A Mixed Bag

So let me start by telling you that I celebrate any holiday with good food!

So this year my son flew home Friday March 31st, the first evening of Passover. My son is Jewish. He spent Friday night in the city with friends, and came home Saturday where we were lucky enough to be invited at a seder at my client and good friend’s of 26 years. Might I add, a seder with 70 people, and it was also Stan’s 85 birthday. Well what a great night!

Gail, Stan’s wife, cooked all the food. She cooked for weeks and froze. It was held in the ballroom of her daughter’s clubhouse. Stan led the seder, calling upon people to read from the haggadah. It was a long seder, but so beautiful. The entire evening was so heartwarming and wonderful. They told me we were part of the family and are to be there every year going forward. My son enjoyed beyond!

The next day, Easter Sunday, my son made matzo brei for breakfast and then we visited my mother. She is in full-blown Alzheimer’s. Shane, my son, is so caring and calls her from school and is always wanting to visit her when he is home. For a fleeting moment, I think she knew who he was. We then went for Portuguese food for Easter Sunday at the Valencia restaurant in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Wow, was it great! I had clams and garlic sauce and Shane had octopus in a smokey sauce for appies. For dinner, I had grilled skirt steak, and Shane had Chilean sea bass topped with shrimp. Then dessert and cappuccino – amazing meal!

I sadly dropped Shane at the airport after the meal. Until next time!

Now, the following Sunday – Greek Easter. I had been going to my friend Lia’s parent’s house for Greek Easter for at least 20 years. This year, it fell the Sunday after regular Easter. Lia’s mom, Crystal, cooks like you have never seen. All the traditional dishes and Cyprian dishes, as she is from Cyprus. Mega amounts of each dish and we all go home with trays of food. And she also has a big container put aside for me so I can take home my favorite avgolemono soup, a lemon chicken-rice soup. Lia thinks she makes it better. (Not!!)

Most every year, the house is full with friends, aunts, uncles, cousins and more. This year was different. Mom is sick and in pain and going through chemotherapy. We all wanted to do everything but she wouldn’t give it up. Lia cooked a lot of dishes, and so did her sister, Olympia. I made a couple of things, but mom still managed to do a lot.

It was a quiet Easter, as it was just us, the family, and two friends of Olympia’s. It was bittersweet. We had a wonderful day, but mom was not doing well. As I write, the memories of past years flood my mind, bringing tears of joy and now some of sorrow. Mom needs to pass the torch to her daughters and share her wonderful recipes. I am honored to be a part of this family and its traditions for so long, and look forward to the continued relationship. Thank you, Crystal.

A Farewell Dinner

So my son’s friend “J” is Special Forces in the army. He let me know he and his wife were going to be in town before he gets deployed to Afghanistan for six months, so of course I had to have them over for dinner.

Let me backtrack by saying all my son’s friends used to be at my house every weekend as teens, sleeping all over the house (it’s a small house!). Sometimes they’d even sleep on the dining room table in a sleeping bag! And they loved my cooking as much as I loved cooking for them almost every weekend. When my son’s friend joined the army, my son was away at college. I decided to have a going-away dinner/BBQ, inviting all the boys that were in the area regardless of my son’s absence. Needless to say, it was wonderful, and whenever any of “my boys” are in town, they’ll still reach out and let me cook for them!

So as I was saying, my son’s friend and his wife, along with my friend Jen, were going to come over for dinner, and now I had to make the big decision of what to cook! I drive myself crazy over this, since I like to make my meals memorable. So for this dinner I decided to make pecan-encrusted chicken breasts pan-browned in butter (yes, butter makes it better – that’s the mantra in my house), then finished in the oven at 350F for 30 minutes. For a side, I made roasted asparagus (drizzled with olive oil, salt, and pepper) that I topped with Parmesan cheese. Of course, we had to have pasta, so I tossed some capellini with roasted garlic, EVOO, and fresh basil. I rounded out the meal with one of my signature salads: spring mix, baby arugula, grape tomatoes, crumbled feta cheese, dried cranberries, and slivered almonds.¬†The secret to a great salad is chopping the greens into bite-sized pieces so when everything is tossed together, you get a perfect mixture of all the flavors in every bite.

The meal was wonderful, but the company was even better. They brought me wine, and a gift of olive-wood serving utensils from Barcelona. We ate and laughed and had a fantastic evening together (and boy, can he still eat, lol – that’s why I always make plenty¬†of food!).

My son’s friend cleaned up after dinner while Jen and I got to know his wonderful wife better. I’m very proud of J and will worry for the six months he’s in Afghanistan. Be safe!