Joining in on the Search for the Perfect Q-ban Sandwich – Take One

Marco and Linds over at Sorryless have been on a quest to find the perfect Cubano sammy.  ‘Course they are way out there in Pennsylvania – a good 8.5-hour drive for me –  so there ain’t no way I can play with them direct-like, so I am crashing their party from way over here in the Great White North …

I mentioned my latest adventure plans to my friend Julie who was more than willing to keep me company.  Now… we were supposed to do this weeks ago, but you know how that goes.  Life gets in the way and all that.  Neither here nor there.  We finally made it.

Turns out, there are a lot more places making Cubanos than I ever expected.  I even solicited my Latina friend, Naira to see if she had an opinion.  Despite her boyfriend being Cuban, she had NEVER been… Sigh.  She did suggest a place and we shall be trying that place next.  I was wanting to be nice to Jules and pick a place ‘twixt us so I chose La Cecilia, just outside of Little Italy on Bélanger Street.

I parked a few blocks away on purpose.  Figured I’d need to walk off the extra calories and this is a ‘hood I don’t really know.  Turns out it is more Latino than Montreal’s official Quartier Latin  What up wit’ dat?  I heard more Spanish a-speaking here than I ever did in the Berri area… Our colourful character (see below) confirmed this to us…  He said this ‘hood had more Latino-influenced establishments than they did.  Apparently, Mtl Blog agrees.

Julie needed to leave by 2:30-3:00, latest, to drive her son to his grad (ball), so we didn’t have all that much time, but really?  How long does it take to eat lunch?  Me met in front of the restaurant at around 12:45.

Such a tiny place!  We liked that.  The owner (we presume) spoke in an extremely heavily Spanish-accented French.  I made the mistake of saying hello in Spanish and he let ‘er rip…  Señor!  No habla l’español (though I can understand if spoken s-l-o-w-l-y).  Second good sign.

I explain to him that we are on a mission to discover wonderful Cubano sandwiches and probably would have taken some kind of appetizer but we were able to take a “combo” of sandwich with soup or salad or fries and a drink.  We both opted for the salad.  As for the drinks, Señor Chef/Owner suggested a “Maracuyá drink”, or, as they call it, in his native Dominican Republic (uh-oh, not so good sign), “Chinola” – turns out that this is the term for Passion Fruit blitzed with milk into a sorta milkshake if, you please.

Absolutely delicious!

This character came in.  What a hoot and a half.  Obviously an employee (could be family, who knows?) and said that it was all wrong… How can you have a Latin-inspired restaurant such as this and have no music?  Up on a chair he went and turned on the music.  Ahhh… now it was perfecto!

Talk about adding colour to the joint

Along comes our sammy and “salad”.  Um. OK.  I had explained to Julie what the components are supposed to be, which is why she jumped on the bandwagon to have one:  pork, ham, cheese (I won’t get mad if it’s not Swiss, but it better have flavour), pickles and mustard on a pressed bun.

I’ll start with the salad.  Cut up iceberg lettuce, a few slices of tomato “artistically” placed on top and a little container of bottled Italian dressing.  I couldn’t even take a picture.  I know, I know, I should have.  Hang on… lemme see if I can replicate it…   Ya. Never mind.  I am positive you can picture it.

The Cubano.  Yes.  Bread was pressed and nice and crunchy.  Pork was the equivalent of pulled pork – I’m not too bothered by it because it was so tasty.  Found a small slice of ham in the second half of my sandwich.  Cheese?  Was there cheese?  Pickles… Yoooo hoooo?  Where are you? They must have been held hostage by the cheese… I think there might have been some caramelized onions, but that may be because of the pulled pork.  There were a few little pieces of lettuce but not even enough to give it crunch… There was some mustard on the bread.  Wasn’t there?  Yes, there was.  A very light coating.

My expectations were not sky-high high… but they were higher than what we got.  While the sandwich was missing too many ingredients to qualify as an Autentico Cubano in my books, it was tasty.  That Maracuyá (or Maraculla, as another patron spelt it for me) drink was the BOMB.  Don’t even talk to me about the salad.  Combo, my ass.  Next time I’ll splurge on soup or fries… In case you did not bother clicking on the link to the restaurant, here is what they show their salad and sammy to look like…

Which goes to show that I did NOT look at the pics because… does that look like a Cubano to you?  Does it?  No, it does not.  So… my bad for choosing the joint.

