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Archive for the ‘fun times’ Category

I have tried, oh have I tried, to understand football.

If football passion is contagious, I should have contracted a rabid case long ago. My father, husband and son live and breathe it. For as long as I can remember, weekends during football season have revolved around our teams’ schedules. And today, Super Sunday? My husband calls it “the holiest day of the year.”

I just don’t get it.

Now,  football culture, that I like. Crisp fall Saturdays dappled with sunshine, the marching band, the cheers and the aroma of hot dogs, and thermoses of hot chocolate. I’m down with that.

But the men in my family long ago lost patience with my inability to understand the game. How many times have they repeated the ABCs of football at the most basic level? And each time, their hopeless student failed miserably. Football terminology is as elusive as Mandarin Chinese to me. (Secondary? Hail Mary? Split End?) After a few minutes my eyes glaze over and my brain says no way, Jose.

say what?

In my dogged pursuit to enjoy this silly game, I force myself to watch, pretending to be interested and trying hard to disguise my cluelessness. It usually goes like this. Until Something Big happens I can stare at the screen and simultaneously plan my weekly grocery list. No one is the wiser. All of a sudden there is excitement. Something BIG has happened. The crowd goes wild and there’s a whoop from my husband.  “All rightttt!” he claps loudly. Duncan wags his tail in canine appreciation. “What happened?” I ask my husband tentatively. His eyes are glued on the set. “Um, what happened?” I repeat. His smile fades. He sighs with thinly veiled exasperation and starts to explain, his eyes not leaving the screen. His voice trails off, and I let it go. it doesn’t matter. Whatever he tells me, I won’t understand, anyway.

So tonight I will sit through this snooze fest whose only redeeming quality is the punctuation of amusing commercials. And I’ll get to work on my grocery list.

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Do you have a Thanksgiving recipe that is sacrosanct, one that your family will not let you waver from, or — perish the thought — omit from the menu? In my family it’s a festive jello mold that is the heralded star of the show.

Jello mold? you ask with a raised eyebrow. That ghastly relic of which surely no one on the Food Network would dare speak? A hideous affront to gourmands of all persuasions? The slut of 50s cuisine, if you will — indiscriminate, always available, and dolled up with mini marshmallows, canned peaches or Maraschino cherries, whispering, ‘take me, I’m easy’.

But wait. Our Thanksgiving favorite deserves some respect. Made with cherry jello and studded with fresh cranberries, chopped walnuts and celery, it can be made wayyyy in advance and forgotten about until the turkey is being carved. With just the right balance of sweet, tart, and crunchy, it is a perfect accompaniment to the meal. I usually double the recipe to serve 12-14.

Jell-o, Thanksgiving, side dish, turkey, festive, dinner, crunchy, jello mold

I don’t know what age I was when my mother first made this dish. But I can totally imagine my gastronomical rapture upon tasting the first forkful. Henceforth known as Leenzil’s Thanksgiving Salad, it has been on my family’s table ever since.

Thanksgiving, menu, holiday, jello, eating, gastronomy

My mother submitted Leenzil’s Thanksgiving Salad to our synagogue’s cookbook under my name years ago. This is a photo of that page.

Oh, and the Leenzil part? That was my dad’s nickname for me.

Happy Thanksgiving, and bon appetit!

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Oh Barbra. Barbra Joan Streisand. How many years have I admired and adored you? Last night my dreams came true when I was among the 12,000 worshipful fans to see you perform in your Back to Brooklyn concert tour that opened in Philadelphia. That was me in Section 212, Row 11, the one with clasped hands and glistening eyes mouthing the lyrics. You didn’t notice? Maybe because we all looked that way?

Not that we were all the same. There were gray heads and color-treated heads, 20-somethings in stiletto boots and couples arm-in-arm. You had us wrapped around your famously long-fingernailed finger.

Starting with the photo montage that opened the show: photos of you as a little girl in Brooklyn, a teenager at Erasmus High, a young singer on the Ed Sullivan Show and then a Broadway star. You charmed us with your stories about Brooklyn, and noted similarities to South Philly (“You have cheese steaks; we have cheese blintzes”). I can assure you that Brooklyn was never applauded so loudly ever before in Philadelphia.

