Friday, December 30, 2011

10 Days Of Family Togetherness

I have been a absent on the blogosphere over the holidays. But having the entire family visiting for 10 days took a bit of focus. Entire family consists of:

The #1 clan from the East Bay area - Consisting of #1, 1A, 1.1, and 1.2- aka the Ostrogoths
The #2 clan from the Washington DC area - Consisting of #2, 2B, 2.1, 2.2, and 2.3 - aka the Visigoths
The #3 clan from Amsterdam - Consisting of #3, 3A, and newly minted 3.1! - aka the Vandals

Actually it was a gradual build up with the Visigoths arriving first, the Vandals the next day and the Ostrogoths the following day. With all 14 (including Lord and Lady de-I, castle owners) here for 3 and half days when slowly they started to depart.

#3 and 3A practicing their first ever - "Let's get baby into the car seat after the 18 hour flight from Amsterdam" - technique

The #2 clan are enthusiastic about cooking. I felt a little like Tom Sawyer getting both 2.1 and 2.2 (only 6 years old mind you) to literally spend 40 minutes peeling 5 pounds of potatoes!
I guess you have to be of Eastern European Jewish extraction to appreciate this.
The production of schmaltz (rendered chicken fat for cooking) and gribbnes (the crispy bits of skin left over from the rendering). This is 6 pounds of fat and skin for the process.

My crew LOVE gribbnes!

I mean everyone - the kids, the sons-in-law, the kids - everyone but Wife :(
2.1 my, designated sous chef for the whole holiday (a BIG help at 13 years old) made sure she brought home a container of schmaltz - chip off the ole block :)
#3 and 3.1 aka Munchkin

1.2 - 2 years old. You have to take to spend a morning with him at the 'hands-on' children's museum and listen to his totally joyous "Wow, Look at That!" to appreciate the shear joy only a child can have :)
One of the main objectives of having all the clan here was too drink up a bunch of my older wines (so I have room to buy more! Love buying wine)
This was the oldest one I had, a 24 year old white burgundy that I got at an estate sale a couple of years ago. I was concerned that it would be vinegar but it turned out just fine with all the spicy attributes of a great old white burgundy.
Decorating cookies - absolutely de rigeur for a Wife inspired Christmas
The two six year old cousins (1.1 and 2.2) are like fissionable material. So to give the adults some rest, there is resort to the electronic pacifier.

A little Christmas Day action

2A has decided to make a serious, serious run at the Silly Awards this year (Best Son-in-Law). So he decided that he would understudy Wife and become apprentice bread maker.

Here he is starting with learning how to make pizza dough.

However, 2A is giving him a run for his money by solving with Wife a problem with my computer connecting to our printers and then sucking up to critical Silly Voter, Wife by putting one of the printers of limits to me!

1.1 playing at the computer with 1.2 looking on

Daughter #3 was having lots of issues between sleep habits of the 4 month old and jet lag but mastered the art of napping.

Need to catch a nap in the middle of the afternoon? Not a problem.

Husband and parents talking for too long in the evenings? Not a problem.

There is a certain 'center stage' status the only comes when you are the newest, youngest member of the clan.

Don't think that Munchkin stole Wife's (and de-I's!) heart?

We are a very, very lucky family. We enjoy each others company. It is very difficult for us to even see each other with given the great distances that separate us (which will be even more when #2's diplomatic career takes her and the clan to Manila this spring). But when we do get together, it is as sweet as can be.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Make Your Holiday Plans To The Sunny Southwest While You Can!

Before the impending Ice Age turns us into the next tundra!!!

Pictures from this morning

Monday, December 19, 2011

Turning Your Fortress To A Fine Hotel

At de-I Tower, we don't exactly welcome boiling oil, moats with monsters, pits with spiky things in the bottom...not exactly what you'd call welcoming. However, from past experience even we here in the Imperial City have learned that the best of defenses is no match for a determined barbarian horde. So in addition to feeding them and plying them with drink, we've found that if we seduce them with civilized comforts, they soon lose that harsh barbaric edge and then can usually be persuaded to move on.

Hence Wife and I have been converting various parts of the Keep to suit the purposes. After all the Visigoths are scheduled to arrive tomorrow!

Convert your torture chamber to...

...The Mountain View Suite

Complete with cradle in case your barbarian guest has an infant
That tower dungeon?

...Converted to the Pink Suite
Complete with private terrace for that late night smoke.

Those storage rooms for all your old armor and jousting equipment...

...Convert the the quiet Brown Suite with nearby...

...dormitory for all the younger members of the horde.

Now should I gift wrap the manacles and leg irons? Hmmmmmm.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Still More Prepping For The Invasion

I'm in Connecticut visiting with dear old Dad the original intimidator (O-I). Since I've been here I've felt the best I have since the onset of the great illness. In fact, I pretty much feel normal!. O-I is attributing it to his magical curative abilities not to mention the curing airs of Connecticut. First time of anyone going to Manchester to take the cure. Well I'm not looking gift horses in the mouth.

