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Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Gift of a Chocolate Chip Cookie...

When a young lady turns 10, her thoughts begin to turn toward, well... herself and the woman she will become. I asked my great-niece Caitlin what she wanted for her birthday via text message and we had a bit of a text-versation going when I asked if she needed me to bring anything to her party at a local restaurant.

Her response, "Can you make some chocolate chip cookies for the people who don't really like cake?"

The rational side of the brain exclaimed, "Cookies? Bake in July? Can't I buy some instead?"

My actual response, "Sure."

After talking it over with my husband, my sentimental side of the brain softly explained, "Caitlin asked me to bake cookies. I don't think I could say no."

And so after shopping very carefully for just the right birthday gift, I stopped at the grocery store for that famous yellow bag of chocolate chips with the recipe printed on the back, some vanilla and brown sugar (and hoped I had everything else I needed at home). For good measure, I also bought a boxed brownie mix and thought if the cookies failed for any reason brownies are an excellent fall back treat.

At 7:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning the baking began with the brownies while I sipped hot tea and turned up the air conditioner. Not much of a baker to begin with, I tend to reserve this culinary activity for Christmas time or at the soonest, Thanksgiving pies.

I gathered ingredients, the cookie sheets and cooling rack and before I knew it, the process began. The brownies were done and sliced, the cookies were baked and cooling - time to plate. I used one of my favorite footed platters and purposely alternated between brownie and cookie until the platter was full.

I brought the platter to the restaurant and Caitlin at first placed it in the center of the long table for guests then changed her mind and put it on a side table with the gifts.

The party progressed, the food was served and eaten and the cake was brought out with candles while everyone sang the traditional "Happy Birthday to you..." to a beaming young lady. She cut slices and passed them to her guests but before you knew it, she walked around with the platter of cookies and brownies and offered them to every guest. Children sang and danced and clutched handfuls of cookies. I believe a birthday wish or two came true... happy to be a part of it.

Friday, July 29, 2011

What's a little Sushi among Co-Workers?

When I started my new job, I replaced Lee who moved to another department and I worried about being compared to someone who was just a walk down the hall away. Though I've never been a second wife, I have compared the feeling because although people will say they are not measuring the two side by side, really, they are and no one wants that type of judgement. I was introduced to people for at least a solid week as, "This is Sharon, the new Lee," or "This is Sharon, she's taking Lee's spot." I couldn't wait to meet the woman I was continuously linked to by way of introduction. Finally, I met Lee and liked her immediately; a real laugh, a no BS attitude, and a warm smile (and the best head of hair)!

It's been 3 years now and we've gone out to lunch a few times and shared zeppolis that were to die for, but Lee had discovered, "THE best damn sushi place ever!" So, we finally went with Debi and a new culinary adventure was born.

At Suffern's Sushi Bada, Lee is welcomed as a regular and since she has confessed to eating there at least once a week, ordering would only be to change her mind. As a first time visitor, I wait to order last and stay at the shallow end of the pool by ordering a California roll (which I've had several times in other restaurants) and a Spider roll.

Conversation is a mix of outside world and shop talk with a heavy concentration on the restaurant itself. A busy lunch crowd makes me feel good about the freshness of the ingredients and watching the rolls prepared a counter which a few diners can also sit at is additional reassurance they have nothing to hide.

We are brought drinks, salad and miso soup within quick succession. In fact, if I remember correctly, the salad and soup may have been placed on the table at the same time. For some, this may feel a bit rushed, but since we are clearly on our lunch hour the service felt more considerate then "hurry up so we can give someone else this table." The soup's broth was warm and comforting and the salad was crisp and fresh.

Next, we were brought a dish of edamame for the table and an empty plate for the pods. The edamame was warm and salted and I had to resist the urge to make them my meal. I reminded myself the point of coming to this restaurant was the sushi and used my best inner Mommy voice to say, "Don't eat too much of those or you won't have room for your lunch!"

And when the rolls were served, no one was surprised that I wanted to take pictures of every one's plate. I was encouraged and Lee gave me a taste of her special Tuna Love which the menu describes as a spicy tuna with tuna on top with scallion, crunch and special sauce. It was the gentle pop of the roe that hooked me and the bit of heat that lingered briefly on the tongue that sold the dish.

