In 1980...at the ripe old age of 10, I made my first trek down to the Outer Banks in North Carolina on a family vacation. My father and uncle decided it was an up and coming place to vacation. (They were right, and totally ahead of their time.) Every year since I've come to "OBX" so that's a tradition in itself.
My Aunt, Uncle and parents had no idea how strong a tradition they were instilling!
They modeled a vacation where everyone pitched in with the household chores,
and we all enjoyed looking after the little ones and we played games we all could participate in like Uno. We went boogie boarding, sailing, & flew kites.
We ate out probably every other night, but we always had a lobster night and we also
had dinners of spot (a kind of fish) filets that my father caught wading in the surf
while we were swimming or making drippy castles.
A large form of entertainment for us was putting on musical skits...our favorite in the 80's was the magenta flamingo skit. Our kids' favorite in 2003 was "cows."
In 1987 my high school boy friend started coming with us. He was used as my
younger cousins' personal jungle gym, and despite some of their best efforts to come between us, he passed the test, they liked him, and he was proclaimed a keeper. My college roommate Mara and her boy friend, Walt followed in the early 1990s. In fact Mara went on my family vacation to OBX in 1993, while that high school boyfriend and I were on our honeymoon (yup, I married him...I told you he was a keeper.)
A few years after college (and for some law school) we decided to start renting our own house in the Outer Banks with Mara and Walt & we invited our family to come stay with us.
Once we started having kids we got down to showing them all the great things we love about coming to OBX: Days on the beach, sharing a bedroom with your "cousins," climbing the light house, biking, sailing and lots of time spent with family.
Now a days we spend time on the tennis court, go stand up paddle boarding or plan
our favorite dinner..."hors d'ouevres for dinner" night (starring such favorites as baked garlic, seven layer dip, texas caviar, or chex mix) Mara's Dad, and the Arizona contingent come for a week...and that's proof that it's a fun week right there,
since getting to OBX from Arizona is a huge pain in the neck. Various family of mine as well as Jed's folks come to relive the fun over and over again, too.
Though it's been 32 years, it's still my favorite vacation.
My house is booked for next summer but until then I may need a little
Outer Banks fix...maybe I'll make a seven layer dip for dinner!!
For our family the beginning of June means
It's Street Fair Time!
Our Church, St. Peter's Episcopal Church, in Essex Fells is our second family and our second home. And every year when St.Peter's throws the Street Fair...it's all hands on deck! The parking lot behind our church is transformed. Game booths, lights, flags and tents are laboriously put in place. Manning the event takes literally every-BODY available to cook, run games, sell tickets, stock the prize booth and a few brave souls willing to take a dip in the dunk tank!
(FYI Below on the left is our priest suiting up for the dunk tank! God bless her!)
The Street Fair is good, clean, cheap and
old fashioned fun for the whole family.
Where else can you get a handful of tickets for $20 and have it take over an hour "spending" them on face painting, the moon bounce, dart balloons, the china smash, and a wacky dress up photo booth? Or feed your family (for less than McDonald's prices) with grilled burgers, hot dogs or a BBQ chicken dinner?
There's something for everyone from our used book sale to a decorate your own cupcake booth! Or how about pony rides, cotton candy or a chance to win the 50/50?
We parishioners have so much fun getting together, letting our kids run around or helping us "work" that we often forget this event isn't just for us! It's actually one of our most amazing outreach ministries. Most of "West Essex" turns up at our fair. They know they can count on us to be friendly and welcoming to all our guests. The fair is a safe place and filled with wholesome entertainment so it's not unusual to have local kids ride their bikes or walk over for the evening to play.
The fair brings us together and is the official start to our summer. We know that the Street Fair can bring in much needed revenue for St. Peter's to use for our operating costs and for ministries that we support financially. But the greatest gift the Street Fair brings us year after year are new parishioners to our fold.
Because of our exposure during the Street Fair we gain new families in our
Nursery School, our Vacation Bible School Camp and in our church pews because folks who came to our transformed parking lot were transformed by the good time and wonderful feeling they took away by spending some time with us.