I will score it a 4/10.  NOT for the Cubano, but for the drink, the friendly owners/employees and the fabulous company.  Plus, Jules did say she would accompany me on my next Cubano hunt which will be sooner rather than later. (Jules is more generous than I… giving it a 6 – but then, she had nothing to compare it to.)

Me and my beautiful friend, Julie

B, I think you hexed me this morning when I told you the name of the joint we were going to…

Birthdays, Easter, Camp NaNo, Stuff

“Families are messy. Immortal families are eternally messy. Sometimes the best we can do is to remind each other that we’re related for better or for worse…and try to keep the maiming and killing to a minimum.”
Rick Riordan, The Sea of Monsters

Haven’t done a Sunday Gratitude or a weekly update in a while and figured, why not?

I can’t remember ever celebrating Easter on April Fool’s day – which makes sense because The Google told me the last time it happened was 1956.  Before my time.

So I got curious about how often it has fallen on MY birthday because I remember celebrating it when I turned ten – I remember because it was also the same year I had my First Communion (I wore the same dress 😉 ).   Matante Nicole shopped with me for it and brought me for the big shindig because my folks were off on some Caribbean holiday…

Turns out, it happened three times in 11 years:  the year before I was born, when I was four and, as mentioned, when I was 10.  The time before that was way back in 1895.  The next time it’s scheduled?  2047!  I’ll be an old lady of 83 by then.  Of course, when that time comes around, 80 will be the new 60, right?

I’m sure that has totally fascinated you, hasn’t it? 😀  Between that and that cute kid… I know, you can’t take it.   We’ll just table that into the “useless information file”…

“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.”
Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance

On Saturday we suddenly remembered Sunday was Easter and had planned absolutely nothing. Got a call from Tracy that Sébastien was doing the ham, I offered to do the veg and, of course, as Iain’s birthday was the day before, I was bringing a key lime pie and Tracy said Sabrina (who turned 18 exactly one week before) wasn’t into lime, was into chocolate so I said, no problemo, I will bring something chocolate.  The Sachertorte.  Lisa was doing the potatoes and rice (because, just because) and the salad and supplying the “venue” so that was more than enough.  Mom was making break and her “pouding au chômeur” – which translates literally to “Poorman’s Pudding” which really is a white cake with a sugar bottom.  This stuff is to die for.  And if you’re really piggy about it, you can add a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top (especially when it’s cold) and if your sweet tooth wants an extra kick, you can do like Sébastien and pour maple syrup on top.  Ridonkulous.

Isn’t Iain’s key lime pie pretty?  Well guess what?  It’s a FROZEN key lime pie… so I told Shane to put it in the fridge instead of the freezer.  Why?  Sonofa….  It was more like key lime soup.  Taste was there and since this isn’t Iron Chef and we have no blast chiller… we ate key lime soup.  Sigh.

Took a couple pics of all the kids (9, including Willow, Aidans girlfriend) and realised Sabrina does not appear in them.  Dang.  She arrived a bit later and, when I took a pic of her brother and Iain (they are 2 months apart) I got just the top of her head.  That won’t do.  So pretend there is a beautiful blonde in the mix!

I have decided to do Camp NaNo again this April.  Okay, okay… I have decided to not just add my name to the group and start for a day or two but actually work the whole month of April.  I’ve mentioned it before and this time I’m going to get even further in my “Dear Mick” book of short stories which are basically memories of our almost twenty years together.  I figure worse comes to worse, the boys will one day have a book to remind them of their dad.  Which they may even read.  One day.  So our cabin is called the Plot Bunnies – but since we were all joking around about wanting to live our jammies, we are also known as the “Camp Plot Jammies” but only ‘coz we’re JAMMING on our plots!  Woot.  Our band of merry writers are: Joy from Tales From Eneana  Gabriele from Flights of Fancy Lynn from Word Shamble Sammi from Sammi Cox Megan from Invisible World Crispina from Crimson Prose.  Should be fun to give and get encouragement to go-go-go!

