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The Sun Flower Islands

Stretching through central Illinois’ Island Archipelago is a second chain of islands. Compared to the five main island cities, they are very small in size. They can only be found from late spring to early autumn. Their prominent feature is the fields of tall sunflowers that cover them. Each island is home to thousands of these flowers soaking up the hot summer sun and the cool rains of passing thunder storms.

These islands appear in different places every summer. When the right person finds one, the social media lights up with texts, tweets and post spreading its’ location to those who visit them each year.

Every day people travel out to visit these island, until the flowers have lost their big, sunny yellow blooms and the birds feast on their dried seeds. I met a car load of girls that drove from a little town twenty miles away to visit the one near Peoria.

Finding an island in a different location each season summer gives it a special quality and you cannot help but feel that enchantment when you wander among the rows. If you visit at sunrise, and the mist is still laying low over the field and into the dark woods at it’s edges, it is like sleep walking through a dream or a fairly tale.

I tried to capture something of that magic from the island we visited. These photos were taken and hour before sunset.

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Back From Fishing

Being an avid angler, I find it ironic that I spent time at the fifth largest fresh water lake in the world and did not go fishing once!

I swam in it, paddled a kayak across it, rode a ferry over it, and eat fish someone else caught in it. I probably drank the water too.

It was excited to fish Lake Michigan, as I did the last time we visited. But life, with its’ mysterious way, had a different plan for me. It took me on a fishing trip across the water that I would never have imagined. It showed me the lake of the past that now lay buried beneath the rolling farm fields and quint tourist towns.

One morning I went for a walk and came upon a quarry. In the middle of it was a multitude of birds flying over a pool of water that had collected at the bottom of this vast hole in the ground. I walked into the quarry to see what type of birds there were. The piles of rocks beside the road caught my attention too. On closer inspection I realized these piles were full of fossilized remains of the lake’s aquatic life. It seemed like every other stone had the impression of something that lived in those waters millions of years ago.

At first I was disappointed that these relics had been turned into gravel and used to make countless driveways. Each fossil was like a page in a family photo albums of the lake’s past. These were old memories too, mounted in that album before people were even around. In that hole, I saw the present carelessly feeding off the sacred heritage of the past.

Then I wondered how big this field of fossils was? The hole was as large as two football fields place end to end. It was twice as deep as my three story house. When I looked at the rolling landscape, beyond the rim of the quarry, I realized that these layers of the past could extend out in all directions for miles.

I also thought about all those gravel driveways with happy little kids pedaling their bike’s up and down the white stones or running through the sprinkler on a hot summer day. My disappointment faded away and I happily gathered up as many fossils as I could hold.

Here are a few I found that morning. Pretty amazing for a twenty minute morning ramble!

I made a desk sculpture out of one by mounting it on an a paving stone of contrasting color.

I would have enjoyed fishing for small mouth bass, but my unintended change of plans was just as enjoyable. There are awesome experiences to be had wherever we go and whatever we do.

Happy Vacationing!

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Stamp of the Week – Addendum to Self Adhesive Stamp post May 17

My original intention of a Stamp of the Week post was to take a stamp in my collection, post an image of it and point out a few facts. A five minute philatelic escape, a moment to share my passion with other collectors. Simple enough. But as we know, each stamp has a deep and long history. The first self adhesive issue was no exception. Here is more information on the stamp that changed U S Postal Issues forever.

Avery Dennison, the giant, multi international label maker worked with the U.S. Postal Service to develop this stamps. Since Avery Dennison pioneered the shelf adhesive label in the 1930’s, who better to work on this project? Unfortunately, they encountered technical problems with the adhesive bleeding through the paper and discoloring the printed image.

The discoloration problem, and the lack of perforations, received complaints and printing more issues of self adhesives was stalled. It seems that the majority of complaints came from collectors, still a formidable share of the stamp purchasing public in the 1970’s.

It was not until 1989 that the next self adhesive was issue. American Bank Note Company printed this issue, without any adhesive problems to date.

In the same year Avery Dennison signed a multi-million dollar research and development contract with the U S Postal Service to develop self adhesive stamps and machines to dispense them. In 1995 they were back to printing self adhesive stamps for the U S Postal Service.

Adding old fashion perforations to self adhesives appeared to have been a part of this research contract as well. The Flag Over Porch issue below was the first.

Love them or not, all stamps issued by the U S Postal Service are self adhesives. (If I was twenty years old, I would consider starting an Occupy the Post Office movement to bring back the old stamps. No, we would not burn down the local post office; just stand in the lobby chanting engrave and perforate, engrave and perforate, until the post master general got tired of us and caved into our demands. Judging from the present political insanity, it may work!)

Evidently, a small group of companies print stamps for the U S Postal Service. As of this writing Avery Dennison appears to have the major share of that market.

That is an outstanding accomplishment for a company that lost big the first time out.

I also learned that the United States was not the first country to issue self adhesives. They were initially printed for countries located in tropical climates. Sierra Leone brought out an issue in 1964 and Tongo in 1969. It was a necessary change with the persistent humid conditions of those locations. With out the use of perforations, die cutting the stamps into unique shapes was much easier. This was exemplified in the Sierra Leone issue having the outline of the country.

On a related matter. The U S Postal Services Postage Stamp page gives facts about their stamps. It lists 1992 as the national roll out for self adhesive stamps. However, it does not mention the issues that came before this date.

Happy Collecting!

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Summer Cooking

For a lot of people summer eating means big, thick steaks sizzling on the charcoal grill. That goes on in our backyard too but not as often as some of my friends and neighbors.

The essence of summer cooking for me is a great seafood dish paired with a simple, lite white wine or sparkling pilsner beer.

The classic summer dish is a combination of shell fish and fin fish, cooked in a covered pot. It is usual flavored with some combination of sautes vegetables, fresh herbs and a splash of white or red wine. If tomatoes are used, and a heavy flavor is the order of the day, then red wine is used. If tomatoes were not included, and the flavors are to be lite, then always white wine. I serve it over thin vermicelli pasta or some type of rice; red, black, or medium grain white.

This culinary idea of summer is welded into my mind from childhood. In the hieght of the city heat my dad would drive us to City Island for clams on the half shell, fried calamari and other seafood treats. City Island is a small piece of suburbia out in East Chester Bay. It is tucked away in that strange little convolution of ocean inlets where Eastern Long Island meets the coast line of New York State.

There were a few times too when my dad had gone on a business trip and my Uncle Jim DiScillio took us to Vincent’s Clam Bar in Little Italy for dinner. We drove into the city in his red 1965 Impala convertible. That was a big thrill for me when I was ten years old.

That culinary image of summer was further ingrained into my memory when I took my first real cooking job at the now defunct Aldo’s Restaurant in Middletown NY. Aldo made awesome pizza and his wife Phillis had the magic touch when it came to shell fish combinations cooked in a pot. Whether it was seafood fra’diavolo pile up on a hill of linguine, or a buttery broth flavored with white wine, garlic, parsley, butter, they were to die for!

Every time I made one of those I thought of summer, even if it was the middle of winter with sixteen inches of snow on the ground.

I don’t have complete recipes for any one of these dishes. They are a variation of one recipe, similar to what Phillis showed me how to make forty one years ago. What makes them different is that I start each one with the same question; What flavors am I thinking about today? Once I answer that question, the steps from one stage of the creative process to the next find their own way as I shop and cook.

After chefing professionally for most of my life, cooking is like a seasoned musician playing a solo over a well loved cord progression. Like the musician, all the required cooking skills, knife skills, and the knowledge of a favorite list of ingredient have been completely integrated into my thinking. I only spend time imagining possibilities and how to get there.

Interestingly, when I started out I thought that only major changes in ingredients and cooking methods resulted in major changes in the final product. Now I understand that making several small changes in ingredients and cooking methods can dramatically transform what is located on the end of your fork. This is now my preferred method of keeping meals interesting.

A good example of this is the two dishes in the photos above. There is only a difference of three ingredients between them, including the different starch used to serve them on. They have the same two cooking techniques, sauteing and simmering, but greater emphasis was placed on sauteing over simmering in dish number two.

Photo one’s ingredients: baby clams, diver scallops, cold water shrimp, garlic, onions, mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, olive oil, white wine and fresh basil. It was served on red rice.

This dish is lite on saute and heavy on simmering. The garlic, mushrooms and onions were saute in the olive oil. The spinach was added next until it was wilted. Then the tomatoes were added for a minute. To finish, I added the rest of the ingredients, covered the pot and simmered until the clams were open and shrimp cooked.

For the second dish the scallops were substituted with sockeye salmon. The shrimp and salmon were dredged in flour (flour being the second change of ingredients) before they were simmered with the other ingredients. The third change was serving it on vermicelli pasta.

Flour, even a small amount, can greatly transform the character of a dish. Here it thickened the liquid and also put a thin batter-like coating on the salmon and shrimp. Both big changes in mouth feel and flavor.

On the technique side I did a lot more sauteing then simmering. The shrimp and salmon were sauteed in olive oil. I set them aside along with the drippings I scraped off the bottom of the saute pan with a rubber spat. That is the flavor treasurer the french call fond de glaze. Never tossed it aside, hoard it at all costs!