Barbra, I must confess, I was a little worried about you. Your performance anxiety has been well documented. But last night you sat down and chatted with us like we were having a cup of coffee in your kitchen. You kibbitzed with the reporter in the front row. “You’re writing? You’re reviewing me? Oy.” Someone asked, “What do you think of Mitt Romney wanting to fire Big Bird?” “I wasn’t going to get political,” you sighed. “But I hope he doesn’t find his way to Sesame Street. Or 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.” The audience roared.

You were funny, relaxed, warm and genuine. And sentimental. “I may have left Brooklyn, but Brooklyn has really never left me,” you said.

And that precious finely tuned musical instrument, that voice of yours, still electrifies and brings chills.

For three hours you mesmerized us with some of your classics, “Don’t Rain on my Parade,” “Evergreen,” “The Way we Were,” “People,” “What Will I Do?” and more. We met your son, Jason, who came out on stage and very creditably performed “How Deep is the Ocean” with you. His first time performing, you told us, beaming.

You sang from “Gypsy” and “Sunset Boulevard” and performed an homage to Marvin Hamlisch and Marilyn and Alan Bergman. Trumpeter Chris Botti and Italian group Il Volo added extra umph to the dazzling music performed by your 60-piece orchestra.

We could have stayed all night, Barbra. But I know last night will stay with me, always.

 

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When I was eight years old, my parents took me to my very first Broadway show. As the curtain rose and the orchestral music swelled, a hush came over the crowd. My eyes grew wide with expectation.

And then the magic began.

The show was Carnival, with Anna Maria Alberghetti as the naive ingenue, Jerry Ohrbach as the puppeteer, and Kaye Ballard as, well, Kaye Ballard. I was mesmerized by the beautiful singing and dancing and the poignant love story that tugged at my heart. My eyes stung with tears when Lili, who I guess in modern times would have a diagnosis, was stunned to find out that her puppet friends were not real.

(As an aside, many years later I was thrilled to find out that there would be a run of Carnival at a local community theater. I purchased tickets for the whole family and excitedly prepped them for what was to come. Although well done, the play was so outdated that my kids — and my husband, I suspect– squirmed in their seats until it was over.)

For many weeks post-Carnival, I would race home from school, throw my belongings down, and turn on the record player to listen to the cast album. It wasn’t enough to memorize each note, word and inflection. I choreographed every song on the album, roped two friends into joining me, and persuaded Mrs. Wagner, my second grade teacher, to let us perform for the class.

It was clear that Broadway and I were meant for each other.

Was I obsessed? Yes, indeed, Yes, I was.

I’ve had the great fortune to have seen many more Broadway shows, too many to name. My favorites? Hard to say, but there are two I can think of right off the bat that had the same effect on me as Carnival did. I hear a  couple of bars of the music and my eyes well up. And I know every word of every song.

and

So, you may be wondering … or not … would my passion for Broadway catapult me into a career on stage? I certainly had the emotional energy, the drive, the enthusiasm.

Just one thing was missing: any discernible talent.

But a true blue fan I have been and will always be, and I am currently bedazzled by a most wonderful show called Once that my friends and I were lucky to see.

Here we are after the performance. I’m the one in the middle. Can you see the stars in my eyes? Can you hear me humming the tunes?

Once is the story of an Irish musician and a Czech immigrant who share a love of music. Last week the spectacular ensemble performed a number on David Letterman. Watch this and fall in love.

Bravo, Once, and may your run be long and fruitful. I can’t wait to come back.

Let the curtain rise. Let the magic begin.

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Super Shmuper

Let me state for the record that I have tried, oh have I tried, to understand football.

If football passion is contagious, I should have contracted a rabid case long ago. My father, husband and son live and breathe it. For as long as I can remember, weekends during football season have revolved around our teams’ schedule. And today, Super Sunday? My husband calls it “the holiest day of the year.”

Despite having an avid interest in most spectator sports, I just don’t get football.

There are things I like about football culture. I like crisp fall Saturdays dappled with sunshine and football games. I enjoy the marching band, the cheers and the go team go. I like … halftime.

The men in my family have been patient with me. How many times have they repeated the ABCs of football at a level that qualifies as Football for Dummies? And each time, their hopeless student failed miserably. Football terminology was as elusive as Mandarin Chinese. (Secondary? Hail Mary? Split End?) After a few minutes my eyes would glaze over and my brain would demur. Uh uh, said my brain, we no get it.

say what?

