Sunday, July 26, 2009

What Am I Making?

I was inspired again this weekend...Can you guess what I made?

Here's a hint:

Not sure if it looks like much to you, but it smelled good enough to eat just like this!

Here's another hint:  


I posted the recipe over at my new addiction, Pioneer Woman's new website, Tasty Kitchen.  Come on over and see if you guessed what I came up with!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

We Interrupt This Program For A Homecooked Meal

Even though the weather is beautiful out today, we all were craving some good old homecooked food after spending a week eating at breakfast buffets, fast food places and restaurants.  
It was a toss up between roast beef and roasted turkey breast, and the cow won...or rather, lost, depending on how you look at it, because there were no turkey breasts at the grocery store today.

Darn!  In honor of our recent visit to the Christmas Story House, I SO wanted to say "You stay away from that turkey! It's got an hour to cook...YOU"LL GET WORMS!"

I always do, you know!

Anyway, the roast was roasting, and I have green beans for steaming and hubby wanted mashed potatoes.  And I find mashed potatoes to be utterly boring.  So, I looked around to see what I could do to perk them up a bit and found...

Rosemary, growing like CRAZY on my deck.

Two new fresh bulbs of garlic.

And a fairly large hunk of manchego cheese left over from my daughter's birthday party that I really wanted to find a good use for.  I love the stuff, the family? Not so much!

So I knew that's how I wanted to season my mashed potatoes, and THIS is what I came up with:

2 lbs. potatoes, scrubbed (or peeled - I didn't)
3 cloves garlic
1 large sprig fresh rosemary (a generous 1 tbsp leaves)
4 tbsp. butter (I used Smart Balance Light)
2 to 3 tbsp milk
3/4 cup shredded manchego cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Here are the main ingredients - butter and milk were an afterthought.
Now, are you ready for my stroke of genius?  Well, I'm sure SOMEONE has done this before....

Cut up the potatoes into large 2 to 3" chunks and place into a steamer basket in a large saucepan.  Add the garlic and rosemary sprig, and about 1" water to the bottom of the pan.
Steamer basket!!! Brilliant, eh? I figured I'd infuse the potatoes with rosemary and garlic, and meanwhile create something along the lines of roasted garlic to blend into the potatoes.

Cover and bring to a boil over high heat, the reduce heat and continue cooking, covered, for another 12 minutes or until potatoes are fork-tender.

Transfer potatoes and garlic cloves to a bowl - I thought about throwing the rosemary in there but frankly, it looked disgusting!  I'd suggest garnishing with some fresh rosemary if you like...

Add about 4 tbsp butter (I used this stuff...)
...and a splash of milk.

Mash slightly then add the cheese, salt and pepper.
Mash until desired consistency...
...I even opted to whip a little with my electric mixer.
And this is what you get....

Steaming the fragrant rosemary and garlic was pure genius!  Boiling them would have diluted their flavor, but I can assure you these potatoes were perfectly and subtley rosemary-ed and garlicky.  The Manchego was perfect for this, but I can also see gruyere or cheddar working perfectly!

And as for "A Christmas Story" quotes?

Fear not....I got to use one:


Yup.  Just like the pancakes in this photo, Martha got the roast beef.

Oh well.  At least I still have my potatoes!!!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Images Of Cleveland: Cool Bridges, Public Art, Science and a Haunted Hotel

After The Christmas Story House, we explored the city a bit.  Although my husband is a firefighter by trade, he's always had a love of cities, particularly those that have a strong industrial background, such as Cleveland.   He's the kind of guy that, despite having attended Mass College of Art, gets more enjoyment out of an old mill building, railroad bridge or factory than he does the local art museum.  

I have to admit,  I like fancy bridges and old mills, too.  This was probably my favorite - the Hope Memorial Bridge - if for any other reason than those cool statues.  We did drive over it at one point, but of course, you know me - camera was packed away in the back seat!  We took this one from below...

We thought this was cool, too...

And unlike some people, we have no problem waiting for a draw bridge to open and close - it was really interesting watch those huge counterweights pull the bridge up then set it back down again.  All in all, it took 10 minutes.  Probably why the locals avoid this stretch of road!  
Another shot, showing the canal and surrounding area.  This was taken from an area known as The Flats - really cool place.
In the center of town, right outside Tower Place, is the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial, one of many, many pieces of public art in the city.  
There were others that I didn't get shots of, but wish I had.

And then...there was this....