They are bitten by the St. Peter's bug and quite often by next June they've joined us flipping burgers, working the ring toss booth and inviting their friends
to come experience an evening at the St. Peter's Street Fair.
Come and join us next year!
Memorial Day Weekend, the last full weekend in May, is the official start of summer in America. For most of New Jersey that means going "down the shore" but for our family it means heading for the hills...of Vermont.
It was unseasonably warm this weekend, but Vermont's late May springtime was still in full bloom with the lilac bushes covered in nectar seeking butterflies. The weekend was spent happily partaking in the rituals of the first nice weather days: washing the muck off the jeep (our official taxi to and from skiing), going up to the attic of the garage to pull down the patio seat cushions and put up the sleds and toboggans, lugging out, cleaning off and repainting the patio furniture, cleaning the winter salt and sand out of the garage and searching for the life vests for the motor boat...you get the picture!
A day of housework was rewarded with a trip to the ice cream stand, a walk through the flea market and our favorite dinner spot: Jerry's Deck Bar. Sunday we went out on the boat and enjoyed a beautiful sunny day on Lake Whittingham. The kids insisted on going in the water...for about two seconds...it was freezing (duh, it's May in Vermont).
Monday had to include red, white and blue...and a nod to our forefathers who fought for our freedom...and provided us with a long weekend! Strawberry and blueberry shortcake fit the bill and was a sweet ending to the first weekend of summer. XO Martha
Making shortcake is easy:
Follow the directions on the Bisquick package to make the cakes. While they are baking, slice strawberries and toss with one or two spoonfuls of sugar and blueberries. Let the cakes cool, then slice in half. When you're ready for dessert layer the bottom of the cake with fruit, top with whipped cream. Add the top of the shortcake and repeat!
I'm determined to spend as much time as I can with Kate and the Thompsons before they move to the other side of the planet. I'm now bribing them with classic American food that they somehow have missed out on during their nearly five year stay. How is it possible that other than by way of Colonel Sanders (aka KFC) these folks have missed out on fried chicken? Seriously they've never had home cooked, hot out of the pot, drained on a paper towel, fried chicken? How un-American!
Then again, maybe they just didn't feel like cooking dinner...or maybe they actually want to spend more time with me, too!?
I love fried chicken but I only make it when the weather is agreeable and I can do it outside, since I hate the way grease makes the house smell. Like my mother-in-law and her "Outside Onion Rings" I make fried chicken using the burner on my grill - outside!
The Aussies arrived in time to see how this American favorite is done. My chicken pieces were "marinating" in a buttermilk concoction and sealed up in ziplock gallon containers. I cracked up when Kate was alarmed as I started chucking the chicken pieces into a trash bag. I always use a big doubled brown paper shopping bag filled with the flour and spices to dredge my chicken pieces before frying. I don't know why it works so well, but it's the way I've always seen it done...and so that's the way I do it! Little Miss T even helped me shake the bag.
I use about 3-4 inches of vegetable oil (you can also melt crisco/shortening) in a dutch oven or deep frying pan. You know it's ready when you flick a few drops of water in and they sizzle and pop...high heat! It takes about 10 minutes total time, turning once half way through, to make the chicken golden brown and cooked through. I had some very thick breast pieces that needed at least 15 minutes. I always try and cook like-size pieces at the same time and try not to crowd the pot with too many pieces at once.
3 out of 4 Thompsons approved of the chicken. (Keep in mind the one who abstained from eating chicken was Miss T who only eats air...with a side of peanut butter and ice cream.) Jack requested drumsticks and the photos say it all...
Please note: this is one of those meals I make without a recipe, proportions are guessed at, so add more or less of the things you like or don't like.
Enjoy! XO Martha
This is my kind of class room!
Just in time for Cinco De Mayo, I went back to the Astor Center in NYC for a class on Tequila. A few moths ago I went to the Astor Center for a class on Whisky.
My husband (the whisky drinker) passed that one off as a Christmas present. This time our class was an anniversary present, so
I made sure it was for something
I really like to drink and
TEQUILA fit the bill!
