Tuesday, March 24, 2009

NowRuz, NoRuz, NoRooz (Persian New Year)

Need a reason to celebrate and have a party between Valentines Day and Easter/Passover? Fouad provided the reason and the food last weekend. NoRooz (with accent on the rooz) is the celebration of the Persian New Year which also falls on the vernal equinox. This year it was on March 20th at 08:44 EDT. A Friday morning party wasn't really in the works, but the good thing about NoRooz is that the celebration lasts for 2 weeks. Those Persians really know how to bring in the New Year. So we went to Fouad and Mary's home on Saturday night for a Persian feast (compliments of Mary's wonderful cooking), and as always, Fouad provided the color commentary with all manner of details about how this celebration is supposed to take place.
It is so good to be home! We missed family- and friends- and celebrations- for any reason. And NoRooz was a great way to begin the spring celebrations! PS- And it is always great to have an excuse to eat Mary's cooking! Now that is something to celebrate.

As an added bonus this year, my cousin Vicki and her husband Lindell were in the process of moving from Ft Worth to Pittsburgh and were able to stop over in Cincinnati on their way. Of course Fouad welcomed them to the celebration, because we all know how much Fouad loves a party. Vicki and Lindell will be so much closer (notice Pittsburgh is just not that far from Cincy)- so we expect to see a whole lot more of them!

The celebration started off with Fouad providing an overview of how this party is supposed to be done in Iran. The picture below shows Fouad in front of a table that was laden with examples of traditional fare.

All of the symbolic items were there mostly representing the arrival of Spring. Eggs that are a symbol of new birth seem to be a staple of all Spring celebrations including Easter and Passover. In addition there was also a blooming Hyacinth, garlic, an apple, sumac berries, vinegar and a few other signs of Spring. There are traditionally 7 of these items which represent the seven angelic heralds of life-rebirth, health, happiness, prosperity, joy, patience, and beauty.Another symbol of this holiday is fire. People normally build a bonfire and then jump over it, something that burns off all the bad things in life. We took a different approach and each one of us lit a candle which were allowed to burn out. Below are Vicki and Lindell and below them are Fouad and Me. Note that I am smiling for the camera. I think we still need to work a bit on Don's smile. What do you think?

In addition to jumping over fires (or lighting candles) and eating well, people also cover themselves with cloths, go outside, and bang on pots to welcome the new year. As usual, Fouad provided an excellent example of how it is done. That's him under the cloth.

Another tradition is that the mothers in the celebration are given eggs to eat. They get one for each of their children and grandchildren. Max's expression below pretty well describes her response. I think we can paraphrase it as: "you want me to do what?" Wow- now I like hard boiled eggs- I mean really- I really like hard boiled eggs. But I have a LOT OF CHILDREN- AND GRANDCHILDREN- so I was staring at 13 eggs (fortunately I was spared the grand baby #7 coming in June)- So next year I'm going to have 14 EGGS!

And finally after dinner, Fouad brought out the traditional hookah. Don't take this picture wrong. I was asked to demonstrate the proper use of a hookah and did my best to provide an appropriate digital moment. Trust me- we didn't do anything illegal- we're too old- too tired- and of course we're all now going to bed early- so the party is OVER- when the young ones are just getting started-But we had a great time! And are looking forward to next year- and the start of spring!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

March Madness??

Well- before we get to the March Madness- Let me tell you today is absolutely gorgeous- weather doesn't get better than this. 70 degrees! Clear skies! No wind! And the daffodils are beginning to flower! And it is St. Patrick's Day- the first of the "welcome" spring holidays. So I made a Shepard Pie- well sorta Shepard Pie- I didn't use lamb (which is why it is called "Shepard's pie- chickens don't need a "Shepard") I used chicken- happy chickens of course- well not very happy recently- though one time this chicken was happy- running about an Amish Farm- not Irish- but there just isn't much Irish in this part of the world. And then I used parsnips- not potatoes. And then since the Irish (and the British and the Germans and the Scots) are not really known for actually seasoning food I borrowed from the Morrocans and used coriander seed, tumeric, cumin seed- threw in celery seed for good measure and salt and pepper.