In a separate pan I sauteed the garlic and mushrooms in olive oil. I added the spinach long enough to wilt it.

Then I took the oil from both pans and sautes the diced tomatoes in it ; several minutes for that.

Finally, all the ingredients were combined. The Fond de glaze was gently mixed into the liquid and this summer seafood combo was simmered in the pot under a lid. When it was done it went over a pile of vermicelli pasts.

Both look similar with their reddish color and big pieces of fish . But those simple changes made enough variation in the two dishes that they could no longer be called by one name.

The fist one was like a flavorful fish soup that makes you want to eat more because it is lite in texture. The second is almost a fish stew with more body due to the flour. Sauteing more of the ingredients added deeper flavor notes to the broth as well as an under lying toasted note. This in combination with the flour satisfied our appetites much faster then the previous version.

These are just two versions of the summer fish dinner. But these are the two that the family likes the most. Cooking for my family is about sharing my love with them as well as eating, so these get made a lot.

Happy cooking and don’t forget to say grace.

I have a few other seafood variations that will appear in a second post.

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Cub Scouts

When my son was in the cub scouts they had to visit the local police station to earn a badge.

The information officer gave them a tour, which included the line-up room where witnesses and victims picked out criminal suspects. He explained to the scouts that the person doing the picking could not be seen by the suspects.

Most of the scouts seemed to be confused by this concept. The information officer asked the scouts if they would like to stand in the line up so they could see what he just explained.

Excitedly, they all said yes.

Then he asked the nearest dad if he would lead them in, while the officer stepped to the microphone and talked to the kids on the other side of the one-way glass window.

With a chuckle the officer said, “This is the most popular photo op of the tour. Get out your phones dads.”

The dad who lead the scouts into the line-up room declined the offer because his battery was low. But he stood by the scouts, ready to lead them back out of the room.

His decision made for an interesting photo.

‘Undercover sting operation finally nabs Girl Scout cookie thieves!”

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Stamp of the Week

This week we feature the Priority Express Mail Stamp Grand Central Terminal, New York. It is part of the American Land Marks Series launched in 2008. It was designed by Derry Noyes and Phil Jordan. The print run of 3,000,000 stamps was done with the photogravure process. The printer was Avery Dennison. These stamps were printed at the company’s Security Printing Division plant in Clinton S.C. These issues have the highest face value of any U.S. Postal Service stamp.

The rate of $19.95 entitles the parcel or document to be send via the EMS system. This is an international postal Express Mail Service, offered by postal operators of the Universal Postal Union. It is an expedited delivery system with faster delivery times then regular mail service and is delivered seven days a week.

The U.S. Postal Service Joined the EMS system in 1999, which covers 180 countries and territories.

A sender can enjoy this same expiated delivery in domestic service by purchasing the Priority Mail Stamp for the rate of $5.60. The Arlington Green Bridge issue, pictured below, is an example of the domestic service stamp in the American Landmarks Series.

From 1885 to 1971 the U.S. Postal service issue special delivery stamps, a similar service to the Priority Mail Stamp. Why this service was discounted until 2008 I have yet to find out. I will continue to research that question.

On a personal note, purchasing a sheet of these stamps gets a few comments from my wife when she goes over the credit card statement. She is the family banker. However, I am grateful that she tolerates my collecting obsession.

(Thanks for supporting your man baby!)

As always, happy collecting!

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Stamp of the Week – Addendum #5 Fantasy Stamps

Taking a break from office work, I found myself looking at my stock books full of stamps – again. As I moved the big magnifying glass from one stamp to another, my mind went into ‘what if’ mode.

For a few minutes I was in charge of the stamp designing department of the United States Post Office. I imagined that the post master general instructed me to design new, innovative stamps. Sales were down and collectors were clamoring for a fresh approach to issues that were looking tired and unimaginative. She told me not to consider the cost of producing them or the practicality in using them. “The post office needs to sell more stamps, period!” she exclaimed.

I also imagined she hired me in at 250K a year.

Agreeing, I quickly worked on devising a plan to save the postal service! Innovation was key, novelty a necessity, and enthralling the philatelic aficionado was the order of the day. I had to boldly go where no stamp designer had gone before.

I fancied myself to be the Gerald McGrew of the philatelic world (He is the little boy in the Dr. Seuss book McGrew Zoo. Gerald visits his local zoo and is underwhelmed with the selection of animals. He imagines he owns the place and then proceeds to fill it with his notions of exotic animals.)

Before I could finish my PB & J on white bread, I had racked up more groundbreaking designs than any print plate scribe in philatelic history.

Here are some of the stamps I designed as I sat in my palatial office at 1050 Connecticut Avenue, North Western Washington, DC.

A multi-colored issue commemorating errors. The run would be broken up into four separate, smaller runs. Each smaller run would have one particular error: color shift, inperf, perforation shift, and a missing color. The finishing touch would be just one sheet of four panes that has a major design error.

A stamp that can be folded along the perforations into a three dimensional object. When folded it shows a complete image. The first on would be of Manhattan. Each side of the box would have a view from each point on the compass. The top of the ‘box’ would show a view from above.

Then issue a Christmas commemorative that folded up into a three dimensional ornament for the Christmas tree. The hooks would be perforated into the margin of the pane.

A round sheet of stamps. The stamps would be perforated in concentric rings, getting smaller in diameter until a disk shaped stamp was left in the center. Each ring would consist of several arch shaped stamps that would fit on a letter size envelope.

I would issue a second to commemorate Earth Day. The slightly flattened view of the Earth would be looking down from above the North Pole. Each country would be a stamp. The pane would be twice the size of a normal pane of perforated stamps.

An M.C. Escher tessellation commemorative issue. Each stamp is one shape in the tessellation.

A stamp drawn for you while you wait at the post office. You can call ahead and pick it up. The only pre-printed feature would be an ornate frame around the area to draw the image in. This would give some indication that it was an official U.S. postage stamp.

Well, there you have it, my five minute day dream about being the head stamp designer.

Happy Collecting !

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Stamp of the Week

This week we feature the Air Post Special Delivery Stamp issue of 1934. The purpose of this issue was to combine the prepayment of air mail and special delivery service into one stamp. It had the same priority of a special delivery service, but was transported by airplane.

The special delivery charge entitled the purchaser to have their letter sent to its destination immediately after being dropped off at the post office. It did not have to wait until a ‘full packet’ was ready to be shipped to the post office handling its destination address.

This issue was a flat plate printing. 9,215,750 of the dark blue color scheme were printed. The inperferate version made it’s appearance in 1935. A second run of 72,517,850 stamps was done in 1936. The color scheme was changed to carmine and blue along with the great seal being slightly smaller than in the original printing.

This is the only instance were the U.S. Post Office has combined these two services.

U.S. special delivery services were discontinued in 1997. Air mail stamps, though not the method of transportation, were discontinued in 2012.

Deep collecting on this issue includes four known variations in the marginal markings. Also, several freaks and errors have been identified as well. I placed a bid on eBay for a fold over.

Presently, I am trying to find out who designed this issue. If anyone has any information on that, please share it.

The photo of these stamps was taken on a faux marble surface, similar to the marble counter of the post office in my home city of Yonkers where I bought many of my first stamps. It was built years before these stamps were issued.

Happy Collecting!

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Eggplant Rollup

This past week I was filled with chefly energy and wound up cooking way more food then we could eat. It was piling up in the refrigerator. All the square plastic containers, with their red tops, made it look like a sea container port in there.

One dish I had a lot of was Ratatouille. I also had a large eggplant that did not get used.

Put the two together and you get Eggplant Roll-ups!

First thing I did was peel the eggplant, slice it thin the long way, and cook it on the charcoal grill. Brush with with olive oil and season lightly.

To make the filling I add ricotta cheese and a small amount of shredded Jarlsberg to the ratatouille; enough to hold it together. Season the mix with salt and pepper. Smoked Guda or Feta would be interesting too.

Each slice got a layer of the filling and rolled up.

When they went in the roasting pan I put several tablespoons of my home made tomato sauce under each one. Then I covered each one with a generous amount of the same. I sprinkled each with shredded mozzarella and baked at 365 until the cheese melted and they were hot inside. I did not cover them when they were baking.

If you want to cut down on the oven time you can heat the mix up in the microwave until it is warm.

The finished dish moments before I eat it!

Enjoy and don’t forget to say grace.

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Cold Shrimp al a Archipelago

Over the holiday, I made this little antipasto spread for a porch party we had. I had most of the usual suspects on the menu along with a carafe of Margarita mix and a bottle of Orvietto chilling in the ice bucket.

However, instead of serving sliced pepperoni and soppressatta, I went with something different. Looking at the jumble of ingredients in the refrigerator gave me inspiration, and Cold Shrimp Archipellego was in the making.

First, I poached the shrimp in my version of Court Bullion –

1.5 quarts of water

8 whole black peppercorns

2 stalks of celery chopped large

4 large green onions, chopped

3 bay leaves

5 parsley stems

3 slices of lemon

Bring to a slow boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain out the ingredients for the actual poaching.

