Kale and Chickpea Soup with Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto

I have this bartender app where you enter ingredients you have on hand and it spits out a cocktail recipe for you. Let’s try the same method with food and see what we can come up with for tonight’s dinner.

On hand is the remainder of a giant bag of washed and ready to use kale, leftover sun-dried tomato  and olive pesto whose first run was on a homemade pizza, and a pantry overstocked with chickpeas and other beans following a 10 for $10 sale. Put that in Google and presto! Food & Wine’s Chickpeas and Swiss Chard in Parmesan and Sun-Dried Tomato Broth recipe.

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Our food lab is much the same as drink lab in that you end up in a different place than where you started; ingredients were substituted, and proportions changed.

I’m new to cooking kale. My first foray into cooking it was to sauté it which we thought came out a bit tough and chewy. I’m glad we didn’t give up on it though, because I found it to be a perfect soup green. I don’t like mushy soup vegetables and the kale retained its texture throughout cooking and reheating.


  • 4 cups chicken broth (low-sodium optional)
  • 1 15 ounce can of chickpeas
  • 4 big handfuls of cut kale
  • 1/8 cup sun-dried tomato pesto (for the soup)
  • Shaved parmesan cheese for topping
  • A baguette and additional pesto for serving


  1. Bring the broth and chickpeas to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
  2. Add the kale and simmer for an additional 10 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in the sun-dried tomato pesto.
  4. In the bowl, top with shaved parmesan cheese. Serve with a baguette smeared with leftover pesto.

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Amaro and the Italian American

Two bottles of Italian liqueurs have been languishing in the liquor cabinet and threatened with drain pouring and bottle recycling by the Keeper of the Cabinet (aka spouse). “Oh, noooo…” say I in my best Mr. Bill impersonation. But what will we do with Amaro Montenegro and Amaro CioCiaro?

First, we taste.


Amaro is a distilled Italian liqueur made with a proprietary blend of botanicals and consumed as an aperitif/digestif. The two that we’re testing are very different, but what they have in common is a smoky aroma and somewhat bitter flavor. The lighter Amaro Montenegro is dominated by the spicy scent of clove and fruity orange peel, followed by light aromas of smoke and wood, and hints of vanilla, eucalyptus, and flowers. Lightly bitter orange and black licorice fill the palate and leave with a grapefruit-tasting finish.

The darker Amaro CioCiaro smells like a campfire, cedar and wood smoke. The campfire theme follows through on the palate with the flavor of barbecue charred meat. Although not as complex as the Montenegro, flavors of lemon rind, licorice, and coffee reveal themselves the longer they linger on the tongue.

Besides drinking Amaro neat as a digestif, I discovered a cocktail from Little Sugar Snaps called the Italian American. The measurements in Little Sugar Snaps recipe are given in teaspoons and tablespoons which are fine for lab testing but will need to be stretched to fill my 3 oz. coup glass.

Italian American Drink Lab (3)


I like a touch of the bitter, but this first iteration is much too bitter for my taste. We experiment by reducing the Campari and changing the lemon juice to our homemade lemon mixer (1/2 lemon juice and ½ simple syrup). The result is a brighter, less bitter version I’ll call the Affable Italian American.

Italian American Drink Lab3

Affable Italian American (for two because it’s more fun to drink with a friend)

  • 4 oz. bourbon
  • ½ oz. Campari
  •  ½ oz. Amaro Montenegro
  •  ½ oz. lemon mixer
  • 2 teaspoons maple syrup

Shake ingredients over ice and strain into a coup glass.

Songs in My Wine Glass


Carnivor Cabernet Sauvignon, California 2016

This dark, inky Cab proclaims that “Meat was made for Carnivor”. Its fruit-laden nose has very light vegetal notes. Blackberry, prune and bell pepper dominate the palate and finish quickly yet smoothly with evidence of light tannins.

While the fruits are lush and delicious, the overall impression is brash, lacking in complexity, and one-dimensional.

My first thought was a comparison to the piece One Note Samba so I ask Alexa to play it. She finds the version sung by Frank Sinatra accompanied by the song’s composer, Carlos Antonio Jobim. Though the melody hangs on one note for eight bars, the contrasting intricacy and cleverness of the downward sliding chord changes played in sultry Latin rhythms is the antithesis of this wine’s musical representation.

