Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Who Is Running This Turkey Joint?

One of the great things about our country is the huge variety of regional specialities you encounter. From powdered sugar smothered beignets in N'awlins to a wind-whipped lobster bake on a rugged stretch of a Maine beach, from crawfish boils under the searing summer sun in Texas to the deep notes of a flight of pinot noir savored in Oregon's Willamette Valley. 

Turkey Joints from Nora's Candy Shop
In my upstate New York based family, our holiday tradition includes the annual sharing of Turkey Joints. Made in Rome, New York, these confection treasures come in a pint jar and yes, look a bit like bony legs. Before you get creeped out, I should tell you that no turkeys were harmed in the making of this jar of goodness. These scrumptious treats have milk chocolate and Brazil nuts in the center (the nuts jutting out strategically to resemble joints), and a finely spun candy coating on the outside with a slightly metallic sheen that coyly beckons you to just try one. 

That's it.
And I don't even have a sweet tooth.

These only make an appearance once a year for a few short weeks, so one must be opportunistic. It's imperative to polish them off fairly quickly to avoid the ticking over of the calendar to January 1. Which, in many households, means that candy is herewith and summarily banned until the next Thanksgiving!

Turkey Joints viewed from back (note: snow is authentic)

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Monday, December 26, 2011

Retro Recipe: Chicken Marengo

Book by Andrew Uffindel; available on Amazon
Ahh, Chicken Marengo -- that welcome, home-style family culinary tradition. Whenever we come up north, Chicken Marengo will surely be the headliner one night. The myth has been debunked that this dish was originally created on the evening of Napoleon's victory at Marengo in the early 1800s. What is known, however, is that the original dish contained crayfish and truffles(!), and that it rapidly conquered Paris, becoming a renowned symbol of French haute cuisine.

In my family, it's not at that level. We're downright bourgeois about how we approach Chicken Marengo. This is hard to mess up, and feeds a crowd (there's also a ton of sauce in this version). Here's a version adapted from my mom's yellowing, taped-together, oil-stained, hand-annotated recipe which has somehow never been lost amidst life's grand clutter:

[depending on how you cut the chicken, 6-plus servings]

Chicken Marengo
2 1/2 to 3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Flour for dredging
2 T olive oil
2 medium onions, peeled and cut into 6 or 8 wedges
1 clove garlic, crushed
6 oz. of your favorite mushrooms (baby bellas work well)
1/4 cup white wine or vermouth or sherry
3 to 4 cups chicken broth or stock
1 small can of tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper 
1/2 t. dried marjoram
1 t. sugar
1 tomato, cut into thin wedges
Parsley (optional - I like flat leaf)

  1. Prepare the chicken. I like to rinse and trim it, then individually pound out the chicken one piece at a time in a plastic bag to even thickness. Make sure you dry it with paper towels. 
  2. Heat a bit of the oil in a large Dutch oven. Dredge chicken pieces in flour (I like to season the flour with a little onion salt, garlic powder, pepper, paprika, and a few marjoram leaves).
  3. Saute the chicken on medium-high, ensuring pieces don't touch, letting the pieces brown and caramelize (don't let it get too hot). As you are done, set the chicken pieces together in a covered dish. This keeps in all the wonderful moisture.  
  4. Add another bit of olive oil, then put in the onions to sweat, scraping up the nice bits from the chicken. Add in the garlic and mushrooms, and saute until soft and mushrooms are letting out liquid. Throw in about a tablespoon of flour, mixing through to let the flour cook in a bit.  
  5. Now add your wine, chicken broth, tomato paste, bay leaf, salt, pepper, marjoram and sugar. Gently place chicken back into the pot, and stir gently. Place tomatoes on top, reduce to a low simmer, and leave it along it for at least 35 minutes. 
  6. Serve over whole wheat broad noodles, generously sprinkling fresh parsley on top. While it's extra carbs, a really good artisan bread is nice to have to dredge in the abundant sauce! 

Note: You can also transfer the dish at Step 5 to a crockpot and put it on low or warm for the whole afternoon. The chicken will get more tender. This also freezes very well. 
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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Weather or Not, Here We Come!

It has been said that there are only two things that are certain in this life - death and taxes. This has been proven undeniably true, especially for the former. But, on the opposite extreme is the one thing that is nearly always uncertain and that is the weather. And its proclivity to be the opposite of one's expectation is at exactly the point when it matters most.  For instance, at the same time as one wants to travel, or to attend an event, or to go shopping or to work, or to simply get your groceries and yourself to the car while simultaneously remaining dry. 