Oh!  And on a final note, sometimes things happen for a reason.  The fridge guy was supposed to pass by on Thursday morning.  My ice machine in the fridge had decided that it would make ice until you can no longer open the door!  I had a quick appointment five minutes away so I told the company to have him call when he left his his current appointment as, should I needed to step out but would be five minutes away.  Well.  He called at 9:44.  His phone is a “private number”.  My cell phone rejects private numbers.  So I waited for the message to appear.  It ddn’t.  Shoot.  My appointment had five minutes left and I got home at 10:03 to find the fridge guy’s business card with 9:55 written on it.   Really?  Come ON!!!  I call the company and the receptionist says she’ll try to reach him.   She couldn’t.  I dunno… but if you are using a company cell phone, should you not be a “private number”?  She told me he also called the house line and there was no response (and no message).  Well duh.  I’m thinking there are more and more people who no longer have land lines.  That means, even if I had been home and gone to the bathroom, foolishly sans cell phone, I would have missed his call.  Yes, I would have been here when he “took the chance” to stop by as he did.  But still.  I took the trouble to tell the receptionist I had a 5-minute appointment.  They cannot guarantee what time they will pass so why cancel a five-minute appointment?  BECAUSE THIS CAN HAPPEN!

Well guess what?  I don’t need no stinking repair guy because my guy fixed the problemo…  So

I keep forgetting to add to my list!

A few of the 10,000 things that make me happy and grateful

41. Fellow NaNo Campers – encouraging each other to write
42. Not needing the fridge guy after all – saving big buckaroos
43. Easter – especially when the whole family is present
44. Birthday cakes – even when they don’t quite turn out, they can still taste good
45. Sense of humour – see number 44

Sunday Stuff and Gratitude- March 18, 2018

“Good morning.
Lead with gratitude.
The air in your lungs, the sky above you.
Proceed from there.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda

And so goes another week.

Tuesday I worked at the golf club for a small event.  A little four-hour shift.  I’m jiggy wid dat.   Got home and the boys were there as well.  Bad mother that I am, I was a willing participant in my sons’ impromptu vodka shots and chebureki (again!) night.  Aidan is on Spring break and so had his evenings free to hang out at home and things just happened.  Marie-Soleil, Iain’s non-girlfriend, girl friend came over and before we knew it, it was a party.  The “kids” were getting rowdy and Miss Marie Sun-Shine got ahold of my phone.  Needless to say there quite a few to go through!  So made this little “animation” to give an idea of the evening.   I’m not a “gif” fan but apparently that’s how this puppy downloads.  Sorry ’bout that!

Wednesday woke up to a winter-fricken wonderland.  Ugh.  I am SO done with this white stuff.  Only good thing was on our walk, Zeke and I came across this bizarre little igloo-maker thingamajig…   I tell ya, it was heart-attack snow to shovel as well.  Yeah, that’s right.  I have two adult sons who left for work and left me to shovel the shit.

Thursday morning, got a call from François L., my former boss but long-time friend, who suggested dinner at his place.  Well not “his” place as he is between domiciles at this time.  He is house-sitting for a friend and wanted to take advantage of his pied-à-terre.  He was going to call a few others to join but with it being beyond last-minute, we ended up just three of us.  I’m good with that!

But first I went for lunch with my friend Jean-Louis, who wanted to try out the Pavillon 67, “gourmet” buffet in the Montreal Casino.  Ironically, my sister has been a croupier (dealer) there for the past 22 years and I’ve never been.  No, not true, I went with her to change money before one of our cruises together as they had the best exchange rate – service they no longer provide.  I texted her, letting her know we were there and wouldn’t you know it?  She just happened to have a union meeting and was on her way there.  She stopped by for a hello and introduction and was off.  As for the food.  Meh.  I’ve seen better.  Hell, J-L and I saw better in Dominican Republic last year.  Gourmet is not the proper descriptive.  No matter, I was there to catch up with an old friend.  Next time I go through there, I’ll pick up a sammy at the sandwhich stand – they looked pretty good!

Got home, made a quick “Dad’s Wacky Cake” to bring to François’ and made it there for 5-ish.

“Dad’s Wacky Cake” remade for home

We were joined by William who was one of the line-cooks at the Club.  It’s fun to be able to get together with twenty-somethings as well as sixty-somethings.  We’re planning another next Monday.  But this time, we should be a good 8-10 peeps.  Ironically, François decided on a Chinese fondue as dinner!  Ya know, like I made on the previous Saturday!  Talk about all or nothing… Or never or often.  Waves, baby, things happen in waves!