Carnivor is as impetuous and in your face as listening to 1980’s hair-band anthem-rock while having a one-night stand. Physically satisfying for the moment but leaving you wanting for emotion and depth. I ask Alexa to play AC/DC’s Thunderstuck. The lightning speed guitar riff consisting of each note alternating with the open B string satisfies my one-note criteria. The rest of the band joins and stays based around the root B chord for about two-thirds of the song. By the time the guitar solo played over power chords shows up, you’re aching for the change. It’s a good pairing; loud, driven, stimulating, and primal.

Annabella Cabernet Sauvignon, Special Selection, Sonoma County 2016

Annabella is from the Michael Pozzan Winery, Oakville, California. The nose has beautifully balanced fruit and vegetal aromas. On the palate are flavors of plum, cherry, dried currants, chocolate, vanilla, licorice, white peppercorn, and bell pepper. The finish is medium to long with a hint of unripe fruit and slightly grippy tannins.

A pleasant, relaxing drinking experience with a small disappointment on the finish. (Maybe we drank it too soon?)

When a wine is near perfection in its balance and complexity, my musical mind goes to jazz. Annabella is harmonious with a nicely balanced nose and a small buffet on the palate, but I’m not inclined to think Manhattan Transfer. It’s more like the harmonies of the Beach Boys or Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. And not one of those multi-part, tempo-changing songs like Suite: Judy Blue Eyes or Carry On. I ask Alexa to play You Don’t Have To Cry. Great CSN harmonies and counter-melodies, interspersed with Stills’ acoustic guitar fills. The musical pairing works; a variety of voices and instruments individually calling for your attention blend seamlessly together and yet, play it simply and to the point.

What’s playing in your wine glass?




Man vs. Deep-Fried Turkey

Man vs. Deep-Fried Turkey

I’m not exactly sure how I first heard of such a thing as deep-fried turkey. It may have been from our family’s contingent of southern in-laws or maybe on a cooking show. Somewhere along the line, my brother-in-law tasted it and was hooked. The very next holiday involving turkey at his house presented him the opportunity to try to convert us to worshipers of deep-fried bird.

First things first, you buy a turkey fryer that’s large enough for a 25-pound turkey. Armed with a cold turkey and plenty of cooking oil, brother-in-law heads outside to the patio where the fryer is set up for cooking. Place turkey in fryer, cover with oil, party with guests for three hours, and presto, deep-fried turkey. Or not. If you have a bit of cooking experience, you’re probably wondering if I forgot to mention heating the oil to temperature before dropping in the bird. I didn’t, and he didn’t, and dinner was a few hours late. Deep-fried turkey lesson number one: heat the cooking oil before placing the bird.

The following holiday, brother-in-law is reminded to heat the cooking oil before dropping the turkey in it. The fryer is filled to the brim with oil, and as the turkey is placed into the hot oil, it begins overflowing the fryer. Deep-fried turkey lesson number two: account for displacement.

With two deep-fried turkey semi-disasters under his belt, brother-in-law is confident that the third time will be a charm. The oil is measured for displacement and pre-heated, and while the turkey cooks on auto-pilot, the merriment begins. Many bottles of wine and many Karaoke songs later, the neglected turkey has been fried into oblivion resulting in great future gift ideas for brother-in-law: a thermometer and a timer.

For turkey attempt number four, cooking oil was poured into the fryer for heating. An hour later, it was discovered that all the oil had leaked out because the stopper on the bottom had not be reset after the last cleaning. Being that it was a holiday and most of the stores were closed, my husband was the unlucky “volunteer” who had to go out to buy eight small bottles of oil at a convenience store. Deep-fried turkey lesson number four: check the stopper on the fryer.

By now you’re probably asking why brother-in-law hasn’t given up on the deep-fried turkey idea, but the failures and mishaps have only strengthened his resolve. It was something in the man that responded to the challenge of cooking the perfect turkey that was driving him to conquer, to achieve, and to win! This Christmas Eve will be the year of the bird! Things were going fairly well for turkey number five until someone inadvertently kicked the power cord out of the fryer.