So why blog about the weather? My grandfather used to always tell me, "Gregree (his pronunciation of my formal name Gregory), never talk to people about politics, religion or sex; just keep it to the weather!"  A different time and a different world for sure, however, the gist of his message has always been and always will be clear to me because no one is ever really offended by talk of the weather. But, everyone is affected by the weather every day of their lives. And everyone learns to make accommodations. 

We humans could learn a lot about patience and tolerance if we would just take a moment, get introspective, and then analyze the ways that we adjust our lives to the weather. Of course I would be lying if I said that the weather always brings out the good in me. Many would argue that second only to Fantasy Football and the occasional road rage, the weather stirs up my angst more often than not. I mean, come on now, does it really have to snow every single holiday that we spend in upstate NY? I suppose it is pretty and all, but I have noticed that it is always accompanied by freezing temperatures. But I am a reasonable person - next year in the Caribbean perhaps? Is that too much to ask? 

Asking for a little tanning weather in December is not a sign of intolerance nor a lack of patience. My situation is unique and different from everyone else; I am sure of it! Cold weather often causes me heartburn, dry skin, chapped lips, poor circulation, impaired vision, uncontrolled utterances and downright grouchiness. But I am not complaining because that would seem to disrupt the essence and meaning of this message, which is to extract a golden nugget from a weather metaphor, if you will.  

I have got to run now anyway. This means I have to start the car so that it can warm up for 10 minutes. Then I will put on my coat, my gloves, my hat, my scarf and my cheery disposition and head out for a few errands. I am now rethinking the value of my grandfather's advice. Perhaps he lived in simpler times when the weather was always one's friend and never disrupted one's life. Bah humbug!

Weather or not, here we come...       
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Thursday, December 22, 2011

"King of the Road" and Other Self-Proclaimed Titles

When you travel regularly for business like I do, you are summarily lumped into the single catch-all, category killing title of, "Road Warrior". Now that I have over 3 million air miles, shouldn't I be allowed to declare myself "Grand Pooh Bah of the Skies" or something? But I digress...

Us, just after arriving in upstate NY
This post is about our current (4th overall!!) driving trip from Houston, TX to New Hartford, NY; our noble dog Cowboy Jack in tow. For those who do not know NY State, New Hartford is located in the Mohawk Valley between Syracuse & Albany. It is a not so scant 1,800 miles from our home in Houston. A glorious trip that includes 3 days and 32 hours of driving weariness and more than a few stops at McDonald's for a wi-fi fix (you thought Big Mac, didn't you?)! If God had meant for people to drive to visit family for the holidays, He would not have allowed for the invention of jet planes, would He? 

My original plan to have Brooke drive up with the dog and then retrieve me from the Syracuse airport, three relaxing days later, was nixed without negotiation. A dedicated & loving husband (such as myself) knows when to fold his hand when it comes to what is apparently now a holiday tradition.  Traditions are, well, unbreakable, unmovable and unavoidable agreements between those who desire World Peace and personal contentment sans spousal ire.    

Can I get an AMEN!?
The trip "Back East" included couch-surfing in Birmingham, AL, on night number one followed by a great visit and stay with daughter & son-in-law (Tahni & Joseph) in Charlottesville, VA. We finally made it to New Hartford at the end of the 3rd driving day, which included the last 60 miles on a two lane road called NY Route 8. Eight being the number of sharp curves per mile I am sure. It should be noted that Cowboy Jack slept for 33 of the 32 hours of road time. 

Now, before I divulge our newly earned titles of self-importance (the original purpose of this post - SQUIRREL), I wanted to let you know that all is well with the world. Seeing and spending time with the family is very valuable, but what is a trip to the northern latitudes worth if it does not include a great wings eating experience at Cavallo's (see picture with wings not pictured)? NUFF said!   

Cavallo's in New Hartford - best wings outside of Buffalo
Without further ado: I hereby declare, proclaim and bestow, by my self-imposed power, the following duly earned titles upon myself, my lovely bride and where allowed by law and PETA, his most high dogness Cowboy Jack:  

Greg: "Driver of the Month", "Captain Road Rage", "General Garminator aka Nuvinator aka GPSter", "His Excellency the Street Czar", and "The Turbo Diesel Demon"  

Brooke: "The Great Tolerator", "Lead Speed & Route Advisor", "Head of Highway Direction Board", "Her Excellency the Duchess of Pit Stop" and "Queen Are You Talking to Me?" 