Saturday was reserved for my niece’s vollyball team’s “bowl-a-thon”.  A yearly event.  What is up with this stupid “sport” that I always end up feeling for two days after?  Not only that, I pulled a muscle in my hip.  How in the name of all that is holy does one do that?  Anyway.  It’s a great occasion for the family to get-together and laugh together and at each other for our lack of prowess, for the most part, though some managed to score some big numbers, Chris in particular whupped all our butts big time!  I actually did decently on one game so, I was not in total despair.  Last year I did so well, I had them print out my sheet!  This place is always fun because of the neon lights and music.  It can’t help but put you way off your game.  Yes, our story and we’re sticking to it!

Aidan was the hero of the week.  He helped to clear out the basement – the carpeted side.  Last week you saw the new vinyl-floored side, this week it was the clean the disgusting carpet side.  This side had become the dumping ground after we had to clear out the dining room and office and, frankly, a lot of it remained piled up helter skelter.  Now it was time to clear it up, move and hopefully see a difference once Aidan’s friend’s father cleaned it.  Of course, this now means the vinyl side is stacked with boxes and stuff but we will now take the time to figure out what stays and what goes and what remains boxed until we move.

I must admit, I am quite pleased with the end result.  It was beyond gross, which Christopher, the cleaner, took pleasure in telling me.  More than once.   That will be for another post…

For now.  I am feeling like things are really moving forward.  I’ll be calling the real estate agent this week and see what more should be done before that “À Vendre” sign goes up!

A few of the 10,000 things that make me happy and grateful

36. Having fun with my boys – I cherish these moments most
37. Lunches with friends – catching up and just enjoying ourselves
38. Aidan – my hero for helping me clean the basement and his room
39. Clean carpet – a sign we are moving forward
40. Disco bowling – why the hell not?

 

 

Gratitude on a Monday – March 12, 2018

“Being grateful all the time isn’t easy. But it’s when you feel least thankful that you are most in need of what gratitude can give you: perspective. Gratitude can transform any situation, It alters your vibration, moving you from negative energy to positive. It’s the quickest, easiest, most powerful way to effect change in your life – this I know for sure.”
Oprah Winfrey, What I Know for Sure

I used to do my Sunday Gratitude, which then changed  to Weekend Coffee Share, which then became an occasional Weekend Share (because I had stopped participating in the Coffee one and when wanted to do it again, I realised no one was hosting it.   Mix in all of that my lack of stick-to-it-iveness and just plain laziness or easily-side-tracked-ness and you get one of these.  A Sunday share I started too late to finish on Sunday.  So had to change the title.  Again. 🙂  Welcome to my world of DADD Dale’s Attention Deficit Disorder.

In my defense (okay, okay, call it an excuse), François left Sunday for a two-week, sun-filled vacation.  Alone.  It was an already planned thing but I still spent part of my day moping and feeling all woe-is-me.  Then I spent another part of the day trolling the vacation websites, because, why not?  Why not also go away for a week to resource myself?  Then, I changed my mind and decided no…  save the moolah and go back to Tuscany in October.  Yeah, Baby.  Now, we’re talking!  We’re cooking with gas!  We have a plan!  And not just knee-jerk reaction brought on by envy.

Friday was my day to get things done.  Went to see Raffi to bring him our (the boys and mine) income tax papers and he did them right there on the spot!  The best.  I then went to my mother-in-law’s to empty her mailbox and collect any tax papers to bring to her accountant.  Did that but saw this beauty on my way.  I’ll definitely have to go back and get a better picture.  You know, when I’m NOT in my car.  Though I was not driving, I promise!

I then decided to go and visit Jean as my timing was good.  Saw this at another stop light.

Now I know we Canucks are a tough lot, and we Quebeckers really like to take advantage of clement weather, and all that… However.  It was only 4°C (40°F)!  These two must have had the heater blasting!!  Again, I was stopped at a stoplight 😉

Spent an hour with Jean, and she was happy for the visit.  She is much nicer in person than on the phone.  Did not once give me shit for “putting her there”.   She’s gonna get lucky with a second visit on her birthday with the boys later this month.  As traffic was going to be a bitch, when I left her at 4:30 I hightailed it to the Forum AMC Theatre, hoping to catch the 4:45 viewing of “Lady Bird”.  Managed to park inside, run up, get my tickets and buy myself a child’s portion of popcorn and drink (came with a little canister of m&m’s) for the ridonkulous price of $8.25, get a seat at the back and only missed the commercials and maybe the firest preview.  Woot!

