Saturday, July 23, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Goodbye Borders, Hello Deals!

One company's closing, could be the customer's gain, if what I witnessed yesterday at Border's Books is any indication. Border's Book Stores are closing and liquidating all their merchandise. Even the tables and chairs that went in the cafes are for sale. Presently, items are 10-40%, which is not necessarily a great deal since they routinely offered 30-40% off coupons and sales anyway. But you would never have known this if you had gone there yesterday; I have never seen the parking lot and store so packed. My husband was looking at a $45 cookbook, but waiting for the price to fall (it was only 10% off). He asked the cashier if the prices would be reduced. She said they would, but did not have a time table of when that would happen. As for me, I got these two magazines for 40% off, which is a good deal that I've never seen before. I am sorry that Borders is closing, but comforted, in this age of Kindle, that people are still clamoring to purchase the printed word in actual paper form. Electronic devises have their place in our hustle and bustle world, but there's nothing like curling up with a good book and a cup of tea.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Wine Not?

It's summertime and the livin' is easy.

One of my favorite ways to enjoy the end of the day is sharing a glass of wine with my hubby. We are white wine fans and usually have Pinot Grigio, but after a while it can get BORING and kind of one-note, so I am enjoying whites from other regions this summer that I'd like to share.

Norton Torrontes 2009 from Argentina. This variety of wine is similar to Viognier with hints of peach pit, flowers and orange citrus. Best enjoyed by itself or with smoked meats, cheese or seafood. $10.00

New Age wine also from Argentina. This blend is 50% Sauvignon Blanc 50% Malvasia. Light bodies, crisp and clean wine with effervescence. Flavors of honeydew melon, apricot flesh and citrus. To make a "Lipstinger", pour over ice and add a wedge of lime to squirt into the glass. This fun, light wine is perfect for the summer. $8.99

Twin Vines Vihno Verde is from Portugal, the name means "green wine" so it is best drunk as a young wine. It is a budget friendly, low alcohol wine with lime and green apple flavors and a spicy finish. $8.00

Albarino from Spain. A variety of white wine (thought to be a Riesling clone) supposedly brought to Iberia by Cluny monks in the 12 century. It is bright, zesty and crisp with flavors of grapefruit, pineapple and seashell minerality. As Prosecco was our drink of choice in Italy a few years ago, this may be our drink of choice in Barcelona next month.

So, break out your wine rut and try something new!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Florida Quit Line

My son Christopher picked up the unfortunate (and deadly) habit of smoking cigarettes. He decided to quit around a year ago, with the help of nicotine gum. Even though it was expensive, I gladly supplied him with as much Nicorette from CVS as he could chew. While I am basically cheap (let's call it frugal), there are some things you can't put a price tag on and one of them is your (or a loved one's) health. With the help of the nicotine gum Christopher quit smoking. Yeah!!! The other day he had a package delivered and said

"Hey Mom, you know all that money you spent on Nicorette?"


"I could have gotten it for free with the Florida Quit Line."

The package contained nicotine gum he ordered for a friend through the Florida Quit Line. The website is and they offer online and phone counseling, nicotine patches, gum and more all at NO COST. Now, I'm not one who is crazy about the government paying for freebies (especially when our state is going broke) but if they're available, I believe in taking advantage of them. You can also "Speak with a quit coach who will help assess your addiction and create a personalized quit plan" at the website and counselors are available who speak English, Spanish and Creole. I just became their friend on Face Book. Congrats to my friend Lisa York who has quit smoking going on 6 days now. Keep up the good work, and if you need help, check out this website!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Meat Me at Cotco!

Made the trek to Cotsco so Zeke could pick up his contacts, but the office was closed so made due with getting meat and one bottle of $6 wine. Zeke wanted to meander and look around at everything. I just wanted to get what we needed and get out. When they rang me up, I had a bit of sticker shock at $71 for just five items! Deducting the wine, we had paid $65 for 4 meat items. When I thought it through, however, I realized it actually was a good deal. We purchased a package of veal scallopine, two huge flank steaks, two pork tenderloins and a package of organic boneless chicken thighs. Breaking it down, that will make approximately 14 meals for our family, so it comes to $4.60 per meal for the protein. And it is high quality, low fat protein, not ground chuck. Of course, you need to round out the meal with a carb, but pasta, rice and potatoes are relatively inexpensive. We used four of the scallopine to make Veal Marsala last night. I also made spaghetti with a fresh pasta sauce made with olive oil, sliced garlic, chopped fresh tomato and basil. Fresh basil would have been lovely but, alas, the snails have demolished my sweet basil. I served a spinach salad with pine nuts, sun dried tomatoes, feta cheese and a lemon vinaigrette, similar to one I like at a local Italian restaurant. It was a very easy meal, relatively light, with not too much effort. I got the recipe for the veal from one of my all time favorite cookbooks- The New James Beard- modified to make a smaller portion.