Cowboy Jack: "Pack Nap Leader aka His Fluffy Sleepness", "Meal Time Roll Call Commander", "His Excellency the Couldn't Care Less One", and of course our pet name (rim shot) for him - "Drowsy"

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Wanna Get on Santa's Nice List?

Good Afternoon

I'm Corey from Learning Patience
Brooke and Greg asked if I wanted to guest blog and I thought it would be the perfect moment to spread the word about something near and dear to my heart.

Clean Drinking Water

Read on and then hopefully, you can pop on over to my blog  - it's a little bit of everything from my day to day in Trinidad, workout tips, delicious recipes, travel adventures and lots of great sunset pictures...

I'm sure by the time you read this blog, you've drank at least 1 glass of clean water.
Maybe two.
I bet you didn't have to walk 4 hours to get it.
You didn't have to put your cup into a dirty hole in the ground to fill it up.
It didn't make you so sick, you almost died.

Isn't funny how we take such a simple thing, like clean drinking water, for granted?
Today there are over 1 billion people in the world who don't have access to clean and safe water.  They face water-bourne illness and death from dehydration.

Well Done 2011 is a project organized by Lauren from Aspiring Kennedy and and Keely from luxe + lillies to organize bloggers to donate to Charity : Water.  

Watch the video.
Take 5 minutes.
Open your heart.
 I promise you will be moved.

Ready to get on Santa's Nice List?
For as little as 5 bucks (or more) - you can help build a clean water well in Ethiopia.

 Click Here to Donate.
Then go Blog about it.
Spread the word on Facebook & Twitter.
It feels good.  I promise.
Skip the Starbucks, the extra glass of vino or the appetizer at dinner this weekend and help someone far away enjoy something so simple as CLEAN DRINKING water.

Have a wonderful weekend!
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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas cookies - thin mints of the cheatin' kind

So, the holiday pressure is on and your head is about to explode. Your calendar reminder tells you that the cookie exchange is ... tomorrow night. OMG! Well, don't worry. Here's a no-bake recipe to save the day!

Holiday Thin(ish) Mints
8 oz. of dark chocolate morsels or squares, melted
1/2 t. of vegetable shortening (this adds a little shine to the chocolate)
1/2 t. of peppermint extract (I like the McNess brand)
1 sleeve of Ritz crackers
2 or 3 candy canes, crushed to little pieces

Mix chocolate, shortening and peppermint.

Carefully dip the crackers, coating both sides and scraping off extra chocolate, and place on parchment or wax paper to harden.

Sprinkle candy cane bits on top.

Stick in the fridge for about 30 minutes to get nice and firm.

Take to your cookie exchange and pat yourself on the back for your cleverness!

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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Let The Baking Tradition Begin!

As the song goes, "It's the most wonderful time of the year!" And that is certainly true here in Candelariaville (just a tad south of Hoo-Ville) as Brooke produces the 2011 edition of her Christmas tradition, baking cookies of all different kinds. 

Cowboy Jack offers to taste test!
This year she will not be as ambitious as last year when she spent the better part of two weeks making 66 dozen cookies.  Her 2010 contribution to many 2011 New Year's resolutions were understandable. 

So far this season she has made 6 different types of cookies and at this exact moment my nostrils are absorbing the following scents in random, but regular order - lemon, rosemary, mint, chocolate, raspberry, cranberry, Tabasco (oops wait, that is from my mushroom pasta that Brooke "threw" together for my lunch). 

Later there will be other great ingredients and aromas floating about like Sugar Plum Fairies from the Nutcracker (is that a mixed metaphor?). Believe it or not, cookies blended with cardamon, crystallized ginger, cumin and cayenne pepper. Brooke uses her skills as a chef to bring a savory side to baking. And the results are excellent!    

The kitchen has been taken over!
In a word: DELICIOUS!
Well I must go now as I have been called to cut the biscotti, which I have heard will be dipped in white chocolate. I must work up the strength to take this assignment...CIAO! 

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Friday, December 9, 2011

Nearly 55 and a GLEEk!

So, when folks get to be my age they face the cultural and nearly uncontrollable vulnerability known as being "Middle Age Crazy".  For most this manifests itself into buying a fast sports car, or a second home in an exotic location, or a yacht that is moored on the inter-coastal waterway in Florida. As for me, I drive a VW Jetta TDI (diesel), have a single primary home in Houston, TX and I see a BOAT for what it stands for - Bring Out Another Thousand (dollars that is). The conundrum for me, as I quickly approach an age that matches the speed limit of the Carter administration, is that I find myself to be a GLEEk.

For those who are not aware, a GLEEk is a fan, or more appropriately, an addict of the Fox Network show GLEE. 

