Archive for the 'Relaxing with Friends' Category

We’re Having a Party!

I love socializing. I love feeding people. I love my friends. I love throwing a good party. There are several parties/food events I do every year, some of them more elaborate than others. I used to throw a New Year’s Eve party. We had what I used to call “The Gang of Eight” – 4 couples that got together frequently during the year. After my son was born I called us the Gang of 8.5. 🙂 One of our standard get-togethers was on New Year’s Eve. menuAlong with a few other folk, we’d get together at my house for dinner and watch the ball drop. Then a few years ago some of us began murmuring about being too tired to stay up til midnight. I remember one year where I think 3 of the females were actually asleep on couches and chairs after dinner – we had to wake them before midnight. *grin* NOT ME. But you knew that. A few years ago I made an “executive decision” – I moved our get-together to New Year’s Day, called it Brunch/Lunch and invited a few more people. It was still a relatively small crowd and we did still have New Year’s Eve with a small handful of folk (who could stay awake, or at least attempted to make it to midnight).

This year, between the college football playoff games and my new kitchen, I decided a more drastic change was required. I decided that we would FINALLY have our “come see our gorgeous new kitchen” open house along with our New Year’s Day luncheon. coffe labelsOnce I drew up the invitation list, I saw I had around 60 people on the list. I’ve posted pictures of the inside of my house and you should know that it would be an extremely tight squeeze to fit 60 people on my first floor without removing furniture – even WITH removing furniture. I think the only time I’ve hosted that many simultaneously was for my son’s bris, when I think we had between 60-70 people there (and yes – we took most of the furniture out of the living room and put in folding chairs). We got lucky that day because it was in March and we had some springtime temperatures and people flowed out onto the deck as well. But I wasn’t worried. I knew that on my list there were some who wouldn’t come (just because they don’t come), some who would be away for the holiday, and some who had prior commitments. New Year’s Day is NOT an original date for a get-together. 🙂

How do you throw a party for 60 people? I start by looking at the folk I expect to show up, and noting all of their dietary preferences. *grin* My mother used to stress-out totally about entertaining. She was an ogre on the days leading up to the entertaining, and the day-of she would practically have palpitations. spiked punchAnd that would be just for having the bridge club over to play bridge (12 people there for a specific purpose eating only munchies, coffee & dessert), long before this day and age when everyone has some food preference and/or allergy. So I make my list: gluten-free, diabetic, kosher, vegetarian, no alcohol, following the keto diet, on a lose-weight diet. Apparently I also have someone who does not eat nightshade but I didn’t know that until she was there and checking ingredients. Once I have the food restrictions, I begin on my menu. There must be enough food that all of those people will have a CHOICE of something to eat. I don’t want to have a pile of carrot sticks to hand out and say “here – you can eat this”. 🙂 (Do carrots have nightshade??? Something new to learn and consider.)

When I have my basic idea of food groups – appetizers, main course, side-dishes, desserts, drinks, snacks – I being selecting recipes. I have certain staples that work for large groups – roasting a turkey, large rectangular pan of quiche, bagels/lox/cream cheese – plus the standard drinks. gluten free Paring the menu down to the selected dishes is the next step. The dish has to fit the mood, fit my loose kashrut standards (no pork, no shellfish, no mixing meat & dairy in one dish) and be tasty. For this party I decided that other than my main courses (turkey, quiche, bagels/lox/cream cheese), all the other dishes had to be new and different – NOT like my other party menus. 🙂 And that meant – turn to the internet and browse!!!

Easy Red Lentil Soup

I first made this recipe back in September for my annual “Ladies’ dinner in the Sukkah”. The last 2 years, as it happens, the dinner has been in my dining room because it has been RAINING when we were supposed to be dining outside in the sukkah. Typically I make a dairy meal for this event for a variety of reasons. First, if I’m inviting folks who observe kashrut it’s easier for me to have something they will eat if I stick with dairy. Second, Sukkot is a harvest festival and vegetables and dairy seem much more appropriate. Third, some of my guests are vegetarians and so that pretty much says no meat.

My standard default meal starts with quiche, soup and fresh bread, and then I go from there. I’ve been making the same soup for the last few years – Ash’e Reshte (Persian Noodle Soup). I use the recipe from the “Persian Food from the Non-Persian Bride” cookbook. It’s a very simple, quick recipe and tastes delicious. This year one of my guests followed a gluten-free diet so noodle soup did not seem appropriate. img_0016I wasn’t in the mood for a vegetable soup so I began searching for lentil recipes online. I found one that appeared simple, yet tasty – NY Times Red Lentil Soup with Lemon. I read many of the comments (wow, some people really don’t hold back) and took them to heart as well. The ladies seemed to like the soup – it was all gone by the end of the evening, and I knew I’d found a new addition to my cooking repertoire.

