoon into my mouth, I took in a breath. I immediately started to cough and not wanting to spew the contents of my mouth all over the place, closed my mouth and tried to gently cough through my nose, all while still chewing. The coughing soon gave way to burning in my mouth and I was completely baffled. What the heck was going on?! I just happened to glance up the still open kitchen cabinet and found my answer.

Most chili powder is a blend of sweet and usually mild chiles with cumin, garlic, oregano and sometimes onion powder. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would put it at a 2 or 3 depending on the brand. You would generally add 1 to 3 tablespoons per quart. Cayenne pepper on the other hand is a pure powdered cayenne chile and rates more like a 6 or 7. I hadn't planned on making this dish hot at all, especially since I had 3 small kids eating it. After adding a couple of tablespoons of cayenne, this batch of taco salad meat was pretty much for "experts only."

I ended up starting over. Even though I added no chili powder to it, there seemed to be sufficient residual in the pan to give it a substantial kick. It was edible, but all our our mouths were tingling throughout dinner. We finished off the meal with ice cold milk, and a spoonful of sour cream to cool it down. In spite of the "fireworks," the meal was still thoroughly satisfying.

This blunder reminded me of other failures in the past by me and by others. I still remember the morning as a child when my mother sprinkled the french toast she made us with corn starch instead of powdered sugar. (Both powders were stored loose in Tupperware containers.) She was furious at first when we wouldn't eat it and read us the riot act for complaining. She quickly forgave us when we insisted it was yucky and she actually tasted it.

I'm sure all cooks can contribute other kitchen blunders. Let's hear about them in the comments!

P.S. I froze the super-spicy meat mixture. If you're a chili-head come on over, and we'll resurrect it into something tasty.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Fear Factor

(Post by Evan)

What is it about fear and pain that invokes our pleasure receptors? I'm sure there's a good treatise on the whole S & M thing surrounding that question, but on a simpler level, I stopped to think why on earth do any of us ever do scary things for enjoyment?

A few weeks ago we had one of the biggest adrenaline rushes that we've experienced in a real long time. There was a corporate sponsored outing at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, NJ where we took the family for a very fun-filled day. For an October Saturday the park was pretty crowded, but the kiddie rides were fairly accessible which made Sophia, Wesley, and even Luke happy when they got to ride. Liz invited some friends of ours to accompany us. They were great companions to us and the kids. They stepped up and told me and Liz that we really needed to try one of the newer rides there, a wooden roller coaster named El Toro.

Now let me start off by saying that I love roller coasters. Always have. Wooden roller coasters are generally a different type of thrill than the new steel coasters where you do all the inverted, spiral, dangling, things which surely offer lots of thrills. With wood, I generally expect a traditional car with a lap bar combined with a bit of a rickety ride and lots of jerking turns plus a good downhill to get it all started. This coaster, for those who haven't ridden it, is, um, not traditional in that sense.

I should have known something was up when the car ahead of us kicked a guy off for whom they couldn't get the lap bar down. He was man of proportions just slightly larger than mine. I didn't think about it until they came to our car which was lit up with warning light and had two attendants try to jam the lap bar down on me. They crunched it down on me significantly and got the green light to launch finally.

Once the car left the starting gate, I knew for sure now that things were going to be different. The old-fashioned chain that agonizingly carries you to the top was nowhere to be found. Instead a high-speed drive was employed to whisk us with alacrity to the peak. We weren't in the front, but once we got a glimpse of the downhill, sheer panic and terror set in!

Like I said before I generally love roller coasters and always give up a good scream, but this one evoked an entirely new set of feelings in me. Instead of a plain scream, I think, but am not sure, that some words issued from mouth that would be typically notated in print (in family publications like this one) with the shifted number keys, if you get my drift. They weren't uttered silently either. After the initial shock of the first hill, we sped uphill where I experienced the first of several negative G's and felt my butt leave the seat. I couldn't be shut up at this point. I babbled/yelled/shouted incessantly for the rest of the ride. All I could think about was that lap bar cranked down in my lap wishing they had forced it down on me even more! Forget putting your arms up in the air--I think most people had a death grip on the handle bar.