I loved the movie.  Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalfe were great in their roles as daughter and mother.  A coming of age story that takes place in “no-where” Sacramento, California in 2002, it deals with the insecurities of pre-adulthood, of social class, of wanting more yet not ralising we love what we have until it’s gone.  That love-hate relationship that girls and mothers can share is something I’ve more heard about than experienced as my mother was (is) a very “non-invasive, figure-it-out-by-yourself” kind of mom.  At least from what I remember!  Will have to ask her.  Maybe I remember it wrong.  No wonder I’ll never be that type of writer who can describe in great detail their lives.  I’m so in the moment, I move forward and let go of what was.  Dunno if that’s a good thing or not.

Got home at 7 and ate some left-overs.   Vegged on the couch watching stuff I’d taped till a couple of Iain’s peeps came over .  Don’t know what was so funny but they were laughing up a storm.

They began playing drinking games and after a few, hailed me over to join them.  Not every day your son wants you around so you have to grab it when it comes!  First was some pyramid game where 10 cards are placed, ya, in a pyramid.  The rest of the deck is dealt to the players.  First card is flipped over, anyone with a matching card places it on top and names a person who takes a shot (or beer sip glug).  If you have two and give them both, the person takes two glugs.  Second row, same thing, one card is flipped only now each card is worth two and so on, going down to four.  That game turned out not too bad and the boys didn’t all pick on me and I was able to dish out a few myself.

They then decided I was the next “bus driver”, but took pity on my and only lay down 7 cards.  First card is flipped and I have to say if the next card in the deck is higher or lower than that one.  Jeez.  If you’re wrong, you take a glug and start over.  If you are right, you move the the next flipped card and do the same.  All is well as you go down the line and get them right but as soon as you make a mistake, it’s time for a shot and you START OVER!!  I did my part and figured enough was enough by 1 am.  Saluted the boys and I attempted to go to sleep.  They were still going strong at 3 am and I couldn’t sleep so I got up and wrote my Pegman Story!

On Saturday I woke up to big, fluffy, Christmas-like snowflakes.  Really? F*&?%!  Enough already.  It was pretty, I cannot lie… but. No.

After coffee and breakfast, Zeke and I made our way for a nice walk.  Always a good day for a walk as far as he is concerned.  On our way, I noted the hockey rinks are done for the season.  I decided we would go as far as my favourite willow.  I had stuff to do before François showed up so I couldn’t take more than an hour or so.

On our way back, we met Gus, an 8-yr-old Great Dane and Lou-Lou, a young pug.  So funny.  Zeke and Gus were getting to know each other and Lou-Lou was tugging at her leash, wanting to play with the big boys!  What a day to NOT have my camera.  Sigh.  I thought I caught a good pic of Gus and Zeke so we could compare their sizes but sadly, no.  However, got a good one with Gus and Lou-Lou and their humans!

And, because I like to torment you with food pics, I made Aidan really happy by announcing we were having Chinese Fondue for supper.  That’s one way to guarantee they (the boys) sit at the table for more than 15 minutes…

I think I’ve kept you longer than I should have.  But may I show you my new flooring, installed just this morning?  I’m telling ya, this house will be on the market by the end of the month!

Thanks for sticking to the end.  I promise next one won’t be so long (though I may have made that promise before, eh?)

A few of the 10,000 things that make me happy and grateful

31.  Giant snowflakes – even if they are in March
32. New flooring installed – one step closer
33. Being invited by my son to join him and his buddies
34. Fondue night – a time to chat while we cook our own food
35. Willow trees – they just make me happy

Pride, Pleasure, Peeved

There have been times I’ve found myself in the midst of a group of people chatting, and suddenly start feeling “less-than”.  The conversation has turned to our kids.  And so starts the boasting session – as I like to call it:  My daughter graduated magna cum laude at Hoity-Toity U in blah-blah, my son was seen by a scout and now two universities are fighting over him.  My child’s work ended up in the hands of a guru of Doohicky and is now working for her.  Straight-A student. Valedictorian.  Winner of scholarship.  It becomes extremely difficult to not feel the pressure to “keep up with the Joneses” and try to show off my own kids’ exploits.  Except, there are none to mention.  What?  Do I not think my children are as good as theirs?  How can I even think that thought?  Then I feel like a total shit.  How dare I compare my kids to others?  I try not to do it with my own self and here I am doing it to them?  Not that they know this whole discourse is going on, thankfully.

