Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

I will never forget the first time I hosted a Thanksgiving dinner. Our friend Engin and her family of four drove six hours from Philadelphia to our apartment in a Boston suburb that Thursday. They didn't come all the way to our place for dinner, but it was their first stop on their visit to Boston. Back in the late 80s, most businesses were closed on Thanksgiving, so these people were famished when they got to our apartment.

Weeks leading to the dinner, I had read and re-read Better Homes and Garden's November 1989 issue and decided to create the same exact menu - spring salad with walnut and a lemon poppy-seed dressing, turkey stuffed with wild rice, mushroom and prosciutto ham (my first introduction to the Italian ham). For dessert, I decided to go with a Thai dessert - coconut custard baked in a pumpkin. The salad was a big hit, as was the stuffing. But the turkey and the dessert? A disaster with a capital D.

When our guests arrived mid-afternoon, the turkey was only halfway done, eventhough it was in the oven since early morning. We later learned that the oven was the culprit. We had recently moved to our apartment, and I think it was the first time I used the oven (BIG mistake). Chef Engin came to the rescue. We quickly removed the stuffing from the turkey and finished cooking it on the stovetop. Then, we went ahead and ate the salad, the stuffing, and whatever part of the turkey that was cooked. Good thing we all like dark meat. We didn't even bother with the dessert. Needless to say, the whole thing was an embarrassment. Fortunately, embarrassing moments like this tend to create endearing, unforgettable memories. To this day, we still laugh about my infamous Thanksgiving dinner whenever we see each other.

Fast forward 23 years. I am older (yikes!) and much wiser (I hope). I never try a new recipe when I have people over. Since I live on a boat, I abide by the KISS (Keep It Simple, S...) principle, cooking simple things. A big feast like Thanksgiving is totally out of question. Looking back, I realized we've almost always celebrated Thanksgiving at friends'. I've made Thanksgiving dinner only a handful of times. Thanks to David and Janice, we got invited, again, to their family gathering this year. All I need to bring is chocolate chocolate-chip cookies. Making 4 dozen of these delicious morsels is no easy task, given my small convection oven in a one butt U-shaped galley. I do this in 2 steps, first making the cookie dough and freezing it, then baking the cookies the day we're gonna eat them. Every time I've made these chocolate chocolate-chip cookies, people have asked for the recipe. Folks, here it is, as promised. More good news - now you can print it without all the extraneous images and stuff. I finally figure out how to do it:-)

Enjoy, and happy Thanksgiving!



Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Cookies
[Print Recipe]

Although these will keep well overnight, they are best eaten the day they are baked.
Makes about 6½ dozen

1 cup raisins
¼ cup amber (gold) rum or brandy or hot water
¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup firmly packed golden brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
½ teaspoon baking soda
2½ cups semisweet chocolate chips
1½ cups pecan pieces (about 6 ounces), toasted

Combine raisins and rum in small bowl. Cover and let stand at room temperature at least 3 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter heavy large cookie sheets. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until light. Gradually add both sugars and beat until fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Mix flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Add to butter mixture and stir just until blended. Drain raisins. Add to dough. Mix in semi-sweet chocolate chips and pecan pieces (dough will be very stiff).

Drop by rounded tablespoons onto prepared cookie sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Bake until cookies appear dry, tops are lightly cracked and soft when pressed, about 10 minutes (do not overbake). Cook cookies 5 minutes on cookie sheets. Transfer to racks and cool. (Store in airtight container).

Cook’s notes: The above is the exact recipe from Bon Appetit magazine, circa October 1990. They are so good I never did have to make any change.


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Sunday, November 4, 2012

Hiking a new trail at Raccoon Mountain

We have hiked Raccoon Mountain many times over the years, but yesterday was our first time on the River Gorge/Laurel Point trail.

It was a gorgeous sunny day, and the leaves were quite beautiful, eventhough the foliage has probably peaked. We had seen a bald head eagle and several blue herons when we walked around the lake in early October, but no luck on the birds this time.
Yours truly saw no bird on this trail

Sophal, Julie, Debbie and Simba
A nice picnic area with BBQ grill
We were going to walk another 2.8 miles in the woods, but Simba, Debbie's cute Pomeranian, refused. We called it quits and moved on to the paved road back to our car. We were walking for about 10 minutes when all of a sudden, a majestic buck (8 to 9-point, according to Julie, hunter and taxidermist) emerged from the woods, and ran from one end of the park to the other. We were awed! It was like a show put on just for us. We fumbled for our cameras - to no avail. Alas, no pictures, but we'll never forget this encounter. At least I won't.