We did open a couple of bottles of Guinness- but I quickly switched to a French wine.

Now that we've finished with the St. Patrick's Day- we moved onto March Madness.
OK, Max and I are definitely not obsessed with sports (other than watching baseball during the summer), but we decided that this year we would participate in that age old tradition of filling out the NCAA championship brackets with our choices of the winners. We have NEVER paid much attention- this despite the attention paid to this Madness by much of our family. Of course to do this properly one needs to have something at stake, something on which you bet so that if you win, you get the obviously deserved reward for picking all of those winners.

This created our first problem. We decided that the bet should be something that we wanted, that could be provided by the other, and something that we didn't already have. One rule imposed by Max was that we also had to disclose it in this blog, so that left out some of my obvious bets. Trust me- I didn't ask what his bets might be- I don't want to know- not now- not ever...

Now, just exactly what did either of us want that the other could provide (within the confines of this blog) we didn't already have??? Anything either of us really wants we already have. Need I remind you of the Kitchen Aid mixer that apparently I wanted for my Christmas present a couple of years ago. Sure enough Max "surprised me" with one well before Christmas. There seems to be lots of these examples, new pots and pan, a new vacuum sweeper, other kitchen stuff, and this year a new indoor herb "AeroGarden". So what could I possibly want?? I couldn't come up with a thing. Now- trust me- I know how very, very, very happy I am with Don- And I also am always aware of how "indulged" I am (coffee brought to me in bed 7 dayas a week- cleans the kitchen after every "cooking adventure" I might dream up- If I say I like roses- then he's out back digging up a new garden to plant roses- I want a piano- and now I have a GRAND one)- I couldn't think of a single thing that I might wager.
Consequently, we finally decided that the winner would get "winner bragging rights" for one day.

Now to choose the winners in our brackets. Unfortunately, neither of us has watched a college basketball game all year long. We have no idea who has beaten whom. But does that really make any difference since every year there are always some very surprising upsets.

So Max used her magic by picking teams that were from states that had some meaning to her. As she said: "I picked from the heart". For example, since she knows someone from Tennessee, she picked 16th seeded Chattanooga over top seeded UConn and 8 seeded BYU and Radford (Radford??) over North Carolina because she just doesn't like the South. I don't think she knows Radford is in Virginia. But nonetheless March Madness is about upsets, so who am I to question such logic? She did pick Oklahoma to win it all, so her faith in OU sports hasn't diminished after their awful performance in football bowl games year after year. Don had assured me that he hadn't been reading ANYTHING at all about college basketball this year- And that he really didn't have ANY IDEA who might win- and since I don't know ANYTHING about college basketball (stopped watching when the guys started wearing the long shorts) it seemed that the playing field might be relatively level. So I picked FROM THE HEART (Brandy says that this is how she picks her teams)- Always pick the team playing AGAINST ANYONE from Texas, California or the south- except for Duke- I know kids who went to Duke- so I don't consider it a TOTALLY SOUTHERN school- Besides I think I remember hearing that they play pretty good basketball. And I could NEVER, EVER, EVER choose someone over OU. I am LOYAL!

I used a much more informed approach. I did know what the seeding was (I do know what seeds are- just didn't know that basketball has seeds- thought just gardens did!) and who is favored in the supposed easy games for the top seeds. I mostly went with teams I knew of, teams that were in tougher conferences and teams with big names. I think my guesses are probably no better than Max's but we will see. Let the games begin!!!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

St. Patty's Day Cake!

It was a grand quest- though I must admit I was often distracted- often ambivalent- and even on during some times- totally disinterested. But then it would pop back into my path- and I would be once again reminded! But let me start from the beginning. And the beginning is a glass dome cake platter- on a pedestal even.