The cell phone camera does not do the plate justice, but the Tuna Love is in the middle of the plate above.

Debi and I ordered similar plates and so the picture above and the one below are fairly similar but from different angles. We both had the Spider Roll, a soft shell crab roll with avocado, lettuce and cucumber. Of course many of the same flavors also appeared in my California roll. The sauce drizzled on the plate was silky and light. Though it is fairly common to place wasabi in the small dish for dipping with soy sauce, I avoid the wasabi. I enjoyed the entire process of eating with chopsticks and dipping each cut roll into the soy sauce. Each bite was not just about the flavors, but the mixtures of textures as well.

We were full and content with no room to try a dessert. Next time. But, I do take a healthy bite of the ginger on my plate and feel the zippy heat slide across my tongue.

Googling the word, "bada" reveals a number of meanings and although the restaurant describes itself as new age Japanese fusion, the Korean definition of bada is sea.

Google the word, "coworker" and the formal definition is a fellow worker but in my life they have always been more simply called, "friends."

Sunday, July 10, 2011

From the Garden to the Table

My sister's garden is not only practical, fenced to keep out the nimblest fence jumpers and other uninvited tresspassers, but simply lovely to look at as it blooms and grows. Raised beds of vegetables and flowers, yellow buds and blossoms are well cared for and I look forward to the day I am invited to share in their harvest. (I believe this behavior among sisters is acceptable, with a wink and a nudge.) Ah, but I wanted to share the experience of our celebration of America's Independence...

Food shared with family, what could be better? Food shared with family on an extra day off for a holiday weekend? Healthy and flavorful food shared with family on an extra day off for the Fourth of July!

Chicken has somehow climbed the ranks in our families as the most agreed upon protein of choice. These lean breast cutlets were beautifully grilled and quickly landed on nearly everyone's plate!

While whole wheat pasta may not be on everyone's menu, it does help give the classic macaroni salad enough of a spin to add a minimal amount of nutritional value, a smidge more fiber and while this version still included mayo (which can now be found with a bit of olive oil to lighten things up), diced carrots and celery added a welcome crunch.

The treat of the meal was the slow cooked ribs. In the crockpot since early morning, the meat was fall off of the bone tender with a marinade mellow enough for the most sensitive taste buds - not too sweet, not too spicy.

Corn on the cob is a timeless classic. As far as I am concerned, this American side can be served at every dinner. The crunchy snap, the appeal of finger food, butter dripping, salt licking, bits of kernels stuck to your lips and perhaps a squirt of juice on your table neighbor... For those who prefer to eat with a bit of dignity or have suffered through years of orthodontics, scraping a knife down the ear to relase the kernels into a mound of sweet corn is an alternate option.

Tossed salad - before or after the meal, that is the question. When I first began dating my husband, I learned his family serves the tossed salad at the end of the meal. This order of the meal is believed by his parents to aid in digestion, some may agree and argue it is also a palette cleanser. Sometimes, I may want my salad as part of the main course and since many traditionally offer the salad as a first course, you may see the salad on the table or sideboard throughout the meal for our families. I also prefer my salad without dressing, this is not a dietary concern, but rather an appreciation for the ingredients on their own. Another nod my sister gives to those who may not enjoy every vegetable in their salad is to serve some ingredients separately, a veritable salad buffet!

Greeting guests after a smooch and a hug are fresh veggies from the garden (which can also be used in the tossed salad) with a dip. Modern tradition once again.

Shrimp. To me, they are as addictive as potato chips but arguably one of the most versatile foods available. They may be served cold as a cocktail, in a salad, grilled, sauteed, scampi, in soup, Jambalaya, tacos and nearly any other application you can imagine. At times, I must simply move away from the platter and put my hands in my pockets.

My contribution was not just my healthy appetite, I did provide a well scooped and melon ball shaped fruit salad from canteloupe and watermelon with a few grapes both red and green and blueberries. It was a lovely celebration and good for us in more ways than one!