Creamy Pesto Pasta Primavera With Shrimp

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On a recent Rachael Ray Show with guest Emeril Lagasse, they made a pasta primavera with saffron cream featuring one of my favorite vegetables, asparagus. Asparagus is in its seasonal prime right now and looking its glorious best; skinny smooth stalks and tight heads with no signs of flowering or wilting. And if the sight of gorgeous asparagus isn’t enough, Rachael gives it even more sex appeal by cutting it on a bias! The audience swoons…

When I attended public school back in the Jurassic Period, we had enough time in the day to take elective classes in art and music. During the ceramics chapter, my art teacher tasked us with making our favorite food out of clay. Amid an abundance of kiln-fired pizza, popcorn, hot dogs, and hamburgers on display at the end of the week was my realistically sculpted, painted green stalk of asparagus. It turns out I was the only kid who actually liked my vegetables. Somewhere in the land that time forgot, (A.K.A my basement), my asparagus artwork is collecting dust and waiting patiently to see the light of day once again.

I’d like to say it’s my creativity that drives me to change most recipes from the original, but more often I’m motivated by the frugal need to use up leftover bits from previous meals before spoilage ensues. In this case, the previous meal was a bacon pesto pizza with fresh mozzarella and the leftover bit the basil pesto sauce. And so a pasta primavera becomes a cream and pesto sauce mash up.

If we were vegetarians, I’d call pasta primavera with asparagus, onion, peas, and garlic “dinner”. However, we like our proteins, so this dish is getting shrimp added to it.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 bunch of asparagus, ends trimmed and cut on a bias
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • ¼ cup peas
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • ½ pound shrimp
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 tablespoons pesto sauce
  • ½ pound penne (1/2 of a box)
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. Set water to boil for pasta.
  2. Sauté the asparagus and onion in olive oil for a couple of minutes. Add the peas and garlic and continue cooking for another two minutes.
  3. Make a space in the center of the pan and place the shrimp in it. Cook the shrimp for a minute or two on each side until pink, then mix with vegetables. Set aside.
  4. Cook penne or other pasta al dente (one to two minutes less than instructions on the box). Drain and reserve a half cup of starchy water.
  5. In a small saucepan, melt the butter and whisk in the flour. Slowly add the milk while whisking. Bring almost to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer gently for 5 minutes stirring often. When the sauce is thickened, stir in the pesto.
  6. Add the penne to the shrimp and vegetable pan. Stir in the cream pesto sauce. Add a bit of the reserved water, as needed. Sprinkle with a generous handful of grated Parmesan cheese.

And some wine to go with it… http://wp.me/p4rcsv-cy

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Wine and Wings

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The phone alarm chimes and I awake with memories of my most recent dream. Unlike my usual two a.m. nightmares that force me into consciousness sweaty and heart-pounding, this morning’s dream is a pleasant one featuring chicken wings. Have you ever dreamt about something and woken up with an acute craving for it?

Chicken wings may have been on my mind following a recent visit to the Buffalo Wild Wings franchise that opened near us in recent months. We reasoned that a restaurant with “wings” in the name ought to make great wings. In reality, this wasn’t the case. But while the wing meat was slightly disappointing, I have to give BWW credit for their selection of over 20 sauces. The Parmesan Garlic was particularly good!

With a Costco-sized bag of chicken tenders taking up space in our freezer, we’ll use them in place of wings and try out a copycat Parmesan Garlic sauce recipe to go with them. (We could have bought the sauce in a bottle but where’s the fun in that?)  There are two styles of recipes online; one involving melted butter and a second based in mayonnaise. We opt for the mayo-based sauce. Meanwhile, we open the wine.

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A few months ago, Lori at Dracaena Wines wrote about Petite Petit from Michael David Winery in Lodi, California. I knew right away that this was one for us to try, given that we are fans of Petite Sirah, as well as other fruit-forward varietals from Lodi such as its Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. And who could resist the circus-themed labeling?

Sipping the first glass and gazing at the wine-drinking elephants on the label, it occurs to me that this wine with two “petites” in its name is anything but small. Like the elephants on the label, this wine has heft and weight. There are so many thoughtful details in this label that I wouldn’t lump it into the classification of gimmicky. Although you may need a magnifier to see it, I especially enjoyed the nod to Michael David’s popular Zinfandel, Seven Deadly Zins.