Part 1:
I saw this glass cake platter at the local "Glass Barn" and immediately had visions of it sitting on my table with some delicious cake or other waiting to be eaten. The "Glass Barn" is truly a cheap glass outlet that has all kinds of glass stuff at really cheap prices - I mean really cheap. This vision despite the reality that Don and I are neither terribly crazy about cake (Don much prefers pies) and of course when the kids were all home who has time to bake- and now that they're all gone cakes are just TOO BIG for just Don and I. So mostly the glass dome cake holder sits empty- only the promise of a cake- almost never a cake. Oh, from time to time I'd put some cake or other onto the platter- and would usually discard much when it became too dry to appeal even on the hungriest of afternoons. Those cakes were really pretty sitting under that dome, but eventually they just got thrown away. I mean, how much cake can two people eat?

Part 2:
Remember I told you about the hippie restaurant in Chicago- the Heartland Cafe--http://www.heartlandcafe.com/

Well what I didn't tell you- that on the desert menu (we were too full after our meal to eat any desert- so we didn't try anything)- Anyway- on the desert menu there was a cake that sounded interesting- very interesting- a CHOCOLATE STOUT CAKE- I snapped a picture of the menu so I wouldn't forget the name- and we were off to another adventure in the Windy City- and this cake definitely to wait for another time.

Part 3: I have a soft spot for all things Irish. My best friend Clare and her husband Oliver (from Oklahoma City) would take me every year to the Irish Festival in Dallas- we'd go on the cheap- all 3 of us in the same room. And we would drink the Guinness. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful Guinness. Why it coats so perfectly the whole mouth- so by the end of a day enjoying Irish music and dancing- and that wonderful, wonderful Guinness- my whole mouth would have the soft velvety coat of the dark beer. But there's just not much Irish here in Cincinnati. The Germans invaded, staked out their claim so we have Oktoberfest- German Beer Gardens- and of course sausage and Goetta... And about this time of the year I'm always a bit lonely for my Irish friends.... Cincinnati does have an annual St. Patrick's day parade and we went one year. Boy was that ever a bust. Mostly anybody that had a green hat walking down the street along with lots of political folks riding in cars. It was pretty awful.

But this year there is at least the CHOCOLATE STOUT CAKE!
I found the recipe on one of my favorite food blogs:


I really think you'll like it. It's really, really, really good. So here goes:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a bundt pan being very careful to get butter in all the creases- I think I'll also try to flour my next time because my cake did stick in a couple of spots on top. 2. Combine 1 cup of Guinness and 1 cup of butter (2 sticks- don't substitute margarine) and heat to a simmer over medium heat. Add 3/4 cup of good quality unsweetened cocoa. Whisk until smooth. Cool slightly.

4. Whisk 2 cups of flour and 2 cups of sugar and 1.5 tsp of baking soda and 3/4 tsp of salt. Using an electric mixer (I used my KitchenAid Stand Mixer- how how I love my KitchenAid Stand Mixer!) to mix 2/3 cup of sour cream and 2 eggs. Add the Guinness mixture beating until mixed using the low speed. Add the flour mixture and mix briefly on the lowest speed. Now use a spatula to finish blending. Pour into prepared pan.
5. Bake for 35-45 minutes- until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

6. Cool on rack while still in pan. Turn onto platter when cooled.
7.Now you're going to make the ganache to drizzle onto the cake.

Melt 60z of good semisweet chocolate chips and 6 tbs. of heavy creme and 3/4 tsp of instant espresso coffee over double boiler ( I just used a smaller pan sitting in a larger pan with boiling water in the larger pan because I can't remember where I put the double boiler that I use so seldom- but this worked just fine so I'm going to stop looking for the lost double boiler.) Drizzle the ganache over the cake.

And I will mention that Don was at work while I made this cake so-

Clean up was all mine- Yuck!

And of course if you bake a new cake you have to have "testers"- And I do have wonderful "testers'-

Actually Taylor was "cooking" his own playdough cookies.

And Sam was much more interested in her new talent at crawling about!

You got to love these pigtails!

But at least Mary did try the cake and claimed it to be wonderful. In fact she even took about a fourth of it with her. Thank goodness, she took it so we didn't have to throw it away. We have eaten more of it than almost any other cake Max has made in the last few years.