The Cleveland Firefighter's Memorial, located between Progressive Field and the Great Lake Science Center (in the background - note the solar panels out in front of the building).   As I've mentioned, my husband is not only an architectural, urban design, public art afficionado, but he's also a firefighter - one who was intimately involved in a local tragedy which claimed the lives of six of his coworkers nearly a decade ago.  He's very particular about memorials - even lamenting that the one that we have in Worcester is "the same old, 'firefighter-on-one-knee' type" of memorial.  He likes memorials that tell a story, like the Hotel Vendome Memorial in Boston, or on a greater scale, the FDR or Korean War Memorials in Washington, DC.   Memorials that are unique, thought-provoking and memorable...and made of something other than fiberglass.  From a distance, I didn't really see what was so bad about this one

But close up, it looked pretty tacky - like the fake stream of water from the hose you see here, disappearing into nowhere.  Then the more I looked at it, the "flames" looked like a giant, three-pronged, neon hand.  I walked away from this one feeling sorry for the men it memorialized.  I'm sure whoever designed it had their heart in the right place, but fiberglass?  I think they deserved bronze, at the very least.  

Well, onto the science center, which was an awesome experience for Punkin.  Hundreds of kid-friendly, hands on exhibitions, an indoor playground and an outdoor water exhibit.  And with every stop, I actually found myself explaining something to her (or reading the little plaques so I would know what the heck was going on).

Here she is constructing a strand of DNA...

And outside playing with one of the water exhibits...

We spent more time here than we did at the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame!

Later we ate at the Hard Rock Cafe (where we could see all that R&R stuff for free.....), then went back to our hotel.

I was just getting ready to settle down when suddenly I spied something behind the curtain...straight out of the urban legend that surrounds the film "Three Men and A Baby", where people claim to see a spirit in one of the scenes filmed in a New York apartment...

Suddenly, it realized it had been found and darted away!

Oops...false alarm!

Punkin! Don't scare Mommy like that!!!

Next morning we headed off to Columbus...

Friday, July 17, 2009

Good Old "Cleveland Street"

Ah! Good old Cleveland Street!

I didn't know much about Cleveland when we were choosing our itinerary for our road trip, but one thing I did know...if I were coming here, I needed to visit THIS corner, so I could see this....

Recognize it?  Let's take a closer look, shall we?
What's that in the window? A Leg Lamp???

Yes, one of my all-time favorite movies, "A Christmas Story", was partially filmed in Cleveland, mainly at two locations - this house and Higbee's Department Store in what is known as Tower City in downtown Cleveland.  

Although Maggi and my husband got into a few disagreements as to how to get there, we finally made it and came face to face with "The Parker House".  Across the street is a museum, housing some props, photos and interesting information about the filming of the movie, as well as a gift shop, where we spent more than we bargained for.  

While we waited for the tour to begin, Punkin checked the mailbox to see if the Little Orphan Annie Inner Circle Secret Decoder Pin had had not, so we proceeded into the famed house.
Here it is!  The moment we'd been waiting for!
This room just inside the entrance was actually used in the film - the Famous "Fra-Gee-Lay" scene!
This momento is in the corner...
While only a few interior scenes were shot in Cleveland, some were, and the house has been restored to reflect that era as well as the actual scenes in the movie - note the radio where Ralphie and Randy listened to their favorite program...
There's my Punkin, asking which of those presents is her's...
The famous "blue ball"....(in falsetto, "Thanks a lot")
"Well...there's just one too many!"
I thought this was cool - I love antiques, and this chair is just like one I used to own (until it fell apart...)
Our guide told us that most of the scenes with the Bumpeses' hounds were shot here, so this could be the very chair "The Old Man" was sitting in as they trotted by towards the kitchen.

Here's Punkin, with our tour guide, on the famous stairs.
Judging by the expression on Punkin's face, she kinda looks like she's being forced to wear one of Aunt Clara's gifts, doesn't she?

One of the things I love about this movie is that they really captured that era - the 1940's - with the furniture, fixtures and clothing.  I love those old stoves!

However, we could tell before the tour guide told us that this kitchen probably wasn't used much - if at all - in the movie.  It's smaller and set up slightly different.  But still, I was grateful that the house had been restored to reflect the movie.   You'll also notice in the movie that there is a dining room in the background of some scenes - there was none here in the real thing.

A little about the house - it had been owned by the same man for 50 years, including the period when filming took place - however he did not live there but rather rented it out.  After he passed away, his two sons decided to sell it, trying to capitalize on the movie connection.  They placed it for sale on eBay...yes, eBay!  Asking price was $50,000, as most of the houses in this neighborhood at the time were going for abut $40,000.  The current owner, a huge fan of the movie, bid $150,000 and it was immediately accepted.  He then put in another $200,000-plus into restoring it, bought the house across the street for a museum and here we are!

The upstairs bathroom does closely resemble the one in the movie.  And having lived in a house with fixtures from the 1920's to 1940's when I grew up, I think I can attest to the authenticity of their appearance!
We had a bathroom sink exactly like this one!  And a clawfoot tub, but our's was painted blue.

On Ralphie's desk in his and Randy's bedroom sits the famous "theme".  Or, more likely, a reproduction!
And in the back yard stands the shed - it is the same shed that appears in the movie, although some details have been removed.  The Black Bart Fantasy scene in the beginning as well as the BB gun scene towards the end were actually filmed here.

All in all, I was very pleased with the tour!  Being a huge fan of the movie, we really appreciated all that we saw.  I was a little apprehensive of the museum, thinking that someone was trying to make a quick buck on some cheesy replicas, but as soon as I stepped inside I realized that it was very cool!

First, we are not the only crazy people who make the pilgrimage here...

There were so many pins stuck in Massachusetts, I had no room to place my own!  When asked, the curators said they receive between 30,000 and 40,000 visitors...each year!

They have a lot of costumes and props from the movies, such as...

The mother's bathrobe and the boys' pajamas.

This is an actual piece of the original chalkboard, salvaged from St Catharine's School in Ontario, where the school scenes were shot.   The "Oh Fudge!" scene was also shot in Canada, although the area in the night time background could have easily been filmed in Cleveland, as there are railroad bridges and mills galore.

The place is loaded with photographs and interesting trivia, such as this:
And who could forget these!

"He had yellow eyes...YELLOW EYES!"

The gift shop actually had a nice assortment of moderately priced gifts - I got a sweatshirt for $10, and t-shirts were buy two get one free ($9 each or 3 for $18) and were of fairly decent quality.  They have a lot of ornaments, Christmas village items, and other novelties.  Punkin is the only kid on the block who has a leg lamp nightlight now!

When we got back to our hotel, I took this picture:

That building in the middle is Tower City, which not only housed Higbee's, but is just finishing up a 12-year restoration plan.  

It would be nice if another "Higbee's" was part of the plan, but even if it's not, I wish Cleveland the best of luck!  With or without the movie tie-in, it could be a great place to visit when you come to Cleveland!

The Great PONY Ride of 2009

My uncle, his wife and their seven kids lived in a small, rural community, not far from where I live now.  Nearly every Sunday we would drive up to their house, as would some of my other aunts, uncles and cousins.  I think we all went THERE because a.) It was more difficult for them to pack seven kids and elderly Aunt Edna into the van to trek anywhere else, and b.) Their home was bordered by a large field on one side, and woods on the other three, yet it was a five-minute walk to the tiny downtown area, which consisted of a small family-owned grocery store, a gas station, a school and playground, a post office and two churches.  Plenty of things for kids - in THOSE days, when you didn't feel the need to keep them within your sight at all times - to explore.

I loved every Sunday that we went to Uncle Paul's.  I loved hanging around with my many cousins, most of which were older and often took the time to entertain us younger kids by hikes in the woods, football or baseball games in the field, dirt bike rides, or snowmobile rides and pond hockey games in the winter.  But my favorite was the annual church bazaar that my uncle organized.  Dunk tanks, potato sack races, crafts, a few rides, food, food, food...and my favorite, the pony rides.  How I loved all things equine!  In later years, I took riding lessons, even entered a few shows, but those pony rides were what fostered what turned out to be a lifelong love of horses.  They were a quarter each, and I usually had enough money saved up to ride each of the several ponies at least twice.  

I don't know why I thought of this last Saturday morning, as we set out on our vacation.  Maybe it was because we drive through a few towns that are very similar to the one my Uncle Paul lived in, and the sights of white church steeples and small New England town centers bring back memories.  Our plan was to hit the road right at 6:00 AM, and we were right on time, as usual, pulling out of the driveway at 7:45!  (Actually, that's good for us...I had my money on 9:00).  We filled the fuel tank, grabbed what would be the last Dunkin Donuts coffee I would see in several days, and hit the road, on what I dubbed the Great PONY Ride of 2009...