This past week the forecast had been for a major weather event of some kind – snow, rain, sleet, ice or all of that at one point or another. I thought that soup and biscuits would be a great Friday night dinner. Alas, my plans were derailed by work. No way I had time to make dinner. Fortunately my husband came home with a grocery store-roasted chicken. 🙂 We agreed that Saturday would be Red Lentil soup with fresh salad and fresh bread. I was out running errands so rather than baking my own bread or biscuits, I stopped into Panera’s and picked up an Asiago Cheese focaccia. img_0017I made the salad in the early afternoon and started on the soup around 5:30 or so, AFTER feeding the cats. There are priorities in this household after all. 🙂

The soup is amazingly simple, wonderfully tasty and was the perfect meal for a cold rainy night. I’ve given you the link to the recipe – I do suggest you read some of the comments. People have very different expectations for a recipe and you will want to find the comments that echo what you like to eat. I made these changes (and I wrote them down so I’d remember from time to time):

1.5 generous cups of lentils
4 curry leaves
3 generous tablespoons of tomato paste
6 cloves of freshly minced garlic

The first time I made it I grated half the carrot and diced the rest. Last night I grated all of the carrot. Neither time did I bother with the immersion blender. The first time I forgot the lemon at the end and this time I remembered – delicious both ways. Neither time did I add cilantro – I’m not really fond of cilantro. This recipe is fast, one pot and delicious!

Happy New Year

IMG_9978That title is both a wish and a description. I wish you and yours a happy healthy new year to come. And I am overcome with emotion from my wonderfully happy new year’s day brunch yesterday. I don’t even know where to start to tell you about it – it is such a whirlwind of activity and emotion hosting an open house for family and friends. I do know one thing for sure, however, that I have to tell you – and will say repeatedly – I could never have done it without my sister’s help. She and her husband and my husband worked and prepped and cooked and baked and cleaned through the 4 days it took to match this party to my hopes and expectations. 🙂 But of the 3 of them it was my sister who put in hours doing a lot of the manual labor and tedious tasks while I bustled about on more glamorous endeavors. My sister was my rock. Best Sister Ever.

For me, throwing a party is about family, food, friends, and, for certain parties, football 🙂 The football was a bit disappointing for this brunch but I have the best friends and family. IMG_9982Food is important but if you don’t have great friends who like to come out and meet and greet each other, you aren’t going to have a good time. I have to say that I am extremely fortunate in my friends. Everyone socializes and talks to folks they might not have met before. There was a lot of laughing and conversation and hugging and handshaking. My friends come with their happiness on high and share it around. I loved getting to see everyone and chat and to see them all having fun together. This party was billed as both a new year’s day party and a ‘come see the new kitchen’ party. *grin* More on that another day.

We were also fortunate in the weather – nearly 60 degrees and sunny in the afternoon. I always use my deck as my “walk in refrigerator” for my winter parties. I confess I was a little concerned about how WARM it was – if my desserts and drinks would stay fresh. IMG_9986 *grin* The upside of the warm weather was being able to set up the deck so folks could be outside and enjoying the sun!

The party lasted from bright warm sunshine into the dark hours, but the fun never diminished. Okay, for the cats the fun ceased completely once I brought out the vacuum cleaner that morning. 🙂 GC and BC disappeared back upstairs until the last guest left. WC attempted to hold her own in the sun room, refusing to budge so that I could clean the couch but she finally retreated upstairs when the first guests arrived. The 3 of them were quite relieved once I shut the front door for good. But as for ME – I’m still feeling the ‘afterglow’.

An Unexpected Gift

They say that revenge is a dish best served cold, meaning it happens long after the fact. What do they say about gifts that appear long after the gifting? There must be some equally apt phrase. Maybe it’s “good things come to those who wait”.

fricker1I have finally decided to upgrade my blog from a free account to a paid account. I have no good reason. Or rather, I suspect the final straw is NOT something that will be handled by a paid account. The last week or so I’ve been getting trackbacks from spam sites. It was annoying. I’ve also used over 75% of my media storage. I thought I’d investigate and see what I’d learn.

I had a wonderful, informative, upbeat chat with the online chat support. Do you know that they are called “Happiness Engineers”? I think that is a GREAT title. The person with whom I was chatting was a fantastic representative of that concept. She gave me a discount code to give me 2 months free. I noticed something odd when I went to pay. The screen was showing me a $15 credit, bringing the bill to $33. When I put in the discount code, the amount was just over $39. ???? I asked my happiness engineer where the $15 credit originated. She said “The $15 credit is applying the value you have left in your current plan to the upgraded one.” Well that was odd. fricker 3My current plan was a FREE plan, I had never paid any money to WordPress. The HE agreed my plan was a free one and she investigated further. “I show $15 in gift credit from a user named “Fricker Fraker” back in 2009. Dear reader, I kid you not – tears came to my eyes.