I am not exactly sure how this happened to me, but I do know that I cannot seem to extricate myself from either watching or liking the program. Perhaps it is the blend of music that includes a bit standards, a dose of Classic Rock, a little original music, and then topped up with today's modern pop culture music? Maybe it is my unconscious desire to be back in high school surrounded by friends with amazing talents, great looks and great hair.

Actually, I think that GLEE simply resonates (and across generational lines) because it is so unrealistic and so outright entertaining for those who want to watch TV without the need to bring your brain.  

There is some odd and unusual comfort in watching a show that in no way matches ones own personal experience. So you know, I am not envious nor jealous of the GLEE life, but I would like to be Sue Sylvester for just one day.  That is what makes one a devout GLEEk.

Well done GLEEk, well done!

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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Holding Court in Houston

Actually, it's not really about holding court but experiencing the Houston court system for the first time.

Today was my first-ever jury duty; well more accurately, a call for possible jury duty. I suspect that plenty of you are thinking, "Sheesh, how can she be that old and not have had a call for jury duty?"

Well, try moving around a lot and living out of the country for a few years. That will generally ensure the system doesn't catch up with the person!

Here is how it went:

I reported at 8 am to the criminal court building. I entered a brand-spanking new jury "convening" building in downtown Houston, which gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling knowing that my taxpayer dollars are at work. It's super-nice and modern with lots of natural light.

View of downtown Houston from the courthouse
Next, I got funneled into one of four sizable auditoriums to wait. And wait. Wait, wait, wait and wait some more. After an eternity (wondering if I'd be there though the holidays), they began to call numbers.

Imagine my joy as juror number after juror number were called and none of them were mine? Ok, I'm cool. They (a bailiff as "they" are called) finally called out the last group, and you guessed it, my number was up. The 6o-plus of us (lemming juror wannabees) shuffled through the tunnel and up to the courtroom area. So, I waited some more with the hard realization that I had not had any coffee. Pout!! 

Three hours slowly ticked by. We were finally summoned into the courtroom. The judge delivered his remarks eloquently, yet with a distinct Texas drawl (including a few "all y'alls" for good measure). "Never", he says, "in all my years on the bench have I had this happen where a specific court jury panel has three MIAs.  By law, we must have 64 panelists from which to select a jury and we cannot move forward because of the nature of this case, capital murder."

And with that, we were suddenly and swiftly dismissed. In a way it would have been interesting to be part of this aspect of democracy, but in another way I sort of dodged a bullet. No pun intended. Next time, and perhaps in civil court?

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Saturday, December 3, 2011

IM okay, IM okay!

Before you think that this is all about me, know that the IM to which I refer to in the title is the now pervasive and addictive, spelling and grammar destroying, multi-task challenging phenomenon known as "Instant Messaging".

And IM is not just taking over your relationships with our friends and colleagues, it is now in firm control of our love lives!!  A related side note, I would have virtually no communication with my daughters if not for the magic of text messaging (I miss you girls).  Oops, excuse me while I respond back to my lovely bride who is currently located downstairs about 30 feet from me (10 feet as the indoor crow flies).

Brooke: yt?
Me: y
Brooke: U busy?
Me: y
Brooke: lmk whut up with U?
Me: writin' blog post
Brooke: question?
Me: y?
Brooke: R U hungry?
Me: y
Brooke: k, cool!
Me: That's it?
Brooke: y
Me: k, cool!  
I suppose she will ping me again shortly to ask if I am thirsty, but until then I will continue with this blog post.

Brooke: yt?
Me: y, what now?
Brooke: R U thirsty?
Me: y
Brooke: k, cool!

As I was trying to say, IM is taking over the world like a bad untreatable plague that does not kill anyone, yet renders one confused about the proper means to communicate with anyone at a level above the language that we have with our pets. Check that, we use complete words and cute phrases for that..."You are such a good boy, would you like a treat?"  Cowboy Jack: y

Brooke: yt? 
Me: y
Brooke: mind if I go 2 gym?
Me: n
Brooke: k, cool!

The truth is that I now use IM personally and professionally because I am saving my voice and word articulation for my debut as a guest tenor with The Houston Grand Opera.  And why use the spoken word and expend all that energy? And proper grammar and sentence structure is so 1970!

Brooke: yt? 
Me: y
Brooke: off 2 gym!
Me: k
Brooke: ily
Me: ily2
Brooke: k, cool!

The trouble with "fads" like IM is that they are not just fads, but rather, they become ingrained into the very pop culture in which we live. I suppose the old adage applies here, "If you cannot beat them, you might as well join them!"  Alas, this is true.