After I’ve done chastising myself, I stop and think about the various good (and sometimes bad) things the boys have done so far… I know deep, sometimes DEEP down that they are good people.  They sometimes work hard, sometimes not so much.  They succeed at some things, and others, not so much.  They make me happy, they piss me off.  They do what I ask when I ask, I need to nag.  You know, like most humans/beasts borne of our loins.  We can’t always be on point all the time and can’t expect them to be either.  I know I sure as hell can’t.

So today, I am going to show off my son, Iain. (Total cheat… taken tonight instead of Saturday 😉 )

He’s a funny one, that one.  He is so like me at times, it’s scary.  Then, at other times, he is very much his father – on a lot of good points – sadly, not the neatness part.  That he gets from me.  But, with all that he’s inherited from his folks, he is also very much his own man.  He’ll spend hours watching videos, learning about a subject.  From exotic animals (knew all about the critters brought to my nephew’s birthday eons ago), to anything Bear Grylls, to guns (it must be a guy thing), to all sorts of things Russian.  Lately, he’s been alternating between watching Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares (hah!) and Cook with Boris.  How do I even know this?  Because sometimes he watches them while he snacks and he’ll even share by casting an episode on the TV.  Of course, once the snack is over, he just leaves me hanging.  Oh well, I’ll take each little moment as it comes.  He’s cheap in doling out “special Mom-Time…”

First he introduces me to some of his Russian – um – music on our way back from Andre’s last February.  He was sleeping in the car on our way home – felt like I was driving his dad home, back in the day – when he suddenly woke up and decided to connect his phone to my car, practically taking my hearing.

Then we have friggen vodka tasting sessions…. The boy spends a fortune on vodka.  He likes to sample all sorts.

This past Saturday, while François and I were out with co-workers, he decided to try his hand and Chebureki.  Why?  Because he watched this video.

Wow.  My kitchen. Wow.   Such a mess.  He had just finished frying his batch up and was eating his very first one when we arrived.  He shared with us.  Oh my.  Delicious!

But my kitchen. Wow.  Mess?  Doesn’t even begin to cover it.  Oy!  That said.  How proud am I of this man-child of mine who made the dough, prepared the filling, fried the chebureki…

I look at him, then at the kitchen, and back to him and he says “later” as he leaves for his room.  I decide to retire to MY room and leave him to it.  I hear banging around at 11 p.m.  Then nothing.  Hmmm.

I wake up the next morning.  Mess is still there.  I basically bust a gasket.  I bang on Iain’s door and get the response “There’s no more dish soap.”

François decides to go to the store to buy some because he sees that I am fit to be tied and he’s unhappy if I’m unhappy.  He is truly a nice guy.

When François returns from the store, Iain comes down, declaring he was going out to go “get stuff”.  I look at François and tell him that under no circumstances is he to touch the dishes.  Bloody hell.  I am NOT touching them either.  I loathe to wake up to a mess like this and I want to make us a pot of coffee.  I pile the mess into some semblance of order and leave the mess for Iain.

Said son returns and proceeds to clean up the kitchen.

It’s amazing how one can go from super proud and pleased to peeved beyond belief.

Sigh.

 

 

 

 

A Tuscan Feast

“The preparation of good food is merely another expression of art, one of the joys of civilized living…”
Dione Lucas

 As this is a post about food and Italy, here’s a little dinner music to keep you company as you read 😉

I thought for sure that this morning I would be suffering from dysania, but no.  The alarm clock went off for François at 6:25 and I was wide-awake.  Dammit.  I had been planning on sleeping in and being totally lazy today.

For those of you who don’t know, in September 2016, I went to Tuscany all by myself.  BEST. TRIP. EVER.  My first week of that trip was spent with the fabulous Cook in Tuscany group, created by the wonderful and irrepressible hosts, Linda and George, and 13 other fantabulous participants, learning how to cook Tuscan food and experiencing a lot of what the area had to offer.  A dream of mine since forever.