Fricker – I don’t know where you are, or how you are, but thank you, thank you, thank you. What a sweet, generous gesture on your part. Which is exactly how I remember you.

Ahuva ❤ Fricker

Beauty and Function

My husband will say it’s Function and Beauty. Every time he does something in the kitchen (cooks, cleans, preps) he comes over to me and says “As beautiful as it is, it’s even more functional than it is beautiful.” I always reply “it’s equally beautiful and functional.” It really is. IMG_9479 We are both amazed and delighted each and every time we are in the kitchen. I’m not sure but I think the sink might actually be the best single improvement in the room.

Our contractor did not think we had sufficient cabinets and counters. We kept assuring him that we thought we were okay with the new plan and that for us it was so much more than we’d ever had. He (and most everyone else) told us to think ahead, that just because it was better didn’t mean we’d achieved best. We think we achieved best. I cannot believe how simple it has become to prepare a meal. It’s so easy, and such a pleasure, that I’m cooking again, not just baking. *laughing* Sometimes we both say “I thought I’d make this for dinner tonight” and one of us will give way and let the other have the fun. I love how I can have my measures right at hand along with the compost bin, and my knives within reach if I need a new one. IMG_9474When I work there at the counter the stove is just to my right, easy reach to go from cutting board to pot.

Today we passed the last of the official township inspections: electrical, building (fire), and plumbing (note the Oxford comma). (By the way, every inspector commented on how beautiful they found the new kitchen.) That does NOT mean, however, that we have actually finished this renovation. We still have a final payment reckoning. There were MANY add-ons, and those costs need to be tallied. In addition, the floor is still not right. They are coming on Thursday to try to fix it. I’ve been promised deck lights and we’ve actually agreed on what kind and how many and where. And the kitchen ceiling still needs to be sanded and painted after the plumbing leak. We’re close, but we are NOT there yet.

I WAS going to throw a party in November, a “come see my beautiful new kitchen” party. That is not going to happen, at least not in November. It will happen on New Year’s day. Now that we moved our New Year’s Eve party to New Year’s Day, we’ll invite the world to THAT party to see the gorgeous kitchen. In the meantime we have cooked meals for a few people already. I had the ladies over for Sukkot, we had another friend over for Sukkot, and friends over last weekend for a soup-to-nuts dinner – cocktails through to dessert. IMG_9520My husband and I were able to do that dinner without any bumping into each other, or needing to time counter space or any other “right of way” issues. It was great. I made bread (from scratch, no bread machine), Turkish coffee brownies, salad, yogurt pie, and roasted broccoli & cauliflower. My husband did his wonderful hand-made pasta, and a tagine chicken dish that is sensational. I also had time to make all the accoutrements for the cocktails: allspice dram and a cranberry syrup. It was all so much fun!!!!! The leftovers are pretty yummy also. 🙂

A Day at the Beach

IMG_8581Literally. There’s been a lot happening with renovation and personal issues. I’ve started several blogs but have been too crazed to finish and post. The short summary is that I had some minor surgery on Friday – part of the being crazed and then being totally exhausted. My niece, operating from her own POV and life (do other people REALLY have lives that do not center on ME???? 🙂 ) contacted me and her mom (my sister) and suggested a beach day. The Jersey shore is my idea of heaven on earth so I “let” them “twist my arm”. We piled into the convertible and headed down the shore. *grin* Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” blasting from the speakers, passengers singing along loudly:
“Woah, we’re half way there
Woah, livin’ on a prayer
Take my hand, we’ll make it I swear
Woah, livin’ on a prayer”

I said to my sister: We’re being filmed right now. We must be in a movie or a commercial. 🙂

We are spoiled Jersey Girls – we NEVER go down the shore on the weekend – we always take off during the week. view of NY and shipsSo we were astounded at the backup to get into Sandy Hook. It must have been over 30 minutes to go those 2 miles. Of course I did NOT wait there. 🙂 And NO, I did NOT line cut right at the end. I headed south past the exit, found a place to turn around and come back from that direction. Much faster. We found a great parking spot, a great blanket spot. The weather was perfect, the neighbors were orderly, quiet, no cigarettes, no music, no screaming. It was all perfect beach sounds of wind, surf, seagulls, and happy people. Only 2 sounds marred the perfection. The first was a drone but mercifully it only went by twice. NOT a beach sound. The 2nd was the sound of the group next to us with their battery-operated blender (against park rules, btw). But everytime they crushed that ice, omg, I wanted to go over and make friends. 🙂 I’d consider getting one but I don’t want to have to shlepp the ice.

Anyway – I’m sharing my day of healing and escape with you. I don’t have a premium account so I can’t upload the video I made just for you.