Veal Marsala

4 Veal Scallops, pounded until thin

1/2 c flour

2 T Butter

2 T olive Oil

salt, pepper

1/2 c Marsala Wine

2 T chopped parsley

Lightly flour the scallops, shaking off any excess. Heat the butter and oil in a large heavy skillet until it stops foaming, then add the scallops, a few at a time. DO NOT CROWD THE PAN. Saute them quickly, about 1 minute per side until lightly browned and season with salt and pepper. Remove scallops from the pan and deglaze the pan with the marsala. Return scallops to the pan to heat through. Serve with sauce poured over them. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Unfortunately, I had no parsley to put over them because the stupid snails had eaten that too. Escargot, anyone?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Relish that Anticipation

"Anticipation... is making me wait. Is keeping me waiting..." Carole King

Right now I am making plans to go on a European cruise with my daughter, sister and nieces, with three days after in Barcelona. Each one of us has taken a city to research re: tourist attractions, restaurants, shopping etc... My sister ran into a lady who had just come back to a similar cruise and she commented "You're in the fun part- looking forward to your trip. I'm at the already finished it and home again stage." I think looking forward to and planning a trip increases the fun factor exponentially. One of my favorite vacations as a child was a family trip to the Hawaiian Islands. I researched everything from Hawaiian food to macadamia nut plantations and ukuleles in anticipation of that trip. While we had a wonderful vacation, I distinctly remember packing a little package of red pistachios into my carry-on the night before we left. Those pistachios represented my hopes and dreams (that I would find a cute Hawaiian boy and eventually move back over there to marry him and raise our cute Hawaiian children) for the trip. Well, I did meet a cute boy, but he wasn't Hawaiian and one brief meeting in the Hawaiian surf was as far as that romance got, but I still have my Hawaiian phrase book, my Mrs. Hawaii cookbook and my wonderful memories from that trip. And now looking forward to creating new and more wonderful memories on this next trip.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Hot Dog Party!

Who says entertaining has to cost an arm and a leg? My husband and I recently hosted a Hot Dog Party for 15 guests. Now Filet Mignon and pate are expensive, but hot dogs? Not so much. I got the Nathan's Skinless All Beef (recently voted top dog on AOL)- 2 packages for $7, so $14 for four. The buns (the soft, squishy Publix ones) clocked in at only $1.29 each pack. Trying to keep the cost of drinks down, I limited drinks to soda, Sangria and Beer. Unbeknownst to me, my hubby (budget saboteur) bought 6 bottles of red wine, which turned out to be fine because that's mostly what people drank. I currently have a fridge filled with beer. Appetizers were picnic fare of deviled eggs (cheap, cheap!) and a block of cream cheese with a jar of jalapeno jelly poured over it, served with wheat thins. Dessert- ice cold watermelon and mini ice cream sandwiches. Now, if you're going to serve something basic (like hot dogs) as the centerpiece of your dinner, you need to have a twist on it. My twist was the toppings. I offered Cobb (blue cheese, bacon bits, guacamole, lettuce and tomato), New York (onions in red sauce, mustard, relish), Chili Cheese (with chopped onions and jalapenos) and, the favorite- Colombian (pineapple salsa, secret sauce and crushed potato chips). Even my Venezuelan friend Carolina choose the spicy Chavez Dog. As side dishes, I served Cole slaw and my mother's baked beans. Napkins and decorations from the dollar store saved money and paper plates saved time. Everyone loved the hot dogs, some guests even had 3 dogs each! As my sister Kelley exclaimed "You'd think they never had hot dogs before!" But they will again. At my next Hot Dog Party!

"Do you like my hat?"

"I do, I like your party hat!"

Go Dog Go!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Roll with the Summer

Doesn't making the same old thing for dinner time after time get boring? For you and your diners. It does for me, so when I saw a recipe in the paper for Summer Rolls, made with mango and shrimp- two things in abundance in South Florida that I already had on hand- I decided to take the leap and try something new. I had never worked with rice paper before, but purchased some, along with some rice vermicelli, at an Asian Market. I love going into the market just to look at all the different kinds of stuff they have and while I was there this Asian man was giving a girl a "reading" to prescribe her some herbs to lose weight. I had seen some pills advertised for Menopause in the window, so asked the lady helping me if they worked.

