Category Archives: seasons

Spring


[in Just-]
by E. E. Cummings

in Just-

spring when the world is mud-

luscious the little

lame balloonman

whistles far and wee

and eddieandbill come

running from marbles and

piracies and it’s

spring

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer

old balloonman whistles

far and wee

and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and

it’s

spring

and

the

goat-footed

balloonMan whistles

far

and

wee

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Filed under gardening, seasons, spring

The Zitner’s are Here, The Zitner’s are Here!

for those of you who do not speak regional philadelphi-eze, that means some of the best candy in the world is now available. Zitner’s

i know, i know, everyone has their regional favorites, but i’m telling you that zitner’s is among the best, and c and i have tasted some mighty fine chocolates from around the world. zitner’s makes chocolate covered eggs that have fillings of cocoanut crème, double cocoanut, peanut butter, butter crème (called butter krak), marshmallow and butter crème and chocolate chip. most of the eggs are covered in a thick coating of rich, dark chocolate, except for the peanut butter egg which is covered with milk chocolate.

google zitner’s and you’ll find a wealth of blog posts, articles, reviews, etc. that name these regional specialties among the very best in the world.

but, there’s a downside. nope, not referring to the calories associated with these treats ‘cuz enjoying them for a few scant months of the year isn’t going to kill you. it’s that they sell out quickly and they’re hard to find. it seems that this year they’ve gotten even harder to find.

i can’t find any truth to this, but it seems as though candy giant russell stover has played some hardball with grocery stores and convenience stores and taken over shelf space, which has pushed zitner’s off the shelves. c and i are pretty skilled at the zitner’s game if only because these eggs have traditionally sold out so quickly that you have to be on your game to find them. but this year even the unusually unusual places to find zitner’s, like the local hardware store, have come up empty.

ah, but the famed local favorite convenience store, wawa, was stocked full of zitner’s and peeps (another local favorite). i snatched up a bunch of cocoanut crème eggs and then came home to find an amazon box with two boxes of zitner’s cocoanut crème eggs inside. honestly, i would rather buy these treats locally, but if the local stores won’t or can’t get them, then amazon it is.

the thing about the philadelphia market is that people here stubbornly cling to their hometown favorites – so much so that some large national/international conglomerates have had a tough time wrangle market share away from the locals. one example of that loyalty is yuengling beer. many are the major beer makers who have tried to oust yuengling from restaurants, bars and stadiums with little success.

like i said, i don’t know if it’s true that russell stover is using a hard-line strategy to drive zitner’s off the shelves, or the fact that they are now being sold on amazon has increased demand. one thing i do know is that philadelphians will not do without zitner’s. and neither should you.

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Filed under addiction, candy, Food, holiday, seasons, spring

Stop it! Just stop it!

i’m not a first adopter and i’m not a trend setter. or perhaps i should say that neither of those are a goal of mine but sometimes i accidentally become the first at something.

but these days everything goes viral and every other day there’s another new meme to keep up with and/or add to and it’s even difficult to be on the cutting edge if you’re trying. (well, except maybe if you’re a kardashian…)

here’s the thing about memes: most often lunacy takes over and someone has to declare that it has to stop (not you ann counter).

so now i’m declaring that some things have to stop.

can we just talk about the grilled salad? okay, so maybe this concept would work if we were talking about grilling vegetables that make sense to grill like peppers, onions, eggplant or even corn. i might even be able to get on board with grilled tomatoes (although i’m not sure why a glorious, fresh august tomato needs to be embellished.) i subscribe to a couple of cooking magazines and a couple of other magazines that routinely include recipes and this idea of a grilled salad has been making the rounds.

so let me get this straight: i’m supposed to take a perfectly wonderful item like romaine lettuce — which by the way i eat because it’s crunchy and usually cold– and burn it on the grill. and i’m not even sure why. i have had this burned lettuce and i don’t get the appeal. is it just because it completely flies in the face of logic?

grilling salad either began and an act of clumsiness or a drunken meme and now it’s evolved into a party trick. i guess that we have just plain run out of ideas. that must be it. there are just so many cooking shows and cooking segments and cooking magazines that we have to make up insane things just to fill air time or pages. but when you run out ideas stupidity prevails. like grilling lettuce.