This was the week for PERFECT PRESENTS! First, Vickie sent us a venturi to aerate our wine-

Don administered a "blind" taste test- and it really, really, really works- I love it!

OK, for all of you who forgot your basic physics class: The Venturi effect is the reduction in fluid pressure that results when a fluid flows through a constricted section of pipe. The fluid velocity must increase through the constriction to satisfy the equation of continuity, while its pressure must decrease due to conservation of energy: the gain in kinetic energy is balanced by a drop in pressure or a pressure gradient force. An equation for the drop in pressure due to venturi effect may be derived from a combination of Bernoulli's principle and the equation of continuity.

A venturi can also be used to mix a liquid with a gas. If a pump for forces the liquid through a tube connected to a system consisting of a venturi to increase the water speed (the diameter decreases), a short piece of tube with a small hole in it, and last a venturi that decreases speed (so the pipe gets wider again), the gas will be sucked in through the small hole because of changes in pressure. At the end of the system, a mixture of liquid and gas will appear.

So to put it simply, you pour the wine through this little glass funnel and it sucks a lot of air into the wine as it goes through. The result is the wine being "smoothed" with the harsh flavors being removed. It actually works.

And then Amy sent me the most beautiful "charm" to wear- close to my heart- to remind me of our beautiful time in San Fran. I LOVE IT!


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Baby Momma Brandy in Chicago

Now as I started telling the story of our Baby Momma Adventures I mentioned that this whole trip started out quite simple. Brandy was going to fly to Chicago (at one time Will was even going to come along) for a long weekend with her little sis in her new Chicago Digs. But of course those simple plans were BEFORE THE MOTHERS stepped to the plate and "took charge". So first Maggie (and sister-in-law Annie) planned the Boston baby shower- and then Mary Jo and I planned the Cincy Party. But eventually the Baby Momma Brandy did make it to Chicago- and I went along- to drive- and to supervise. But as Amber lamented during the trip planning stage- exactly how much partying could anyone do with a PREGNANT- so there really wasn't much supervising to do- though I did keep them busy trying to drag me along from place to place- they are tough to keep up with.

We started with Breakfast- I plan all my days around meals- and I don't miss any!

So we began with Ann Sathers (my favorite place for breakfast- maybe even my favorite place for breakfast in the WHOLE WORLD)- for Cinnamon Rolls and eggs.

And the look of satisfaction after the first bite!

Now I have a few more pics of the girls on DAY 1- and then still some on DAY 2- but by DAY 3 they would rush away anytime they saw me coming with the camera.
But on DAY 1 they really indulged me!

Now this first day was absolutely gorgeous weather- in fact this weather was so great you wouldn't have even known we were in Chicago- you might have been confused and thought that rather we were in San Fran...

Except for the ice floating in the lake... That I think might be a first clue!

And we spent most of the day outside- walking the neighborhood- and walking the path near the lake- both in Amber's neighborhood- and up at Loyola.

And we walked around the outside of Wrigley. They're working on getting the ball field ready- but let me tell you- they have a lot of work to do yet- it did not look like baseball season is almost here.

And we took the "L".

And ate at a "hippie" restaurant.

I think they're a bit discrete about their politics don't you?

Well- Day 2 weather was every bit as BAD as Day 1 had been good. Cold- and pouring down- I mean POURING DOWN RAIN. We got absolutely drenched walking to breakfast- so we hiked it back to the apartment- changed clothes- and took the car instead of Public Transportation.

First stop- Adler Planetarium- And fabulous exhibits- And so much to learn...

I did my first 3D! Of my entire life!

And then we were off to the Field Museum...

We started with SUE- the largest tyrannosaurus rex (known of course as T-Rex to close family and friends)- Sue was found in the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1990 and has been on display in Chicago since 2000. No plastic model for Chicago- this is the REAL DEAL!

You could spend days in this museum- and still not see everything. So our afternoon visit barely made a dent- the rest will just have to wait for another day- and another visit...