Each year after the holidays, brother-in-law writes a few personal notes about the season’s events on a piece of paper that he stows away with the Christmas decorations. As he took out the paper to add a few notes for this year, he read what he had written last year…

“Don’t cook a fried turkey.”

A “State” Of Mistaken Identity

A “State” Of Mistaken Identity

In the spirit of drinking games that have you take a sip whenever a word or phrase is spoken, we’ve adapted our version to Philadelphia’s Action News and the code word is “Schuylkill” (pronounced SKOO-kul). Since we’re new to the area, the place name Schuylkill has a novel sound to our unfamiliar ears. And it provides plenty of opportunity for sipping with the Schuylkill River flooding or the Schuylkill Expressway backed up with traffic.

The several places that we’ve called home in the past were suburbs of the iconic city of New York. Long Island, where I grew up, is a prototypical example of a bedroom community. Monday through Friday the Long Island Rail Road (known as the L I double R to locals) shuttles 350,000 riders from places like Hicksville, Wyandanch, and Ronkonkoma to work in New York City. “The City”, as we referred to it, wasn’t just a source of income for Long Islanders; it also filled the cultural gaps with a full spectrum of diversity from classical music at Lincoln Center to punk rock at CBGB’s, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Museum of Sex, and from Harlem to Chinatown, and so formed much of our identity.

Local television, radio, and newspapers kept us well-informed about the City. Local news featured the City’s politics, crime, entertainment, weather and traffic. Place names such as Houston Street or the Kosciusko Bridge that were often mispronounced by newcomers, were as familiar to us Main Street or First Avenue. When I was little, my parents drove us over the Throgs Neck Bridge, which I mistakenly heard as the “Frog’s” Neck Bridge. I remember thinking how ridiculous it seemed to name a bridge after a frog’s neck since a frog barely even has a neck.

Where we moved to in northern New Jersey had a slightly different landscape. Our neighborhood was hilly, with houses on larger lots and more wooded areas separating them. A few new place names like Wanaque, Mahwah, and Ho-Ho-Kus were added to our locality repertoire. But since the City remained the sun around which life in the suburbs orbited, many of the place names remained as old familiar friends. Although we had relocated to a different state, the most noticeable difference was that we had to travel east to get to the City instead of west.

Our recent move has taken us to Cape May County, as far south as you can get in the state of New Jersey. Getting to know the area, we became familiar with beach towns like Villas and Wildwood, and the mainland towns like Woodbine and Rio Grande. It wasn’t until we began watching local news in our new house that we realized that Philadelphia had replaced New York City as the center of our cultural and media universe. We see live shots of Philly’s City Center instead of Rockefeller Center and sports news reports on the Eagles and Phillies instead of the Giants and Yankees. Philadelphia news covers what they refer to as “the shore” including New Jersey’s Cape May County and Atlantic City. We haven’t moved to South New Jersey; we’ve moved to East Pennsylvania!

I don’t mean to rag on New Jersey (I’ll leave that to the rest of the country), but I get the feeling that New Jersey is missing its own identity as a state.  If north Jersey is perceived as West New York and south Jersey as East Pennsylvania that leaves just a bit around the middle that’s probably associated with the series “Jersey Shore” by out-of-towners. Poor New Jersey!

Although this year was dominated by the theater-of-the-absurd Misadventures In Real Estate, we are enjoying our new environs immensely. I’ll leave you for 2018 on a positive note: Year In Review in photos.

Happy holidays everyone!

Sea Isle 2



Cheers Avalon2

Misadventures in Real Estate: Part 6-In Spite Of Misadventures, We Have Much To Be Thankful For

Misadventures in Real Estate: Part 6-In Spite Of Misadventures, We Have Much To Be Thankful For

Misadventures in Real Estate is a multi-part series about selling our home. In case you missed them, here are Part 1: Nature Abhors A VacuumPart 2: Don’t Bet On The WeatherPart 3: Selling Your House Is EmotionalPart 4: The Realtor Cam-Oh Yes I Did!, and Part 5 – Deal or No Deal 

Part 6 – In Spite Of Misadventures, We Have Much To Be Thankful For

I’ve talked with lots of realtors through the years, two of which I call friends. In addition to the realtor we chose to list the house, we spoke with a half dozen more. Realtors tend to impart their wisdom with a cache of axioms that, when selling your house, you wish weren’t true.

