Monday, May 26, 2008

The Mouse, Crazy Princess Parties and Sliders

No one should be this tired. It’s a good thing I flourish on chaotic. What a 10 days since my last post. When I began writing, I was pretty sure I’d post a couple of times a week. Well, I guess I have done that for the most part but I have just not had 30 minutes consecutively (assuming you don’t count the sleep hours) in the past week to get this together. I also need to be careful that I dedicate some time in this week’s blog to food, since real life has taken over. I’ll begin a week ago.

Olivia is now 4. You can see her explaining this to Cinderella. And as exciting as turning 4 is, it is work. I’m happy to report that Olivia had a fantastic week long celebration. There was last weekend at Disney complete with fireworks and night parades, parties, flowers and endless hours of celebration and fun for all. No one makes a kid feel more special than that mouse. No sleep. Crazy.

For me, recovering from Disney is usually a 24 hour process but about 8 hours from the moment I set foot back in my own domicile, I was headed to the airport and again bound for New England. Ahhhh, work. But last week did have a pleasant spin to it. I had the opportunity to meet up with some folks I haven’t seen in probably 10 years. Turns out, they read the blog thanks to their daughter, a childhood friend of mine. In their retirement they’ve joined the RV crowd and meander about the continent in a rather whimsical fashion. Purely by coincidence, they were in Mystic, CT this week and we had a couple of tasty meals together. Nice catching up.

We ate Thursday night at a wonderful little place in Mystic called Anthony J’s. I was contemplating not mentioning it because I planned on one day writing a longer feature about it. It’s in my top couple of places to eat when I go that way. Perhaps I’ll still feature it later but I have to briefly mention “Hot Rocks”. This is not a new phenomenon and, if you are reading this, I assume you are somewhat of a “foodie”, therefore you probably know what they are already. Whatchya do is get a polished stone hot. Damn hot. 600+ degrees hot. Then you throw raw food on it and serve. Rather prehistoric, a bit dangerous but darned yummy. I have had the seafood hot rock there several times and it is unbelievably heavenly. You can hear the sizzling and popping where rock meets flesh before it leaves the kitchen. The steam that comes from the seafood atop the rock permeates the entire restaurant (not a place to go if you don’t like the smell of seafood). Once placed before you, the waitress provides a disclaimer about touching the 600 degree rock (duh!!!). The rock retains its heat long enough to completely cook your food before your eyes. To the best of my knowledge there is only the seafood with a touch of garlic placed atop the rock and you are given a lemon to squeeze over the whole mess yourself. Delicious. Personally I think they should charge me less for owning so much responsibility in the preparation of my meal but alas, they do not. They have several types of these “Hot Rocks” but the seafood is my favorite. Ken had the Steak this night. I have met some wonderful people here as well and I promise to revisit Anthony J’s at another time.

OK, back to Florida for crazy weekend number 2. Since last weekend was birthday away from home, this was MEGA birthday party with all the stops out. Some time ago, we conferred with Olivia and “her people” about the appropriate theme for the 4th birthday party. It was decided that this birthday party should be declared a Crazy Princess Party. Now, far be it from me to define this, but mom and I set out to make it happen. What we had was about 35 people, a slip-n-slide (please refer to C. mid 1980’s reference material for a definition), a sprinkler, a HUGE princess jumpy thingy, a ball pit and lots of food.

Big Princess Jumpy Thingy

Gazebo with Snow Cone Machine

Due to a sudden rain storm (Florida thunder storms are violent and typically last 6.2 minutes –OK I made that up but it was brief), everyone was inside for the last few minutes which allowed Olivia to open her presents and be the courteous hostess as they all left. A success. The caveat to the day was that my son Evan, Olivia’s half brother, opened a lit grill whose fumes were gathered in the lid. He did suffer some minor facial burns as the grill flamed out. He was Ok. His mother took him to the doctor who reported that Evan would pull through. We were quite sad that he left the party and took him some cake later that evening. His hair was actually smoldering and Lisa patted it out. A bit scary.

On to the food discussion for this week: Grills. In the words of David Archuletta (for you Idol fans)- gosh, gosh, gosh. What can I say about grills and grilling that hasn’t been said. Nothing I would guess. So probably best to say nothing at all. Well, that’s never been my style. I do have a take on grilling that may be a bit unique. I have had friends over the years, you see, with quite the elaborate backyard setup. Full bars, kitchens, granite counter tops, etc.- all outside. This compliments the already elaborate setup inside. Psssstttt. Come closer… shhh…don’t tell anyone I said this but… ridiculous. How unnecessary. Now, I’m not saying my friends were ridiculous but what level American laziness is required before a trek across the patio to the kitchen refrigerator is out of the question and must be replaced by a short reach to the patio fridge. OK I digress.

I decided I wanted to make sliders (tiny hamburgers) for the birthday party this weekend and I also decided I needed a new grill. Our last grill got hauled off some years ago after going belly up. I think we spent a fortune on it too and got about 2 summers out of it. So, it was time for a new grill. Here’s the fun part. It’s quite rare that I want a bottom of the line product (way rare) but in this case, it was pretty close. I knew I wanted a charcoal grill and I wanted it for one purpose. Putting charcoal in and getting the grill racks pretty hot, then cooking. Sure there are all kinds of fancy gas grills with extra burners and raised platforms but that wasn’t my purpose. Nor was it my purpose to have a smoker style grill (I will talk about this at length some day because smoking and grilling share less similarities than differences). So, off shopping I went on Saturday and found exactly what I wanted at Wal-Mart (Home Depot did not have the grill I was looking for). Its round, aluminum, has a rack for charcoal and a rack for food. That’s it. And I couldn’t be more thrilled. I will grill on this poorly constructed heat source and I am confident it will turn out mouthwatering preparations for the next several years. For about 40 bucks, you too can proudly own a similar piece of Americana (made in China, assembly required).

sliders and dogs on the new high tech grill

For the sliders, I decided I wanted a “Gourmet Slider Bar”. This somewhat original thought was fueled by Lisa telling me she wanted simple food for the party (she knows I have gone over the top before). So sliders are simple but I could serve some cool and yummy toppings off to the side to jazz it up a bit. Not only do I think this was a pretty neat idea, it turned out to be a hit. I received lots of positive comments so I was quite pleased. The toppings included the standards:

Thinly sliced tomato
Shredded lettuce
Thin onion slices
American cheese

But also:

Roasted red peppers
Yogurt with leek and parsley
Olive and sour cream mayo
Blue cheese
Fresh buffalo mozzarella

The spread

This was served buffet style on the Gazebo. In the 8 years Lisa and I have lived in this house, I think this was the second time I’ve used the Gazebo for entertainment. Shame on me.

After the presents were opened and the guests departed, I was spent. I visited with neighbors for a few hours until bed time but wow… I was done.

So here it is Monday (the holiday) and I’m off to work. I’m probably over the great lakes at the moment (it’s a bit cloudy out so I can’t tell) en route to Montreal. I do have the camera this week and I’m super excited to talk about my culinary adventures. I have never been to Montreal. I land in an hour or so and should be nestled in my room by early evening. I plan to sleep. Tomorrow after work, I will explore. No one should be this tired.

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