And in case you're wondering- the WEATHER stayed miserable for DAY 3 as well- cold, rainy, windy. Another perfect day for museums- so we were off to the Art Museum-

And the Edvard Munch Exhibit. Now I really don't have many pictures from this day. The girls were REALLY TIRED of stopping for me to take yet another picture- and with the change to day light savings time we lost an hour of our afternoon- so moss did not grow under our feet-

Even at the Conservatory!

This conservatory was INCREDIBLE- about twice the size of the one in Cincy- and even had an entire room for FERNs- I was wishing in a big, big way that my daughter-in-law were with us- she would have absolutely loved it!

And here I mostly took pictures that were blurred as the girls rushed from one room to another before we were rushed out into the Chicago cold and wind!

Now at the end of this trip we were all exhausted. But I saw even more to love about this beautiful city. And can't wait to go back- and see more- again- and again...

And again!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

3603 East 13th Street

3603 East 13th Street - Remembrance

For those of you who don’t recognize this address, you will possibly recognize it from this picture

This was the house that I grew up in and that Mom and Dad lived in until their respective recent deaths. This house has just been sold and so now after over 54 years of being owned by the Lucas family, it is now going to be owned by someone else. The papers have all been signed and we are just waiting for the court to formally allow the sale. The closing was supposed to occur today, but we needed a judge to approve my brother Bill’s ability to represent the four of us in this sale. If the house wasn’t officially sold today, then it will be as soon as the court does it job.

More about the new owners later at the end of this note.

Dad and Mom bought this house in 1954 when I was 4 years old. I believe it was in the fall of the year, but bringing back memories from that age means it could have been anytime of the year. I only know that the next school year I started kindergarten at Sidney Lanier School that was 6 blocks away. I believe Dad and Mom picked out this house because of its location near elementary, junior high (Woodrow Wilson Jr. High) and high schools ( Will Rogers High School). Through out my primary and secondary education in Tulsa, I walked or rode a bicycle to school almost every day. Dad paid $13,000 for that house. The loan payment was $65 a month, but he paid it off in only a few years.

Those of you that have been there know that the house sits on a wide lot, much wider than any others in the neighborhood. When we moved in, the hedge row that sits on the east side of the house was only about 10 feet away from the house and the other side of the hedge was an empty lot that at one time was a trolley turn around, at least that’s what I’ve been told. That lot was more of a dump and a play area for the neighbors than anything else when we moved in. But Dad investigated who owned it, and found that he could buy it if he paid the back taxes on it. So he did buy it, cleaned it up, filled the holes and leveled it, and then dug up and moved the hedge row over to where it is now. That lot became our baseball and football field. I don’t know how many kitchen windows we broke from line drives hit at our neighbor’s house, the Ledbetters. Whenever we did, Dad always went over and put a new glass in for them.

When we first moved in Ron and I had the downstairs bedroom and Sam and Bill had the upstairs. This was a big improvement from the old house on Florence Place where we all slept in the same room. I remember that the house had dark green carpet and dark green walls when we first moved in. The carpet stayed for quite a while, but he walls got painted fairly soon.

Dad put a basketball rim up on the garage with a plywood backboard. We played basketball out there summer and winter, sometimes with gloves on when it was cold and often at night in the summer under a bare light bulb that was located above the garage roof. We knew where all of the big cracks were in the driveway and how far back we needed to be to get a shot over the electric wires that ran to the garage from the house. And our basketball games were always played with the garage doors closed, so that when you drove to the basket, you always finished the play by banging into the garage door rather than into the car that was parked there.

The big elm tree in the back by the garage was our other playground. It’s gone now, a causality of last year’s ice storm, but at one time there were 8 different tree houses in that tree. Some were only platforms that one person could sit on and others were larger platforms that could hold several of us, but we were able to climb that tree to get to any of them. In the summer when friends would visit we would often pack a lunch and eat it up in the tree in the coolness of the leaves. We also had a thick cotton rope that was tied high in the tree. The rope had knots in it and we would climb that rope to get into the tree or climb down it to get out. When we went to junior high school and had to climb the gym rope as part of our physical fitness test, we just scampered right to the top and were able to do it using only our arms. It wasn’t hard for us because that’s how we played every day.