and speaking of grilling, can we just talk about grilling summer fruit and/or perfectly good pound cake? i’m especially baffled by the proliferation of recipes calling for grilled watermelon. i’ve had grilled fruits (peaches, nectarines and pineapple) and they’re good enough, but grilled watermelon is ridiculous. it does not make it taste any better, in fact one thing watermelon is not enhanced by is being eaten at anything other than icy cold temperature. isn’t the reason we eat watermelon to be refreshed on a hot summer day. how is a wilted, burned, limp slab of watermelon refreshing?

btw, if you notice almost all of these grilled fruit recipes call for ice cream or whipped cream to complete the flavor profile, which leads me to believe that the real flavor everyone is raving about is sweet ice cream or liquor flavored whipped cream.

we need to cease with the compulsion to “do” anything more to some of the glorious bounty this time of year than just enjoy it. we also need to stifle the impulse to follow along with every harebrained idea that gets printed in a magazine or posted on-line.

chris rock said it best: “just because you can doesn’t mean it’s to be done.”

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Filed under Food, gardening, laughs, seasons, summer, tips

the sweetness of winter

“what good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”
― john steinbeck, travels with charley: in search of america

alright all you smugwarts out there, i’m going to set you straight about places in this country (and the world) who actually have winter. to borrow from the declaration of independence: when in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for those of two thirds of the nation to stand up to the bullies and say something positive about living in a place where real winter exists.

i grew up in southern california and didn’t even experience snow until i was 24 years old. i didn’t own a heavy coat, boots or a scarf and had no idea how to drive in snow until i was actually driving in snow.

that said, i have lived outside of philadelphia since 1980 and have experienced a thing or two about winter. in spite of what you see on television, philadelphia winters are not usually all that bad both in terms of snow and temperature. but sometimes, like this year, we get into a cycle of storms that pile up the snow which feeds the colder temperature and the cycle begins again.

here’s the scoop: sometimes winter is wonderful and sometimes it sucks. here’s another scoop: living in a place where there is not winter is wonderful and sometimes it sucks.

like so many other things in life, often it’s about your attitude.

here are some of the wonderful things about winter that you don’t know unless you live someplace where there is one:

falling snow is quiet. unlike noisy rain, there’s a silence about snow that’s enchanting. and because nothing grows in the winter, the landscape is enhanced by the blanket of snow. i drive some hilly, windy roads to and from work and after a snowstorm, the drive home is spectacular.

there’s a kind of pioneer spirit that is brought out in winter climate. after a snowfall the sun comes out and with it the people from their houses and that’s when the collective harrumphing and joking and shared experiences begin. people dig out their space and those of their elderly neighbors, the kids come out with all manner of “sleds” and hit the hills until they are exhausted.

snow days are relaxing days. as long as you don’t have to get around (and very often when there are big storms you don’t have to get around), you get a day to hang out in a cozy house and catch up on things you don’t normally have time to do. i personally like to bake bread and maybe make some soup or stew, but reading a good book cover to cover is a nice option too. not to mention other activities that you can imagine for yourself if it’s just you and a significant other in the house together. (watch the birth rate nine months from now)

winter teaches you to pay attention and plan. watching weather reports is not just a hobby, sometimes it’s a matter of survival. going out with a full bladder and an empty gas tank is just asking for trouble. ditto for an empty window washing fluid reservoir. planning to get out of town to someplace warm and sunny for a week is a noble goal.

going for a winter walk can be peaceful and invigorating.

finally, winter is always followed by spring. no matter how bad the winter weather, long about mid-february the light has changed and the birds are back. the change in the angle of the light is the first thing i always notice and that’s accompanied by the noise of the birds in the morning. next come the gardening catalogues and the chance to dream about ripe red tomatoes, juicy cucumbers and containers overflowing with brightly colored annuals.

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Filed under seasons, winter

Good Food and the Earth’s Bounty

let’s just get this straight: i am an omnivore. i like meats, cheeses, veggies, fruit, bread and most things alcoholic, not that that constitutes food, but most alcohols are made from grains or fruit so they qualify as some kind of food source. maybe just food for the soul. i say this because c, my sister and i recently enjoyed a meal at a restaurant called Vedge that was one of the best meals we’ve ever eaten on all of our years of eating out. here’s the kicker: it was all completely vegan.

now, c and i are good cooks, i’m a pretty good baker and we have pretty high standards when it comes to food. that’s been amplified because of our recent weight loss because we’re no longer mindlessly eating food. if it’s not very delicious, we’re not eating it.

i can confidently say that every single item i ate at vedge tasted delicious, was beautifully presented and that the entire experience was inspiring.

if you haven’t been to vedge, you must go. <img src=" photo vedgephilly2_zpsfa51388b.jpg” alt=”” /> owners and chefs rich landau and kate jacoby are brilliant ground breakers making amazing cuisine. they’ve earned all kinds of accolades nationwide over the past year, all of it well deserved.

the menu is set up as small plates, so they recommend you order three or four dishes each, and trust me, you will want to order three or four dishes for yourself, or probably everything on the menu.

we started with charred shishito peppers, peel and eat lupini beans and an assortment of green olives to accompany our cocktails. i grew shishito peppers this summer and c and i sautéed them in good olive oil with just a pinch salt and thoroughly enjoyed them. these were as delicious as those. none of us had ever had a lupini bean, but i will hunt them down to eat now. done in a spicy oil, they would remind you of a mild fresh lima.

next, i had a yellow beet, avocado, smoked tofu and capers dish, kind of a savory napoleon of deliciousness, c had the funky kim chee stew, spicy and wonderful and ch had the fancy radish dish for which vedge is famous
which presents five different radishes of varying heat, some cooked, some raw. next course ch and i had carrot swarma style with lentils and harissa,
a beautifully composed dish with a range of savory, sweet and spicy flavors and c had the roasted miatake mushroom, which he reported was quite delicious. both c and i had the fingerling fries, easily one of the best potato dishes i’ve ever eaten. not like any kind of fried potato you have ever eaten.

finally, we all indulged in dessert. personally, i shied away from anything dairy-like since vedge is vegan, thinking that even the best effort would fall flat. both c and ch enjoyed their “ice cream” and “cheesecake” respectively, though noted that it paled in comparison with the real thing. i enjoyed the sticky toffee pudding,
which was one of the best desserts i have ever eaten in my life. vegan cake is so often dense and gummy, but this was like a sponge cake. here’s the recipe and you’ll never guess what substitutes for eggs in this cake.

what they are doing with food reminds me of what alice waters http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/alice_waters started back in the 1970s with chez panisse, but even more revolutionary because it’s vegan. i feel compelled to say the standard, “you won’t even miss the meat”, but that’s not doing justice to the cuisine at vedge. the fact is, not only will you not care whether there’s meat on your plate, you will be so enamored with the inventive flavors of your food that you’ll be asking, “what’s meat?”

thankfully, landau and jacoby are opening more locations for vedge and have just published a cookbook, so we can attempt to replicate their dishes at home.

as a little point of pride, here’s a blogger who wrote about vedge and about a first visit to philadelphia, giving both rave reviews.

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Filed under Food, gardening, seasons

Costume or Candy?

halloween was all about the costume for me. not that i had any good costumes mind you, pretty much we thought about our costume a day or two before halloween and then dug through the house to find something to wear. my mom spearheaded the development of most of my costumes, which was a problem because most of the time i had no idea what i was. she told me what i was, so i would repeat what she said, but it was invariably something obscure or esoteric and people didn’t know what the hell i was taking about. i just felt stupid most of the time.

we never had scary or gory costumes and i really don’t remember that many scary costumes around back in the day. all i ever wanted to be was a princess. we never had any princess-like clothes around, so i never got to be that. same for a fairy, an angel, tinkerbell or anything else pretty. i do remember that we had a tutu in the garage once that a neighbor had given to us for dress-up, but i never wore it for halloween and i don’t know why.

i was puss from puss and boots once and i only know that because there’s a picture of my brother and i dressed up for halloween. he wore something related to the puss (which was me) but i don’t even know what that was. and puss from the fairy tale was male and i was a cat in a blue dress with no boots, so you get the idea of my halloween costume history. one other time i was a gaucho. don’t know what that is? i didn’t either, except they’re male too.
<img src="<a href="http://photobucket.com/images/gaucho&quot;

<img src="gaucho photo:  Gaucho2.jpg” alt=”” />

basically, i found an old pleated plaid skirt and wore my mom’s black straw hat with my white school uniform blouse. i remember saying that i was a south american cowboy and most people made a face and asked why.

i know i did the gypsy costume a couple of times, maybe threw in a deck of cards to make it a fortune teller. i do remember that my mom had some large rectangles of stiff canvas from somewhere and she had my sister paint them like they were a playing card then tied the front and back together with rope and i wore it like a sandwich board. i guess that was from alice in wonderland.

my costumes might not have been the greatest, but at least they didn’t out and out suck like these.

maybe that’s why i really worked to make costumes for our kids that made them happy. i got such a kick out of figuring out how to make what they wanted inexpensively, often having to figure it out myself without a pattern. i made a crayon costume for each one of them with their name in place of the color of the crayon. i saved those costumes for them.