In my dogged pursuit to enjoy this silly game, I force myself to watch, pretending to be interested and trying hard to disguise my cluelessness. It usually goes like this. Until Something Big happens I can stare at the screen and simultaneously plan my weekly grocery list. No one is the wiser. All of a sudden there is excitement. Something BIG has happened. The crowd goes wild and there’s a whoop from my husband.  “All rightttt!” he claps loudly. Duncan cocks an eye and wags his tail. “What happened?” I ask tentatively. His eyes are glued on the set. “Um, what happened?” I repeat. His smile fades. He sighs with thinly veiled exasperation and starts to explain, his eyes not leaving the screen. His voice trails off, and I let it go. it doesn’t matter. Whatever he tells me, I won’t understand, anyway.

So tonight I will sit through this snooze fest whose only redeeming quality is the punctuation of amusing commercials. And I’ll get to work on my grocery list.

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I am not going to blog about what has happened to my beloved Penn State this week. There is a post to be written, but now is not the time. It is too soon, too raw, and sadly, the horrific stories continue to unfold. Let me just say that all of us who are members of the Penn State community are reeling with the awfulness and grieving for the victims and their families. There are a lot of red-rimmed eyes around my campus today.

For the few minutes it will take to write this post, I am going to pretend that it has been a week like any other, with one day routinely following another and filled with moments of ennui, episodes of fielding minor curve balls and sparks of unexpected pleasures.

One of these took place yesterday when my friend Alyse and I attended an event at the Four Seasons Hotel in Philadelphia to tour the kitchen facilities and observe a cooking demonstration. This was especially fun for us since Alyse and I once owned a catering business called Fete Accomplie when we were young with better backs. Fete Accomplie is no longer, but Alyse and I still love to cook.

We were met by the hotel’s sommelier who offered us a glass of wine, and then it was on to the kitchen.

Our first course was Autumn Mushroom Soup with Lancaster Goat Cheese Foam and Rosemary Oil. Yum!

Mushroom Soup

1 lb. button mushrooms
1 lb. shiitake mushrooms
1 lb. crimini mushrooms
Clean and slice all of them.
1 leek, washed and sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 sprigs thyme
2 T. butter
3 T. olive oil
1/2 c. white wine
1/2 gal. chicken stock
1 pint heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste

Heat large pot over medium high heat. Saute mushrooms in oil in three batches til golden brown. Remove.

Reduce heat to medium and saute leeks and garlic in butter until soft, about 5-7 minutes. Add wine and reduce by half. Add mushrooms back to pot and cover with stock. Add thyme and season with salt and pepper; simmer on low for 20 min. Add cream and continue to cook 10 more minutes. Remove thyme stems, puree, pass soup through sieve, and season to taste.

The chef put a dollop of goat cheese in the cup before pouring in the soup, and then drizzled it with rosemary oil.

Next up: Butternut Squash Risotto. The chef served this with a seared scallop on top. Delish.

Butternut Squash Risotto

5 c. chicken stock, at a simmer
1 c. Arborio rice
1/2 small onion, diced
2 c. diced butternut squash
4 T. olive oil
2 T. butter
1/4 c. white wine
1/4 c. grated Parmesan
salt and pepper to taste

In large pan, saute butternut squash in 2 T. olive oil over medium low heat til soft. Reserve. In large pot, sweat onion in 2 T. olive oil for 5 minutes over medium low heat. Add rice and cook 1 minute. Add wine and reduce til dry.

Add 1 c. stock and stir continuously til absorbed. Continue adding stock til all is absorbed and rice is tender. Add cooked butternut squash, cheese and butter. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Next up: Beef Shortribs, served atop a Parsnip Potato Puree.

Beef Shortribs

4 8oz. boneless beef shortribs
2 carrots, large dice
2 stalks celery, large dice
1 large onion, large dice
4 cloves garlic, chopped
4 sprigs thyme
1 c. red wine
1 quart beef stock
1 T. tomato paste
salt and pepper
3 T. olive oil
2 T. butter, softened
2 T. flour

Season meat liberally with salt and pepper. In large pot, sear ribs in olive oil til browned on all sides.Remove from pot. Add vegetables, garlic and thyme and cook for 10 minutes over medium heat. Add tomato paste and cook 2 minutes. Add red wine and reduce by half.

Add meat back to the pot and cover with beef stock. Cover pot and simmer on low heat for 2 1/2 – 3 hours til tender. Remove ribs and strain braising liquid into a sauce pot, skim off fat and reduce liquid by half.