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Picking pecans in the fall



Pecan halves




Except for the crazy weather (when it's hot, it's hotter than Florida, when it's cold, it's colder than Boston!) and the deadly tornadoes (the marina was hit twice the last 2 springs), I really like Chattanooga.

Surrounded by mountains and the Tennessee River, this area is a paradise, not only for outdoor enthusiasts, but also for farmers. Even though we had had a hot summer, the harvest wasn't too shabby. Not that I know much about farming, but neighbors who planted reaped a good amount of green beans, squash, zucchini, cucumber, tomato, okra, corn and pears. In my 5 years here at Hales Bar Marina, I've picked wild blackberries, gingko nuts, and recently pecans! Sure, my hands got stained from picking and calluses from cracking the pecans, but it was all worth it.  We devoured the spiced pecans (recipe below) and pecan pie (care to share your recipe, Janice?)

This pecan picking experience brings back memories of the time when we cruised Solomons Island, Maryland, where we discovered chestnut trees and had a blast picking and shelling/cooking/glazing the chestnuts. The pecans, compared to the chestnuts, are much simpler to work with, and are just as delicious. Yum!
Final product - spiced pecans and pecan pie

Spiced Pecans
This recipe is adapted from one I found on the Internet. Great for a snack anytime.

2 cups pecan halves
1 egg white
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp water
¼ cup white sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp cloves
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
2. In a small bowl, beat the egg white with the vanilla and water. Stir in pecans, mixing until well moistened.
3. In a small bowl, mix together white and brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Sprinkle over nuts. Spread nuts on prepared pan.
4. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, stirring once or twice. Be careful not to burn the nuts.

Enjoy!

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Tennessee Memories: TN Valley Railroad Museum

The state of Tennessee has so much to offer! After living in Chattanooga for 5 years, I'm still discovering new places to visit. Thanks to our boating buddy/physical motivator/tour guide Debbie (and the perks from her job), we are introduced to more attractions. Case in point - a train ride and a tour of the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum Wednesday morning.

We took the Missionary Ridge Local, a 6-mile round trip train ride to East Chattanooga, where we stopped for a guided tour of the railroad restoration shop. We learned about the turntable, a device used to turn locomotives around; to see it in action was quite exciting. On the train ride back, we sat all the way in the back so we could easily walk to the outside platform to see the train emerge out of the Missionary Ridge Tunnel. That was cool.

Trivia: How many states border the state of Tennessee? See answer at the bottom of the page.

World traveler Julie, and tour guide Debbie checking out a train
Grand Junction Station, where we began our train ride

conductor demonstrating the workings of the turntable
tour of the railroad restoration shop
the light at the end of Missionary Ridge Tunnel


Next stop - a superb lunch at 212 Market Restaurant, one of my favorite restaurants in downtown Chattanooga. It was recommended by a boater friend, and we celebrated a surprise birthday party here the first week we arrived in Chattanooga. And have been a fan since. Every bite Debbie and Julie took of the delicious food elicited oohs and ahhs, so I'm sure they really liked it too.
Lunch at 212 Market
Lamb & vegetable soup
pork medallion on a bed of buttermilk mashed potatoes

Chimichuri steak wrap
Care to share your favorite restaurants?

Trivia answer: 8 - N. Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Travel Deals: Amsterdam, Paris, Bruges


I get the Travelzoo's Top 20 Travel Deals newsletter every Wednesday. The travel deal that caught my attention is:  $1400 including airfare (from New York City), 2 nights hotel both in Amsterdam and Paris and 1 night in Bruges, Brussels. If I haven't already gone to Amsterdam and Paris this past spring, I would jump on this enticing deal. You can check out the details and the fine print at Travelzoo's Top 20 Travel Deals. These days, you have to sign up before they show you the page.

The iconic Eiffel Tower

A pastry break at Le Bon Marche

One of many canals in Amsterdam

I’ve booked trips with Travelzoo previously, and was quite happy with the experience. The only catch on this travel deal is that it’s only for five days. I would strongly recommend extending the trip to at least a week, and if feasible, a tad longer.

On our spring jaunt to Paris, we paid $1200 for the airline ticket alone, and forked out another $200 for the Thaly train ticket to Amsterdam. With the European Central Bank bailing out one country after another, I’d bet the Euro will continue its downward trend. Not that the US dollar is faring any better (I was stunned to find our trusty dollar worth only 90 cents in Vancouver, Canada last month!), but at least you’d get more bang for your buck in Europe.