“The first offer is the best offer.” Following our realtor’s recommendation for pricing, we fantasized about getting over asking price. The first offer, at 93% of the original asking price was withdrawn. The second offer, at 91%, fell through. The offer which we accepted and finally closed was at 88% of the original pricing proving the sad but true adage that the first offer is the best offer.

“Every house will sell…for a price.” When you first meet with realtors, this saying is meant to sound encouraging. The subtext is “as long as you price it the way I recommend, I can sell your house for you”. As time goes on and you drop the price because your house hasn’t sold, the subtext changes to “the price will be so low that buyers won’t be able to resist!”

“Location, location, location.” Our house didn’t have a lake or mountain view, but I thought some aspects of our location were advantageous; trees for privacy, wildlife, quiet street, access to main roads for commuting, nice neighborhood and a good school district to name a few. The truth in the cliché was that buyers wanted a flat lot big enough for a swing set and didn’t want to pay high property taxes on woodlands.


After the second deal fell through, we re-evaluated if we should take the house off the market and do some home improvements. But now that the main bone of contention for our potential buyers is the high property taxes, renovating may cost us money that we won’t recoup. Also, it would leave us with the dreaded prospect of trying to sell the house in the dead of winter again. Five months into our 6-month listing, we agree with the realtor to go for a drastic price drop. Selling at this price will make us the cheapest house in the neighborhood by far, a distinction that we are surely not worthy of. But at this point, we just need to get the job done.

We got offers from two buyers who bid against each other, resulting in a full (much reduced) price offer. Finally, things seem to be going our way. During negotiations we agreed that we would repair or provide credit to fix our driveway which had some cracks and a pothole, made worse by the heavy moving trucks. We sent their lawyer a detailed written estimate from an asphalt company. It seems to be standard operating procedure for lawyers that whatever you offer, they ask for double. This is where I put my “answer a question with a question” technique to use. Why are you entitled to twice the amount shown on the written estimate? His answer was to accept the credit amount and move on.

The home inspection was uneventful with one exception. We failed the radon test with a result of 4 pCi/L. If you’re not familiar with radon, it’s a naturally occurring radioactive gas that emanates from the ground and in some areas gets into homes and buildings. Our home was built with a radon mitigation system installed so I didn’t assume for one minute that their test result was correct. At our own expense, we had a professional radon contractor re-test. Results showed a .4 pCi/L, with the decimal point determining the difference between safe and unsafe. I guess you could say it cost us $185 to prove a point.Ba_dum_tss

With the house closing looming in just a few weeks, we set our sights on the final cleanout. Everything we used on a regular basis and all the furniture that could fit had been moved to the new house. The remaining effort was divided with me dealing with closets and cupboards full of household effluvia and my husband processing the basement and garage. Leaving behind a bed, sofa, and kitchen set made the days we worked there more comfortable.

Items packed in boxes and plastic bags were placed in the garage as a staging area for loading the car. The Amazon roof bag performed like a champ for increasing capacity. Each trip we thought would be the next to last, but somehow more crap kept appearing as if were breeding in the closets while we were away. We were wrong in thinking that phase two of the crap removal project would be easier than phase one.

One trip to the old house was focused on removing electronic equipment that, for environmental reasons, can’t be disposed of in the trash. Staples will recycle computers, monitors, printers, fax machines, and all kinds of electronic stuff for free. We filled a large shopping cart from the carload we brought, then realized we needed a second shopping cart, and filled it to the brim. We enter the automatic doors, each pushing a fully-loaded cart, thinking that someone is going to tell us we brought too much stuff and we’ll have to load it back in the car. So far, we’re not on the employee radar. I wait with the carts as my husband inquires as to where to drop off recyclables and is directed to the left side of the customer service desk. While the employee is distracted with a customer, we stealthily wheel the carts to the drop off location and make a quick getaway. As we fast-walked out the sliding doors I yelled, “Start the car” to no one in particular.  