I took copious notes from master mixologist, Elayne Duke, but as interesting as all the info was, my pages filled with chicken scratch are a bit like "pulque" the disgusting fermented nectar of the agave plant...with no distillation. It's got 3-4% alcohol but it's really yucky tasting so I'm going to attempt to "distill" my notes and give you the best anejo tequila version I can muster.
Click photo to link to the Sangrita recipe
Class at the Astor Center always begins with a welcome cocktail (that's my kind of intro). So we sipped Platino Tequila alternately with Sangrita while we got the Aztec legend version of how the agave plant came to be. The agave plant is pretty cool, you can make all kinds of things with it...a needle and thread, a roof, timber and it's full of nutrients. But the Mayan's didn't figure out it's most "magical" (alcoholic) powers until one day when lightening hit an agave plant splitting it open, and cooking and fermenting it and reveling what they called a "gift of the Gods."
Click photo to link to the Tommy Margarita recipe
I suggest that all this tequila information be digested with the help of a cocktail or two from this class. Clearly drinking tequila is the most suitable method for making the learning about tequila most palatable.
Fermented agave was originally reserved for priests and priestesses only. But things changed in the early 1500's when the Spanish arrived in Mexico. They were used to drinking wine, but there were no grapes in Mexico.
Click photo to link to the La Paloma recipe
Not to be hindered from getting their drink on, the Spanish introduced the pot still to Mexico and used what was available to make alcohol= agave. That resulted in the birth of Vino De Mezcal. From there things blossomed over the next 2-300 years (yes, this is a cliff notes version).
Most tequila production was and is still located in a northern area called Jalisco because that's where the blue agave plant is most prevalent thanks to the excellent growing conditions with rich volcanic soil.
Time for a another cocktail break and I suggest La Paloma because it is very light and refreshing. But it also has a few ingredients you may not have on hand...in which case you should make a Tommy Margarita before reading on!
Mr. Martha gave La Paloma a big thumbs up
Here's the most important thing you need to know about tequila. A lot of tequilas are really "mixtos" (especially the ones that are "gold") they are 51% blue agave but the other 49% is just crap...sugars and filler but they are allowed to be labeled "tequila." The bottle you want to buy needs to say 100% blue agave to be getting a good product and not be taken for a ride.
Click photo to link to the El Diablo recipe
It wasn't until 1996 that tequila was recognized as the national drink of Mexico. Only blue agave spirits produced in Mexico can be called tequila...they have the international rights to that name. There are different tequila classifications and they have to do more with how they are produced and how long they are aged. For example Blanco (or silver tequila) is clear and un-aged as opposed to Reposado (literally translated "rested") tequilas that are fermented and aged in wood barrels. I found a great little guide to tequila classifications at tequila.net. You should check it out if you are interested in knowing more about what goes into a tequila being an Anejo or an Extra Anejo!
Our class was fabulous. We had 4 straight spirits tastings, plus four tasty cocktails and our dizzy heads were full of tequila information. What we needed next was a mexican restaurant! Elayne recommended a fabulous place called Mayahuel Bar, but that's an adventure for another day. We opted for stumbling around the village until we found a a place a few blocks away that had a table for two free. Elayne said a good liquor should get the back of your throat tingling and stimulating you to drink and eat more...and it sure worked for us!
Cheers! XO Martha
It's hard not to be easy going and lovable when you are a golden retriever. My girls are especially good dogs who put up with a lot of abuse from visiting little ones, older kids running and bating them to follow or using them as throw pillows. They are incredibly entertaining to us and give us much love and devotion while asking very little from us. When we are eating or cooking they don't bother us or beg from the table...though they will sit under the dining room table in case something drops. We do, however, need to work on coffee table ettiquette, it's hard for them to resist drooling on eye level treats and their bushy tails knock everything in their path over. My dogs also have an uncanny ability to peg unwitting guests as weak links...children (low to the ground) and people allergic to fur are favorite "targets." They are fed a cup of dog food twice a day, one vitamin apiece and a little dog treat once or twice a day...no table scraps...and this suits them just fine.
Until...you bring out the peanut butter.
They LOVE peanut butter.