Fast-forward to last night.  Okay, maybe not so fast.  It has been one and a half years since said trip.  It was about bloody time I had my sisters and their hubbies over to show off what I had learnt.  (Thank you, Tracy, for nudging me…)

I warned them to come bellies empty because I had a lot to show them!

“I like a cook who smiles out loud when he tastes his own work.
Let God worry about your modesty; I want to see your enthusiasm.”
Robert Farrar Capon

To get us started on the right foot, I served Aperol Spritz – did I take a picture?  No.  So right.  With our cocktails we had two kinds of bruschette.  Bean and onion and the classic tomato.  I only cut and toasted so many slices so that no one over-exaggerated…

Once they had a little food in their bellies, I put them all to work!  To truly appreciate Pici, one must roll with the dough 😉

“No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers.”
Laurie Colwin

Having worked for their supper, they were then allowed into the dining room for the first course, a Tuscan tomato and bread soup.  Now.  I may have screwed up a bit.  I had toasted my bread ahead of time and was supposed to add it to my soup in bits and pieces till I felt there was enough.  In my usual over-zealousness, I dumped the whole bowl into the pot.  Um.  Can we call it Bread and Tomato soup instead?  No one seemed to mind and hey, Tuscan cooking is all about stretching out what one has….  All around, it was declared delicious.

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”
Julia Child

As I had not quite finished preparing my crumbs for the pici, I had them all come back, with their glass of wine, into the kitchen to keep me company (next house, OPEN CONCEPT).  This was a very interactive meal, in case you’ve not noticed 😉

When in Sienna, I went to visit one of the Frescobaldi vineyards, Castel Giocondo, in Montalcino.  I splurged (BIG time) and bought two bottles of their Brunello.  These I kept for this special night.  We decided to decant each one and oh wow.  They were both fantastic.

Pici now cooked and sautéed, it was back to the dining room!  Before Tuscany became the “go-to” vacation spot, even for Italians, they were quite poor.  Salt was used sparingly on food, kept mostly for preserving.  Not everyone could afford cheese, so they “cheated” by cooking stale bread crumbs in olive oil.  It truly gives incredible flavour.  Everyone loved their pasta – it was theirs, they rolled it, after all!

“Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.”
M.F.K. Fisher

While we were enjoying our pasta, the pork tenderloin and grilled veggies were being warmed in the oven so there was no longer a need to dance between rooms.

I did, however, remember that I had a bottle of Grappa.  Instead of sipping it as a digestif after the meal, we used it as a “Trou Normand” – a shot which, as they say, serves to make room for the next course.

This was a cheat in the whole Italian evening and I may get a frown from a true Italiano but I’m willing to take my chances.  Besides, the deed is done.

We’re still smiling.  Certainly  not because we are overstuffed.  Yet.

You still with me?

The meal is not quite done!  Time for dessert.  I made panna cotta with two sauces, chocolate and strawberry.  Pick one, pick none or pick both!

“A gourmet who thinks of calories is like a tart who looks at her watch. ”
James Beard

Coffee was served and one would think that it ended there, right?  Wrong.

A little Vin Santo and Cantucci to cap it all off… hoping no one would be feeling crapulous after such a feast!

“I lurched away from the table after a few hours feeling like Elvis in Vegas – fat, drugged, and completely out of it.”
Anthony Bourdain

 

This, That and Whatnot – to NOT Call it a Week-end Share

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
Marcel Proust

It’s funny.  Every time I start something, it eventually falls through the cracks.   I guess it’s just the way I am.  I am blaming my Aries personality.  We are notoriously known for starting projects.  You want to get something going?  Get one of us involved.  You want to finish said project?  You better have back up because we will be off on a new project.

Squirrel!

or is it Shiny Object Syndrome?

Either way, I am guilty.

Last week I was doing the Costco thing – you know, where you have a list, you will absolutely abide by it and somehow end up spending $200 more than planned?  Anyhoo.  I came upon the flower section and saw pussy willows!  Do you remember when you could see those all over the place?  Why don’t I see them anywhere anymore?  So, of course, when I bought them, they looked like a bunch of sticks with only one or two pussies – don’t even!  I got mocked by the men in my life.  Whatevs.  I am a happy camper.  I should have taken a “before” pic but didn’t.  So trust me.  They did look like sad sticks.  However, lookit ’em now!