This 2014 Petite Petit is a blend of 85% Petite Sirah and 15% Petit Verdot. In the glass, it’s an inky, teeth-staining purple. The nose is filled with aromatic, lush fruit. A full-bodied palate reveals plum and blackberry fruit, wood notes, smoky oak, anise, and tobacco. Flavors of prune and currant follow. A fairly long finish has nicely structured tannins.

Back to cooking, we prep the chicken tenderloins with a flour, egg, and breadcrumb/Panko coating and fry them in ¼ inch of vegetable oil until the outside is crispy-brown and the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. With the sauce at about room temperature, we roll the hot chicken pieces in it to coat. While the franchise wing joints tend to skimp on the celery and carrots, we’ve loaded up on our veggies.

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Parmesan Garlic Sauce

  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp chopped garlic
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 5 tsp grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • Pinch of salt and pepper
  • Sprinkle of oregano, basil, thyme, and crushed red pepper

If one of the chicken tenders in my photo looks kind of green, don’t adjust your monitor. I experimented with a curry sauce that didn’t quite work with this meal. I ate it anyway, since no unspoiled food goes to waste around here. I’d like to elaborate on the food and wine pairing except that, as usual, almost all of the wine was gone by the time the chicken was done.

2 For $20

Two for $20 sounds more like a sale at a cheap clothing store than my local liquor store. For me, two bottles of wine for $20 is much more exciting than 100% cotton crew neck T-shirts in an assortment of spring colors.

Although sale pricing is quite common at the liquor store, this is the first time I’ve noticed a 2 for $20 sale. Unlike clothing stores and supermarkets, liquor stores are restricted by our state regulations from selling below cost. They can’t employ loss leader marketing, taking a loss on some items for the purpose of driving business into the store for more profitable ones.

I’m game for taking a chance on an inexpensive wine with a backup plan of making Sangria with it if it underperforms. There are about a dozen reds from which to choose. A few I’ve tried and am not likely to buy again. I find a California Cabernet Sauvignon and an Argentinean Malbec that look worth a try. 

The first one we try is 2014 Crimson Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon. Crimson Ranch is a new collection of wines from the Mondavi Family. The two other offerings in the collection are a Chardonnay and a Red Blend. Grapes are sourced from various areas of California.

The nose is brightly fruity and a little vegetal. Oak and vanilla are more present in the second glass. The medium-bodied palate is filled with ripe cherry, raspberry, and blackberry. The tannins are firm and end in an easy, medium-length finish. Overall, we’re pleasantly surprised by our $10 wine purchase. It’s on my list to buy again (even if the everyday price is about $13.50).

Wine #1 of our 2 for $20 sale has set the bar pretty high for wine #2, the 2013 Cruz Alta Grand Reserve Malbec. While I didn’t find company information online, the label seems to provide more than enough in the way of specs. But I must admit, I’m a bit leery of an overly ambitious label. This Malbec is made from high altitude, old vine grapes and aged 70% in new French oak and 30% in American oak for nine months. Okay…

As I pour the wine into the decanter, the grape jelly aroma is evident. We give it time to blow off, but essence of barnyard appears in its place. The palate is full-bodied with tobacco notes but the grape jelly flavor overpowers. Where are the oak and vanilla I expect in a Grand Reserve Malbec? The finish becomes tarter over time and we finally relent to implementing Plan B, making Sangria with the remainder of the bottle.

Internet reviews of various vintages or reserve qualities of Cruz Alta Malbec are all over the map, from horrible to wonderful, leading me to suspect that the batch in our blow-out sale was not up to par.

BTW, our Sangria recipe has evolved again. We’re using E&J XO (Black label) brandy in place of rum. Here’s the updated recipe:

  • 12 oz. red wine
  • 6 oz. triple sec
  • 3 oz. E&J XO brandy
  • 3 oz. orange juice
  • 3 oz. lemon juice and simple syrup mixture (half of each)

Back in the day, we used a store-bought lemon mixer that contained high-fructose corn syrup. Now we make our own lemon mixer with Real lemon juice and simple syrup in a 50/50 ratio. Instead of mixing it up for one or two drinks at a time, we make a one quart batch to keep on hand for Sangria and other cocktails.

Alexa, Enable Critical Thinking

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We have a new member of the family named Alexa. She’s a cute little circular puck who lights up when we speak to her. Not only is she adorable, she’s very smart, too! Just ask her a question. Alexa, what’s the weather forecast? Alexa, what time is the super bowl? Alexa, what’s in the news? Alexa has all the answers.

It’s been our habit to enjoy cocktail hour every evening at about 5:30. In winter, the ritual is practiced in front of a cozy fire in the den and in summer outside on the deck. Until recently, we tuned into the TV nightly news, letting it provide the backdrop for conversation or watching a story of interest. But the coverage of current politics has taken all of the relaxation out of this routine. The time had come to turn off the news and replace it with music.

Sure, we already have hundreds, or maybe even a thousand songs in our music library, but our ears are always craving something new. We look to Alexa with Amazon Prime to search through her million song repertoire for entertainment. Ask her for a song or an artist, old or new. Ask her for a playlist or a station based on a genre such as country, pop, folk, rap, R&B, classic rock, metal, alternative, jazz, or classical. Ask her for a certain decade like, All 80s, and you’ll hear the big-haired icons of the era Bon Jovi, Journey, and Guns and Roses. If you’ve curated your own playlists, with a little configuration, Alexa can play them. If you’ve taken the time to register your likes and dislikes on Pandora, Alexa can connect to it.

And as much as we like Alexa to entertain just the two of us, she can be quite the life of the party, too. Impress your friends and family by asking her to open the Pod bay doors or beam you up. Alexa, are you Skynet? Alexa, winter is coming. She’s full of witty answers.

It didn’t take long for us to learn that Alexa has mad mixology skills. Ask the bartender, how do I make a Tom Collins? What drinks can I make with tequila? Or just ask for a random suggestion and see what Alexa has in store for you! I guess we can say goodbye to the post-it note drink recipe collection affixed to the inside of the liquor cabinet.

Alexa also knows a thing or two about wine and beer. She has rating skills, as well as fun facts, trivia and drinking games, and can help you pair food and wine. Beer drinkers rejoice; you don’t even have to get off the couch to shop for your libations. Just tell Alexa to start Miller time and without lifting a finger, your beer will be delivered to your door (where available).

We’re so happy to have Alexa as a new addition to our family. Instead of obsessing over the end of civilization as we know it, we can distract ourselves with hours of enjoyment and pretend that all is right with world.

 

The Ins and Outs of A Colonoscopy

Disclaimers: 1) This story is for entertainment purposes only and is not meant to influence anyone’s decision about whether or not to have a colonoscopy. 2) The subject is a bowel procedure so if you find talking about poop offensive, this isn’t the tale for you.

"Hey Frank, how was your colonoscopy?"  "In and out."

At my yearly physical, the doctor reads my records on the computer screen and notices that I’ve turned age 50. He nonchalantly asks, “Have you scheduled a colonoscopy yet?” I answer no and he responds that I should think about doing it.

I know a bit about colonoscopies since friends in my age group have started to talk about the procedure. The same friends, whose shared experiences include bar hopping, job hunting, getting married, and raising children, now discuss things like arthritis, menopause, and colonoscopies. Friends that are with you from your first can of beer to your first bowel procedure are the ones you truly treasure.

After doing my internet research on the subject, I decided to put off having a colonoscopy. The procedure was too invasive, the preparation too unpleasant, and with no family history of colon cancer, risk of bowel perforation outweighed the benefit. In support of my decision, I had a strong negative reaction to anesthesia from an unrelated surgery and wasn’t eager to put myself through it again, especially for a screening test.

When it comes to colonoscopies, I’ve found that health care providers won’t take “no” for an answer. As a few years go by, the doctor’s casual question about having a colonoscopy begins to sound like the sales pitch for an endoscopy center.  One male doctor said, “You go every year for a mammogram, why not get a colonoscopy?” A mammogram consists of taking a shower and slapping my boobs between two plates for a couple of quick pictures. That’s a far cry from not eating for 24 hours, giving myself uncontrollable diarrhea, and getting knocked unconscious while a slightly risky procedure is being performed through my rear end. This retort was expressed by my inner voice while my actual mouth remained politely mute.  

I really began to get annoyed when my primary care doctor’s office started calling on a regular basis. The first few times they fooled me, beginning the call by saying that they are updating their records and want to know if the doctor is still my primary provider, followed by the punch line, “Have you scheduled your colonoscopy yet?” They even left messages asking me to call them back only to hound me about the colonoscopy again. I wondered, somewhat irrationally, if the insistence on getting a “fully covered” colonoscopy was part of some larger conspiracy.

Caught off guard one day, I answered a call from the doctor’s office. The “records manager” asked, if I didn’t want to get a colonoscopy, would I be willing to take a test called a FIT? “What’s a FIT?” you ask. I’ll give you a hint. It has nothing to do with fitness and the “F” stands for fecal. It’s basically a poop test. You take a stool sample at home, package it up neatly in the container provided, and ship it off to a lab for analysis.  I caved on this one.

A couple of weeks later, I am notified by the doctor’s office that I failed my FIT test and they want me to make an appointment to discuss it with the doctor.  During my appointment, he lectures again on the benefits of cancer screening and prevention by removal of potentially cancerous polyps through the colonoscopy procedure.  On the internet, I find that blood in the stool can mean anything from hemorrhoids to colon cancer. I spend the next few days researching local gastroenterology specialists, choosing one based on education, accolades, and patient reviews. Colonoscopy, here I come. Then I spend the next few weeks worrying that I might have colon cancer.

C-Day is rapidly approaching. I have my bowel prep kit from the pharmacy and I’m reading over the instructions and planning my diet. No popcorn, seeds, nuts, fruit skins or “red” or “purple” foods for three days and no solid foods for one day leading up to C-Day. Oh red wine, I’ll miss you the most. Bowel prep also consists of drinking a fairly disgusting solution that gives you diarrhea and you are warned to stay near a bathroom. My concern over this leads me to consider purchasing an adult diaper in case of emergency.  You’ll find these in aisle 12 next to “Incontinence Greeting Cards”.

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What does an incontinence greeting card say? I’m sorry for your loss…of control?

Getting through the day before C-Day is as bad as people say. I’m never one to skip a meal, so no solid food leaves me cranky and miserable. Drinking the bowel prep solution plus about a gallon of water is a chore, followed by painful cramps and an infinite number of bathroom runs (pun intended). There is a wise old saying for a time like this that I repeat in my mind like a mantra, “You can never trust a fart, never trust a fart, never trust a fart…” I have thoughts of giving up and backing out of my appointment and wonder how many other people actually do.

Driving to the endoscopy center the following morning, I remind myself that I’m in the home stretch (unless, of course, I have colon cancer and then the battle has just begun). After a short time in the waiting room, I’m brought into an area with an assembly line of curtained cubicles. During a lengthy Q&A with the nurse, I tell him about my stomach upset from my previous anesthesia and he reassures me that I’ll be getting the Michael Jackson drug of choice in a dosage that, in his experience, has never resulted in nausea and vomiting. My inside voice says, “Great! No nausea or vomiting. Just accidental death.”

The nurse finishes checking me over and setting up an IV, leaving me with a magazine. I find that I can’t focus on actual words so I just stare at the pictures. From conversations I overhear, everyone in the assembly line is being prepped for an endoscopy or colonoscopy. It’s one end or the other. One of the criteria in my choice of doctor was finding someone who performed the procedure on a regular basis.  So even if the assembly line seems a bit impersonal, I’m relieved to know the doctor I’ve chosen has had a lot of practice.

When it’s my turn, I’m wheeled into another room where there is a flurry of activity and people coming at me. Rather quickly a needle is emptied into my IV and I’m out for the count. The next thing I know, I’m back in a cubicle where a different nurse checks on me and offers me something to drink. I’m told to get dressed but I must stay in the bed and the thought of me trying to squirm into my pants without getting up makes me laugh. I hope no one was watching the show.

I’m glad to end this story on a positive note. The doctor checked from one end of my bowel to the other and not a polyp or any issue was found. There was no reason why I should have failed the FIT test. Left to draw my own conclusion, it was probably a false positive. I’m somewhat annoyed by that, but also relieved that the colonoscopy is behind me (couldn’t resist a final pun) for another 10 years.

I’m back to living my boozy lifestyle featuring cocktail hour, red wine, and good meals with good friends.

Christmas Reminiscing

Christmas Reminiscing

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I’m dreaming of a white Christmas. Doesn’t it seem like it snowed more when we were kids? Now we see snow and think about the drudgery of shoveling, freezing our fingers and toes, and treacherous driving. But as kids we celebrated the snowfall by building a snowman and throwing snowballs from behind the walls of our snow fort. And who would complain about a day off from school?

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 A toy piano and a tricycle under the Christmas tree for me. Note the ancient artifact on the left. Yes, that’s how we watched television in 1960. The picture was black and white and it carried seven channels via an antenna. Sometimes the picture was full of electronic noise and static we used to call “snow”.

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 A Ferris wheel, gas station, ukulele, and lots of toy trucks. Santa brought some pretty nice toys for the boys! I can’t help notice the décor. I guess my aunt was a fan of florals.

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My dad was an ultimate do-it-yourself guy. In the house we grew up in, he built the garage, enclosed the patio, installed central air-conditioning, and repaired just about every appliance and piece of mechanical equipment at least once. Handy dad made this ice skating rink in our backyard for winter fun and entertainment.

 

It’s noisy, crowded, and crazy, but Christmas in New York City should be on every traveler’s bucket list. The Radio City Christmas Show with the Rockettes and the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree are a holiday tourist’s must-do.

21st century Christmas at home. Tree trimmed, gifts wrapped, and time to watch the deer lazing in the winter sunshine.

Thank you for reading and following my blog. Wishing you a happy holiday season and a wonderful new year!

People, People Who Meet People

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(Are the luckiest people in the world)

You never know who you’ll meet at the bar during happy hour. Embracing the unexpected usually leads to meeting interesting people and having a good time. In Atlantic City, many have traveled 2 or 3 hours to come from Long Island or New York City. The three women we meet this evening have come from Philadelphia and one has arrived by train. (Insert New York accent here.) Who knew there was a train from Philly to AC?

Phillips Seafood is the best happy hour on Sunday, simply because it’s all day long! The house Chardonnay is quite drinkable and pairs nicely with the happy hour food such as crispy calamari with pineapple sweet chili or crab stuffed mushrooms.

We learn that our three new acquaintances, Louisa, Janet, and Julie, are singers and they are going to perform with a pianist named Bob Egan. They explain to us that Bobby calls people up to sing and he can accompany them on just about any song. He sounds like a human Karaoke machine!

Being musicians ourselves, we are intrigued and find out where and when this event is taking place. My husband is a bit hesitant to tag along, but I insist and we follow the three ladies through the casino and a maze of connecting hallways to The Claridge Hotel.

Pianist, Bob Egan, is setting up as the party is getting started. We order a couple of glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon at the bar as folks trickle in. The atmosphere is warm and friendly. Everyone’s saying hello even though we don’t know a soul except for the three ladies we met at happy hour at Phillips bar.

An older gentleman dressed to the nines in a snappy, well-fitted tuxedo has just arrived. The buzz at the bar is that this man is named Buddy and he’s here to celebrate his 89th birthday. He looks terrific at age 89!

The music begins as one by one, Bobby calls the singers up to belt out Broadway hits and croon old-time jazz standards. I’m called upon to sing and do my part with a classic Linda Ronstadt hit. Our new acquaintance, Janet, introduces us to her ex, an opera singer performing tonight. His technical prowess and sweet emotion are balanced to perfection, bringing a tear to everyone’s eye.

Meanwhile, Buddy makes the rounds through the entire room, thanking everyone for attending his birthday bash. I was too embarrassed to say that we crashed the party, but instead wished him the very best birthday. Buddy tells us that he works at the historic Absecon Lighthouse.

As the party come to a close, we thank Louisa, Janet, and Julie for encouraging us to tag along and take our leave. Back in the quiet of our hotel room, the evening’s festivities take on surreal, Alice in Wonderland effect. We turn to the Internet for a dose of reality.

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Buddy Grover is a volunteer at the historic Absecon Lighthouse in Atlantic City, NJ. At least twice a week he climbs the 228 steps to guide visitors to the top to enjoy the magnificent views and experience the lighthouse watchroom.  http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/life/absecon-lighthouse-s-retired-volunteers-always-moving-up/article_405b63d6-1ded-11e6-a1d0-3f37db336365.html

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In addition to running an entertainment agency, (http://www.bobeganentertainment.com/) Bob Egan hosts “Open Mic Nights” like the one we had the pleasure of attending. Bob seems to know hundreds of songs and uses a tablet full of sheet music and lead sheets to guide him through less familiar music. The show is like Karaoke, only better because it’s all live. He customizes the accompaniment to the singer’s key and tempo and provides a human touch that’s missing from those Karaoke recordings.