My sister, OK (Other Kidney) dropped over as she walks Dad's dog twice a day and asked me for pictures of all the grand kids. So I opened up my photo file and found not that many pictures of the grand kids but one butt ton of pictures of food and hiking! Hmmmm guess that shouldn't be that much of a surprise.

Before I left to come here last weekend when I made the lasagna, I also whipped up some slow cooked lamb (same stuff I made for the Chile Party), it freezes well. I didn't want to do it outside with the wood grill this time because of the cold so I did it in the oven. Didn't get quite the same flavor but Wife (who doesn't even like lamb!) pronounced it yummy.

Not that many step-by step pictures. But essentially you marinate your chunk of lamb (a leg in this case) over night with a paste of oil, herbs (rosemary, parsley), garlic, salt, and pepper. The next day you put into a very, very high oven for about 20 minutes and then slow roast with an aluminum foil tent at around 275 for 6 hours. In the pan are meat broth, carrots and onions. As the meat cooks, juices from the meat fall into the broth and the whole thing enriches.

Meanwhile reduce a bottle of red wine until it is about 1/8th its volume. When the meat is starting to get very tender, take it off the bone. Add the reduced wine and some Dijon mustard to the broth and the meat off the bone. Let cook again covered in the slow oven for another hour.

I will be serving this with some of the hot sauces that I did in the summer.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Maybe I Should Just Put The Book Under My Pillow

For some bizarre set of reasons, I have been actually figuring out and solving my own IT/Communications problems lately. This is very unnerving because it is not consistent with my historical behavior at all. Historically, if something didn't work right within a day or so, I would throw a tantrum and return the device or wait until Wife or some other friend shoved a Valium down my throat and fixed it for me.

I related a couple of weeks ago how I had problem solved a problem with contact manager program and my new web site/email server service. Well when I was in Chicago, I suddenly had this problem where I couldn't send out emails using the new server service address. I would get an error message that said I wasn't connected to the internet when in fact I was receiving emails on the same address and sending out on another! This was only happening at Lakeview Joe's so I thought it might be a problem related to his internet access portal.

But then I got home and I started having the same problem. The tantrum started to bubble up but amazingly was contained. Instead I called Microsoft (even figuring where to call in the past would have frustrated me to no end). I got someone who very quickly told me where to look. Evidently the hosting company we use has some unusual portal numbers and you have set that in your settings. Problem solved.

Personally, I am blaming St. Louis Mike for all this, an IT person whose blog I follow. It must just be the IT problem solving vibes that infect his posts that have gotten to me over the years.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

How To Defeat The Barbarians

Preparation. That's what you do. You prepare feasts to keep them happy so they don't go on looting sprees. This holiday season we have not one, not two, but THREE barbarian tribes descending on the glory that is de-Iholm. Visigoths from the East. Ostrogoths from the West. And Vandals from over the sea. Rumor has it they will descend in successive waves hoping to overwhelm the defenses and raid the wine keep!

So with this in mind, I've been cooking up a storm. Forget about music soothing the savage beast...FEED THEM!

Phase 1 calls for lasagna...lot's of belly filling, pillaging inhibiting lasagna. Since some of our attackers are non-meat eaters, this calls for two versions

Start by prepping the fillings - Swiss Chard


Drain, wash in cold water, squeeze water out, saute in garlic

Pull handy dandy slow cooked braised meat sauce and fortify with Italian sausage
Fortify ricotta cheese by whipping up a few eggs, and adding chopped parsley and garlic, then whip in the cheese. Not shown here is the process for making a Fontina Cheese sauce for the chard lasagna.

Cook the noodles. Drain and save in cold water (if you don't they stick...very nasty when that happens)

Put down a layer of olive oil
Put down a layer of sauce (non-meat sauce for the chard lasagna)
Put down a layer of noodles. Note how I put them up the sides. With the upper layer I will do the opposite to encase the whole thing.
Now another layer of sauce
In the case of the chard lasagna now add the chard

Ricotta mixture on the meat one

Fonina cheese sauce on the chard one

Layer with whole milk mozzarella - has to be whole milk or it doesn't have the stringy texture you love.

Another layer of noodles, sauce and covering of Pamesiano Reggiano or Pecarino Romano

These are 'half' lasagnas. When I really do it up I put another layer on. Usually the 'full' version is around 6 inches deep. Freeze these puppies. Defrost and cook for an hour at 350 to feed the hordes.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Chicago Bits

I was in Chicago for three full days of business. This was the first extensive travel I've done since the illness. Our schedule was very busy. We were doing significant strategic planning for three of our clients with two hour sessions with each of the three on each of the three days. This kind of work requires you to be very engaged and uses a lot of energy. When I flew up on Tue afternoon, I was tired on the plane. I didn't eat much that night and was very cold. I was very worried that I was relapsing.

But on Wednesday morning I was fine. I was catching naps whenever I could but I have to say that overall I didn't have any problems fulfilling my duties and for the most part felt OK.