E was a darling pumpkin, a scary over-the-top ghost with teased hair, and angelica from rug rats, among others. she was unmercifully teased for the angelica costume and i remember wanting to punch a couple of kids. but she loved that costume to this day and doesn’t even remember the teasing.

J was a dinosaur, a werewolf, a vampire and his all time favorite, captain hook, among others. i made him a red jacket piped in gold with gold buttons and he wore that for years afterward whenever he felt like it. because there’s always a time to be a pirate.

L was a glitter ghost, a cat with a top hat and cane (her idea and design), ariel, jasmine and a wizard, among others. we couldn’t afford a red wig for ariel, so i made one out of shredded red fabric and she hated it. to this day she still loves the cat with a top hat and cane idea.

there’s nothing like the way a child’s face lights up when they put on a costume that they love. the candy is just the sugar on top.

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Filed under family, holiday, seasons

Transitions

september’s one of those transitional months. it’s not quite fall by the calendar date but the light has changed, which makes it not feel very much like summer anymore. the once prolific blooms on the annuals have slowed, their deep emerald leaves are fading to yellow green and fraying at the edges. the geraniums are still going strong. i hate to pull them up when they’re still so pretty, but somehow they feel misplaced this time of year. it’s just too early for the chrysanthemums, though the stores are full of them now, they’ll be nowhere to be found when i really need them in november.

we’ve had a number of days previewing fall weather this summer, but the definitive feeling of fall is more about the change in light than the change in temperature.

a funny thing happens this time of year — the summer’s appropriately bright tops and ts suddenly feel garish and out of place. so too with embellished sandals. where the bright sunshine of summer welcomed the strong hues and sun kissed sparkles, the amber light of fall begs for deep, rich jewel tones, muted colors plain leathers. problem is that the more appropriate hues of autumnal clothing are in fabrics much too heavy to wear now. this is another time of year i carry an extra pair of shoes and a light jacket or sweater to work. start the day with a jacket and flats, ditch the jacket and change to sandals in the afternoon.

much as i enjoyed the herbs all summer, it’s now time to abandon the fresh basil plants and turn the leaves into pesto or process them with some oil and freeze them in ice cube trays for use in winter sauces. surprising how much of an addition of this basil will perk up a sauce or soup.

i dried a good deal of my oregano last year, which turned out to be some of the best oregano i’ve ever tasted, but it feels a little too early to pull it up for drying. likewise for my thyme. the sage will be safe and happy until it’s all cut down for the thanksgiving turkeys. my silly tomatoes are still green pellets so i have to decide whether to pick them and wrap them in newspaper and wait for them to ripen, or just enjoy them as fried green tomatoes.
there are still plenty of multi-colored cherry tomatoes in the farmer’s market for confit. i just saw what looked like an amazing recipe for a meatloaf that was roasted surrounded by these little gems. i hope to have time to try that before they’re all gone.

c and i didn’t take a full summer vacation this year but we did get to spend some time on the beach. it’s been years since we hung out on the sand or romped in the ocean waves, maybe because of being overweight and overly self-conscious. it felt so freeing to put on a bathing suit and enjoy the waves, even though i spend a pretty good part of my time getting knocked over.

our back yard is our little oasis that takes us through every single season and we were able to enjoy it quite a bit this summer since the weather was rarely too hot and humid. in fall we’ll enjoy a fire every weekend in our outdoor fireplace and sometimes c even rakes leaves by the light of a coleman lantern. the cacophony of the cicadas and crickets will be replaced by the distant sound of high school band soon, the sound that carries fond memories of our three back in the day.

but for now, while i’m planning for fall, i’m still clinging to the last bit of summer. the light will tell me when it’s time to fully move along.

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Filed under Fall, family, Food, gardening, seasons