Start the car

Ikea “Start the car” commercial

The final days of the crap removal project turned out to be a Herculean effort. I counted roughly 200 trips up and down the stairs carrying boxes, bags, and trash over a 2-day period. If I was wearing a fitness tracker, it would have exploded. My legs ached so bad that on the second day I decided to take an Advil after breakfast, not only for existing discomfort but also in anticipation of another grueling day of hard labor. I reluctantly made yet another trip upstairs to the bedroom where I had my suitcase and OTC drugs. I grabbed a pill out of the pill-box and quickly gulped it down with a mouthful of water. As the pill glided down my gullet, I realized I had just swallowed a sleeping pill.

In the final hours, Craig’s List, College Hunks Hauling Junk, and U-Haul saved the day. A large sectional sofa, entertainment unit, bookshelves, desk, and the kitchen set were quickly spoken for when listed for “free” on Craig’s List. It’s funny how people say they would like to have your furniture but don’t have a clue about how they will move it. After a few blowouts over logistics, I begin to question the ad responders more carefully. Do you have a truck? Do you have someone to help you carry it? A college kid tells me he wants the sectional, desk, and bookshelves and is coming to pick it up with an SUV.

After trying unsuccessfully to put the sofa in or on top of the SUV, college kid calls his mom. Upon surveying the situation, his very nice and resourceful mom tells him to rent a U-Haul. My husband spent the better part of the day disassembling the bookshelves and desk for them and they fit most of the free furniture in the U-Haul, saving us some expense on junk removal. Plus, we got the satisfaction of knowing that our furniture will be the envy of student apartment dwellers throughout Hoboken.

Next, we scheduled a professional junk hauling company called College Hunks Hauling Junk for the remaining items that were too large for curbside trash pickup. Not to be too snide, but they are “college hunks” in name only. They muscled a forsaken entertainment tower upstairs from the basement, the king-size bed downstairs, and a few other heavy objects out to the dump truck to be carted away.

After leaving a mound of trash on the curb, we’re left with a pile of crap stragglers consolidated in the garage for packing. It’s more than will fit in our SUV, so it’s off to rent a U-Haul of our own. Once everything is packed in the car and U-Haul, we do a final house check. After weeks of having crap strewn about in evolving stages of disposal, the house looks really great. It’s an emotional moment; proud of what we accomplished, relieved that it’s over, and yes, I’ll admit, sad to be seeing it for the last time. We say good-bye and begin our 3-hour drive home.

The buyer’s walk-through takes place in the late afternoon two days later, with closing scheduled for the following morning. Just as cocktail hour is starting, I receive a text from our realtor accompanied by a photo. There is a water stain on the ceiling of the master bedroom. We had been through the house with a fine-toothed comb less than 48 hours ago and there was no water stain on the ceiling. Needless to say, the issue created fun and games at the closing the next morning. We chose what was behind door number three, leaving behind a $3000 escrow to repair whatever caused the leak.


Stain photo courtesy of our realtor

For several weeks after the closing, I suffered from PTSD; but gradually I got back to my old self living my Boozy Lifestyle. It’s true that ours became the cheapest house in the neighborhood, selling about $120,000 under what the comps from last year had shown; but things could have been worse. We’re thankful that we didn’t have to maintain an empty house until next summer, since clearly the house was not a winter seller. We’re thankful that the house was not “underwater” (when the mortgage is higher than market value or sale price.) In spite of the price decreases, we still came out a little bit ahead. And with the proceeds from the sale, I splurged and treated myself to a new set of wheels.

Scroll down for a photo of my new wheels!









New wheels

Misadventures in Real Estate: Part 5 – Deal or No Deal

Misadventures in Real Estate: Part 5 – Deal or No Deal

Misadventures in Real Estate: A multi-part series about selling our home. In case you missed it, here are Part 1: Nature Abhors A Vacuum, Part 2: Don’t Bet On The WeatherPart 3: Selling Your House Is Emotional, and Part 4: The Realtor Cam-Oh Yes I Did!

Part 5: Deal or No Deal

After our first deal went down in flames, we began showing the house again and before long, we received another offer. When your house has been on the market for 4 months, buyers can smell desperation on you like bad cologne. The frenzied twirl of the counteroffer dance was interrupted by my annual doctor appointment. I tried to ignore the texts from our realtor but as I sat half-naked on the exam table, my curiosity got the best of me. The buyers responded to our counteroffer with a slight increase and “this is our final offer” caveat. I burst into tears. As if on cue, the doctor walked in.

