Monday, November 27, 2006

What to do on a warm November day in New Jersey.

John and I drove down to Island Beach State Park, which ordinarily would have taken 1.5 hours from Somerset, but because Rutgers was playing Syracuse, we had to take a huge detour that took 30 minutes more. Island Beach State Park shares a Parkway exit with Seaside Heights, but that's about all it shares.

The park is a long stretch of beach between Barnegat Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. By the time we got to the beach (after a couple of slices of OK pizza in the nearby town), it was 2 pm. There are 6 or so little hikes from the road that runs down the center of the park to the beach or the bay, with lots of little nature signs along the way.

There were quite a few SUVs and trucks parked along the beach with men fishing in back of them. We didn't see anyone catch a thing during our hour or so walking up and down the beach prior to sunset.

Word to the wise, try to remember where you came out from the dunes to the beach. We overshot our path by about a 20 minute walk. There are no streetlamps on the park road, but there were plenty of people around. I'd definitely recommend it for anyone who likes the beach, but doesn't like the crowds. However, I can't vouch for how it would be during the summer.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Thanksgiving at Mom's.

A buffet in the kitchen with enough food to easily feed 16 of my dear family members (more was warming in the oven to replace any dishes that might have gone empty) awaits the parade. Starting at the top of the photo, moving clockwise: stuffed cabbage, baked sweet potatoes and white potatoes, rolls and amazing Sullivant Street sourdough bread from Cousin David, turkey, more turkey and gravy, sweet potato pie, stuffing, roasted vegetables (my addition) and sauteed green beans. My favorite part was the stuffing. Mom's is the best. She sauteed an onion, mushrooms and celery in oil, then added them to a bag of Pepperidge Farm cubed stuffing with some veggie broth. She then puts the mixture in a Pyrex baking dish and bakes it untill it's crispy on top, but not dry in the middle. I could live on the stuff. For the roasted veggies, I followed Gourmet's recipe for roasted vegetables with gremolata. It's made from carrots, parsnips, turnips and brussels sprouts. If I had to do it again, I wouldn't use the brussels sprouts because they stank up my kitchen and fridge. However, they were pretty tasty.

I also supplied the group with Vegan With A Vengeance's Crispy Peanut Butter Cookies and some Old Fashioned Oatmeal Raisin Cookies from Fruit Sweet and Sugar Free. Both were a big hit. I ate way too many of the oatmeal raisin cookies. They're really not all that healthy with all the butter in them, but healthy or not, they're plenty tasty. MMMMMM.

And so today, I recover from an extremely busy last few days cooking, baking and painting the dining room. By the way, I used Benjamin Moore's Alpaca for the walls and Acadia White for the trim. Since the ceiling downstairs is in good shape, I opted not to paint it. Next week, I begin getting the kitchen ready for painting. This is going to require a LOT of work since John and I put shelves up to act as a pantry when I bought the house. There's a love story behind the shelves, but that's for another time.

Regardless, I have to figure out how to store all the kitchen pantry items (cookbooks, canned goods -- most likely in the garage, baking ingredients, snacky cakes, and so on). One method will be to ruthlessly take stock of all the dishes and cooking implements in all the cabinets. If I haven't used them in a year, they're going to be lovingly wrapped and packed in a box and stacked in the garage until we move (whenever that is). I'm betting that I'll be able to move all the pantry items into the empty spaces in the cabinets so I can take the shelves off the walls to paint.

So much work. Tired just thinking about it. What I'd really like to do is have a spa day and a 2-hour long massage. Maybe in 2007.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Restaurant Review: Thai Basil, Piscataway, NJ

John and I have been to Thai Basil many times previously, but hadn't eaten there in a year. Apparently, a lot can change in a year.

This small Thai restaurant is squeezed into a strip mall across the street from a Walmart and a pretty good Italian pizza joint named Panini's. A year ago, the service was good, the food was reasonable and served pretty quickly. Not so this time.

John was served the wrong dish (or at least it seemed to be a far cry from the garlic and black pepper dish he'd ordered), and our server was the most obnoxious waitress I've ever experienced. I haven't had many run-ins with wait staff, or ever been treated so poorly as by the waitress we had yesterday.

For example, I had asked the owner (who alternated serving with the nasty waitress) to please pack up my soup because I was saving room for the course, but I liked it and wanted to have it later. She brought me my soup all packed up with no issue. After I'd finished my main dish, I asked the nasty waitress to please pack up the dish, but she refused and brought me a take-out container (too small for the large dish) and a bag. I'd never been asked to pack up my own dish there before. Plus, I really didn't want to take a chance off spilling on my clothes. Meanwhile, I saw her bring out wrapped up left-overs to other patrons at another table.