Bits and Pieces

As I get around a bit, I see lots of public bathrooms. When I see a noteworthy one, I want to capture it. Look at the one below. Pretty nifty huh. Where do you think it is? High class hotel? Expensive restaurant?

How about a Korean BBQ joint in an OK but hardly upscale part of town.

One small step to remove Lakeview Coffee's ability to torment me.

Now I have admitted that one of my major reasons to go to Chicago is to push Lakeview Joe off of anything resembling his normal eating and drinking patterns. (Truth be told, it's really not much of a challenge.)

But Joe gets in as good as he gets. He takes full advantage of my innate klutziness by insisting that we always get Starbucks coffee then putting me in situations where I'm almost guaranteed to have some spill on using all the coffee cup holders in the car and then driving on the most bumpy streets he can find...or refilling just before we have to walk long ways from parking lots, upstairs, going through sign in security...etc.

However, I have now found the way to thwart this diabolical action. The green Starbucks stopper!
I've known about these but just never remember them. What a god send. So go Joe. Go over the bumpy road. Make me fumble with my coffee and brief case to sign us in at Tribune Building security. I am not the new protected, confident coffee carrying de-I. (except when it spurts out of the little vent hole when I'm trying to get my drivers license out for said security).

Monday, December 5, 2011

Captain de-I of the 95th Minsk? You Are Recalled to Duty

The origins of the 95th Minsk Feeding Regiment go back to the time of the late Romanoff dynasty of Czars at the turn of the 19th to 20th century. It wasn't a good time to be 'different'. If you were not an Orthodox Christian your loyalty to the state was questioned. And it was a time when the Czars were fighting lots of wars and in need of lots of cannon fodder.

Around Minsk (in present day Belorussia) were old, old communities of Jews and newer communities of Mennonites who had come from Germany during the 18th century. Neither fit the Orthodox criteria. A mixed group of Jews and Mennonites were put together in a single regiment that was involved in the logistics of feeding the Czarist army. They were very good at what they did.

As the conditions worsened leading up to WWI and the Russian Revolution, many of these Jews and Mennonites emigrated to the United States - Jews mostly to New York City and the Mennonites to farm communities in Minnesota, South Dakota, and Iowa. Over the years they carried on the memories and the traditions of the proud 95th Minsk Feeding Regiment. Many of them found there way into the U.S. fighting forces during WWI, WWII, the Korean War, Viet Nam, the Gulf War, etc. They had knowledge of the old ways and used them carrying on the knowledge and tradition from generation to generation.

When Wife and I formed our mixed heritage marriage, little did we know that we carried these traditions with us. We first brushed off this tradition and heritage when Styling with Renee Michelle and I began collaborating on the feeding plans for the Wife's family reunion. We quickly found we had these common organizational methodologies for planning and feeding the multiples. Hence we formed our on little branch of the 95th Minsk Feeding Regiment.

In just 15 days the entire de-I clan - 3 daughters, 3 sons-in-law, 4 granddaughters, and 2 grandsons descend upon Albuquerque and the de-I Tower for a the Christmas holiday/family reunion/Wine Inventory Reduction event. Feeding this gastronomically driven crowd is not for amateurs. Hence out come the spreadsheets and organizational plans.

The 95th Minsk Feeding Regiment is back in business.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Well? I Mean Really Well?

So I've been feeling better most of this week. Certainly I've been able to work a full schedule and I've started to exercise a bit. But there was still pieces missing. My mental and emotional energy would pop when I started to work but otherwise I didn't have any pop. And my appetite still wasn't there. And I still had a bit of a cough.

My doctor wanted me to get a chest X Ray for the cough. Since he is out of plan for my insurance it took us days to get clear that insurance would cover his referral. Fortunately for me the X Ray center of the plan (at one of their hospitals) was open on Saturday and took walk ins.

Low an behold I go there at 8:45 on Saturday morning and there was no one there! When was the last time that happened to you going to any major medical center. I had the check-in girl take a picture as proof.

Sunday, I woke up and I felt..NORMAL I ate breakfast and didn't have to force it down. I took my longest walk and even included a short steep climb. We made pizza for dinner and I ate with gusto. I still have a small cough but much less.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Friday, December 2, 2011

de-I Orchardman In Training

Last year we had incredibly cold weather. Unlike years past we had not covered our peach tree and as a result - no peaches last summer. Mrs. de-I, guardian and CEO of all things garden-ish was not about to let that happen again. So on Tuesday I saw on our refrigerator door the five day forecast showing very cold weather approaching. At dinner I was told we would be "wrapping the tree".

Forget Christmas presents, this is a task of much greater scope. High winds were in the forecast before the temperature drop, so Wife had us out there Wednesday evening working away in the darkness getting something up. Unfortunately the winds we had Thursday were almost hurricane force (up to 90 miles an hour), and I'm afraid our first effort did not fare well.

But the temperature had not dropped, so Wife went out and bought more frost cloth and we started again.

This time we have used rope to tie the whole thing down so hopefully it will survive any winds (since those hurricane force winds are not something common).