Mix flour and butter til paste forms (beurre manie), whisk into braising liquid to thicken sauce, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Everything was so flavorful and the presentation was beautiful. On our way out of the kitchen, we passed by a few other stations. Here is a tray of mini pizzas topped with spinach, tomato and feta, just about to be popped in the oven.

And finally, on our way out, we were handed this sweet little bag of madeleines to eat on the way home.

It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

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I am driving west on Route 322 just past Lewisburg, Pennsylvania when I get my first glimpse of the rolling farmland framed by steep mountains heralding my approach to State College. The next dozen or so miles consist largely of lush green pastures dotted with grazing horses and cattle, pure delight for someone who has always dreamed of living on a farm (that’s me).

State College, home to several thousand Centre County residents and Penn State University, is a charming little hamlet that is a bustling college town during the academic year but takes a breather when most of the 40,000 undergrads go home in May.

Not that this means that life in State College comes to a standstill. Summer classes and youth camps are in full swing, and campus tours, led by wholesome, backwards-walking Lion Ambassadors, bring hopeful high school students and their parents to town. Shoppers on College Avenue are apt to stroll at a more leisurely pace and can get a restaurant reservation quite easily. Finding a parking space is not a problem.

I won’t deny that autumn football weekends are lots of fun, and I love the energy and excitement when students are here. But sun-splashed, golden-hued, kinder and gentler summertime State College is a treat.

Summer is also the time when the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, commonly known as Arts Fest, comes to State College. Now in its 45th year, this four-day event is a potpourri of crafts, live music, food, children’s activities, and so much more. Artisans come from all over the country, and the variety and quality of the work is awesome. If you appreciate creative brilliance in a variety of media, you will enjoy this show.

Arts Fest allows me to simultaneously experience two things I love: State College and quality craft shows. This year’s show, held July 14-17, was blessed with bright sunshine and low humidity, just a week before the record-breaking heat wave moved into the area.

I’ve gotten my routine perfected over the years. I depart Wednesday afternoon, the day before the event opens. It is easier to get a hotel room, although it is best to call as far in advance as you can. I love staying at The Nittany Lion Inn. It is right on campus, meaning it is an easy walk to Arts Fest, and you can keep your car parked for free all day in the hotel garage.

After a good night’s sleep in the comfy bed at the Inn, I eat a hearty breakfast, a necessity if I am to keep my energy level high for the day. I arrive at the show just before the official opening at 10 a.m., perfect timing before it gets too crowded. And believe me, it gets crowded. The crowd was estimated to be about 125,000 over the four-day stretch.

This year’s show was terrific. Here is a smattering of some of the wonderfulness.

I’ll start with Mary Jackson’s extraordinary sweet grass baskets. I have admired these baskets at previous shows, and this year’s selection did not disappoint. Mary, hailing from Johns Island, South Carolina, is a quiet, unassuming woman who learned the artistry of basket weaving from her mother and grandmother . She is an NEA National Heritage Fellow and recipient of the MacArthur “Genius” Grant. You can see some of Mary’s baskets at the Smithsonian, the American Craft Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Museum of African-American History in Detroit.

I like to collect quirky teapots, and there were several here that caught my eye. Here is one by artist Caroline Koons of Aurora, Missouri.

And another by Steven Summerville of Bumpass, Virginia.

And one more I can’t resist sharing by Thomas Bothe of Washington, Pa.

“Art to wear” was big at the show. Check out this cool raincoat by Iris Mansard of New York. Don’t I look fetching? :)

And finally, some fabulous jewelry. This beauty is from Carolyn Zakariaja of southeastern Pennsylvania. I bought a similar necklace from her at a craft show a few years ago.

I love the colors and freewheeling funkiness of this necklace by Marjorie Rawson of Chelsea, Michigan.

This necklace is so pretty. I love the mixed metals and delicateness. Pittsburgh’s Aileen Lampman is the talented artist. There is a gorgeous piece on the home page of her website; take a look.

I bought a pair of earrings from Jerry Jackson Pewter that I love. First I tried them on. Jerry took  my picture.

Sold! Here they are up close.

There was so much more — paintings, sculpture, glassware, leather — more than you can imagine. What a fun day of blissfully browsing. I’m already looking forward to next year’s show. Mark your calendars. It’s usually the week after July 4. Hope to see you there!

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