In the past 72 hours I've been to two foodie events. On Sunday, the South Beach Wine And Food Festival in Miami.  Last night, the Edible Manhattan & Edible Brooklyn sponsored "Good Spirits" pop-up cocktail party at 82 Mercer in SoHo.  
The range of food and spirits I've had...not to mention the backdrops...
has been broad, to say the least.
Can you tell which event was which?

I tried everything from oysters to corn dogs, and washed them down with everything from merlo to tequila.
I had a great time at both events, & will report in detail about both in separate posts, but the common denominator or course were restaurants, vendors & producers showing off their fine foods and spirits.  In Miami I was with my husband & some foodie friends.  In Manhattan I was with Nikki, Kate & Anna.  Going from the sunshine and warmth of the beach to the darkness and cold of a basement on Mercer St. has left me feeling a little schizophrenic.  My head was (& is still) filled with so many ideas, sights, & flavors.  I'm having a hard time processing it all.  
Standing in the middle of the Good Spirits event in SoHo, Nikki, Kate and I were taking a break, from all the munching and sipping and I think we were generally feeling overwhelmed.  We are lovers of food and know very well that food can change you.  If you are a chocolate person, I bet you remember the details of the best chocolaty dessert you've ever had.  You probably remember where you were, how old you were, what it felt like in your mouth...and probably can even tell me what you were wearing.  The three of us had a moment when food changed us last night.  Discussing our favorite tastes around the room...and only half way through the venue...we had a foodie epiphany!  Kate not only likes to bake, she prefers to eat sugary confections, she's our sweet baking babe.  Nikki can and likes to dissect all the flavors in a pork stew or a duck ragu, she's our sassy savory sister.  And, me (looking like a booze hound again) will drink (and then try to replicate) almost any cocktail, making me the mixologist mama.  In one brief moment we found our new directions in blogging!  And we have food and sprits to thank once again!  I think our readers will be seeing some changes and the three of us leaning towards our newly recognized loves in our blogs.  
XO  Martha (Mixologist Mama)
 
 
Oh no, not another holiday?!  And even worse it's a religiously based holiday...
...the "church lady" in Martha will surely make us all feel like we're in Sunday school again.  Well, I'll do my best to fill you in while trying not to let the 
youth minister and teacher in me run a muck!
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Mardi Gras Colors are purple, green & gold=justice, faith & power
It's Mardi Gras!
The literal translation from French is Fat Tuesday, since the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent is the climactic last day to live it up, chow down and pile on the fattening foods before the penitential 40 days of fasting begins.  But the entire time, post Christmas, is also know as the season of Mardi Gras and Carnival, and begins with Epipihany, January 6th.  According to biblical lore it took the three kings (aka, wise men) 12 days after Jesus' birth to find him and bestow upon him the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Some folks say the purple, green and gold colors represent the magi's gifts, but more often they are said to have been chosen to represent justice, faith and power.
This day is also know as Shrove Tuesday.  That name is derived from the English word shrive, which means to confess, since that is what Catholics are mean to do before beginning the Lenten season preparing them for the dark days of Holy week, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday...and finally ended by the glory of Easter Morning!

The period of celebration varies from place to place.  Brazilians in Rio De Janeiro start on 12th night and party via "Carnival" until Ash Wednesday.  New Orleans is the biggest American city where Mardi Gras is celebrated Starting on Jan 6th as well.  Lots of European places celebrate the last week or "shrovetide"  while the majority of folks just use the final three days period before Ash Wednesday as "Mardi Gras."
The scope of celebrations varies.  The Streets of Rio De Janeiro are filled with 2 million people nightly participating in parades and street parties.  And on the humbler end, my church has a pancake supper and the kids make masks and don beaded necklaces.  Popular practices include wearing masks and costumes and generally throwing aside inhibitions and social convention with dancing, parades, sporting events, and general merry making.  Pancakes and pastries made with eggs, sugar and fat are the food of choice.  Though in New Orleans the King's Cake is the only way to go.
King's Cakes are brioche like coffee cakes, usually topped with sugar or icing in in the Mardi Gras colors and tucked inside is a little plastic baby (or in the olden days a porcelain baby, bean or nut!) Whomever gets the slice of cake with the baby is crowned the king or queen at the party.  Though some folks have other traditions for the finder of the baby...like having to host the party next year or bring the King's Cake to the next gathering! Click on any of the King's Cake Photos to link to their yummy recipes.
For those who want to celebrate without all the bad carbs and sugar I found a great "Mardi Gras" salsa, via food gawker.  It was originally from foodluvin.com, but the link no longer worked and searching their site I'm gathering it's no longer accessible.  Luckily I found their recipe somewhere else out in cyber space and combined it with their great photo with the gold, green and purple colors that make this a Mardi Gras appropriate dish!
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Mango Chipotle "Mardi Gras" Salsa

1/2 bunch cilantro finely chopped
2 mangos peeled & chopped
1 red onion chopped
4 tomatillos roasted chopped salt to taste.
4-5 canned chipotle peppers in adobo
4 cloves garlic chopped
salt to taste

Combine ingredients serve.