So if you’ve always been dreaming about visiting Paris, now is your chance to make your dream a reality. You have until Sep 26 to book this travel deal. But don’t wait too long, because the earlier you book, the better your chance of getting the deal.

And one more thing, I don’t work for Travelzoo. I just like to share information. Have you discover any fabulous  travel deal you’d like to share? Feel free to comment. I’d love to hear your stories, deal or no deal, on places to eat and travel, here and abroad. Happy travels!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Heat Wave in Paris, France

July was the hottest month ever recorded in the U.S. Apparently, the heat wave had moved across the pond. Many European cities from Prague to Paris were experiencing record breaking temperatures the last several days. Thank goodness we didn't wait until now to visit Paris! Imagine the throng of people, the long lines, the sweat and the heat in the city! We had gone to Paris in late April. It was spring, and the city was still mobbed, but at least the weather was comfortably cool, raining only a couple of days out of the two weeks we were there. We walked all over Paris. Thanks to our cousins who graciously showed us around, we visited many neighborhood parks and gardens.

One lovely afternoon found us strolling around Parc de la Villette with our relatives. Located north of Paris, this ultramodern neighborhood park is a great place to hang out, and is quite popular with the locals. In the summer (late July to late August), from Wednesday to Sunday, the Prairie du Triangle near the park's center turns into an open-air cinema or "cinéma en plein air."  Admission is free, and you can watch a movie under the stars. You're encouraged to bring your own chairs and a picnic basket. This week's program will be the last for this summer. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate, and the locals can enjoy the big screen for one last time. Here are some images we took of the wonderful Parc de la Villette.






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Monday, July 9, 2012

Beat the Summer Heat with Refreshing Mojitos!

The summer heat is on. And has been for almost 2 weeks, with temperatures in the high 90s! This is the hottest fourth of July week I’ve ever experienced, and this summer is probably one of the hottest summer! How do we stay cool? Swimming in the river is one option. The other is hiding inside the boat with the AC on full blast.

Unfortunately for Steve and Ken, whose garden, er, mini-farm has been profusely producing crops like green beans, zucchini, squash, cucumbers, okra, tomatoes, and lately corn, someone has to pick, cook or can them.
Checking out the okra
string beans (left), pole beans (right), cucumbers (at the end)
Men having fun picking zucchini and other vegetables from the garden
Tools for canning green beans
Yours truly have happily helped pick some, and Glenda, Steve’s other half, had had the fun job of pickling and canning all these crops. Just this past weekend, poor Glenda and Steve stayed up until 2 am to can some 150 ears of corn they had picked the evening prior. The good news is they won’t have to pay the high prices of canned vegetables come winter. With the drought besetting many parts of the country, there is no question food prices will be higher in the not-too-distant future.
Canning green beans
The couple of nights that were cool enough for us to sit outside to have our weekly potlucks, we enjoyed grilled meats, fresh vegetables, refreshing mojitos and avocado and roasted corn guacamole. The latter can’t be any fresher with your own home grown corn, tomatoes and jalapeno peppers!
potluck with marina friends


Freshly picked tomatoes and corn from the garden
Mojito and avocado and roasted corn guacamole
Both mojitos and avocado corn guacamole were big hits, and as promised, here are their recipes.

Mojito 
An authentic mojito is made with white rum. I used Captain Morgan’s spiced rum.
makes 1 drink

 1 ½ oz rum
 1 ½ oz fresh lime juice
 1 sprig of fresh mint
 ½ tsp sugar Sprite

 In a rock or highball glass, add sugar and mint leaves. Crush mint leaves with the back of a spoon. Add lime juice. Fill up glass with crushed ice. Add rum. Top off with sprite.

Avocado and Roasted Corn Guacamole [Print Recipe]
courtesy of Food & Wine magazine, April 1991 
8 Servings

 1 cup fresh or thawed frozen corn kernels
1 Tbsp corn oil
2 large avocados, preferably Haas, cut into ¼” dice
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 large tomato, cut into ¼” dice
2 Tbsp minced red onion
1 tsp minced fresh or pickled jalapeno pepper
1 tsp minced garlic
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp cider vinegar
1 ½ tsp coarse (Kosher) salt
¼ tsp cumin

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. On a baking sheet, toss the corn with 1 Tbsp oil. Roast, tossing often, for 7-8 minutes, until golden. Let cool, then transfer to a medium bowl.

2. Fold in the avocado, tomato, cilantro, onion, jalapeno and garlic. Stir in the lime juice, salt, vinegar, cumin and 2 Tbsp oil. Cover and refrigerate for up to 6 hours.

3. Serve with tortilla chips

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