Oh wait, just got a cell phone text from Brooke, "at gym".  Pardon me while I text her back, "k, cool!"

TTYL my BFF's!

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Road warrior eats: good choices on a per diem

Staying within the per diem - and feeling great! Photo courtesy of Sprout Savvy
Most of you road warriors cope with increasingly stringent (and complicated) per diem rules, even before making a decision to go healthy. So, is it possible to stay within the per diem without being driven to breakfast burritos and Big Macs? Yep. Here are a few quick tips.

For insights from the experts, check out the Travel to Wellness site. These are unofficial 'staying healthy' lessons from my experiences (just a few quick thoughts - not complete guidance):

  • Keep up the exercise, even if it's in smaller segments. Pack resistance bands (the TSA won't eye you suspiciously) and watch the news while working out in your hotel room. Hit the pool and gym; avoid rush hour at the gym so you can ensure your fave equipment is available.
  • Smaller food portions with frequent noshing on healthy choices will keep your energy level higher and more consistent on the road.
  • Water, water everywhere. We dehydrate more when we travel. Often your system thinks it's hungry when it's actually thirsty. Keep your supply of drinking water replenished throughout the day.  
  • Stay at hotels with breakfast included if possible. If they don't have continental plus (which includes fruit/yogurt/cereals), get your breakfast at a nearby supermarket or local takeaway diner. Opt for a mix of plain yogurt, granola (not too much!), fresh fruit and a teaspoon of honey to balance the yogurt. 
  • If it's a full breakfast, nix the carbs (oatmeal is ok if you work out) or do a veggie omelet. And if you can bear it (read: discipline yourself), eliminate the cheese and top with salsa. 
  • Don't skip breakfast when traveling - make sure you have your Power Meeting Snack (see below) as your secret energy weapon.It will keep you away from that huge tray of pastries.  
  • Seek out restaurants offering regular-size and smaller portions. Opt for something like a small baby spinach salad with grilled chicken, dressing on the side. Pat yourself on the back for eating right and spending less.
  • Stop in at Subway for one of the low-fat yummy subs, or Panera Bread for a great salad. Both are wallet and waist friendly.
  • Catered lunch? No worries. Pile on the salad or deconstruct a sandwich to enjoy turkey/lettuce/tomato. Or, have the mozzarella with grilled eggplant and sun-dried tomato (mozzarella is a lower fat cheese). 
  • Do your research ahead of time. Categorize lists for quick/cheap meals vs. locations for entertaining clients or business partners. Don't be afraid to ask for your meal to be prepared in a healthy way (steamed/grilled).  
  • Many cities around the world are 'high cost' or 'international' per diem allowances. When you're not entertaining clients/colleagues/partners, you can get a reasonably healthy and cheap meal at many local places (look for bustling hole-in-the-wall places).
  • Being social is great, but beware of the trap of the friendly bar where you could end up ordering evil things.  Yes, wings are always evil even if they are chicken (let's review: they are usually fried, fatty skinned, served with a selection of deceptively calorie popping sauces and then finished off with an irresistible big dip in bleu cheese dressing). Instead, consider ordering a 'to-go' and then socialize while you're waiting for your food, or order ahead for pick-up.  
  • When you're with colleagues, see if one of them would like to split an entree with you so you each get a reasonable portion at a lower cost.
  • Every road warrior likes an adult beverage every now and then, but even a heart healthy glass of red wine adds "empty" calories. No need to avoid cocktails, just remember that they come with more than a simple "buzz." In a word: moderation.
The Power Meeting Snack:
  • Pack a supply of lean protein bars in your briefcase or backpack as rescue food during unpredictably long hours. Sneak it in during a break and drink twice the water you think you need.
  • Have raw unsalted almonds on hand in one-ounce portions in little zip bags. Enjoy during a break and drink twice the water you think you need.
(hey, is there a theme in here?)

Late Night Danger:

You're parked at the desk in your hotel room. Time to catch up on email, and you're pooped. Your feet hurt. Your tummy growls. You think you might be hungry. Make some of that decaf tea, drink more water, and stay away from the minibar. Don't even look at those goodies you received from sponsors or vendors (unless it's good fruit, preferably not grapes). Nibble on a few of those almonds and feel great about your choice.  

... and did I mention you should drink more water than usual? When you hydrate during these meetings, you will be more alert and energetic and perhaps even the session's star participant.

What are YOUR travel healthy tricks? How do you stay in budget while making healthy decisions?
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