Maybe you're planning a big Shrove Tuesday shin dig or perhaps just doing a little jig in your kitchen while you're whipping up pancakes (or salsa) for dinner on Fat Tuesday.  However you choose to celebrate Mardi Gras have some fun and eat some good food and put on this video of "Mr. New Orleans," Harry Connick, Jr., singing, "Here comes the big parade" and enjoy the music!  XOXO Martha
 
 
For birthday parties or going away gatherings, or just a casual get together...we ladies like to lunch.  Having all-girl parties is easy to get away with if it's done in the middle of a weekday...your husband probably won't even know he missed a good time and the great food.  Bridal and baby showers are almost always all female events so we can have those on the weekend without any fear of the men wanting to join in.  Every so often we'll branch out and have a brunch or a tea (wow...so very different) but we can't help but gravitate toward a ladies luncheon.  It must be in our XX chromosomes, since I know plenty of (XY) stay at home dads and never see them holding man lunches.
      I think part of the allure of the lunch is our need for socialization as well as our female "gatherer" instinct.  I, for one, am happy doing almost any task as long as it's in good company with a girl friend or two.  Washing dishes, Ug!...but when I have a buddy by my side (drying and gabbing) I'm in heaven.  Getting together with lots of gals at once is multitasking at our best.  We get the social contact we crave and "gather" tons of information (and maybe a little gossip too). 
      Does this explain the goofy party hats or overly precious decorations at some of these events...no, but we are girls and we like things to be pretty.  And I, in particular, love a theme. (Clearly my mother is to be blamed since I can remember all my themed birthday parities from my childhood, and I'm carrying on the same way with my daughter!) The mere suggestion of having a party with a theme makes my husband's eyes roll. (He barely could stand our Tex-Mex Super Bowl Party.  "Why can't it just be a regular party?")
      Minus the men I think we gals are given license to over decorate our tables, dress to impress our girl friends and eat the kind of food we enjoy.  I have never been to a ladies luncheon where wings, nachos or ribs were served.  I have however, been to many sit down as well as buffet lunches with tea sandwiches, beautiful salads, fruit & cheese platters, and plenty of wine.  (Hmm...perhaps part of this is an excuse to drink while the children are at school without any of your friends reporting you to DYFS? I digress!)  
      For some reason there always seems to be cake at ladies' lunch.  It really must go back to tying together the theme or perhaps the reason for the gathering.  Sometimes the cakes aren't edible, but decorative: a diaper cake, or a present tower wrapped to look like a wedding cake.  The ones you can eat usually have some cute saying (to go with the theme, duh) or are meant as well wishes for the guest of honor. 
      There are some main course dishes that are favorites because they are easy to do ahead, or are particularly stunning on a platter or are delicious crowd pleasers.  Chicken Marbella is THE party chicken dish. It fills all the afore mentioned requirements and it's been cropping up at luncheons in my life since the 80's when my mom got her first copy of The Silver Palate Cookbook.  (I'm pretty sure my God Mother served it at my wedding shower in 1993!) This is a go-to, tried and true recipe, although the list of ingredients sound like they won't go together (olives and prunes?) You must give it a try the next time you have your lady friends for lunch.  It was served at a friends going away party just last week and we gobbled it up. (Recipe Below)
        WIth all this talk of women-only gatherings, I want the guys to know that as much as we like to "do" ladies lunch, we still love to party with our menfolk.  And don't worry, we've got major socializing stamina.  Even after a week with a few lunches, we will still have enough party in us left to hobnob with you at a co-ed shindig! 


XO  Martha

Since Chicken Marbella is such a spectacular party dish, the quantities given are to serve 10-12, but the recipe can be successfully divided to make a smaller amount if you wish.
Chicken Marbella from the Silver Palate Cookbook

4 chickens, 2 1/2 pounds each, quartered (for parties I just use breasts)
1 head of garlic, peeled and finely pureed
1/4 cup dry oregano
coarse salt and ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup pitted prunes
1/2 cup spanish green olives
1/2 cup capers with a bit of juice
6 bay leaves
I cup brown sugar
1 cup white wine
1/4 cup Italian parsley or fresh cilantro, finely chopped