 Through Pennsylvania, to Cleveland/Columbus/Dayton, Ohio, followed by Buffalo/Niagara Falls, NY.  Get it??? ;)

Oh, and before I forget, I should mention that "the other woman", Maggi, accompanied us.  And no, I was not upset at all.  In fact, I purchased Maggi for hubby as a Father's Day gift.  Because I know what it's like travelling with him, and I figured it was time for someone else to tell him where to go.  He never listens to me.  Maybe SHE would have better luck.....
But no, he didn't really listen to her, either.  At least not at first.  But it was nice to have more company in the car! And it was cute when Punkin asked, "Mommy? Why does the car keep talking to us?"

The first leg of our trip would be the longest - from the Worcester, MA area all the way to Cleveland, OH.  Did I mention we had a four year-old in the back seat?  Yes, we knew this would be a long trip, but thankfully our little Punkin travels REALLY WELL! She's logged quite a few miles already, and since her birthday was just a few days ago, she had a stash of new toys, brand new crayons (aren't new crayons so much better than old ones?), paper/coloring books, dolls, toys...and the best gift of all (thank you, dear sister!), her very own camera.  

 Able to hold 154 photos, child-friendly and nearly indestructible....this thing is worth its weight in gold!
Of course, 154 photos can be snapped within a three-minute span of time....which means, I may have missed a thing or two as I cleared blurry images, duplicate/triplicate/quadruplet pictures, in order to make room for more and entertain her for another...three minutes.  But still, she got great enjoyment out of that camera, and actually took some pretty decent pictures!  We are currently in negotiations for Punkin to guest blog on Marvelously Mundane in the near future...just as soon as she cleans up her room.

Anyway, I love the ride through western Massachusetts, through a snippet of New York, over the Hudson River.  Did I think to snap a few photos along the way to share with you? Well, no. If I had, I would have taken a photo much like this one about five minutes across the Pennsylvania state line...

Yes! I saw a bald eagle perched on a treetop!  I was so excited!  Hubby - not so much.  Maggi thought we should "stay on the current road".  Punkin wanted to know why it was bald.  We have bald eagles around here, but I've never seen one in the wild with my own eyes.  Actually, I did see an eagle in Maine, once, but since it was humungous, apparently full-grown, and did not have a white head or tail feathers, I guess it was a different kind of eagle.  And I didn't get a photo of that one, either....

The ride through Pennsylvania was pretty, but long.  After passing the City of Wilkes-Barre....

...which when we saw it through the mist looked like a model railroad town, bridges and mill buildings nestled along a river in a valley, the rest of the trip was a whole lotta farmland followed by forest.  Kinda like western Massachusetts, but flatter.  I like that kind of scenery, though, as I imagine some of those small communities are getting ready for their own versions of church bazaars and county fairs.

We arrived at our first destination, Cleveland OH, at about 6:00 PM Saturday.  It was sunny, a bit muggy, but Cleveland was a lot nicer than I was expecting.  My husband, who, by the way, has a degree in architecture and a passionate interest in urban design and planning, had been there before, and his descriptions had included words like "economically depressed", "struggling", "run-down" and even "dying".   Frankly, I found it to be a lot like Worcester - great potential, lots of character, some great architecture (meaning older buildings), except Cleveland was very, very clean.  Lots of green spaces, too, whether it was parks or the occasional flowerpots or trees along the street.  I think even he admitted that Cleveland's luck was improving, and I dare say the city seemed almost vibrant at times.

That night, we tried going to the science museum, a reward for Punkin for being so good during the long trip, but alas it was closed.  Oh well, right next door is the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame.

We toured the museum - no pictures allowed inside the museum, so I can't show you Elvis' purple car or Michael Jackson's glittery glove or Janis Joplin's eyeglasses or any of the other things.  Between the exhibits being a bit over Punkin's head and the fact that my husband and I have totally different tastes in music ("Where's all the Van Halen stuff?" he kept asking), we kind of whizzed through it.  At the end hubby complained that he just paid a boatload of money for "stuff you can see for free if you go to enough Hard Rock Cafe's".  

He was kinda right!

But in the lobby, we snapped some photos of Punkin and the giant guitars... 

They had a nice "memorial" guitar to George Harrison and Punkin decided to be silly....

Stop that before security kicks us out!!!

Then, when THIS one....

...appeared to almost fall over, we decided it was time to go.  (It really DIDN'T fall, as I later discovered they are bolted onto the display stand.)

We walked back to our hotel, about 10 minutes away, grabbed dinner and hit the sack early.

For tomorrow, we would go on a sacred pilgrimage.....

To Be Continued.....