Renovation recording will resume.

view from my blanket

A Last Hurrah

kitchen stove dining room doorLast night we threw our last party with our old kitchen. It was Memorial Day weekend, always a great time to throw a BBQ. We had several reasons, however, to throw a party. Our wonderful next-door neighbors are moving down (back) to Florida. They will be gone by mid-June. All of us in the neighborhood are heart-broken that they are leaving. We love them, we’ve had such good times together, it was a wonderful, wonderful relationship. I decided that we needed to do a good, fun send-off to remind them how much they like us all and that they would need to come back and visit. (I already have a promise of a return for our Passover seder. 🙂 ) When I first proposed the Bye-bye BBQ I thought that we’d have already lost our kitchen – that we’d be doing this kitchen-free. I’m very happy that we still had a kitchen to do food preparation.

Kitchen sink door to basementThat was the second “last hurrah” – bye-bye to the kitchen. For 34 years we’ve been entertaining, throwing parties, feeding people all from this kitchen and breakfast room. Okay – I’m exaggerating. The breakfast room and deck are only 28 years old. Putting that addition on the house was a true life changer. When we do BBQs, drinks and appetizers are out on the deck and the dinner selections are in the breakfast room. I probably should have taken some pictures of that last night – we had a MOUNTAIN of ribs. 🙂 And LOTS of non-meat sides because we have a fair number of vegetarians in our gathering.

view from breakfast room to front hallYet another reason for the BBQ was my brother-in-law’s birthday. He, like our guests of honor neighbors, is carnivorous so we decided on beef ribs. My sister has a membership in a fantastic warehouse called “Restaurant Depot”. It has every and anything a restaurant/food vendor would want/need. My brother-in-law and I went there on Friday to get the ribs. It’s probably not a good idea to let the 2 of us do this sort of adventure without a chaperone because we both believe that more food is better. No – more than more. We came home with about 30 pounds of beef ribs. But that’s fine, because in 3 days, we’re not going to have a kitchen, no stove, and we’re going to still need to eat. Leftovers!!!! I know some people HATE leftovers but I love them. Leftovers mean I don’t have to cook or prepare something. My husband is the real chef in the family (I bake) and he did a great dry rub on the ribs. For good measure we tossed in some chicken dogs and veggie burgers. view from breakfast room doorwayWe had sugar free cheesecake and sugar free pound cake with fresh fruit and whipped cream for those needing SF, and we had sugar full cheesecake and sugar full ice cream cake for those wanting that good old sugar hit. The appetizers were delicious also. I’ll also give a little mention to the fact that I nearly lost my husband last night. As in permanently. One of my guests brought a home-made keto dessert (she’s very big on all sorts of healthy diets) and I’m not really sure what these things were, but they were sugar free. So she gave 2 to my husband who, of course, ate them. I only found out after the fact when I heard her describing the ingredients which included macadamia nuts. I said – don’t give any to him because he is highly allergic to macadamia nuts. Which is when I heard he’d already eaten them. Everyone joked about it and teased him and her, but the truth is – he was somewhat sick from them last night. 2 little tiny doses but enough for him to have a reaction. :/

I originally planned to do this party today, but as I write this post, rain is thundering down outside, and our phones periodically beep with emergency alert notices about flash flooding. The weather forecasters got all of that right because that was the forecast they were giving a week ago, which is when I said better move the party to Saturday night.

breakfast room table pots and pans closetEighteen of us on the deck – chairs and space enough for everyone, although I will admit there was a tight squeeze in one corner. I had the chance to show everyone the plans for the renovation, and got to show off the now-famous upstairs hall door (you remember – an essential piece for The Great Incarceration). We’ve decided on the faucet for the kitchen sink (somewhat steampunky) and I got to show pictures of that as well. Plus the really amazing steampunk faucet we are NOT getting. 🙂 It’s going to be a huge change.

I’m going to miss my kitchen. I know that many people look at my kitchen and go “ugh”. It’s small, old, kitschy, loud. But I do love it. I love the pink and yellow and bright and the art work and the decorations. I no longer love the floor (28 years ago) or the stove (15 years ago) and I hate that the cabinets and drawers don’t work properly. I’m not loving the current ant invasion, either. Despite all its flaws, when it’s clean and bright, it makes me smile. It makes me happy. I’ve been worried about getting a new, modern, soulless kitchen. I think we’ve made some good choices so that although we will have a new modern kitchen, it shouldn’t be soulless. Time will tell.

breakfast room cat treeToday, however, is designated as “pack up the kitchen and breakfast room day”. Tomorrow is probably the same thing. We are working out a plan for how/when to move cat paraphernalia upstairs in preparation for The Great Incarceration. We are trying to determine in advance where we will put all the boxed up kitchen ‘stuff’. We have a lot of stuff. Where did all this stuff come from? Do we NEED all this stuff????

Tick tock, tick tock….. Less than 48 hours til the wrecking crew arrives…..


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