1.  In a large bowl combine chicken quarters, garlic, oregano, pepper and salt to taste, vinegar, oil, prunes, olives capers and juice, and bay leaves.  Cover and let marinate, refrigerated overnight.
2.  Preheat oven to 350.
3.  Arrange chicken in a single layer in one or two large shallow baking pans and spoon marinade over it evenly.  Sprinkle chicken pieces with brown sugar and pour white wine around them.
4.  Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, basting frequently with pan juices.  Chicken is done when thigh pieces, pricked with a fork at their thickest, yield clear yellow (rather pink) juice.
5.  With a slotted spoon transfer chicken, prunes, olives, and capers to a serving platter.  Moisten with a few spoonfuls of pan juices and sprinkle generously with parsley or cilantro.  Serve remaining pan juices in a sauceboat.
6. To serve Chicken Marbella cold, cool to room temp in cooking juices before transferring to a serving platter.  If chicken has been refrigerated allow it to return to room temp before serving.  Spoon some of the reserved juice over the chicken.
 
 
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      It's here!  NYC's famed Restaurant Week...and lucky for me just a short train ride away.  Also lucky...it's 20 days long (that's my kind of a "week long" celebration).  But with over 300 restaurants participating, they really had to do something to give us a fair chance of making a dent in that long list!


      These 20 days offer the opportunity to have a 3 course meal at a more affordable (than usual) prix-fixe price of $24.07 for lunch and $35.00 for dinner.  There are even more deals to be had for dining out more than three times or using your American Express card.

We took the kiddos to the Soho location of Dos Caminos (literally on the Southern side of Houston Street).  Translated Dos Caminos means, two paths, so I'm guessing the two paths are modern and Mexican?...since their tag line is "Modern Mexican Cuisine."  All I know is they have great food and really good drinks.  Their bar specialty is of course Margaritas.  We had their signature prickly pear version as well as a blue pomegranate margarita, both fabulous.  And they made specially flavored lemonades for the kids.
Quesadillas, fresh guacamole, fajitas, & a few shrimp dishes (that I didn't pay much attention to since I'm allergic!) were devoured.  But after dinner the compromise followed.  Mexican is not my daughter's favorite.  We'd cut a deal earlier, if she went to the place we wanted to eat...we'd have dessert at her favorite place in the Village for dessert.  
So a few blocks later we were ordering her a peanut butter and fluff sandwich at Peanut Butter & Co. and nibbling on it while we walked a block to Washington Square Park to see "The Arch" all lit up before we headed back to NJ.
I guess, all's fair in love and dining?  
There are only a few more days of restaurant week left, reservations are now open, 
book your table at NYCGO.COM/RESTAURANTWEEK or just click for more information on the (over) 300 restaurants participating.
 
 
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Groundhog, groundhog,
 what do you seek?

As out of your hole
 you quietly peek.

If the day be fair
, your shadow will be

Cast on the ground 
for all to see.

And back to your lair,
 you'll quickly creep

And for six long weeks
 again you'll sleep.

But if we're lucky,
 the sky will be gray,

And your shadow
 today will be far away.

Then all of us
 will dance and sing.

'Cause just around the corner, here comes Spring!

Mary Toots


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      I am as American as apple pie.  I love parades and adore most every holiday we celebrate in the USA.  However, I do understand how my Aussie and New Zealand friends question this Groundhog Day phenomenon.  This "Holiday" (one that thankfully doesn't prompt another day off from school) actually has deep roots, according to Wikipedia, going back to ancient European weather lore where they used a badger to predict spring.  (Obviously the groundhog is a notch above a badger. Just look at them and you can tell they are way more into meteorology than any other rodent.)  This tradition also has ties to the Celtic calendar, some pagan traditions, as well as the Christian feast day, Candlemas, which is a day commemorating an early event in Jesus' life when he was first presented at the temple as an infant.

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      Groundhog Day is recorded as being celebrated in the USA as early as 1841 in Pennsylvania.  And although most regions have their own local groundhog, THE groundhog in the USA is Punxsutawney Phil.  Phil is a celebrity and even has his own website.  Here in Northern, NJ we've got "Essex Ed" who resides at Turtle Back Zoo.  I rather like Ed, but I don't care for his human "interpreter," since the past two years he didn't even let Ed outside and the prediction also failed to reflect the weather! (I'm starting to think Essex Ed is on the take...after all it is NJ, home of the Sopranos.)

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    The Groundhog Day movie is one of my favorites and it also brought more widespread fame to Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, PA.  Wathcing this is a great way for the adults to celebrate (and with it's repetitive dialog can make for a great drinking game too).
      For the kiddos it's an opportunity for a more lighthearted approach to weather forecasting, and perhaps even a little celebration with a craft or a fun groundhog snack at school.

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     I'm eagerly anticipating Phil's prognosticating of the weather for the next six weeks.  Until then here's to hoping the You Tube video below encourages Phil to make the prediction we're all hoping for!