I brought it to her attention and she gave me attitude and commented back. When she left me to spoon up my own food (I really should have asked for the owner, but we didn't have time to go through it), I told John that her tip was in jeapordy because the service was so lousy. We'd waited longer than anyone else in the restaurant to receive our food, been treated poorly, etc. It was hard for us since we always tip 20-25% depending on the bill. However, we needed to express our displeasure (and frankly, shock) with the service. John tipped her $1. The bill was approximately $20.

Then we left. Or so we thought.

The nasty waitress came outside shouting after us and holding the bill, insisting that John remove the small tip if he didn't like the service. Shocked at the scene, I couldn't think of a thing to say. My knight in shining armor demonstrated why he is so classy. He said, "If you don't want it, just donate it," and we walked away. She called after us, "I hope I don't see you here again."

It was bizarre and unsettling to say the least. If we weren't in a hurry to catch a movie (we wouldn't have been if they'd served us in a timely fashion like the other customers -- we ordered very easy courses: vegetable fried rice and John's chicken with garlic and black pepper), I would have walked back in there and complained to the owner.

Instead, I'm sharing this icky service experience with you. We will not be going there again. It was such a shame since it was alright before. Good thing there are a few other Thai restaurants around that we like.

I've eaten in all kinds of places in a variety of different countries and almost always have experienced good, if not reasonably friendly service. Sure, we might have caught her on an off day, but this was really bad.

Afterward, we saw Borat and had a good, hard laugh. We needed it.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World! Yay!

I happily tried Isa and Terry's recipe for Simple Vanilla and Agave Nectar Cupcakes. The only substitution I made was rice milk for soy milk. The came out wonderfully. They're not sickenly sweet at all and have a faint almondy flavor. I topped them with a carob version of their Quick Melty Ganache, which was a perfect match.

Bravo Isa! You've done it again!

I can't wait to try another recipe.

This was the inaugural use of my new muffin/cupcake pan from Farberware. It has silicone handles, which come in handy when pulling the cupcakes from the oven. Additionally, This was the most evenly golden brown set of baked goods I've ever made. The cupcake liners were unbleached (you can buy them from The Baker's Catalog, but I found them at my local health food store).

Simple Vanilla and Agave Nectar Cupcakes (Frosted with Carob Ganache)

I topped the cupcakes with my own version of their "Quick Melty Ganache." For mine, I used
  1. three tablespoons of Vanilla Enriched Rice Dream
  2. 1.5 tablespoons of Organic Raw Madhava Agave Nectar
  3. 1/2 cup of Unsweetened Nspire Carob Chips
I heated the Rice Dream to a simmer, added the chips and whisked them until it was smooth. Then, I added the sweetener and wisked it again until completely mixed.

Next, I let the mixture cool for 10 minutes. Then, I used a ziplock bag with the end cut off (too much cut off, as you can see from the photo) to squeeze out the ganache. It took me a while to get the feel of it. Needless to say, but I'll say it anyway, yesterday I ordered a chef's pastry set.

The ganache set when it cooled.

The carob ganache made an excellent frosting for these grown-up cupcakes. I highly recommend it for your chocolate-free friends who are carob-friendly.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Book Review: Curry, A Tale Of Cooks & Conquerors

Lizzie Collingham's Curry, A Tale of Cooks & Conquerors reads more like a college history text than an entertaining retrospective of curry. It's actually a lot more of a historical tome of India and the country's culinary influences than anything close to a focused book on curry.

I learned much more about India and its cooking styles than I expected. I also gained a greater insight into how bastardized "Indian" food became after the British took hold there.

Just a warning, Curry isn't light reading. It took me several months to get through it because when I read, I either read cookbooks, Ruth Reichel's books, anything by Alexander McCall Smith and foodie magazines. When I spend your day thinking, writing and analyzing, the last thing I want to read is something that taxes me. So, if you're like me, and determined to try something new, just be prepared to chip away at this one.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Final Fancy Flower Chocolate

Final Fancy Flower Chocolate
Originally uploaded by hereandthere123.

Sorry for the reflected light, I'll work on that. This is how the fancy flower chocolate turned out. It's solid dark chocolate below the pretty flowers. To be honest, I surprised myself with this one. All modesty aside, they really turned out great.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Best Gift of All

With the upcoming holiday season approaching, I am reminded that last year John and I decided that we would no longer buy gifts for adults, but instead donate in their names to legitimate charities and places of need.