I can start making a peanut butter sandwich and within a minute they will smell it and come running. They like to try and squeeze themselves between me and the
kitchen counter whenever anything with peanut butter is involved.
My son usually takes a peanut butter sandwich to school for lunch,
and the girls know it. They also know my son at age 10 still prefers his sandwich
without the crust...and sandwich crusts are the only table scraps I ever give them.
My older dog, Maggie, is a bit more obsessed with peanut butter than her little sister, Martha. Maggie especially loves when Miss T, age 4 and human, comes to lunch. Maggie and Miss T are peanut butter kindred spirits. Miss T prefers open face peanut butter sandwiches cut in the shape of a heart. The peanut butter sometimes gets on her hands while she's eating and she sometimes forgets to use a napkin and sometimes wipes her hands on the back of her pants. It's no surprise that Maggie likes to sit right next to Miss T and help her keep her pants and her chair clean. When a lot of folks are coming over I put the dogs up into my bedroom, just so I don't have to keep track of what they are up to. But if Maggie is shut upstairs and hears Miss T's voice she knows the peanut butter can't be far away. She doesn't mean to be naughty, but she MUST get to Miss T! So, my big, fat, slow moving Maggie becomes Houdini. It doesn't matter what kind of barrier I've put up...peanut butter is her kryptonite, she is powerless to resist and she breaks through to seek her doggy destiny.
Recipe for a happy & content dog =
a nearly empty plastic peanut butter jar.
When I've used up a jar of peanut butter, I save it until I have two and then it's treat time for my furry friends. A nearly empty, lidless jar of peanut butter will keep your dog happy and entertained for a long time...it's an especially good back deck or outside treat.
(I'm also betting it could work at keep Miss T happy and entertained, too!)
For the past two years I've been hanging at a weight that I am not comfortable with. The number on the scale has been the same as on the day I checked out of the hospital with my second child and I easily dropped another 15 pounds within a few weeks postpartum back then. Not good. Unfortunately, I'm no longer in my 20s or 30s...but in my 40s. I work out, play tennis and walk a lot. But, I also like to eat and drink and I have poor self control when it comes to counting or consuming calories. I am great at maintaing my weight, but losing weight is another story. Generally, I'm tired of feeling dumpy and I thought Lent would be a good kick in the rear to get me going.
Part of my Lenten commitment has been training for a 5K breast cancer race for the cure in early May. A bunch of church friends are "racing" and raising money
in honor of one of our sister parishioners who is celebrating her 3 year anniversary
of being cancer free. The second part of my commitment has been, no booze on
weekdays and counting calories. I decided to kick things off with a 3 day juice cleanse. Overall it wasn't so bad, but I did miss chewing. I also found that by day 2 my mind
was consumed with thoughts of making every juice product I saw, made, or tasted into
a cocktail...after all I really am a mixologist at heart. I made about half of the
juices I drank over the course of my three day experiment and carrot juice was
the liquefier for several of them. Carrot juice is okay...but wouldn't it be better
if it was a carrot martini? Yes, that's the way my mind works.
Click photo to link to the recipe
Once the three day "cleanse" was over...I had leftovers...time for some fun and the birth of my carrot martini. The best part of this drink happened when I was getting my props ready to take a picture of the cocktail. I didn't have carrots with the tops on and I thought maybe I could fake it by putting cilantro next to the carrots. Then I thought maybe the drink could benefit from a little cilantro infusion and a handful of chopped cilantro kicked it up to a
recipe worthy of sharing
and photographing. People leave milk and cookies out for Santa Clause, maybe I should leave one of these out for the Easter Bunny?
I'm not sure full time juicing is something I'll do again, but I've decided that some of
these "juices" could be the key for me to an issue a lot of folks overlook when trying
to lose weight, which is maintaining a steady blood sugar level. (Click here to read
more about how your body turns your unused sugar into fat, and how to blood sugar
and insulin work in the battle of the bulge.) I am now drinking two sips here and there
of one bottle of pre made juice through out the day, I'm also popping raw almonds with
my sips. It helps keep me from bad snacking and at least in theory is helping to keep
my blood sugar level balanced. This is much like the 7 little snacks instead of
three meals a day that many weigh loss experts recommend.