When you poach the shrimp, a high simmer or very low boil is enough heat. Have an ice water bath ready to cool them off in once they are cooked through.

The ‘relish’ for the shrimp is a super simple combination of light, fresh summer flavors. The flavor profile is similar to the Court Bullion, just bolder.

The mix of tomato and cucumber is one-third to two-thirds, or one large-ish cucumber to two medium size round slicing tomatoes.

Peel the cucumber and slice the long way. Remove the seeds with a small spoon. Cut in cubes 1/2″ x 1/2″.

Dice the tomato the same size. Remove any seeds that are easy to do so.

Mix in a bowl with 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon capers and about a 1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh dill.

Season to taste and let it sit in the refrigerator for an hour before serving with the chilled shrimp.

Balancing the flavors here is the key. Not too much of one flavor! Balance keeps the brain engaged and coming back for more because it has a lot to figure out as opposed to one flavor alone.

I will leave the plate arrangement up to you.

Bon appetite and God bless!

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Stamp of the Week

This week we feature the Graf Zepplin Issue of 1930. The three stamps of this issue were printed by the Bureau of Printing and Engraving using a flat plate printing method. The United States Post Office produced a set of three airmail postage stamps that commemorated the Graf Zeppelin, the first European-Pan-American round-trip flight in May of 1930. All three stamps were first issued in Washington D.C. on April 19, 1930, one month before the historic transatlantic first flight was made. The stamps were also placed on sale at other selected post offices on April 21, 1930.

The sixty-five cent denomination applied to a postcard making the transatlantic trip. The one dollar and thirty cent denomination applied to a letter making that same trip and the two dollar and sixty cent denomination was for a letter to make a round-trip on the zeppelin.

A total of 1,000,000 of each stamp denomination was printed, but only 227,260 stamps in all were actually sold, or 7% of the total amount printed. The Zeppelin stamps were withdrawn from sale on June 30, 1930, and the remaining stocks were destroyed by the Post Office. (Why the Post Master General sold these for an unusually short time, and destroyed the unsold stamps, I have found no answer to.)

This short window of opportunity to purchase and selected locations had made this a valuable issue. Also, the $4.55 price tag to purchase all three was not affordable to most collectors in the depths of the Great Depression.

These factors, combined with the destruction of the unsold stamps, had outraged most stamp collectors. An avalanche of complaint letters to the United States Postal Service ensued.

This issue today is considered the rarest of all U.S. Airmail stamps.

Happy Collecting!

Many thanks to Wikipedia, Mystic Stamps and the Scott Catalog for some of the information used in this post.

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Two Blocks From Containment

The containment zone outside of Aunt Florence’s window.

My Aunt Florence lives two blocks from the containment zone of New Rochelle, NY.

That was one of the first cities in America to be on total lock down due to COVID-19.

From time to time, I call her to check in on her and the situation there.

She told me early on that the governor called in the National Guard to ‘help’ with the situation. Being naturally leery of authority figures, I asked her what she had experienced with soldiers walking around the neighborhood.

In her splendid Yonkers, New York, accent, which I miss hearing, she said the following.

“Not much really. They stopped by our building to deliver food. Don’t get me wrong, Gregory, that was a very nice gesture, but your uncle and I don’t eat that kind of food. Everything was in a can or a box. I use all fresh ingredients. I make my own tomato sauce, soups or lasagna, everything from fresh. There was nothing for us to use!”

Aunt Florence is a fabulous Italian cook. She learned from her mother, who was also a fabulous cook and baker. ( I have bragged on my grandmother’s kitchen prowess in previous posts.)

The next time I called, I asked about the Guard again. Had they put down any riots, forced business to close, or were they just delivering food?

“Oh no, it’s very quiet in New Rochelle. All the stores are still closed, and everyone is off the street. People are concerned about getting sick. The National Guard is not telling anyone what to do. They don’t have to.”

Are they still delivering food?

“Yes, the same stuff,” she said disappointingly.

Then the tone of her voice switched to one of excitement.”Well, yesterday the bag they brought had a box of pasta and a can of kidney beans. So I made pasta e fagioli for your uncle and I.”

She finished her statement with a laugh.

Aunt Florence’s house in immaculate. You could not find a thread of dust on anything, even if you used a magnifying glass to search with. When you look in the refrigerator it is like looking at a display in a top notch museums – perfectly arranged, spotless, well lit. Her mom’s house was the same way. As a matter of fact, her two sisters and her brother, my dad, have houses equally as tidy. Considering the situation, these houses could even be cleaner, if that is possible.

She also has a practical nature and is not shy about sharing that – not rude, just not shy.

When she told me she needed a taxi to take her to the doctor, I asked how that worked out.

Her voice got a little serious.

“I asked them if they would disinfect the car before they came by. I’m sorry, Gregory, I’m too old to care what they think about that. Besides, you never know who was in that cab before me.”

She did not laugh this time, I did. But she had a point.

Maybe the next time I call she won’t have to be concerned about that. Maybe the National Guard will be gone and the streets and shops will be full of people again.

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Stamp of the Week Addendum #4 – Help!

Writing these Stamp of the Week posts has motivated me to increase my philatelic knowledge. But until I have the deep reservoir needed to be considered a wise old man of stamps, I have to relay on the expertise of others.

If you have a minute can you help me out? Here is my situation.

As you can see, some of Jefferson’s image appears on the back side of the stamp.

What caused this to happen? Could this be considered a freak or an oddity?

I have searched for other examples of this but have found none.

If you have any knowledge on this topic please email me or post a comment.

As always, Happy Collecting !

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First Mass back at St. Mark Parish

The procession to the alter.

Our first mass at St. Mark Parish since March 8th.

Monsignor Brownsey held it in the parking lot and we participated from our cars. We walked up to the white tent in the background for communion. That was done several cars at a time as we observed the social distancing rules given before we started.

Of course I was disappointed we could not celebrate in our hundred year old church. I love the resonant sound of that big pipe organ, the small groups of musicians and the wonderful choir. I also miss visiting with my St. Mark’s family after mass. Even just sitting in the church, which is a shrine to Fra Angelico, Patron of the Arts, can be a moving experience for me.

But I am grateful I had the opportunity to receiving the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

That is what matters most on Sunday.

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The Radio On The Top Of The Refrigerator

I found a photo of the same radio!
Thanks, Robot Man.

I started listening to the radio before I was in grade school.

My mom had a small plastic AM radio clock that she put on top of our refrigerator.

When she was on the phone in her bedroom, I would push a chair against the fridge, turn it on, and search through the stations.

I settled on WABC, the top forty station broadcasting out of New York City. It was our hometown station because the city started just one block from my house.    

After a few weeks of this, my mom got tired of turning the dial back on her station, WNEW and The Make-Believe Ballroom. She bought a new radio and gave the GE clock radio to me.

The new radio did not have to go up on the refrigerator; I had my own.

I put the radio on the windowsill of my bedroom. At night I would listen to music while I looked out at the windows of the other apartment houses and wonder what the tenets were doing. I watched cars go by in the street and wondered where they were off to in the dark of the city. I watched the older kids running around in the street and wondered what they were up to.   

But my attention was focused when I heard “My Girl” for the first time. It was more than sunshine on a cloudy day. It was like finding something I never realized I couldn’t live without. Every time I heard that song it was the same first time magic.

Don’t you love those suits?

After that, I was constantly dragging my mom to the store to buy 45s.

A few years later, I heard “Round About” by Yes. It was the bass line that blew me away, but the whole song had sincerity, energy and great playing. Strangely enough, it was not Motown. Shortly after that, “Reelin’ In the Years” by Steely Dan appeared out of nowhere. It was that guitarwork that blew me away this time. I never heard anything like that on top forty either.

One evening when I should have been in bed, I heard a DJ named Gene Shepard. He did not play any music; he told stories, oddball stories. They were really cool because I felt like he was telling them just to me.

Late into the night, I could not stop listening to that voice coming out of the radio.

Shepard in full story-telling mode, somewhere in the 1960s.

Then my friend’s older brother told me about FM radio.

Stations were playing entire album sides on FM radio.

The hip crowd was listening to cool jazz, and free-form jazz on FM radio.

University professors from Fordham and NYU with elbow patches on their tweed sport coats were listening to entire symphonies on FM radio.  

You could listen to news from around the world on FM radio.

After that, I was constantly dragging my mom to the store to buy albums that I could play on my dad’s KLH wood-trimmed turntable.

The design was a lot more sophisticated then I remember.

When we moved out of the city into the country, I scraped enough money together to buy my own FM radio.

I could not find Gene Shepard in that universe on the dial, but I found Vin Scelsa on WNEW. He played extended versions and live versions of those new rock songs I was listening to. He told oddball stories too.  

Thanks to the New Radio Archives.

My radio world was changed forever.

I was changed forever.

Those two and half minute miracles I was buying from the record store were just distant memories as I plowed headlong into the King Biscuit Flour Hour, The Hearts of Space, and New Sounds on WNYC. At about at the end of my radio listening career the Schickele Mix was a favorite.