"What you have problem with?" she asked.

"Sex drive" I whispered discreetly.

She said "He would know better." and proceeded to ask the Asian medicine man (thankfully in Chinese) about what was good for menopause.

"Many things good for that, what you have problem with?" he asked.

I froze, speechless.

"Sex drive" the Asian lady answered in English, in front of the girl getting the reading.

When he started talking about dryness, my brain kind of shut down but he recommended some Ginseng in liquid form which I bought, embarrassed, along with my Asian ingredients.

But anyway, back to the summer rolls, they are like spring but not fried. The rice paper gets soaked in water, which makes it pliable (almost like skin) and the fillings are limited only by your imagination. Once you get your fillings ready, assembly is a breeze. In the end, I revised the recipe and added scallions and jalapeno slivers to them to "kick it up a notch." These rolls are light, with sweet and savory flavors and served with a dipping sauce. You can also serve them warmed up in the microwave with the fish sauce for a hot dish. I'll report back on the Ginseng for "Adults Only XXX". So far, it hasn't kicked it up a notch- it's only increased my hot flashes.

Shrimp Summer Rolls

1 tsp kosher salt

4 oz rice vermicelli

12 (8 inch) rice paper wrappers

1 large, ripe mango, pitted peeled and cut into 1/2 " x 1 1/2 " strips

18 large shrimp, shelled, cooked and cut in half lengthwise

2 large carrots, finely shredded

1 red bell pepper, cored and cut into thin strips

24 leaves of basil, cilantro or mint

Garlic dipping sauce

Cook vermicelli in salted, boiling water until tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water. I sprinkled some sesame oil on them to keep the noodles from sticking together. Using scissors, cut the noodles into 2 inch lengths. Fill a bowl halfway with cold water. Separate the rice paper wrappers, submerge in the water and soak 5 minutes. (I just waited until they were pliable, about 3 minutes). The paper will become opaque. I removed one at a time, drying the paper and setting it on a plastic cutting board. Across the bottom third of one sheet, place two slices of mango, 2 Tablespoons of vermicelli, 2 T carrots and 2 strips of red pepper. Fold up the bottom edge of the wrapper tightly, then fold in the ends and roll over once. Just before the last roll, place 2 shrimp halves and 3 leaves on the bundle and finish rolling into a tight cylinder. Transfer the finished roll to a serving tray, seam side down. Cover with lightly moistened paper towels while you fill the remaining wrappers. Serve with dipping sauce. Makes 12 rolls.

Dipping sauce

Whisk together 1/2 cup fish sauce, 1/2 cup water, the juice of 2 limes, 1/4 cup sugar, 5 minced garlic cloves and 2 T garlic chili paste. Makes 1 1/2 cups. I made half of this recipe.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Traditions Die, Love Endures

Happy Fourth of July! Fourth of July has been a bittersweet holiday for me since my Dad died in 2003. This was his birthday and he usually had a big party that included a keg of beer, hot dogs, mango ice cream, chocolate chip cookies, games for the kids and usually ended with 1) Fireworks seen off his boat or 2) A fight, that may or may not have included somebody getting thrown in the pool and cussed at. "You and the horse you rode in on!" sticks in my memory. My mother had a couple parties after he died, but they just weren't the same and so that tradition ended . My Mom organized, cooked and made everything for those memorable parties, but my Dad was the energy (sometimes a destructive one) behind them. One thing I also used to look forward to was the Fireworks show at the Biltmore Hotel. You would get a blanket, some eats and drinks and sparklers and plop yourself down on the golf course to listen to John Philip Sousa and enjoy the show. Sadly, they no longer have that firework show, due to budget cuts and the Biltmore not wanting to foot the bill for cleanup. When I went to watch those fireworks, I never imagined they would cease operations, and yet they have. A couple years after my Dad died, my husband's family started a tradition of spending the Fourth of July weekend in Ocean Reef, due to the generosity of his Dad. This was another fun event that has bit the dust in the wake of harsh economic times. And so we are left with this. Today, I made chocolate chip cookies (my Dad's favorite) and visited his grave, leaving a bouquet in a Coors Light bottle with an American flag and a cookie. Traditions die, vacations get cancelled, things change. I think the only thing that doesn't die is love. It is patient and kind and endures.