The good news is, I’ll live. Even my blood pressure, that I thought ought to be through the roof, was okay. Although the offer was $75k less than our original asking price, the grim possibility of not selling the house this year made accepting it the lesser of two evils. The unhappiness over the price soon gave way to relief that chaos would soon end.

The contract went through attorney review with much ado, but was finally signed, allowing the buyers to move forward with the home inspection. The inspector spent three hours examining every nook and cranny, scrutinizing all appliances and mechanicals, and asking lots of questions. It would have been nice if he reset the GFI’s that he popped.

If you recall from Part 2 of this series, I don’t like to waste food. We’re careful to use food before it expires and freeze it for a snowy day. When you live a Boozy Lifestyle as we do, cooking becomes a hobby out of necessity. You need good food to accompany your wine, beer, and cocktails.

We keep an extra freezer in the garage for food overflow, like the free holiday turkey from Acme, or the buy-one-get-one free sale on baby back ribs. Several days after the inspection, I opened the freezer door and was knocked over by a horrific odor. Everything had defrosted, and spoiled meats lay on the bottom of the freezer in a pool of bloody mess. It was so disgusting I almost became a vegetarian (again).

Further investigation revealed that the GFI on the outlet where the freezer was plugged in had been tripped. Although we couldn’t prove it, we were pretty sure this was the home inspectors doing. I had thought it overkill at the time, but now I understand why our southern relations and friends had to throw away their refrigerators and freezers after Hurricane Katrina.

Construction on our new house had been completed a few months prior and we spent our weekends there setting up internet and Fios, buying appliances, painting, mounting blinds, installing light fixtures, and all manner of DIY projects. We slept on air mattresses, watched TV in lawn chairs, and ate at a card table on folding chairs. I think they call this “glamping”.

With the sale of our old house is in progress, we decided to move our furniture to the new house. As noted in Part 1, we have a lot of stuff. To keep the move within a reasonable budget, we had the moving company handle the furniture and heavy items, leaving the small stuff for us to retrieve in the weeks before closing. Moving in the beginning of June allowed us to take full advantage of the beaches and summer events that Cape May County is known for.

Meanwhile, the result of the home inspection produces a list of ten major “repairs” and is, at first, cause for alarm. Our lawyer seems confident to negotiate a credit and home warranty in lieu of their “inspection demands”. The horse-trading continues for several days as we prepare for moving day.

Armed with two large trucks and six movers, the company made quick work of carrying heavy, bulky furniture up and down stairs and loading it into the vans. At the end of a long, exhausting day, we hop in the car to make the three-hour drive to the new house. About halfway there, our realtor calls. At this point in the house selling process, I’ve come to equate calls from our agent with bad news, but this call exceeded my expectations. The deal is off.

It’s evening now and our lawyer has gone home for the day. We spend a sleepless night wondering what went wrong. Can they call off the sale after the contract is signed? Why don’t they want the house suddenly? Can our realtor save the deal?

At about 10 a.m. the moving company arrives to unload the trucks and the pandemonium begins again with six guys jostling furniture and asking, “Where do you want it, lady?” By the time our lawyer has spoken to their lawyer, it’s midday and the only quiet place I can find for a phone call is the master walk-in closet. The official response to backing out of the sale is the inability to find agreement on inspection items. Eventually the truth is revealed that they had changed their minds about two weeks earlier; but their attorney advised them to go through with the home inspection and use it as a legitimate reason to kill the deal. (This strategy wasn’t unfamiliar to us, but we had never been on the receiving end of it.) We’re back to square one.

I drag my sad, depressed self out of the closet and encounter one of the movers saying he needs to show me something. They had broken a leg off our Chinese black lacquer desk. Although it probably appeared to the moving guys that I took the news in stride, I felt too defeated to go ballistic, muttering, “Don’t worry about it. My husband will fix it.”

Several days after the move when things began to settle down, we took a closer look at the broken desk. There had been a botched attempt to fix it with Gorilla glue (I suppose the movers planned to hide the fact that they broke it) that needed to be scraped away before the real repair could begin. Amazingly, my husband made it look as good as new.