Those days may be long gone, but the memories they constructed in that universe in my head will always be there.

I can still recall the radio blaring out the segway of Scelsa’s “The Heroes of Rock and Roll” into Springsteen’s “Born To Run” as I drive home from work in my light blue VW Beetle.

Yes, that was an epic, sonic journey from the top of the refrigerator to Schickele Mix. It is a journey I cherish to this moment.

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Stamp Of The Week

This week we feature the Traditional Christmas: Peace on Earth Christmas issue from 1974. It was designed by Don Hedin and Robert Geissman and printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The die cut printing method was used.

This was the first stamp the U.S. Postal service issued that had a self adhesive backing. Self adhesive stamps would not supplant gummed stamps until the mid 1990’s.

Since it is the first of it’s kind, a break with one hundred and ninety seven years of U. S. Postal tradition, directions on how to use the stamps were printed on the right margin of the pane above the plate block numbers.

The plate block numbers and the ‘reminders’ on how to be a good postal office user, are little through threads that keep this new design with in postal tradition.

This holiday stamp brings up an interesting situation.

Over time , the adhesive in this issue has caused the background color to fade away. As of 2020, not all the stamps have been effected. It is odd that the 2017 Scott’s catalog does not refer to the effected stamps as an error. No separate price is given. As far as I can tell, sellers are following the lead of the Scott’s catalog.

(I would consult the 2019 catalog but the library on the archipelago is still closed. If one could participate in social distancing it would be at our libraries.)

Since the choice of the problematic adhesive, or ink, was that of the designer, would it not be an error for the effected stamps?

Any comments on this are welcome.

Happy collecting !

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The Last of Cold Weather Cooking

The temperature on the Midwest Archipelago is finally warming up. That means the days of cooking in the oven are growing short.

All the apple, pumpkin, and key lime pies, the blueberry buckles and apricot scones will all be saved for autumn and the holidays.

Soon the marinated chicken and swordfish; the big, juicy cuts of steaks; the vegetables, mushrooms and the baby heads of greens will be on the Weber.

Bruschetta; roasted red pepper salad on grilled crusty bread; cool piles of seafood salad tossed in olive oil, parsley and lemon; clams on the half shell; oysters on the half shell; and a thousand little bits of summer flavors sprinkled on top will fill our dinner table on the porch between the beer on ice and the tall bottles of white wine.

The thought of it makes me want to go back into the restaurant business so that I can cook all day long and watch happy people eat and talk.

But before this is the order of the day. I wanted stuffed mushrooms one more time.

My mushroom stuffing is a simple balance of three flavors:

  • mushroom stems, finely minced
  • good bread crumbs
  • good olive oil

DON’T use HUGE mushrooms; they take too long to cook.

Always mince the stems of the mushrooms with your chef knife. (The pile on the right.) The blade of the food processor spins way too fast to keep the integrity of the stems – unless you know something I don’t about using one.

Each large-ish mushroom uses about 1.5 – 2 tablespoons of stuffing.

Add the olive oil to the bread crumbs and minced stems a little at a time. Mix it with two forks held together, side by side. I have tried mixing this with a dozen different implements but my patent pending, two fork method is the best I have found.

The mix should have about the consistency of wet sand and look like this. Just enough oil to make it come together but still be somewhat fluffy. Don’t forget to season it.

I use a tablespoon to form the pile of filling in the cap of that forest floor delight. Make sure you lightly oil the pan you are baking them in, and leave enough room around them to get them out.

Bake uncovered in the oven at 375 – 385 F. Takes about twenty minutes. Check them often.

This is what you get when they are done.

The bread crumbs should be slightly browned and the mushrooms wrinkled around the sides.

What adult beverage is a natural pair with this?

  • An Orvieto, Sauve, or Vernaccia
  • Dry Creek Savignon Blanc is my wife’s favorite pairing
  • This will stand up to a well oaked Chardonnay too.
  • Beer-wise, anything from a lite Pilsner to a brown English ale or a dark Germany Bock beer.
  • Sparkling apple cider or a local hard cider would work too.

Enjoy, and don’t forget to say grace.

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Poem For A Chilly Evening

Another cold day on the Archipelago. The mercury barely creep into the fifties.

The weather must be sheltering in place too, somewhere around the last week of march.

This chill brought to mind the poems I had written about winter and autumn, back when poetry had occupied me as much as cooking.

My mind settled on one about a sweater I had purchased on a visit to Ireland in nineteen eighty six.

It was a big sweater, knitted from thick black woolen yarn. The best souvenir I had ever returned home with.

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Salad, Forty Four Years Later

When I started cooking in commercial kitchens it was a time of transition in American eating habits. The beef-concentric, ‘more is better,’ dining ethos was shifting to lighter, healthier fare.

I have always felt it started with the health and the organic food movement. In the 1970s, these were becoming less and less a ‘fringe’ lifestyle. Both made their way into the restaurant scene through the cooking of Alice Waters, Jeremy Towers, and Wolfgang Puck – the creators of California Cuisine.

Essentially, these chefs were building on the French Novel Cuisine movement that Paul Bocuse, Alain Chapel, and Jean and Pierre Troisgros, among others, had started a decade earlier.

On a third front, Giuliano Bugialli and Marcella Hazan’s cookbooks of the 1970s were showing the American dining public, and a younger generation of Italian-Americans, that not every Italian dish should be covered in tomato sauce.

Eating healthy and cooking with fresh ingredients was something that many Italian families did not lose when they moved from Italy to America. But these culinary movements helped to bring the authentic cooking of our families to a wider audience, in addition to diversifying menus in countless restaurants.

Salads always played a big part in the tradition, new and old, of eating well.

Over the years my staple salads have changed a lot.

First they were a small course topped with some combination of sliced onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, and alpha or bean sprouts, usually on a romaine and iceberg lettuce combo with a little sliced up endive thrown in. There was a different dressing every week.

Then, sliced apples and radishes with an apple cider and tarragon vinaigrette dressing was the regular. The predominate green was bib with shredded romaine for crunch.

In the later 80s, I rediscovered my Italian roots – combinations of sun-dried tomatoes, olives, capers and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano found their way onto the table more often than not. It was back to romaine lettuce with radicchio and chicory mixed in. A balsamic and olive oil vinaigrette was the standard dressing.

Occasionally, I would get away from this and use walnut oil, fig vinegar or rice wine vinegar to dress the crumbled Gorgonzola, sliced pairs, walnuts or figs on the bed of spring greens or just arugula.

A few years later I discovered that root vegetables were nature’s vitamin pills. I was getting older and I felt I needed more vitamins than protein.

The salads got larger and root vegetables of every kind landed on top. Some grilled, some raw and a few fried for a crisp finish.

That brings me up to the last few years and my latest version of a salad – greens with crudites on top. In addition to needing more vitamins, I have to work harder at keeping the weight off, even though I walk everyday at lunch, ride my bike after dinner and lift weights. Several days out of the week this big salad and crudites is my meal.

The standard mix is sweet baby peppers, carrots and rutabaga, all cut into large matchsticks and piled on a bed of mixed greens – a combination of above and below the ground. When I can, beet tops are shredded and mixed into the greens. Once in awhile, cracked black pepper, croutons, oil cured or Kalamata olives and sliced figs are mixed into the pile of vegetables.

It always has just balsamic vinegar and olive oil to finish.

One night I marinated the root vegetables in liquid smoke. That was interesting, and I am still working out the flavor details to make a memorable salad with them.

Looking back on all this, what variation is yet to come? Maybe it will include tubers soaked in liquid smoke or one type of leafy green sauteed in oil and garlic, cooled and mixed in with the uncooked greens.

Even with all the thinking I do about food, transitions between comfortable flavor combinations is slow and gradual for me. Must be my Roman Catholic upbringing.

Many of those ideas will not last long in my kitchen as I cook with them and find out what they have to offer.

Only time will tell what is next.

What is your ‘go to’ salad?

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Stamp of the Week Addendum #3 Binder 1978

This is a beautiful binder of first day covers issued in 1978.

This binder is packed with European stamps commemorating historic land marks.

All of the covers are from the Franklin Mint.

Beautiful covers, beautiful stamps, beautiful post marks.

I hope you enjoyed this philatelic moment from my collection.

Happy Collecting !

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The Magic of Chicken,Lemon, & Rosemary

A cold spring day in the archipelago requires something warm to eat.

Something to bring back good memories as well as fill the stomach.

Chicken, lemon and rosemary; a dish my grandfather made for my mom, my mom made for us, now I make it for my family.

It’s simple, fulfilling and delicious too.

Under the skin of each split breast, slip a clove of garlic that you have crushed with the flat part of your chef knife.

Quarter four smallish Yukon Gold potatoes, along the long side. They should be no more then an inch thick at their widest part.

In a bowl, gentle toss the chicken and potatoes in a few ounces of olive oil.

Lightly brush the bottom of a roasting pan with olive oil. Place the breasts and the potatoes, all skin side up, in the pan.

Slice a lemon in half. Slice two rings off one half. The other piece cut in half and squeeze it on the chicken.