This year, I've started with the Community FoodBank of New Jersey. Not only can you send money digitally, but you can participate in a virtual food drive. By going here, you can purchase exactly what the foodbank needs at that time. It's a great way to give.

The Community FoodBank of New Jersey is part of the larger effort, America's Second Harvest. At a time when we American's typically gorge ourselves on huge amounts of food, shouldn't we be giving a thought (and a dollar or two) to those who go hungry?

Find your local foodbank here.

Completely Off Topic: Rutgers vs. Louisville, Go Scarlet Knights!

Rutgers vs. Louisville
Originally uploaded by i.m.indraneel.

Thanks to I.M.Indraneel at Flickr for posting his great Rutgers vs. Louisville photos.

Many members of my family are Rutgers alumni: Jorden received all three degrees, Mom received her PhD, Dave is a professor there, my step-sister Jill and step-brother Rob both graduated from Rutgers, and I fulfilled half my master's degree there (never finished because I started Deb's Delectables instead).

If you didn't watch the game last night, there are clips on, as well as rehashings on ESPN and the other news channels. It was a very exciting game right down to the final kicks at the end. Boy! Was Ito lucky those Cardinals were offsides!

John and I live pretty close to the stadium, right on the other side of the Raritan from Piscataway, so we could hear (through closed windows no less) the cheering and the marching band's drum section. We also could hear the cannons at the start of the game. There's no doubt in my mind that the spirit of the fans helped buoy the players through their win.

On his drive home, John said he could feel the electricity in the air. He drives right past the stadium on his commute, and so he saw all the cars parked and all the people walking to the game to get their seats.

Other than the game itself, and the moment on ESPN when Rice asked for his mom, the best was talking to my mom this morning. She wore her Rutgers alumni pin to her job today, and had stayed up to watch the game after winning Best in Show for one of her many orchid plants at her local Orchid Society meeting.

Yay Rutgers!

Thursday, November 09, 2006


Gingerboy Horizontal
Originally uploaded by hereandthere123.

This is a completely new candy for Deb's Delectables. On a whim, I bought the gingerbread boy mold and painted him up pretty fancily. Then, instead of filling him, I spiced the dark chocolate with the same spices used in gingerbread. He's almost an inch deep and two inches long, so that's a lot of chocolate.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Milk Chocolate Dreidel

Originally uploaded by hereandthere123.

Just in case you were keeping track, Hannukah comes early again this year, starting on 5 December (my brother Jorden's 40th birthday). This is one of the chocolates I made for a big holiday order recently. The blue colored white chocolate provides a good contrast for the Shin on the dreidel.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Book Review: Ruth Reichl's Trilogy

I've been waiting until I finished Ruth Reichl's third book Garlic and Sapphires to post a review of all three books. Just so you know, I'm a pretty voracious reader and a fan of her editorials in Gourmet magazine.

When Mom handed over the three books (the first two are Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me with Apples), I wasn't sure what to expect. But, I started at the beginning with Tender at the Bone, bringing it everywhere with me because I simply could not put it down. Ruth accompanied me to the periodontist (yes, I still have more procedures to go and lots more $$$$ to spend there) and kept me company while I waited at the DMV for my photo driver's license.

I admire her honesty, especially in the way she paints her relationships with her family and friends. But what really keeps me tied to her books is her food writing. In all three, she shares recipes, but Garlic and Sapphires features select reviews she wrote while working as the restaurant critic at The New York Times.

Her third book is probably my favorite, with her first, Tender at the Bone, coming in a close second. I enjoyed her flawless descriptions of the meals she ate as she dressed in disguise. She revealed so much of herself in all the books, especially the infidelities in Comfort Me with Apples, that made me feel squirmy and uncomfortable.

The most encouraging part of Garlic and Sapphires is the message that she learns from her missteps. By dressing as alternate characters in order to do her critic's duties at New York's top restaurants, she discovers the best and worst parts of herself, and who she really wants to be.

I heartily recommend reading all three books in order. Otherwise you miss the big story of Ruth's personal growth and food-centered career. I'm really glad she's decided to share this much of her life with readers like me. She inspires me to improve my writing about food and other things, as well as to find and be my best self.

Speaking of my other writing, quite a few folks have been quoting my story on the generation gap in collaboration published here.

Since reading Ruth's books, I've been focusing a bit more on the bigger picture of why people resist collaboration in general. My column at has been more pointed lately, and whether it draws praise or criticism, at least it's raising awareness and making readers think.

Please let me know what you think about that column by either commenting here or at FYI, my lastest article is here.