Click photo to link to the recipe
Odwalla brand's C Monster, Strawberry C is one of my favorite pre-made drinks and once again I was pretty sure it would taste even better with liquor. A lot of these juices are rather thick and sweet so I thought about trying to make it lighter...adding bubbles with seltzer. I'm also really into adding herbs and this time I used mint which tasted great and looked really pretty too. Without the alcohol I think this C Monster Punch would make a really pretty drink for a kids party. (FYI My kids tried it and liked it!)
I've been off the full juice band wagon for a few weeks, but stayed on with the calorie counting and running regime. It looks like my discipline has paid off. This morning I ran about 4 miles in 35 minutes, and I've managed to get about 8 pounds lighter during Lent. (I should also mention I've only eaten 2 girl scout cookies...out of the 20 boxes in my house...now that's real self control!) So, on Easter it will be time for me to congratulate myself with a reward. For Martha, reward = a drink. I'm going for the visually appealing blackberry pineapple smash. Surely, it's at least a little healthy...after all there are blackberries in it and they are full of antioxidants! XO Enjoy! Martha
We all know why turkey and ham is a go to meal for big holidays: they feed a crowd.
In fact, I feel like the bigger they are, the easier they are to make. But they do
often leave you with a lot of leftovers. That's a problem for a woman like me, who
has a husband "allergic" to leftovers. I usually try and make the leftovers look like something new. I will make a casserole, or chicken salad or my sneakiest plan...
...make soup a month after the meal!
I'm not above hiding the evidence...in the freezer. Leftover meaty ham bones,
or chicken and turkey carcasses get thrown in a zip lock bag and "hidden" in the freezer until later when I pull them out and make soup. I often make my own chicken stock
just to have on hand, but I like to make a turkey carcass into soup. It's easy and
makes a huge pot. So next time you need to pass the turkey leftovers off as
an original meal...make turkey noodle soup (click for the recipe).
PS I'm hoping someone will share a good recipe for split pea soup with
The Communal Pantry...I'm in the market for a good one!
Maybe it's your job, or husband,or kids getting to you, making you itch to break away. Heck, maybe it's all three. Whatever the trigger, we all need to get out for a change of scenery and when that happens; seize the moment!
A few weeks ago I got
away with The Pantry team
to a foodie function in NYC.
The event was great, but we were done by 8:15 and none of us were ready to go home, quite yet.
We were in Soho and stores were still open. So we did what girls do best and shopped. We found a great luxury bath and body store, Sabon, on Spring Street, then we ambled by the newest Georgetown Cupcake store, but what we really wanted was a bar where we could have a fancy cocktail and chat.
Thank heavens for the iphone. We summonsed up the bars closest to where we were standing and we hit the jackpot. Less than a block away was the Merc Bar at 151 Mercer Street. It's a really groovy scene, rustic and refined rolled into one. It's a place that makes you feel like you are cool and hip (even if you're a mom from NJ). Its menu is all liquor. They are just
a bar, no nibbles, nothing distracting them from keeping
their eye on the prize which is making amazing drinks.
Their cocktail list was fabulous. There was no way any of us could order
the same drink, we had to try as many as possible...and wished we had more friends
with us to justify ordering more. Let me tell you, it took a lot of self control
not to slurp these down before we took some pictures, so feast your eyes.
All of our beverages were amazing. We played our own version of musical drinks, sipping and passing around the table. The next few weeks I'll be working my mixologist deciphering magic and try to recreate several of the drinks on their menu. My drink, pictured on the far left was called the Sexy Sadie. It was made with Grey Goose Poire Vodka, elderflower liqueur, pear puree and Mathilde Blackcurrant. It tasted devine and even if I haven't figure out exactly how they make it, my version tastes pretty darn good and you should give it a try (click here)...hmm maybe I should call mine a Sexy Martha?
Anyone up for a girl's night out and a little road/train trip?
I can't wait to go back to SoHo and the Merc Bar...on purpose this time.
Cheers! XO Martha