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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Dirty Words (part 1)

My father was a good man with a very "colorful" vocabulary. He did not use curse words indiscriminately or lightly. He never used them in casual conversation and never in mixed company. His use of colorful language was limited to himself. When frustrated over something he was working on or something just wasn't going right, out would pop a new word. He new them all, too and used them in unique and interesting combinations. My vocabulary has been forever enriched by the loudly exclaimed words heard through the floor between our first floor apartment and his basement workshop.

Dad was a man of his generation, born Aurelienne (Aurel) Donat Caissie in Bouctouche New Brunswick Canada on January 8th 1928. He spent his first nineteen years living with 13 (!!!!) brothers and sisters in the same area, occasionally moving from Bouctoush to Scoudouc, both to this day very small towns on the Acadian Coast. He never made it past the eighth grade, but not because of a lack of intelligence. It was what the men did there at that time. After a certain amount of schooling they went to work to help pay the family bills. He was an intelligent man, just not from formal schooling. He always had simple needs and never really cared for many material things. He cared about his family more then anything else in life. His simple dedication to family above all else dictated all of his beliefs. More than any other characteristic I inherited his deep belief in the family as the center of life.

Growing up we were not rich, by any means, but we were certainly better off than his or my mothers childhoods. I'm not even sure we could be called middle class, by today's or any day's standard. We got by. My parents owned their home, a three decker in the beautiful industrial city of Worcester Massachusetts. We never lacked for food or other essentials and I would always spend a week or two each summer at my aunt and uncles cottage on Cranberry Lake. We grew up understanding the difficulties of making ends meet each day and trying to better our, and our children's lives.

My parents and other friends and relatives gave me opportunities that I feel indebted to pass on whenever possible. It can be argued that I took advantage of those opportunities and made much of them, but I can't deny that without those critical pushes in the right direction, I might still be hanging great big leather hides in a room filled with moist hot air and breathing chemical fumes from mixing leather glue. After all, I am still in my heart one of the greatest procrastinators of all time.

My mother visited a few weeks ago and she was a little different. She is now 79 years old, but looks and acts considerable younger. We went for a boat ride and at one point she was staring off the boat, resting her hands and head on the edge and staring out at the shoreline. She quietly remarked "you live a good life", and it has really started me thinking about where we came from and how we got here.

It's going to take more than one edition to get around to the point...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sparks Flying

It was our anniversary this week and unfortunately I had to travel on business and missed the actual day. When I returned home on Thursday night we decided to go out for a nice dinner. We hadn't been to CR Sparks in Bedford for a few years, mostly because of a bad New Years Eve experience there, so we decided to try it again.

We didn't have reservations but it didn't seem to be a problem at the time we arrived (6:30). Within a half hour of our seating the place was packed. Nancy had a cosmo (big surprise there) and I had a glass of Merlot (Flora ??? from CA). Pacing was good and we were never hurried. We started with the artisanal cheese tower and although it wasn't local cheese, it was fantastic. Three cheese plates: 1. Italian asiago with a tomato and raisin chutney 2. French blue with honey, almond slivers and candied walnuts 3. British cheddar with red onions and a very old balsamic vinegar. Dinner for Nancy was a clam spaghetinni with baby littlenecks, pancetta, cherry tomatoes and fresh corn. She enjoyed it very much. Mine was the dinner special, the veal porterhouse chop with arugula and a sort of home fried sliced potatoes. The taste was good but if your going to charge $30 for a veal chop and call it your special of the evening, it should be a nice thick chop. This chop was barely a half inch thick. Tasty but they cheaped out.

Desert was a nice layered chocolate indulgence cake, a nice ending to the evening. It did confirm my opinion of the restaurant though. It's always like the immortal Maxwell Smart said, " Missed it by just that much."

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Presto Pesto!

I admit to being a poor planner. My tendencies are if one of something is good, then more must be better. I love basil as an herb and consider it one of the most fundamental flavors for cooking. When I planned the garden this year, I decided that the herbs would take center stage and the only vegetable I would grow would be the tomatoes. I planted three sweet basil plants, three leaf basil plants and two Thai basil plants (love the Thai basil!!). Next year I think I'll eliminate at least two of the plants. The end result has been a glut of basil. No matter how much I use the size of the plants never seems to go down. On Saturday I harvested a bowl full to make pesto and now it looks like I didn't take any. The plan is to make lots of pesto.

Pesto freezes easily and can last months once frozen. One trick is to buy ice cube trays and freeze the pesto in the trays. Once frozen you can pop them out of the trays and place them in zip lock baggies for long term storage. One cube melted over some pasta will yield a great quick meal. My recipe follows:


Pesto

2 cups sweet basil (packed)
1 Tbsp pine nuts
4 cloves garlic
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
fresh ground pepper to taste
Optional: 5 mint leaves, dried oregano, 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Saving the oil for last, place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until chopped. Do not use a blender. The blender will chop things too finely and result in a loss of texture. You want a choppy look to the pesto, not a fine mush. By packing the food processor with the dry ingredients first then adding the oil you will get better results. I prefer to add the Parmesan separately to the pasta or dish being served, but some recipes call for the cheese to be added to the pesto mix when making the pesto.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

You say tomaaato, I say tomahtoe...

Bambi is a beautiful story, one almost every child hears or sees when they are very young. Those beautiful long eyelashes, and the sad story of loosing her mother to the nasty hunters. Then they add to the misery by having the cute rabbit, Thumper tugging at our heart strings. Don't believe it for a minute. Those deer are blood sucking leaches.

I've grown tomatoes over the years in the backyards of the various houses we lived in. We've now been in this house for 19 years, the longest we've lived anywhere. I had attempted to grow tomatoes when we first moved here but it was during one of my busy periods at work and they quickly died of benign neglect. Over the years Nancy has had varying success with her flower gardens, the most difficult problem being that deer love to eat some of the flower buds. At times over the years they have completely decimated her flower garden. Her greatest success has come this year when she learned to put soap on a stick in the garden. The smell of the soap keeps the deer away. About five years ago I tried growing tomatoes in pots, close to the house, thinking they wouldn't dare come right up on the porch to eat my tomatoes. Oh you trusting man.

The tomato plants grew well that year and after about six weeks I had six healthy plants that were sporting lots of flower buds. another few weeks and every one of those buds had turned into golf ball sized starter tomatoes. I was on my way to a bountiful harvest. Ha! In one night the deer came in and completely wiped out every single tomato that was growing on the vines. That was the end of that experiment. So after years of longing for a decent tomato, I decided this year to do it up right. I dug a 12 x 20 foot patch in the back yard and planted twelve tomato plants. I got smart too. I put up a fence to keep the deer pests out. There is no punch line here. I finally have lots of tomatoes growing. The "Better Boys" are doing well and I've already had a few off the vines to test them. In addition I tried a few heirloom plants and ate the first of the "Black" variety today. Very sweet, ripe and juicy. Finally, victory!