And Dad’s garden!! That was his garden, but we all worked in it. Dad didn’t believe in using things like mechanical tillers. When spring came we all went to the garden to help turn the dirt with shovels, rake it smooth and get it ready for planting. Dad grew tomatoes, okra, green beans, onions, beets, lettuce, radishes, garlic, asparagus, corn, squash, and cucumbers. We all picked the harvest and Mom canned and froze it all summer long so we had plenty of vegetables to eat in the winter.

The house had two floor furnaces in it that provided heat for the whole house. There was (and still is) an open gas heater up stairs, but I think it is probably only a miracle that none of us died from carbon monoxide poisoning when we used it. The floor furnaces were all manual, so when we went to bed at night they were turned off, and Dad would turn them back on in the morning when he got up for work. Once out of bed on those cold days, we all could be found standing straddled over that grate in the floor trying to get warm enough to put our clothes on. We didn’t get air conditioning in the house until after I left for college. Our ventilation was an attic fan that pulled the outside air in through the windows to cool the house. During the day Mom closed the curtains to keep the sun out and we used fans to circulate the air. It’s what we had and it was good enough.

Mom always had a washing machine, but never had a dryer until after I left for college. I remember Mom hanging sheets out on the clothes lines in the back during the winter wearing gloves to keep her hands warm. In the winter the clothes would often freeze before they dried and she would have to work to fold them up enough to get them into her clothes basket. This was all before “permanent press” too. So shirts and pants were brought in, sprinkled with water and put in a basket for ironing the next day. I do remember Mom ironing the clothes while watching her soap opera “Stories” in the morning.

I know there are lots of stories I could tell, but this is getting awfully long and probably has put some of you to sleep. So I apologize for my rambling. I know my brothers each have their own stories to tell about his house, and maybe if you are lucky, you will hear them some day.

And finally the new owners, they are a couple of grandparents who are moving from Denver to Tulsa to be close to their children and grandchildren. As it turns out, the house is located only 2-3 blocks from where each of their two sons and their families live. I think Mom is glad to know that her house will provide a home for these people so they can be near their children. Mom always wanted her boys and their families to live close by, but only Bill came back and for less than a year while she was alive. So that this house will provide something that Mom always wanted will be a blessing to the house and to us.

Baby Momma Brandy in Cincy

Well it started as just a trip to Chicago- a last trip if you will- that Brandy would take before the BABY- to see Amber's apartment in Chicago. But that trip grew from there- because if she was coming that far she might as well stop off in Boston first for a fabulous BABY SHOWER with Maggie and Annie before popping into Cincy for another BABY SHOWER. Now this Cincy crowd is always ready for a party- So Brandy (from Boston) and Amber (from NYC) got in just a couple of hours before the party after being delayed on the east coast because of a MAJOR WINTER STORM. We were all delighted they made the party! Just in the nick of time!
The party of hosted my wonderful friend Mary Jo Peairs.

And there was great food!

And of course great friends!

Brandy and Amber with our neighbor and good friend Ann Lampe...

Erin, Holly, Kari and Marcia...

Mary Ezra, Sarah, Mary Jo...

Mary and Mary Jo...

Kari, Holly, Erin...

Ann, Kari, Holly, Erin, Marcia...

And Don did bring reinforcements!

And did I mention PRESENTS- For BRANDY'S BABY!

And I found "DOGS"- Brandy's very FIRST FAVORITE BOOK- I think I read it several thousand times in 1976!

And this blanket was crocheted by Holly's mother!

And of course more....

And then the next day Brandy and I were off to Krohn's Conservatory- the scene of the wedding just a bit over 3 years ago...

And Spring was in bloom- just like for the wedding...

(I might mention that this morning when Brandy boarded the plane to return to Las Vegas she carried the top of the wedding cake- chocolate on chocolate- the most wonderful cake from Wyoming Pastry- the cake that has been living in the bottom shelf of the basement freezer for over 3 years- the cake is making it's way to Las Vegas- for one last hurrah before the honeymoon is over and baby makes three!)

Then there was the FAMILY DINNER....

Because everybody wants to see Aunt Brandy PREGO!