Take two long sprigs of rosemary and strip the leaves off the stem. Chop them well and sprinkle on the chicken and the potatoes. (I left the rosemary off the potatoes because the kids don’t like picking it off.) Season with salt & pepper and top with the two lemon slices.

Cover with foil and bake at 450 until 3/4 done. At that point take the foil off to crisp up the skin of the chicken. Cooking this with a cover keeps it moist. If you want it fully roasted, cook without a cover at 400. If it is getting too crispy, add a few tablespoons of water to the pan and cover with foil.

When you serve it, spoon the juice from the pan over it. Yes, it is full of chicken fat, but that has wounder flavor you won’t want to pass up.

A light white, of any kind pairs well. Even a semi sweet Riesling would work, as long as it has good acid.

Don’t forget the crusty bread to sop up the pan drippings.

Don’t forget to say grace. If we can sit at a table and eat a meal, then we have a lot to thank God for.

FOOTNOTES:

The split breast in the photo are large. They made four servings. (Not the best photo but we were in a hurry to eat.)

Other herbs can be mixed in too – thyme or oregano on the stem, chiffonade of basil, bay leaves (fresh if you can get it) broken into large pieces.You can leave the rosemary whole too. If you use whole herbs, let them stay on the chicken for a few hours before it goes in the oven. ( Store wrapped, away from other foods on the bottom self of your refrigerator until time to cook it.)

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Culinary Language Project

This is a post to officially announce the launch of my Culinary Language Project. The purpose of this is to create a pictogram based language to describe the flavor of food with out the use of words.

Why a universal language to describe food?

Writing menu descriptions has always been a challenge for me. When I worked in Manhattan, dinners from all over the world read my descriptions. Often times I would have to go to the table and help them order because they could not read English.

There had to be a better way then using sign language and bringing physical ingredient into the dining room to accomplish this.

For many years I thought about solving this problem and finally settled on a wordless language dedicated to food.

There is a lot of work to be done creating this new system but I am up for the challenge.

As I work it through I will post my progress.

All prays for success are welcome!

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Ghost Chef

Working in my office this morning I smelled the aroma of spinach and vegetables sauteed in olive oil. I knew it was my daughter down in the kitchen, making herself lunch for work. She must have been in a hurry. By the time I went downstairs to say good bye she was gone.

I would have never know anyone was in the kitchen, if it was not for that wonderful aroma and the oven mitten on the saute pan.

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Figs and Brie

I wanted to make something simple with figs.

I had been thinking about Calamara figs from the sun-drenched orchards along the Aegean Sea. Those rings of light brown, wrinkled fruit, tied together with twine had appeared one day in the produce aisle.

They had been haunting me ever since.

When I came back the next day they were gone. I am not the only inhabitant of the archipelago island Peoria craving figs.

No problem. The black Mission figs would do. As I walked over to the aisle I thought about their soft, tar black shapes piled in the bag.

A hint of their darkly sweet flavor grazed over my palate.

My pace quickened.  

Back in my kitchen, simple meant stacking one fig on a triangle of pita and topping it with a velvety slice of rich Brie. All ten stacks were put on a white porcelain platter and baked in a hot oven until the brie melted. Just enough to drape over the figs and no more.

Before they went on the table, I drizzled them with wildflower honey that a beekeeper friend had given us.

As I feasted, I marveled at how something so simple could be so fulfilling and delicious.

But was this simple?

Yes, collecting up these four ingrediencies, piling them one atop another, and placing them in the oven for a few minutes was childishly simple.  

But the ingrediencies themselves were not.

They were full of complexity in many ways.

The fig’s sophistication comes from its 10,000-year history of human cultivation, longer than any other farm plant. In some strange way, I tasted the wisdom and the work imparted into that fruit from every civilization that had grown it.  

What an amazing result from all that history – a soft, subtly sweet interior texture surrounded by a firm, chewy exterior, rich with notes of leather and fermented fruit. 

The pita has that long history of perfection, too. Five-thousand years of harvesting the windblown fields of grain and grinding them down to a fine dust under the weight of the mill stone. Countless generations of bakers have worked the flour into dough and transformed it in the charring heat of the wood-burning, brick oven.

Change is inevitable over time, and even the smallest of variations have shifted the dry, grainy character of this ancient bread.      

Then there is brie. The youthful, medieval addition to my simple stack of flavors.      

What I would give to meet the monks that thought an invisible race of bacteria awash in a universe of cow’s milk could change that bland, white liquid into the essences of rich, soft, smooth and satisfying.

Brie, a magical relic, no doubt, but it cannot compare to what was drizzled on top of it.

The ultimate in strange complexity: the honeybee and its honey.    

Who can relate to the mind of the honeybee? They are a different form of life. Their social construct is incomprehensible to us. Hundreds working in an ever-shifting swarm, one on top of another. All born into an exact communal role with work that never changes, never varies.  

The geometrical architecture of their home, rows and rows of self-made, hexagonal compartments, is of no comfort to our human personalities. Yet that sticky, viscus, slow motion sugar that they make and store in those tessellated wax-walled chambers is loved by most and known by all.

Honey itself has a multitude of fascinating properties for being something we can eat.

It can crystalize spontaneously and conduct electricity. It is a natural insulator of heat and never freezes solid. When it is motionless it can be firm, when stirred it becomes a liquid. Bacteria cannot grow in honey, and if kept dry, will last for thousands of years.

It is a supersaturated, supercooled, Newtonian liquid that every branch of physical science stands in awe of.   

For millions of years, before man even had a thought about cooking, these tiny winged workers had been making this incredible food.

I am happy they did. That detail of added, intense sweetness gave just the right level of complexity to my simple stack of flavors.

Nothing is as simple as it looks at the beginning.

But in this case, that is a very good thing.       

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Stamp of the Week

This week we feature three triangle stamps from the 1930 Spanish series commemorating Christopher Columbus. They were created by a team that included the legendary designer and engraver Jose Luis Lopez Sanchez-Toda and were printed using a lithograph process by Waterlow and Sons, England.

These stamps are magnificent and among my favorites! Researching them introduced me to the other thirteen stamps in the series, all equally as impressive in their design and printing.

Toda’s personality was as impressive as the stamps he designed.

At 23 years old, fresh out of design school and the winner of a national design award, he joined the Spanish government’s printing office – Fábrica Nacional de Moneda y Timbre (FNMT). His first position was an apprentice. However, his talent was quickly recognized and he went into training as an engraver. At the age of 29 he worked on the entire issue these stamps are a part of.

For most of his career, Toda was employed at the FNMT, where he was in charge of the engraving department. He was also a professor at the National School of Graphic Arts.

Toda designed and engraved over one hundred stamps, all the FNMT’s bank notes for the year of 1937, and worked on several coin issues.

Jose’ Luis Lopez Sanchez-Toda

As always, Happy Collecting !

For more information then I can cram into this post, see the links below.

https://sellosyartistas.blogspot.com/search?q=Jos%C3%A9+Luis+L%C3%B3pez+S%C3%A1nchez-Toda+

http://www.stampsoftheworld.co.uk/wiki/Stamps_of_the_World

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Stamp of the Week Addendum #2 – Errors

The focus of my collecting has always been U.S. airmails, embossed envelopes and postcards. However, I took a detour from that when a work associate of mine told me he too collects stamps.

Rui is a topical collector. When he was starting out, his dad suggested this approach as an economical alternative to having a complete collection of one country. His dad is an experienced philatelist who built and maintains a full set of issues from Malawi, a country he once lived in. He knows about the cost involved in an accomplishment of that magnitude.

Early on, Rui settled on a few topics of interest: birds and the Olympics. Over the years, he has increased his circle of interest and built up a sizable collection of his own.

The more I thought about Rui’s approach, the more interested I became. I realized that topical collectors have an international approach which opens them up to the widest possible variety of stamp designs. When I pored over the Scott’s International catalogs at the local library, I found countless stamp designs that were much different than what I saw in my own collection. The more I searched, the more excited I became. Even the rather practical topics like technology, science, manufacturing and shipping were well represented with unique stamps. Not as colorful as birds or dramatic as the Olympics commemorative, but you go with your interests.

I went on many exciting trips to Europe in those months. I visited glass factories making precision lenses for microscopes and telescopes, television studios and busy sea container facilities. I stopped off at a nuclear reactor, a German brewery and did research deep in the earth and high overhead in the exosphere.

Soon, I was overtaken with a feeling of guilt about these trips. All the years of happiness and contentment that my U.S. issues gave me were left behind, abandoned, for the excitement of fresh, foreign faces. I felt like I was cheating on my girlfriend the U.S. Postal Service by purchasing stamps issue from another postal service I hardly knew!

Hat in hand, I went back. We made up, went to philatelic counseling together and all was well again.

To keep the relationship exciting, and so that I would never leave again, I thought about a new area of U.S. stamps I was always curious about but never investigated – errors.

Here, I applied that pearl of wisdom I learned from Roy’s dad: Look for stamps that are affordable as well as interesting.

I found those in perforation errors. These are most common in coil stamps, since these are harder to check than sheets or booklets. Consequently, they are more affordable.

Below are several that I have acquired in the last month, without skipping a week of lunches to pay for them.