Liz was sort of crying and whimpering and shouting during the ride. Normally I would have tried to be there for her and hold onto her and offer words of support, etc. But this was different. While cognizant of her beside me, I could only think of myself. (Sorry about that, baby.) Part of me was so hoping that the ride was over, but much to the credit of the designers, they filled it full of surprises, such as two false endings! Bravo, Intamin!

I'm usually not the kind that buys the expensive photos that you can view of yourself as you exit the ride. But this time, I made an exception. I knew I had experienced a whole new level when getting out of the car. For one, I had no voice left. I had shouted myself hoarse. Liz was dabbing the tears out of her eyes, but we both felt completely exhilariated! The look in our faces says it all, I think. (Click on photo for a closer view.)

Would I do this one again? In a heartbeat.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Happy Halloween!

(Note: Blog Post by Evan)

I have to admit, this has been the most fun Halloween I've had in a long time. I think since the kids are getting older and, hence, more into Halloween, that it's rubbed off. This is the first year that I've dressed up for real in a long time. I've paid lip service to this great fall event a couple of times before, using whatever I had on hand for a lame costume, but this year I was actually motivated to go for it. Part of the credit goes to Liz, who helped orchestrate a party earlier in the month where the game Rock Band was the centerpiece and we were all supposed to dress up as our favorite rocker. Unfortunately, I didn't think I could pull off a convincing Geddy Lee, so I channeled my inner KISS and came up with a hybrid version.

The kids this year really tickled me with their costume choices. Sophia wanted to be a dalmatian, and with a little of daddy's grease paint, pulled it off. Wesley was very moved earlier this year by the movie version of Speed Racer (daddy--not so moved) and has talked about little else since then. I thought he came up with a pretty convincing interpretation! Luke took his "Little Stinker" persona literally this year. He was the hit of the neighborhood. I wish you could have seen his tail move as he toddled down the sidewalks.

Decorating took a larger role this time around too. Liz scored some nice corn stalks and nice sized pumpkins. We had a lot fun carving the pumpkins this year. Again, since the kids were into it, it made it a lot of fun to help them realize their chosen designs. Who knew that scooping the pumpkin guts could be so fun?

For added fun this year, we constructed a swooping ghost in front of our house this year. After Liz spent the better part of the day chasing down 80-lb test monofilament fishing line, we strung a line from our bedroom down the walkway. As anxious trick-or-treaters approached, someone would lower the ghost down which would catch the floodlights and make its presence known. Many thought it was fantastic. Others were downright freaked out.

I also pressed Sophia's karaoke machine into service this year. After locating some spooky sound effects on the web, I burned a disc and played it through the rig with the speakers placed on the porch. With the added microphone, I had a pretty good time talking to our guests as they approached. I chose an affected British accent with overtones of Vincent Price. Unfortunately, I went a little overboard for the first group of kids. It was too freaky for the kids dressed as Thing 1 and Thing 2 from "The Cat In The Hat" to hear them being "called out" from a darkened porch. They ran off with a little shriek before collecting their candy. Toning it down led to some funny comments. "Where is that man?" "How does he know what we're dressed as?" "Is that a recording?" "Mommy, I don't like his voice." I also sent a 2-year old into tears as I opened the door in my garish makeup. (Note to parents: Although princess and fireman costumes are cute and fluffy, you have to tell your kids that Halloween has a scary side too. They need to have a heads-up for the possibility of meeting a goblin or ghoul.)

We're already planning next year's decorations. Come by to see our witch on a broomstick flying across the yard. Maybe some fog and strobe lights too. And hopefully we'll get some more foot traffic as well since it won't fall on the Jewish sabbath next time too.

A final caution: don't eat too many Halloween goodies, or this could happen to you: