A humorous, optimistic blog about Food, Family, Friends and Faith

Archive for March, 2011

Guilty Pleasure

It’s time I came clean. I have a reputation for being a good cook, one who will try almost anything. I’m fortunate to have a family that likes adventurous meals as well. However, I have a confession to make: I love a food that is very un-gourmet. It’s a food which is inexpensive, comfort food. It’s what I turn to after a long day when a fancy meal just won’t do and I don’t want to cook. I just want to take my guilty pleasure, hide in the basement to watch whatever is on TV and leave everyone else to fend for themselves in the kitchen. What is this amazing food that comforts me over everything else?

{gulp}

tater tots with cheese

 

Now that my secret is out in the open, I feel the need to clarify a few things. There is really only one way to make tater tots. You bake them until they are crispy on the outside (this means your oven has to be very, very hot). When they are crispy, only then can you top them with shredded cheese. I don’t fry my tots; I don’t like the oiliness that results from frying. I’d rather have greasy fingers from the ridiculous amount of melted cheese on them. I’ve used slices on my tots, but that’s not quite as satisfying – too much cheese sticks to the baking sheet that way. The cheese has to be on the tots, not on the pan.

Tots ‘n’ cheese should never be served with ketchup. That’s sacrilegious. They should never be served with {shudder} chili or onions or as a faux nacho plate with bacon, sour cream, olives and green onions. Blech! And serve me tots with gravy and you might need an extra “lather, rinse, repeat” because you’ll probably wear them home.

Serving tots with the right cheese is important. Cheese sauce or melted CheezWhiz or Velveeta are an anathema. Don’t be getting all foo-foo, either – stay away from the fontina, mozzarella, emmenthaler and gorgonzola. The cheese should be shredded and should be cheddar, preferably yellow (although one time I used white American cheese slices and it hit the spot). It has to cling to the taters, and shouldn’t slide off. That’s why you add the cheese after the taters are piping hot and crispy – instant melt! You also have to have a good balance between too much and too little. Too little is boring. Too much and you can’t pick them up. You want tots ‘n’ cheese, not cheese ‘n’ tots.

One final no-no about my favorite comfort food: Never, ever, ever should tater tots be served on a casserole (that’s a hot dish to you midwesterners). That’s just gross. Look at these poor tots – just swimming in green beans and ground beef and yucky sauce (and what’s the deal with the buttered bread?).

Let’s give the humble tater tot its rightful place in the pantheon of culinary giants. It deserves it. All these years of being in the shadow of its more famous Uncle Chip and its French Cousin Fry has made many people forget about it. Bring it out into the light! Consume it with gleeful gooey abandon!

I’ll get off my soapbox now. If anyone needs me, I’ll be watching Anthony Bourdain reruns downstairs with a big plate of tots. It’s been a hard day and I deserve them…

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Sisters

“A sister is a gift to the heart, a friend to the spirit, a golden thread to the meaning of life.”  ~Isadora James

This afternoon, as I pondered what to write about, my sister popped up out of FaceBook cyberspace and said I should write about what a great realtor she is. I sent her back a “hardy har har”. Quite frankly, I have no idea what kind of realtor she is – she just started this new career. However, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that she will be a member of the million dollar club before too long, as she succeeds at pretty much everything she puts her mind to. That determination, combined with her humor and compassion, makes her one of my favorite people in the whole world.

Meet my sister Kathleen. She is gorgeous, as you can see. What you can’t see is that she is one of the strongest women I have ever met. I don’t think it has ever crossed her mind to be weak or wimpy. When we were young, we were camping on Cape Hatteras, NC. At least that’s where I think it was. Kathleen and our middle sister Maureen went to collect water. They met a bully from another campsite at the water pump, and he started to pick on Maureen. Kathleen got so incensed at this pompous windbag that she dumped a whole bucket of water over his head! She was no shrinking violet, even at that age.

When Maureen died in 1975, my sister, whose bedroom was right next to mine, would come and sit with me while I cried. I’m sure she cried too, but I just remember her being there, sitting and listening and letting me work through my sadness. I will always be grateful for that, because the compassion she showed me despite our bitterest childhood fights is a gift I will never be able to repay.

Kathleen has not always taken the easy road and has never had the easy life handed to her. She has worked her butt off for everything she has. When she graduated from high school, she moved to Staten Island. I vaguely remember that she moved there with a friend who turned out not to be a friend after all. On her own at age 18, she got a job and managed to have some fun while working at a job she wasn’t crazy about. Shortly after, she got a job at AT&T and began her long career in the telecommunications industry. In that job, she hung on through the company’s many incarnations. She was promoted, demoted, got great pay increases and lousy pay cuts. She was thrown around on the vagaries of Ma Bell, eventually deciding last year that enough was enough. Goodbye, Verizon, hello Real Estate. During her career at AT&T/Bell Atlantic/Verizon, she got married, had two boys, got a divorce, dated, fell in love, and is now engaged.

While her career was soaring, her personal life was not always easy. The man she married and had two children with turned out to be a low-life, scum-sucking ratbag (I mean, really, what sort of loser throws a car seat at a woman holding a baby?? What a schmuck!). He continues to this day to be an absent, irresponsible, mean, foul-mouthed thorn in her side who can’t step up and do anything remotely resembling parenting. I am SO glad that she got away from the loser. (Now I know, I’m supposed to have love in my heart for all people and show compassion toward even the mightiest bastard, but I swear on all that is holy, Jesus himself would trip this guy!)

Her sons were the light of her life. She was fiercely protective of them, and tried to give them every opportunity to succeed despite their absent father. She was the one who taught them about their bodies, how to shave, what it meant to be a man and how to treat women. She fought with the school to get them extra help when they struggled (and continue to struggle). She was (and is) their strongest advocate in every way. She never spoke ill of her ex in front of them, giving them every chance to love their father. She could have said mean things about him, turned them against him. It would have been only too easy to do that. However, Kathleen took the high road, encouraging them to maintain a relationship with him. Everyone in the family hoped he would one day step up to the plate and be a father figure to the boys, but he never did. Still she stayed strong, showing them the difference between what was right and wrong. She has been their only emotional and financial support since they were babies. She is a warrior for them. Through all her difficulty, we would talk about what was going on. When she lived closer I would go pick up the boys at day care if she had to work late or just couldn’t get there in time. I would try to offer suggestions or just support her when she needed to vent or make a decision. I hated feeling so impotent, but knew that she would find the solutions to her problems, and she always did

Her boys are nearly grown now. They are almost out on their own. One is working to get his license so he can work on a tugboat, and the other has not yet graduated from high school. They are full of potential and promise and I look forward to the day when they are independent and successful, which they will both be.

Last year, Kathleen’s life took a HUGE step forward. She met the love of her life, Anthony. They dated, fell in love, got engaged, and are to be married this July.

 

He’s an outstanding man. Not only is he funny, but he’s smart and interesting and levelheaded. He loves to travel, as does she. He’s got two grown sons who are ridiculously funny and accomplished (one teaches Navigation at SUNY Maritime and is a novelist, the other is in the Navy – sorry – I mean the Army). I could not be happier that their paths crossed, because my sister deserved every happiness.

I love my sister. She is one of the few women in this world that I look up to. Her strength, determination, and passion are the things I reflect on when I am having a tough time. She doesn’t know it, but she inspires me to be my very best self. Even though our lives are vastly different, I feel a connection to Kathleen that I feel with nobody else. She is my sister, my mirror. She shows me who I am and who I can hope to be. She has taught me to never give up, be proud of who I am, and never feel sorry for myself.

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Formula One

Cooking is an art, not a science. It’s important when cooking not to get wrapped up in the measuring spoons and cups. Use recipes as your guide to creating food that YOU like to eat. I’ve decided to present a few formulas that allow a ridiculously huge amount of variation. Today’s formula is for quiche.

A short history of quiche (from foodreference.com):

“Although quiche is now a classic dish of French cuisine, quiche actually originated in Germany, in the medieval kingdom of Lothringen, under German rule, and which the French later renamed Lorraine. The word ‘quiche’ is from the German ‘Kuchen’, meaning cake.

“The original ‘quiche Lorraine’ was an open pie with a filling consisting of an egg and cream custard with smoked bacon. It was only later that cheese was added to the quiche Lorraine.  Add onions and you have quiche Alsacienne.  The bottom crust was originally made from bread dough, but that has long since evolved into a short-crust or puff pastry crust.”

Quiche can be ridiculously cliche and dated, but you can make one from anything you like. Tailor it to YOUR taste preferences. Quiche with broccoli and cheddar? Sure! What about quiche with poached shrimp and dill havarti? Sure! Quiche with andouille, crayfish and okra? Why not? (although I would say eww to the okra) Quiche with leftover Chinese food and monterey jack? Yes! These variations could potentially create a year’s worth of meals, although I suspect most of you would get sick of quiche long before then.

Let me explain food formulas. Each part of the formula has to be present for the recipe to work. However, the amounts are very flexible and the flavors can be completely yours. The only real requirement is that your crust be raw and your meat and most vegetables cooked (chopped scallions and shredded carrots can be raw). You don’t have to cook fresh herbs ahead of time, either.

Oh, um, one word of advice – don’t try to make a quiche with cucumber. The end product is totally gross. (Not that I’ve ever done that, I mean…)

QUICHE FORMULA

#1 – Crust, uncooked

Your crust can be any kind of crust. Your grandmother’s recipe, your favorite pie crust, a nut crust, a cream cheese crust, a short crust, an herb crust, a Pillsbury store-bought crust: all will work. Whether the crust made with butter, margarine, Crisco, or cheese is irrelevant. I wouldn’t use puff pastry or graham cracker crusts, but anything else should work just fine. Put it in an 8″ or 9″ pie pan or tart pan with a removable bottom. One note of caution – don’t stretch your crust to fit in the pie or tart pan. A stretched crust will always shrink back to its original size, leaving you with very goofy looking edges. If it doesn’t fit, take it out and roll it thinner or get a smaller pie pan.

#2 – Cheese

You can get super-creative here. Use shredded or sliced cheese, queso fresco, sharp cheddar, dill havarti, swiss, or horseradish cheddar. The idea is to put a layer of cheese between the filling and eggs and the crust. It will prevent the crust from getting soggy. If you use shredded cheese, use at least 1.5 cups. If you want to use slices, make sure the bottom of the pie is completely covered with about 1/4″ of cheese slices (it’s fine – good even – if the cheese migrates up the sides). You can even use ricotta or cottage cheese. I would strongly suggest that you drain them in a colander or cheesecloth until all the excess liquid is gone. Then just spread about a cup in an even layer on the bottom of the crust. Although I’ve never done it, I bet cream cheese would work, too. Make sure to bring it to room temperature before trying to spread it, though.

#3 – Lumps

A lot of people look at me crooked when I talk about adding lumps to things. I add lumps to cookies (chocolate chips, chopped nuts, dried fruits, coconut, etc.), so why not use the same term to describe what goes into a quiche? Lumps are anything that you want in your quiche. You’ll need roughly 2 cups. Consider chicken, leftover taco meat, zucchini, shredded carrots, shrimp, black beans, pineapple, fresh herbs, scallions, onions, crab, ANYTHING that will serve as the taste focus of your quiche. Remember, meat should be cooked. You can even use leftover Chinese or Thai or Mexican food! It’s a great use for your leftover St. Patrick’s Day dinner. Just chop everything up into bite sized pieces and throw it in! Any leftovers that have a sauce should be drained well before putting in (remember we want to keep our bottom crust as dry [and therefore flaky] as possible). If you put 2 cups on top of your cheese and it looks pathetically sparse, add more. Just don’t let your lumps go higher than your crust or you run the risk of burning them in the oven.

#4 – Custard

This is the easiest part. You will need 1 egg per 1/3 cup milk, cream, or half & half. An 8″ – 9″ pie will need 4 eggs and 1-1/3 cups liquid. This is where you add your spices (salt, pepper, dill, oregano, thyme, whatever floats your boat). Just mix them in with the eggs and milk/cream. However, if you’re like me and really like the lumpy part of the quiche, you may only need 3 eggs and 1 cup cream/milk. Mix the eggs, milk and spices together and gently pour over the pie. It should flow nicely into all the empty places in your quiche. Once the custard is in, the quiche is ready to go in the oven. 350F for an hour. The quiche will puff (and maybe crack, depending on the fat content of your dairy – it’s OK). A knife inserted near the center should come out clean, and there should be no jiggle when you move the pie pan.

So, that’s it! A super-easy way to use leftover bits from your fridge. A little hunk each of brie, mozzarella and gouda? A handful of dried cranberries, some ham and leftover steamed broccoli? A dish fit for a king! Give it a fancy name and serve it up proudly with some crusty bread and a salad.

RECAP

The basic directions are:

  1. Place crust in a 8-9″ pie pan or 9-10″ tart pan with removable bottom.
  2. Place cheese in pan to coat bottom. Start with 1.5 cups and increase from there. When it melts it becomes the moisture barrier that keeps your crust from getting soggy.
  3. Place lumps in even layer on top of cheese. Start with 2 cups and adjust from there.
  4. Pour custard with spices in it over top. Start with 4 eggs and 1-1/3 cups liquid dairy of some sort.
  5. Bake at 350F for an hour. It will puff, the crust will become golden, the custard will not jiggle and a knife inserted near the center will come out clean.

Bon appetit!

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Glucona Delta Lactone

A few weeks ago, I bought a Little Caesar whole wheat pizza kit to keep in the freezer for when I need a quick meal and don’t have the extra hour to make dough. It seemed a good deal – $17.50 for 3 pizzas. Three crusts, three bags of cheese and three bags of tomato sauce. I decided to work one into my meals this week, as it’s going to be a crazy busy week and my husband has to make his own dinner one night. Pepperoni pizza on a whole wheat crust sounded good.

I make my own pizza dough most of the time. It contains water, flour, salt, yeast and oil. Sometimes I use two different flours to make it more interesting. On a whim, I checked the ingredients on the back of the box and Little Caesar’s pizza crust contains 20 ingredients. TWENTY!! AUGH!!!!! What in Heaven’s name could possibly be in the crust? Here’s their ingredient list:

“Whole Wheat Flour, Water, Invert Sugar, Honey, Vegetable Oil (Soybean Oil, Soy Lecithin), Yeast, Glucona Delta Lactone, Salt, Baking Soda, Cellulose Gum, Sodium Propionate (Preservative), Food Starch-Modified, Corn Syrup Solids, Vital Wheat Gluten, Dough Conditioners (L-Cysteine, Ascorbic Acid, Enzymes), Natural and Artificial Flavors.”

Let’s break this down… Whole wheat flour – check. Water, oil, yeast, salt – check. I would let the honey slide because that’s food for the yeast, so – check. Invert sugar? I know it’s a mixture of glucose and fructose, is sweeter than “regular” sugar and is used probably to sweeten and help the crust stay moist. I see another sweetener, too – corn syrup solids. Not wanting to open the corn syrup can of worms, I’ll just say – Gee Whiz! – three sweeteners in one crust! I find that fascinating…

Soy lecithin is a sketchy addition. It’s a stabilizer for all sorts of foods, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, textiles, paint, as well as for personal lubricants and waxes. However, I don’t see why a product as simple as pizza crust needs one. Not loving that item. Glucona delta lactone – what the….? After some research, I found that GDL functions as a leavening agent in products that don’t have yeast. This crust has yeast. It also has baking soda, which I don’t understand the need for either. We have THREE leavening agents, so this is going to be one puffy crust!

On to cellulose gum. Cellulose gum is used as a stabilizer for dough products. It comes from – get this – trees and cotton. So Rick’s either going to be eating tree innards or his jeans. We have another stabilizer, don’t forget – our friend soy lecithin. Oh wait, we also have modified food starch. Hmmm. Three sweeteners, three stabilizers, three leavening agents, three crusts, three cheeses, three sauces… Sounds like somebody at Little Caesar’s might have OCD issues…

Ah, one of my favorite topics – preservatives. Sodium propionate is a mold inhibitor. It’s found in chicken feed, cervical creams and topical anti-fungal preparations. Interestingly, it is used in food products that DON’T use yeast as their leavening agent, because calcium propionate interferes with the leavening action of, say, baking soda and our friend GDL. Therefore, if we didn’t have them in our crust and only used yeast, we wouldn’t need the sodium propionate.

Vital wheat gluten. I can understand this one to a certain extent. It strengthens the gluten naturally found in the wheat flour, giving the crust a chewier texture. The stronger gluten then traps the waste from the yeast, resulting in a higher rise. While I find that my crust is just fine without it, I have added it to rye flour to make my rye bread less dense. I’ll let this one slide.

Two of our dough conditioners, Ascorbic acid (aka Vitamin C) and Enzymes are innocuous. Sure, throw in some vitamin C and enzymes. Make it a softer dough and help me digest it. Why not? But L-cysteine? Really? L-cysteine is a non-essential amino acid. That means that our bodies make it. If my body makes it already, why is it being added to my food? Oh, wait! I forgot our rule of three – three conditioners, three sweeteners, three stabilizers, three leavening agents, three crusts, three cheeses, three sauces. What was I thinking?

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On Being Irish – a slightly disjointed post written during a ridiculously busy week

A valley in County Roscommon

Yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day. Did everyone have their green clothing on? Were your shillalies all lined up and ready to be swung last night? Can you say “Pog mo thoin!” or “Ta mo bhriste tri thine!”?

Saint Patrick’s Day is a special day for me. I love to celebrate the culture that makes up one-quarter of my ethnic heritage. I feel a mysterious connection to this ancient place, as though my family never really left it at all. I have cousins there, but I’ve never visited Ireland – my sister has. Whenever I see pictures of the enchanted forests or the sheer, fenceless Cliffs of Moher, I am touched in a place deep in my soul. I can’t really explain the feeling.

Our family hails from County Roscommon, and in the late 19th century, an intrepid lad named James Cooney came over, passing through Ellis Island. His son Edward met and married a German spitfire named Cecelia Roth. After many shenanigans (some legal, some not), along came the brothers Patrick and Edward, my father and uncle. Perhaps because my family is so recently removed from Irish soil explains some of the connection I feel with it. I envy my sister her recent opportunity to go and walk a cliffside trail, smell the Irish air and drink a pint at a local pub while listening to musicians play. Hopefully, someday I’ll be able to do the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I feel somewhat ashamed that, having played the harp for 38 years, I cannot play a single Irish tune. Not one. I don’t know any Irish songs, just some ridiculous Americanized ones. There are no Irish recipes in my collection, although I do possess an Irish cookbook. It was a gift from Edmund Power, tenor and good friend.

Driving home from dinner Wednesday night, I was enveloped in a fine mist for the last 10 miles of my journey. I opened the windows and breathed deeply. I imagined that this was the mist in the Irish forests. It felt pregnant and mysterious, as though faeries would flit across my path at any moment. They probably did, but my headlights didn’t pick them up.

Speaking of the faeries, there are some clusters of mushrooms on our property.

I check them every now and again to see if a circle has formed and the faeries have come to live on our land. They would like it here. We are honest and kind people. We love beyond what is prudent, we give beyond what is wise, we hope beyond what logic tells us we should. In short, we are Irish.

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Let’s keep it in perspective…

Yesterday, my husband and I were talking about the NFL lockout that is happening. The NFL players (and their union) want complete transparency of their team’s finances. They want MORE money than they are already making. Now ten players, including Peyton Manning (left) and Tom Brady (right), have filed a class-action suit under anti-trust laws, and accused the NFL of “fixing wages”. This blows my mind.

Not being a huge football fan, I can’t bring myself to care very much about the players’ discontent. I think that they have a union that has grossly misled them into thinking that they don’t have “enough”. Now, I’m all for unions – I think they are still relevant, especially to protect people in this economy. I am a member of the CSEA, and our last contract made it possible for my bi-weekly paycheck to increase from $38 to $100, thanks to a negotiated decrease in insurance costs (I now pay only 60% of the premium). I am thankful that I am in a union that made that possible. I still need to have a second job on top of my full-time job in order to make ends meet, but I am thankful that the CSEA was able to get me a little more take-home pay.

Peyton Manning makes $14 million a year (that’s almost $40,000 per day, and doesn’t include his annual $13 million in endorsement income). Tom Brady makes $10 million. Julius Pepper makes $14 million. Nate Clements makes $11 million. The average NFL player makes over $2 million. For 16 games. In comparison, the average NBA player makes $5.5 million and the average MLB player makes $3.3 million. Football players argue that the salary cap is unfair. Jeez, sign a guy for $20 million and he wants more than that. In addition, if he gets fired, his signing bonus (which counts toward his $20 million) stays in his bank account; he doesn’t have to give it back. It sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me.

Players argue that they might get hurt, or disabled, or, worst of all, killed while playing their sport. They say they can only do it for a limited number of years before they have to retire. Aw, poor things. My heart bleeds for them. They knew that from the get-go. Firefighters, police officers, paramedics, soldiers also know before entering their careers that there’s a chance they might get injured or killed. Yet they do the job anyway because the job speaks to something in their soul. It speaks to a sense of loyalty, country, duty. Injury is a small part of the equation.

A friend of mine was a police officer until he was shot. Now he’s a paramedic. You’d think he’s safer, right? The other day he had a syringe sticking out of his elbow and had to use pliers to get it out. YUCK! That’s beyond gross in my book, yet he gets through it with gallows humor and lots of antibiotics, because he knows that what he does matters. Did you know that the average annual salary of paramedics in the US is just over $38,000? That’s less than Peyton Manning makes in a day. The average firefighter makes $44,000 and the average police officer makes 51,410. Average teacher salaries are around $52,000 and registered nurses earn about $54,000. I find these numbers obscene, considering the importance of those professions to society at large.

Ask yourself this: If we are so willing to encourage bratty behavior among men who are ridiculously compensated for playing a game, what does that say about the future of our society? Why is this kind of greed tolerated? What is it teaching our children? Why do intelligent men and women buy into this sham?

Socrates said, “Are you not ashamed of caring so much for the making of money and for fame and prestige, when you neither care about wisdom and truth and the improvement of your soul?” I think he hit the nail on the head. The NFL players should be ashamed of their greed. They should live within their means and keep their jobs in perspective. The general public should stop affording professional athletes god-like status. They are spoiled men playing a game. I, for one, will boycott the NFL from now until the day I die, because, in the end, football is totally irrelevant.

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Luxuries

It seems sort of obscene to be talking about luxuries in this day and age. Money is so tight that I use half sheets in the dryer, preferring to dry on the clothesline if weather permits. I plan weekly meals so I buy as little as possible and haven’t bought new underwear in a dog’s age. (I just realized the other day that one of the dresses I wear to work was the very same dress I wore when I was pregnant!) I can only IMAGINE the financial hit next year with college bills in our mailbox.

Still, I manage to sneak in a few little luxuries that make the scrimping and saving bearable. Not luxuries like caviar and white truffles, or eating out at the CIA, or buying a new wardrobe every season, but more reasonable splurges that just make me smile. I wanted to share them with you.

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Kessman Farms Jam

Hands down the best jam I ever tasted, except for the jam my mother-in-law made one year when she got fresh peaches. This jam, made by Kessman Farms in Pawling, NY, runs $6 – 8 per jar, but is well worth the splurge. It is FULL of fruit, not too thick, not too runny, and has a summer flavor so sweet that you weep to eat it in winter. Our favorite varieties are peach, apricot, strawberry, seedless red raspberry (shown) and the venerable Triple Crown (strawberry, raspberry and cherry all together in one ridiculously delicious jam). A thick slice of fresh oat toast, a smear of salted butter and a generous helping of jam. What is more seductive than that?

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Irish Mist

My girlfriend Cat will probably agree with me when I say that Irish Mist is yummy. She’s an Irish lass and has actually been to Ireland, and I am only partially of Irish descent and have never been. However, this liqueur sings to the Irish blood in my veins in a way that reels and harps don’t. OK, that was a really lame statement. It doesn’t sing to anything in my blood – it simply tastes good and makes me glad to claim Irish ancestry. It’s herby and sweet and scotchy and did I mention that it tastes good? A bottle sets me back $35, but it feels worth it somehow.

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Goat Curry at the West Indies Cafe

Three times I have had the opportunity to go to a little place on Main Street on the way to the Poughkeepsie train station. It’s called the West Indies Cafe and it’s a humble little place with chipped, mismatched formica tables, plastic chairs and divine food. Their cooking is Jamaican/West Indian and includes curries, jerks and such humble dishes as oxtail and cow foot. Twice I have gotten the goat curry. It is humble, spicy, boney, full of long-cooked love and is oh-so-tender. There’s just enough fat to make it taste sublime with the spices and lean meat. You can get it with rice, greens, plantains, cabbage, mac and cheese or beans in a styrofoam container. It’s not expensive – less than $10 for a large portion, but it has such a wonderful, exotic flavor profile that I consider it a true splurge. It’s the kind of food I would cook if I knew how.

And now a shameless plug… Visit http://westindiesrestaurant.com/ for more information. You’ll be glad you did!

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Halva

I wish there was a market around here that sold halva like in this picture. Louise is going to Turkey in about a month and will have the opportunity to eat fresh halva in every variety. She will be able to taste cherry, pistachio, chocolate, almond; every variety under the sun. I envy that opportunity.

OK, I’ll back up. What is halva (or halvah)? It is a subtle, sweet “candy” made from sesame seeds and sugar. There are varieties in the Middle East and into India, but it’s all basically a slightly dry, crumbly sweet that could be classified as a candy, or maybe not. In American grocery stores, you might find a version of halva at the deli counter that has egg whites in it. RUN in the opposite direction! The best halva is an incredibly simple product, super tasty in its simplicity. It costs about $5 for a few ounces, but the occasional splurge is worth it. We get it a few times a year at Hannaford in Pawling (in the Asian food section) and start eating it as soon as we get in the car and get our seatbelts buckled. What a treat!

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Pampered Chef Stoneware

There are 6 pieces of PC stoneware in my house. One loaf pan, the rectangular baker in the photo, a large, flat rectangular baker for bar cookies, a small round, a large round, and a pizza stone. They were hideously expensive when I bought them years ago. Each piece is between 20 and 40 dollars. However, they are the BEST items to cook in if you want to make something with a crispy crust. The rounds are what I use to make crispy Gujarat cabbage, the loaf is the go-to meatloaf pan, the rectangular baker is my all-purpose pan (I use that more than any other). I make bar cookies in the baker (especially great for lemon bars) and pizza, calzones and stromboli all develop a magical crust on the pizza stone (as long as you heat it up in the oven for 30 minutes prior to baking). The cost of them is ridiculous. However, given the results and the lifetime guarantee, they are well worth it.

Speaking of Pampered Chef, if you’re in the market for a garlic press, get it from them. Best garlic press I ever bought or was given. Ever!

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So there are some luxuries that I allow myself. Please share yours if you feel so inclined.