I am doing a deep dive on this issue.
I snagged a line pair as well as inperf !
When this was a current issue I saw two on an envelope that was mailed to my Dad. I had to have it.
My favorite by far.

Happy Collecting !

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Stamp of the Week

This week we feature the American Philatelic Society Souvenir Sheet issues of 1933. This is the first souvenir sheet ever issued by the United States Postal Service. Both were printed to honor the American Philatelic Society for their convention and exhibition in Chicago Illinois. This event was part of the city’s Century of Progress Exposition.

The stamps were printed by the Bureau of Printing and Engraving on a flat plate press. There were two denominations issued. The one cent commemorating Fort Dear Borne, the original site of Chicago, and the three cent commemorated the Federal Building a symbol of the cities progress at the time. Both issues were un-perferated with no gum on the reverse side. However, they were intended to be used as normal postage.

These are unique to U.S. Postal history; this was the first time the post office had marketed an issue specifically for collectors. I have always wondered if the president at the time, stamp collector Franklin D. Roosevelt, created this strategy or did it came out of the post office administration?

The Post Master General over seeing this issue, James A Farley, was an astute business man and certainly knew the value of stamps as a collectable item. The scandal he was responsible for, Farley’s Follies, proved that. For those who may not know, this was big philatelic news at the time. Farley removed from the printing process a complete printer’s sheets of stamp issues. He did this before they were gummed and perforated in order to give them out as autographed souvenirs. Outraged collectors vehemently criticized the post office when they heard about this. To make peace, the post office printed more of Farley’s ‘souvenir’ sheets and offered them for sale.

Since 1933 the post office has issued over thirty nine souvenir sheets.

Happy Collecting!

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The Mystery of Signorina Umbra Figura

To hear her tell it, she had a falling out with him.

She said they came to an agreement of sorts. She will spend half the year mostly down south and half the year mostly up north.

“He is intolerable, and I cannot be around him all the time.” Have you ever heard such a statement? I know him well. He is a bright fellow with a sunny disposition and is very dependable. What is not to like?

But every time I go walking around the city during the day, she makes me stand between them.

Those bright, sunny days can be tedious when she follows behind me or steps out in front of me. She gives me no room at all.

I thought she made an arrangement with him, but it looks like he made an arrangement with her. I don’t know what to believe.

It is annoying but what can I do? I can’t just go along without her.

Then you do agree, thank you.

But at night it is a different story. She runs with that mob of hers and is nowhere to be found.

Oh, occasionally she stops by when I am standing under the porch light for a little air on my way to bed. When I am out for an evening walk, yes, she will meet me under the light on the corner like a criminal would. Then she walks a few steps down the street and leaves without a goodbye!

Well, no use in complaining. She is mine, right?

I am glad you feel the same way about this.

Thank you for listening, Signor Confermo. You are a true friend; you listen to everything I say when we meet. I will come back here, and we will talk again.      

If you have figured out what is going on in this post you won’t need a hint. If you have not, look for two clues to solve it.

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Cooking For Frank

Any good chef builds a personal relationship with his guests, and they become a part of his life. More importantly, the chef becomes a part of their lives.

I realized this with a guest of ours named Frank. He was a regular, in his early sixties and newly retired. There was a time I had not seen him in a few weeks. When he came back in to dine, I asked if he had been out of town.

Unfortunately, he had a heart problem and was home recovering. He said the cardiologist recommended he cut back on the fat, since that caused the blockage and the trip to the OR.

When he said that he laughed. His favorite meal was tortellini carbonara.

Then he asked me if I could prepare this dish without any fat and make it taste the same.

It was my turn to laugh, but I did not. I told him that would be next to impossible.

He looked at me with an expression of disappointment, almost desperation, put his hand on my arm and said he needed my help. He absolutely loved my cooking and if anyone could make such a dish, I surely could. 

That was the moment I realized I was a part of his life more than he was of mine.

If he never came back, I would miss him. But I had hundreds of other good customers that would eventually fill that seat on that night, and I would cook something they liked very much.

But it did not work the other way for Frank. He loved that carbonara, my carbonara, because no one else made it the same way I did. There was only one of me.

Now I understood. His coming into my place every week to taste that creamy sauce enriched with smoky bacon, nuanced with onions and peas and a hint of white wine mingled into the finishing flavor was almost a sacred ritual for him. He had woven it into the very fabric of his life and I was the guy responsible for that experience.

My creativity was his great joy. I was truly honored.

I went back into the kitchen, did not even change out my pressed and monogramed chef coat I visited the table in, and went to work.

My mind disassembled the dish I had made so many times that it had become automatic.

All fat must go, he said.

Cream was substituted for low fat milk, bacon for liquid smoke and a slurry of corn starch to thicken instead of the egg yolk. The diced onion was sautéed in minimal olive oil. I had no substitute for the grated Romano cheese; that was the only exception.

He thanked me for it, but I could see he thought it was nowhere close to what he loved.

I suggested making him a different pasta dish using our low fat/no fat approach.

He agreed and his face lit up with joy again.

That night before he left, we conferred extensively on his culinary mindset. Ingredients and techniques were discussed, agreed upon and he looked forward to the following week’s visit.

I kept his request in the forefront of my mind, like a brightly lit billboard along a dark road.

Now, instead of disassembling just one pasta dish, I disassembled my approach to all the popular pasta dishes I had put on our menu.

It was hard to learn how to make good food after losing a dozen ingredients I created with for years. I persisted and I filled that hole with new flavor profiles that I could bring to that same level. These flavors were strong, rich, and, most of all, had substantial mouth feel to replace the fat.   

I added herbs that were not found in traditional Italian cooking. Some were better for dishes other than pasta sauce. I was forced to construct a crash course in how to control their flavors. Adding chopped rosemary may be overwhelming, but if the whole sprig is added then removed before serving, it makes a big difference.

Where it made sense, I incorporated a touch of Tabasco or red pepper flakes sautéed in the oil, but always when I had other big flavors to use like shredded swiss chard, spinach, julienned root vegetable, roasted bell peppers, the occasional Kalamata olive and diced tomatoes. Heat may get in the way of wine, but it is long on the palate, like cream, and adds satisfaction to the eating experience. I also convinced Frank to move away from his light Sauvignon Blanc white and into a more substantial Montipulciano red.     

When I sautéed with olive oil, I switched pans and left the remainder of the oil behind, as per Frank’s request. 

For that big-mouth feel, I oven-roasted vegetables, diced them up and added them in. It was low cholesterol but big flavor and mouth feel from their caramelized sugars developed from the dry heat of the oven. 

I made stock from oven-roasted chicken bones, rosemary, garlic, onions and carrots. After it cooled down in the refrigerator, I picked off the top every speck of fat that made its way into the process. This stock became the base of several pasta dishes. Some of the sauces for these dishes were thickened just enough for it to cling to the vegetable.  

Beef stock, reduced down to the consistency of jelly, or glace di viande as the French call it, became like a secret ingredient.

Even the flavor of the garlic was varied: either sautéed in the pan or roasted in the oven, then added in. Another secret ingredient.  

Potatoes were roasted in the oven until they were crisp on the outside and were added to several dishes as a texture foil.

I made vegetarian soups so thick and chunky they were transformed into meatless stews. They usually had a combination of rice, small types of pasta, potatoes, or barley to thicken them up. Frank never complained he was hungry a few hours after he got home. 

My culinary compendium was expanding, and Frank was happy about it.

Making Frank a happy diner taught me a lot about being creative in the kitchen and about motivation and integrity. But his greatest lesson was showing me the importance of sharing that with others.

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More Blooms in the Archipelago

Twenty five years ago I left New York for the Midwest Archipelago island of Peoria and every spring I am amazed by the blooming of the Eastern Red Bud trees.

We first saw these slender trees in western Ohio, on our move to Peoria. We were impressed by their number as well as their gorgeous color. Cercis canadensis are nowhere to be seen in New York, which added to the surprise.

When I owned my restaurant, Dominic’s, I gathered their flowers, added them to salads and garnished the plates with them. Their flavor is on the bitter side but they add a wonderful splash of color.

There are two plants native to New York that are equally dramatic in their flowering. In spring the elegant dog woods add delicate washes of white to the leafless woods. They always brought to my mind a landscape from a Japanese wood cut print.

The second are the mountain laurel that bloom in June on the Shawangunk Ridge in Ulster County. These are as spectacular as the Red Buds but bolder in appearance. The blooms are pure white and the size of softballs. When you drive through a forest thick with them it looks like snow had fallen.

It would be really extraordinary if all these flowers would bloom at the same time and the same place!

Thank God for spring.

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What To Do With the Wild Rice

Last week I was thinking about the warmer days ahead as I took a jar of wild rice from the cabinet. While pondering how to cook it, I looked at the pattern the grains made against the glass. Indecisive about the dinner plan my mind began to wander. I imagined myself in northern Wisconsin.

I was paddling down a calm blue ribbon of water on my way to the flooded fields of Manoomin. Clouds were rolling across the sky and the water beside the boat. Birds were singing from the eves of the trees along the shore.

Leaving the channel, I glided into the tall blades of green under the warm sun. I harvested through the marsh and listened to the birds singing and the wind whispering back its harmony, and the rustling of the stalk as I laid them down across the boat with the wooden paddles.

When the bottom of the hull was heavy with grain and the sun touched the tops of the trees, I headed back down the blue ribbon. Back to the old wooden dock and the kitchen in the white clapboard house at its far end.

Out of that came wild rice infused with the subtle flavors of bay leave and homemade chicken stock. Perfect for the oven roasted salmon with fresh herbs and lemon. Since I cooked the entire jar, I was left with more then we could eat. Chefing is about flavors and textures but it is also about economizing. I had to make another meal from what remained.

Studying the square containers of leftovers in the stark light of the refrigerator, I took out the vegetable side and the tomato/basil collie sitting next to it. It could use a little protein from one of the brown eggs on the door beside me.

The rice got the egg mixed into it and cooked like an omelet. I heated the carrots, onions and red bell peppers in a saute and mounded it on the rice cake. A few big table spoons of tomatoes topped off the vegetables.

Good enough for a quick Tuesday night dinner with a glass of dry Chardonnay.

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Stamp of the Week

This week we are featuring the three cent Francis Parkman from the Prominent Americans series, 1965 through 1978. This issue was designed by Bill Hyde and printed on a rotary press. It was used extensively for bulk mail. I have seen a lot of pre-cancellations with city and state location inside two black bars and the black bars alone. On Ebay I came across one with the unusual inscription of ‘BUNCH OK’.

I have also seen several neat looking perforation errors of this stamp and a fold-over error with an interesting tear on the bottom edge. This latter error had a decent price tag on it, too, around four hundred and fifty dollars. Unfortunately, the sheet, plate block and coil line pairs I have in my collection have no error.

Aside from the stamp itself being interesting, Francis Parkman had an interesting life and personality.

He was born into wealthy Boston society and at an early age he developed a passion for the wilderness. In the 1840s, after his graduation from Harvard, he headed off to the West in pursuit of that passion. He wrote a book about his experiences, The Oregon Trail: Sketches of Prairie and Rocky-Mountain Life, and it quickly became a best seller.

He could have been just another rich kid traveling to exotic places on his father’s money, then writing of his exploits in the popular magazines for East Coast elites. However, two things had set him apart from that and made him one of America’s first great historical writers.

First: He was committed to use his gift as a historian to write a comprehensive history of the American continent before it was formed into a nation. That was a risky decision because it was contrary to the trend in respected historic writing at the time. Classical history and the Spanish exploration of North America were the topics of inquire, not French explorers and Native American tribes.

Second: He was a gifted writer who grasped the drama and importance inherent in American historical facts. By effectively conveying that drama, he invented the historical narrative that is popular today.

There is no doubt that Francis Parkman established a reputation as a noted historian and was one of the most widely read authors of nineteenth-century America. Theodore Roosevelt dedicated his four-volume history of the frontier, The Winning of the West (1889–1896), to Parkman. Like every great thinker, he has his critics, but the majority of historians consider his body of work to be an accurate and valuable account of the early Europeans exploring and settling North America.

I read the first few pages of his first book, The Oregon Trail: Sketches of Prairie and Rocky-Mountain Life. It was so engaging that I purchased a copy, along with a few of the pre-cancellations I mentioned earlier.

Happy collecting!

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A Walk To The Ruins

I still remember that late summer day in 1965 when my dad took my brother and I to Samuel Untermeyer’s estate, which sat like an ancient ruin on a high ridge, overlooking the Hudson river. Hidden by thickets of trees, it was far removed from the surrounding apartment houses and busy streets of Yonkers.    

The place had the magic of old things made strange when the world moves on without them. My dad knew of that magic and wanted us to discover it along with him. 

The first thing I saw of the gardens was a wall running through that surrounding thicket of trees. It was built from dark, rough stone and topped with tall spikes of black iron.

It looked a lot like the wall around the playground of the old grade school I was attending, but it was out in the woods. The wall beside the playground kept us kids off the busy street. There were no kids playing where this wall was. So what did it keep in – or out?  

In the wall was a gate formed by four tall pillars. Beyond that was a high ridge overgrown with twisted trees, thick vines and tangled brambles. A walled staircase was cut into the ridge and seemed to disappear into the shadows of the treetops. On each side of the stairs was a large stone frieze. One depicted a majestic lion, the other a wild looking stallion.   

My dad told us there was an incredible garden he knows of from his childhood, though he had never seen it. It was identical to one built in ancient Rome two thousand years ago. It was at the top of the stairs.   

By the look of the two friezes I knew there was something extraordinary up there. But to my little mind, that silent tangle of foliage creeping through the twisted tree trunks was troublesome. It seemed to be hiding something strange, something I should be careful around.

It was not like the well cared for, ruler-straight rows of tomatoes and swiss chard in my grandmother Florence’s sunny little garden.

Her garden was tended to with love. This one seemed to be tended with a brooding, pernicious will from the shadows of the woods.

Was the purpose of the wall in the woods to keep people out of that garden?  

My brother must have been thinking the same thing. We both stopped walking when we stepped through the gate.

 When I looked up at my dad, I could see he was not afraid of what lied ahead. He could see that I was, more so than my older brother.

Thinking my dad might also be afraid of what lied ahead, I looked up at his face. But he was not. He was gazing through the tree at the top of the stairs. His eyes showed determination and his physicality forward motion as he studied the path ahead.

He looked down at me and smiled. “Don’t worry, follow him,” he said and put his big hand on my shoulder.

In that moment, I was transformed. His expression of self-assurance and that gesture of reassurance, sent an invisible arc of confidence into me. Somehow, he handed on a small piece of his maturity, his ability to face and master things that appeared daunting. The wall in the woods and the malevolent undergrowth were no longer the things of fear and apprehension. If he could take these on, I could too.  

We did go to the top of the stairs and explore Untermeyer’s Gardens.

All afternoon we roamed along the marble reflecting pools that were tarnished with weeds and fallen branches. We wandered through the rows of larger-than-life statues, many half- covered in vines and graffiti. We took a break under the dome of a temple-like building and commented on the identity of the face in the center of the floor mosaic. For a long time, we sat on the temple’s circular balustrade of carved white stone and looked out on the mighty Hudson River.

I was happy my dad had taken me there, even though it was scary at first.

Despite decades of abandonment that had tarnished the Gilded Age glory Untermeyer’s vast wealth had built, it was still awe inspiring.    

On the ride home I sat in the back seat of the car. Images of that mysterious world swirled around in my head. I was not sure if I had visited a place where the ancient Roman gods had lived or just the home of a rich man who had faded into history when Dad was my age.  

I also wondered how Dad changed my mind about climbing those stairs. He must have had some secret super power that only dads have. That thought was the result of reading Marvel Comic books at five years old.  

It was not until years later and having children of my own that I was able to see clearly what was at work in that moment.

More is handed down to children through your example when you do things together than all the life lessons you could ever tell them.    

Thanks, Dad. Eighty-five and still awesome.

The restored gardens as they look today.

https://www.untermyergardens.org/Visit.html

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My Lexicon of Flavors

All people that love to cook and love food seem to have one skill in common. The ability to define, retain and recall tastes and aromas that they have experienced. Over time this skill creates a personal compendium of flavor and aroma profiles.

The information used by this process can come from the humblest of meals at home or fancy restaurants with white linen table cloths. Whatever the origin, these disparate culinary experiences come together and shape each inventory in a unique way. Eventual, this inventory becomes a reference for comparison of all the new flavors and aromas that come across the user’s palette.

I have found that some recollections can be simplistic, singular in their explanations. Others can be complex and multi-layered. They can be cross-referenced over time with other entries, like notes in a chord, until they become completely redefined.

Most of these definitions we don’t consciously write or sort into order or cross reference. Most of this work is done by an obscure process deep in the hidden components of our analytical engines.

I refer to my compendium as The Lexicon of Flavors. LXF for short.

Below are a few of the more interesting entries my mind has been compiling and cross-referencing for over fifty years. Some are complex but understandable while some esoteric for reasons I don’t fully comprehend. Others are like landscapes or impressions. Each one is a world of its own inside the universe of my psyche.

These recollections are the building blocks of my culinary creativity. Here they are presented, as best as mere words can, with no explanation or analysis as to why they are what they are. I want you to see how they appear in my mind when they are called up from that mysterious instrumentality.

(Any definitions containing a date were taken from my journals and have been redefined over time.)

Juniper berries – Freeze Dried: Aromatic pine. Clean, long lasting.

Cedar flavor note from varied sources: Complicate, dry, expansive, evergreen. Undertones of earth or gravel shores against northern waters. Firm in structure.

Pineapple, 1982-1995: Sharp, bright sugar. Wide on the palette.

Pineapple, 1995 – present: Mt. Gay Ruminesque. Crisp acid blunted by a dark sugar bomb, promising smoke and cracked black pepper as I tumble down a mountain stream in the tropics.

Cilantro: Burst of minty power greens. Vibrant with a long, difficult finish that is medicinal in nature.