Totally unrelated and yet is.  Way back when, my mother had Nat King Cole records – you know, the vinyl kind – and on the back of the jacket of a double-album, was a lovely text about Nat and his “pussy-willow voice”.  I always thought that was the perfect description and it has stayed with me since.  Was hard to pick a favourite, but here you go.  Enjoy.

On Monday, Zeke and I went for a walk.  The sky was glorious, the sun was shining, it wasn’t “freeze-your-butt-off” cold… We made our way to “Teletubbie Park”.  We’ve been calling it that since we moved to the ‘hood and the boys went to elementary school right beside it.  Funny the things families do or create or say.

On Sunday I had made mussels – they are my “fast food” and I almost always make two flavours, which I did this time.  I then keep the left-over broth to make a soup.

Moday’s was a Thai-style shrimp and noodle

and Wednesday’s was a sorta chicken noodle with Fennel-Marinière base

They may look similar but were world’s apart flavour-wise.  I have to admit I was quite pleased.  Firstly, the Thai one got my Pepper-head’s (Iain) approval for spiciness and the Marinière was no basic chicken noodle soup!  Will I be able to repeat it?  Probably not.

I also had taken out chicken thighs for Wednesday – “no, Aidan, I cannot make Chicken Parm every time I take out chicken!!”  But I did made a casserole thingy with my left-over Frenched string beans (yeah, I parboiled, and split them apart by hand then sautéed them with some shallots and red peppers) and left-over boiled potatoes that I sliced and used as a topping with a sprinkling of cheese.  Not overly pretty to look at and simple, yet tasty.  I was surprised by a visit from François as I don’t usually see him during the week, lately.

As Wednesday was also Valentine’s Day, I made the trek to visit my mother-in-law, bringing her a stuffed dog to cuddle, a small rose plant and some chocolate.  She loved the dog, decided to call him Harry (will see if she remembers next time I see her!)

Jean

On my way back, while stopped at a set of lights, I looked to my right and burst out laughing.  Apologies for the quality but I had no time to open the window and was being honked at!

My favourite British cussword and pretty much how I feel every time I return from a visit with Jean.

On Saturday Iain bought a car, thanks to help from Andre, Mick’s best friend.  He’s pretty pleased to have wheels again!

Iain agreed to be my date (after inviting himself) to Andre’s birthday celebration.  I was more than happy to have him take my place in the Vodka Shot Foolishness that takes place every year.  You see, it was always, Lorne, Bill, Andre and Me…. while the “girls” Dorothy, Phany, Tammy and Mick refrained.  After Mick died, I no longer had my D.D. so I would sleep over.  I have since lost the taste for vodka thanks to these over-indulgences.  I don’t care how much the bottle costs, it all tastes like rubbing alcohol to me now!  Iain, you may take over the mantle and play with the big boys in my stead!

I may not partake in the vodka shots (okay, maybe two) but I will always bring the cake.

Chocolate Mousse & Caramel

But before making said cake, I helped François collect my friend Andrea’s wood.  Ironically, after writing a Friday Fictioneer about the Emerald Ash Borer problem, she had three of her trees cut down.  Wood is wood is wood, and François’ mother heats her house with it so he was more than glad to help her get rid of it!  After it has properly dried, he’ll cut it down to size.  He figured he got a good three cords of wood out of what he took!  Talk about a savings…. going price is easily $125 per cord, if you’re lucky.

Some of the wood

Once François felt the truck could take no more, off he went back home; and I, to finish the cake, shower and, along with Iain, make it to Tammy and Andre’s for 5:30.

I’ll not embarrass my son by including a shot of him snoring on the couch and missing dessert… because that would be mean. I’ll save that for a more opportune time!  These boys – especially Lorne – are a tough crowd to keep up with.  The birthday boy himself was blinking his eyes for long periods of time at the table 😉

A slice, to see the inside

Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest, but there was still more wood to collect; which we did, and once François returned from delivering it and returning the truck, we each had a different left-over, vegged on the couch and watched the Olympics.  Okay.  I watched, he snoozed!

I know it’s already Tuesday, but do have a fabulous week!  Maybe this weekend I’ll manage to post on Sunday.  Who knows?  I make no promises.

A few of the 10,000 things that make me happy and grateful

21. Mick’s friends – still keeping me in their group
22. Being able to include my son in this get-together
23. Blue skies, crisp air
24. Pussy Willows – just because
25. Being the official birthday cake supplier