Archive for the 'Relaxing with Friends' Category

Small Town 4th of July

crowd 3

I live in a fairly small town. I’ve spent the majority of my life in this town. My immediate family is/was also in this town. We have street fairs, parades, festivals and, of course, a July 4th celebration. Oddly enough I don’t remember taking part in the 4th of July festivities very often, if at all. July 4th was my parents’ wedding anniversary, and I used to throw a BBQ for them. That evolved into a BBQ with friends (all of whom lived in town). We’d wander out into the street after dark to try to glimpse the fireworks, or we’d all traipse down to the river to have a good view of the fireworks. crowd 2In the last few years we loaded ourselves into the car and drove to a bridge to watch the fireworks from there (with many others who also pulled over and parked on the bridge for just that purpose). But we rarely headed down to the park itself to join the town celebration.

This year I’m a little tuckered out from busy weekends and sweaty weather. I made no plans to entertain, figuring we’d do this long weekend in the ‘spur of the moment’. Early in the week I asked my husband if he’d go down to the park with me and he agreed. You may not understand how momentous it was for him to agree. He isn’t really much into doing things outdoors in the heat. He gets devoured by mosquitoes. He has fair skin and burns in the sun. He’s not really overly fond of crowds. Opposites attract, right? I LOVE being out in the hot sun. I often think I am a form of vampire, because crowd energy is food for me, and I suck it right into my soul.

Once he agreed I started planning (some might say obsessing) with how to make it palatable so that (1) he would follow through on his agreement, (2) we wouldn’t have to leave early and (3) maybe we could do it again next year. 🙂 The park is on the other side of the town from us – about a 20 minute relaxed walk. crowd 1The police were going to shut down the streets next to the park and block parking as well. I figured we’d want chairs for fireworks viewing so I needed to figure out how to have the chairs there and ready and not have to shlepp them and carry them about while we ate, and saw whatever sights there were to be seen. I arranged with a friend to leave my car, with chairs-in-bags, parked in front of her house, which is about 5 blocks from the park. I drove the car over early in the morning and left it there so that I had MY SPOT all set before the crush for parking began in the early evening. I knew also that at the end of the evening we would not want to be hiking up hill all the way back home. We are at the highest point in town and the park is at the lowest. I was also hoping that I’d parked on the road that would have less pedestrian traffic as that road did not lead directly into the park itself. Now you see why some folks describe my planning as obsessing. 🙂

Came 6:30 and it was time. We coated ourselves liberally with insect repellent, long pants, sneakers and socks, and headed off to our car.bubbles in the grass We were obviously ahead of the crowd still and I saw a BETTER SPOT on the next block down so I moved the car. *grin* It’s PLANNING, really. 🙂 As we reached the entrance to the park we met our friends who were unloading passengers and chairs. A propitious omen for a good time. We wandered on down into the park, perused the food vendors, grabbed food and headed to the lawn to park ourselves in our chairs. I’m pretty certain my chair is broken. It sits VERY low to the ground and closer inspection seems to indicate that a bolt might be missing.

We were sitting and enjoying the periodic cool breeze, the beautiful sky, the musical attempts from the stage. We saw some friends we’ve not seen in ages, as she and I both exclaimed “Oh I’ve been meaning to CALL you!” I loved watching all the people. The children with their bubble machines (everybody wins at the carnival games there – play til you pick your prize). Did you know that if you aim your bubble machine at the ground you can make a mountain of bubbles?night sky Everyone has a different idea as to what one wears to the 4th of July festival in the park. There was a lot of happy and energy and good vibrations. Hey – we even met the mayor. *grin* My sister and her husband came down and joined us and soon it was TIME.

The fireworks were fantastic. I wasn’t really sure how good they’d be. I mean, fireworks are never BAD, but some are merely fireworks. These were FIREWORKS!!! They were beautiful and constant and they lit up the sky. People were oooo’ing and ahhhhh’ing and clapping and cheering. My husband thought that the finale might have been the best fireworks we have ever seen. They were truly stupendous. Absolutely great show and I’m so glad we went.

It was a perfect small-town 4th of July celebration. Not a single bug bite. Seeing friends. Eating festival food. Perfect summer weather. Even joining the exodus from the park went smoothly (yay for air-conditioned cars). As my brother-in-law quipped “Our tax dollars at work!” Worth EVERY penny.

5 fireworks

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


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