Lemon: Summer sunshine on a white sand beach.

Lime: Summer sunshine on a white sand beach under a shade tree.

Basil: Standing in my Grandmother Florence’s sunny garden, surrounded with a peppery, darkly floral, fragrant afternoon.

Parsley: A fresh green note. Ephemeral and fleeting in character.

Ginger, 1979: Pepper, rum and the promise of dark sugar. Long, difficult finish.

Ginger, 2019: Boech pears poached in sherry, brown sugar and ginger root. Difficult finish. All held in a hand-blown glass on a Chippendale table. The year is 1789. (Seriously, that is what comes to mind!)

Dry porcini, 1987: Pungent, dry organic, cheese-like, cautiously attractive.

Dry porcini, 1998 to present: Rich, engaging, intense. Mushrooms on a forest floor of moist loom and damp leaves drying out in the sun after a rain. Heavy in structure.

Nutmeg: Christmas in renaissance Italy. Dry, sophisticated, strange, intense at times. Defined by how it mixes with other ingredients more than by its own qualities.

Saffron: Time, ancient time, undisturbed for centuries. The scent of a still, sunny attic space. Subtle but very deep and satisfying in taste and aroma. (Double serious!)

Liquid smoke: A smoldering fire of oak leaves in a grove of oak trees. Rich and heavy on the palette. A dominantly intrusive character. A smoldering flavor best used as an undertone.

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Poetry, Thirty Years Later

When I was in my twenties and thirties, I split my reading time between poetry and novels. Cookbooks were right behind those, and Roman history a close forth.

Now Roman history is first, cookbooks second, the occasional novel third, and almost no poetry at all.

I find it odd how those proportions have changed over time.

I don’t know why that has happened. Since I was busier after my thirties, it would seem that I wanted maximum reading pleasure by investing a minimal amount of time. Compared to a novel, a good poem would do that.

But over the years, there are several poems that often come to mind.

There is Dylan Thomas’s “Under Milkwood” and Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”. They have a rolling musical cadence and powerful imagery that appeals to those times when the mind is overcast and restlessly roaming.

Walter De Lamar’s “The Listeners” is another. The ambiguous metaphor and the urgent caller, wrapped in a moonlit forest, are good companions when pondering things to come or what should not be forgotten.

When I am longing for the city of my childhood, I open C.K. William’s “”Flesh and Blood” and read the first three poems about reading. Then I remember what it was like to live and work among the tall buildings and rushing subways – to be in the ceaseless crowds, coming and going with their moments big and small.

Each one of those poems is my literary lake house. My porch in the woods by the sea. The top of the tall, grassy hill where I lay down and watch the summer clouds drift by, or that long walk down to the old town bar to meet a friend.

A poem you connect with, expansive or compact in what it evokes, has the remarkable quality of place utility. It is at hand, when you want it and where you want it. It is the landscape, the person or the situation that comes to visit you when you want to visit them.

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A Meal In a Bowl

Picasso had his blue period, O’Keeffe her percussionist period, and I had my meal in a bowl period. This probably came out of the fact that I excel at making soup but usually want something more substantial to eat. Whenever I eat soup, I am hungry an hour later.

I made a lot of dishes in this way, but I did not write down a recipe for any one of them! That’s just typical for me. I look at cooking like a working musician might look at playing out on a Friday night. You just can’t record every solo you play. Besides, the fun is in the playing and creating.

I eat a lot of greens, especially kale and swiss chard. In this meal, I sauteed carrots, onions, garlic and red bell peppers, adding in tomato wedges at the end. While that was going I had two other ingredients cooking. Strips of kale and a few bay leaves were cooked in a minimal amount of water until tender. Wedges of Yukon Gold potatoes were roasted in the oven. When the kale was done, it was added into the sauteed ingredients, along with scallops and a big splash of dry white wine. This was covered and simmered until the scallops were cooked. Before it was served, the roasted potatoes were mixed in. That added a nice roasted note and a little crunchy texture.

I remember this dish. I had an overstock of carrots and tomatoes to use up.

First I browned the potato wedges in olive oil and put them on the side. In same oil, I slow cooked the onion strips and sliced carrots. This caramelized the sugar in each and brought out their sweetness. There were a few slivers of garlic thrown in there too.

To finish it up, I added tomato wedges and gave them a minute or two of saute time with the carrots and onions. Then the potatoes were added back in along with a few sprigs of thyme, parsley and a little fresh chicken stock to moisten. After it simmered for five minutes and was gently stirred several times, the lid came off and on the table it went.

This I made for a Saturday lunch. I had leftover sticks of golden beets and sticks of boiled potatoes to use up. In olive oil, strips of onions, red bell peppers and carrots were sauteed with a touch of garlic. This time, the saute stage was not as slow as before. I just wanted to develop and incorporate the garlic flavor while cooking the other vegetables but leaving them on the firm side. I threw in a Roma tomato cut into wedges and gave that a few minutes of saute. There may have been a whole leaf or two of fresh basil in the mix.

Finally, I added the beets and potatoes to get them up to serving temperature and so as not to mix the flavors of the other vegetables with them. I wanted three separate flavors to be tasted: the light flavors of both the boiled beets and boiled potatoes and the richness of the sauteed vegetables. It adds complexity as your mouth finds each individual flavor with every bite. The different textures and firmness of the three adds interest as well.

A warm piece of pita bread was used as a garnish and as a fourth flavor/texture element.

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A Fine Cigar

I like a good cigar ever so often. It’s an old habit I carried with me from my restaurant days at Dominic’s; the Italian place we owned on the city island of Peoria, in the Central Illinois Archipelago. Every weekend, after the dinner rush, I sat at the bar and smoked with the customers. A Gloria Cubana rubusto, or an Avo pyramid where two of my regulars from the humidor.

Last fall, I sat out on the porch, writing and enjoying a fine stooge my buddy Dave H. gave me. As the sun was giving way to the stars I wrote a few lines about the cigar.

Damn Cigars

I hate cigars.

I mean I love them, but that’s why I hate them.

The damn things are so bad for you but they are so damn good.

So much contradiction rolled up in the

Ephemeral spirit smoke solid

As a sledge hammer on your nicotine rattled pallet late

On a hot summer night slow walking down 

The crowded streets of downtown

Manhattan rising above with the smoke spirits,

The lights of night,

The traffic rushing like big shouldered water through  

The canyon of sixth street.

Yeah, roll that Cuban torpedo again, across your

Ivory whites and you have the world,

The whole world at your feet.

Yeah, I love cigars. 

Hay Johnny, is that a White Owl Cigarillos SanGria you got there?

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Evening Star

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere you may have noticed that big, bright planet in the western sky at sunset. When I stand on my front porch, I can see it over the darkening roofs of the houses across the street. Looking at it a few weeks ago, I was inspired to write a poem about that jewel of the night sky.

.

The Evening Star Prayer

Look here – the evening star!

The nightly traveler.

Shimmering blue diamond

Of the rising sky-crown.

Guide me over meadow’s green

Past the forest eves dreaming

In murmurs,

In wolf tones distant.

Lead my ancient ocean crossing

These fathoms folded of water restless.

Sail me past the rocky backs

Of the wave breakers roaring.

Down the coast lines

Of the night’s dark distance

Where brigands battle

And pearl divers descend.

Point me safely past

The might rivers pouring

Their melted glacial torrents

From once the land I came.

Only you can guide my way,

Your gleaming homeward heading,

To hearth warmed children dreaming

Their waiting mother sighing

With the spool of wool at knitting.

My battle-brothers’ falling

Has been avenged

In all my enemies’

Black hearts beating stilled.

No hulls heavy

With triumph-treasure taken

Can quail nor calm

My heart’s long yearning.

Now hurry me through

This slow homeward season.

Pour out your glow

Long and wide

Before my searching brow.

Shimmering blue shining take me

Fast as fleet for home!

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The First Restaurateur

This was my grandfather’s restaurant located at 5-7 North Broadway, Yonkers N.Y.. Not too far from Getty Square, which at the time, was the busiest part of the city. The photo was taken sometime in the 1930’s before the depression.

Enrico Di Sciullo is in the front row, second from the left.

Check out the prices on the menu !

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce – Thirty Five Cents

A Prosciutto Appetizer – Thirty Cents

Sirloin Steak – Sixty Five Cents

Lobster a la Fra Diavolo – One Dollar and Twenty Five Cents. I’ll take two to go too!

Tastes have changed too. I don’t think I have ever seen Fresh Clam Broth or Spaghetti with Chicken Livers and Mushrooms on any Italian Menu.

But if Enrico put it on the menu, you know it was delicious.

I was lucky enough to eat his cooking when I was a kid. Fabulous tomato sauce. Fabulous everything!

(Actually, I was double lucky, my Dad’s mom, Florence, should have had a restaurant too! She was an out standing cook and baker.)

I often think about the lunches he would prepare when my brother Dan and I went to visit. Grandpa would usual serve us cube steak sandwiches. Just lightly floured, sauteed in olive oil then sprinkled with salt and pepper.
Nothing fancy but they were out of this world.

When you have perfected your technique, even the simplest dishes become master pieces.