Friday, June 3, 2016

The Loaf

It was a picture-perfect spring day when I snapped this image (above) -- it's the "wings" of the new World Trade Center transportation hub in lower Manhattan, with the Freedom Tower as the backdrop. The station cost an unmentionable 4 billion dollars to build, but may be worth the money.  Not only is it highly functional, connecting multiple train lines, it also showcases commendable architecture.

 On first glance, I thought the spiky wings were meant to resemble the crown of the Statue of Liberty, an obvious symbol of freedom. But this was not the intention of the clever Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava (seemingly, all the American architects were on vacation when the project's RFPs were submitted!).  Rather, he was inspired by a dove being released into the air.  And the wings help produce an inspiring, cathedral effect (reflecting on 9/11). On the inside, the wings also effectively allow light to shine through. It's beautifully done.

 Stylish architecture is becoming rare in my beloved New York City, where most of the new buildings seem rather rectangular and uninteresting.  In a city filled with pioneers, it's hard to understand why the buildings look, well, like buildings.
 They are not so ingenious, not so New York, not so American.

Speaking of American, the 4th of July is just a month away. Is your menu planned?  

What's more down-home all-American than a big old meat loaf?  And I have a recipe that is surprisingly fresh for summer.  Instead of red meat, I use turkey meat, and I fold in multiple colorful vegetables. The result: a light loaf.
It makes a great sandwich, too!

Here is what you will need:

1lb ground dark turkey meat
1lb ground white turkey meat (turkey breast)
1 large onion
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 eggs
3 slices of day old bread
1/2 cup milk
1 1/4 cup carrots, cut in small cubes
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
1 cup fresh or frozen corn
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh or dried parsley
1/2 cup maple syrup
pre-made turkey gravy

First up:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium saucepan, sauté 1 tablespoon of olive oil with diced onion and the tomato paste for about 3 minutes (until onion is soft and the paste has dissolved). Set aside to cool.

Soak the bread in the milk for about 2 minutes.  

Boil the cubed carrots for about 3 minutes, just to soften them up a bit.  Combine carrots with peas and corn.  

In a large bowl, fold together the white and dark meat with the sautéd onions as well as the peas, carrots, and corn. Wring out the bread slices and crumble into meat mixture.  Add the eggs and the maple syrup. Season with salt, pepper and parsley. Mix it well.  

In a large baking dish, form the loaf into large round dome and salt the top. 

Bake in the oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Let the loaf rest for a few minutes before serving. 

Not only is this dish simple, delicious and down-home, it also presents itself nicely for both casual and formal gatherings! Everyone loves it! 

Since this loaf does not produce enough juice to make gravy, it's easiest to buy a pre-made turkey gravy.  I prefer Pacific's organic turkey gravy, which can be found at most organic food shops, Whole Foods or at Amazon. I often doctor up the gravy with juice that may drain from the loaf and/or with a bit of butter. 

When re-heating the loaf, slice it into pieces and cook in the gravy on the stovetop.
 It's even better the next day!  

Enjoying the newly opened farm stands on eastern Long Island

Friday, May 6, 2016

Celebrating Greek Myths

Greek Mythology Party for Nine Year Olds
Soft, pale pink ranuculus paired with blushed purple digitalis -- these are the flowers I chose for our daughter's 9th birthday party.  So perfect, they didn't look real! 

Soon after returning from a relaxing spring break beach vacation, I felt, as I do every year, the pressure of our daughter's quickly approaching birthday, always an extravaganza in our family. This year I was going to make it easy on myself, and suggested that I take her and two or three of her closest friends to a broadway play, followed by dinner in her favorite restaurant, and then cake, ice cream, presents, movie, and sleepover at home. It's perfect, all planned out, done!  That fabulous idea, flawless in every way, was shot down, instantly: "I can't possibly choose just a few friends, dad, someone will get left out!"  I couldn't argue with my sensitive, cognizant little gem. So, once again, as has been the case for the last 8 years, I started planning a large spectacular show, with loads of pomp. Really, it's like Christmas all over, but in spring!

The theme our daughter chose for this year's party:  Greek mythology acting party.
Piece of cake, I thought, on it!
Think again, dad!

The first element in any greek party -- costumes. How difficult could it be to make 20 togas?
A full day of work is what I have now learned.

I started by schlepping into the Manhattan garment district to buy muslin fabric.  After combing through multiple stores, filled with every conceivable, dated fabric, and after painstakingly haggling on prices, I finally scored. 50 yards for $50.  Next up, securing the golden chord belts.  Six more stores, more haggling and even a squirmish (a simple misunderstanding with a salesperson who had heavily broken English), I happily settled on 20 drapery ties -- rather expensive, but perfect.

Suggesting that the hard part was behind me would be an oversimplification. Assembling the togas was harder than I had thought. I cut the bolt into 40 inch pieces. Pulling this diaphanous fabric taute and attempting to cut it as straight as possible is not as easy as it would appear when working with a large oversized bolt.  After getting each piece cut, I then folded them in half and cut a T in the center.  The top of the T was cut into the fold (approximately 9" long) and the perpendicular part of the T was 5" in the center.  I then folded the flaps down and ironed them into place. 
It was nearly a full day of work, start to finish! 

Ideally, I would have liked to garnish the edges with greek-themed ribbon, but even I have my limits! 

The final costume item to manufacture -- the laurel leaf hair piece.  For this, gold and green silk leaves were delicately affixed to metal wire, one by one, by my good friend Jasen.  The wire and leaves can be found at most craft supply stores, or better yet, on Etsy.  At the onset of the party, the pieces were affixed to the hair using bobby pins.

By this point in the party preparations, the script had been chosen (Scholastic has a decent selection), acting teachers had been hired, invitations sent out, greek menu planned, birthday cake ordered, and give-away bags purchased. Everything was moving along in the right direction.

Next up -- set design.  For this, I commandeered close friend and accomplished artist, Tati Nguyen, to  assist.  While our kids played on the terrace, she painstakingly drew out ionic columns (complete with detailed greek wave motif) onto large sheets of paper. We then applied a fixative spray, mounted them to boards, and tacked them to the garden lattice.  Another day of work!

After that, we hung thick white cloth to form the stage curtain, attached greek-blue ribbon throughout the set and completed the staging with large iron candelabras and other ancient looking props.  It was perfect...

...really perfect! And, on the day of the party, after fitting the children in their togas and headpieces, it became magical. There is something simple and pleasing about children in matching uniforms. All the goddesses looked stunning in their laurel leaf up-dos and soft draping togas with matching chord belts.  It was like stepping back in time, a couple thousand years.  

But, before you attempt to take on a Greek-themed kids party, be sure to carve out enough time to make it all happen.  Customizing and personalizing a party for kids of any age and of any theme is a luxury.  

I am thinking BounceU or the local bowling alley works for next year..., I am sure it will be another extravaganza!

By the way, if you have a child that is pre-teen, don't be surprised if they request a similar party.  Thanks in part to Rick Roirden of the Percy Jackson book series and graphic novels such as the Olympians by George O'Connor, kids have a keen and growing interest in mythology. These greek themed books are gaining popularity and are a far cry from the dense Homer we all studied years ago.