NYC Day 1

28 July, 2014
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Well actually, we’re not in NYC yet. But its little brother Secaucus showed us a fine time last night.

View from our hotel room

Located at the west end of the Lincoln Tunnel, Secaucus is a good choice for people who want to stay *near* New York City, but not *in* New York City, because you are either insane or unwise to drive — let alone try to find a place to park for three days — in Manhattan. We like to leave the driving to public transportation.

We weren’t supposed to get the NYC view at the Embassy Suites, but during check-in, the Thriller happened to ask if they had any city view suites left, knowing the answer would be no, as the 9th floor suites are often the first to go, and are reserved for the HH Honors customers (whatever they are).

Well as it happened, they had one left, and after the front desk gal thought a minute, she said, “I can give it to you for $5 more.” Sold!

After checking in, we answered the call of our growling stomachs by driving into the old downtown part of Secaucus to have dinner at Trattoria da Pino — a restaurant we’d read about on Yelp and TripAdvisor.

Yikes. We left weighing about six pounds more — each. Living in small-town Midwest, we rarely get the chance to see a truly authentic Italian restaurant, where the owner is actually Italian and the only chef. What a treat.

The Thriller obediently posed outside.

The Thriller obediently posed outside.

There are 36 chairs in the  entire place.

There are 36 chairs in the entire place.

Served family style, we shared courses of bruschetta, salad, and this fantastic pasta carbonara -- all before the main entree.

Served family style, we shared courses of bruschetta, salad, and this fantastic pasta carbonara — all before the main entree.

When we were sure we were completely full, the main course arrived. Chicken and Italian sausage with crispy potatoes. Out of this woild. Cheesecake for dessert -- and we were done in.

When we were sure we were completely full, the main course arrived. Herbed chicken and Italian sausage with crispy potatoes. Out of this woild. Cheesecake for dessert — and we were done in.

Looking a bit road-weary, but happy.

Looking a bit road-weary, but happy.

After breakfast today (and after rush hour), we’re heading into the city. On the menu is the 9/11 Museum, and if it’s not too ghastly hot and thunderstorm-y, walking the Brooklyn Bridge and heading out to Coney Island. All up in the air at this moment, but that’s OK — we’re on vacation!

:-D

Penultimate

26 July, 2014
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Well, we’re down to the last 24 hours. Tomorrow’s the day, and I don’t have a single thing packed. Think I ought to start?

Odyssey 2014, to the unhappiest city in the US, blasts off tomorrow morning, after coffee. :-)

For the past 18 days, our lives have been centered around dogs. It’s been great fun, but with Dusty and Oliver going home today (and taking Remy with them), it’s time to get going on preparations for the road trip. I think I’m less prepared for this vacation than at any other previous time. Why is that? I dunno…I think maybe I’m less excited this time because the Odyssey is so short:  just six days. Still, I’m delighted and blessed to have these six, so no complaints here.

We have much to do and see in these six days, and now that two hours have gone by since I started writing this post, I’m happy to report that I have all my clothes set out (and others in the laundry), so that part is done.

What’s the worst part for you about getting ready to go somewhere? With me, it’s getting over the procrastination to begin. Even on our longest trips, I really didn’t get clothes ready until the day before. The Thriller is a much better planner than I; he’s been pretty much packed for two days now.

Sometimes I shake my head at my worries about forgetting something, when the reality is that we’re going to New York — not Antarctica. If we forget socks, we can stop and get some. And we must pack somewhere in the neighborhood of eight device chargers. Like, one might break, and heaven forbid we be stuck in the hotel with a Jet Pack that’s dying. What a couple-a goons.

It’s only 7.5 hours to our hotel near the Meadowlands, so it should be a relatively stress-free drive. We plan to stop somewhere in The State That Never Ends (PA) for a nice lunch. We have vowed to not stress about keeping a schedule on this trip, except for the schedules having to do with public transportation.

Almost ready to fly!

Update from Doggy Summer Camp

21 July, 2014
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It’s a full-time job around here, lemmetellya. We do enjoy it, though. Having one dog is plenty of work for us, since we basically treat Remy as if he’s our child. Ninety-nine percent of the time, he’s a good boy. Since the Friday arrival of our campers (Dusty and Oliver), however, he’s been a bratty, spoiled-rotten little monster, which somewhat increases the workload. :-)

They basically dictate the day for us, which is also fine. Their humans are on vacation; why shouldn’t they be as well, right?

The Ritual

1. Take all three — separately — to the ladies’/men’s room.

2. Feed breakfast (separately, of course).

3. Moderate the daily post-meal discussion.

4. Brief nap while breakfast settles. (Them, not us.)

5. Supervise random flip-outs as people begin their days by walking on the sidewalk in front of our house. The nerve, seriously.

6. Revisit ladies’/men’s room.

7. After human breakfast, take two for a fun walk in the park. (I’m glad we live so close.)

8. “Listening practice.” Do your tricks, get a biscuit.

9. While Dusty and Oliver recover (they’re 12 and 9 years old, respectively), take Remy to the dog park.

10. Return home, leash ‘em up and take ‘em out. (Why didn’t we pull the trigger on that back yard fence?)

11. Hit the showers.

12. In between petting and playing and conversation and breaking up arguments, get work done. (Today’s job is to order fall music, if it’s the last thing I do. Which it probably will be. At midnight.)

13. 5:00 p.m. — feed, then repeat numbers 6 and 12 throughout the evening.

14. Bedtime:  me, in the guest room with the guests, and the Thriller in our room with Remy, the toy hoarding brat dog.

Truthfully, this is not “work” for us, as we’re dyed-in-the-wool dog lovers, and Oliver and Dusty are sweet, affectionate, obedient and good-natured. We continue to discover new things about Remy, although I was hoping that food/toy aggression wouldn’t be one of them. Oh well…we work through the challenges, because he’s worth it, and deserves a happy life. Dogs are fascinating.

Tomorrow, Mavis and I travel to the Ohio State Fair to meet up with our aunts from Illinois and reminisce over lunch. Exciting! As for the Thriller, staying on the homefront? Well, you know the drill. :-D

Happy Monday!

Recipe Review: S’mores Bark

17 July, 2014
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J’ever notice how some things — no matter how fantastic they look at the get-go — just aren’t that fantastic? Hmm.

Last night I made a turkey pot pie and biscuits to take to my stepdaughter and her husband (he is recovering from surgery, so a bunch of us wanted to cook for Simone so she could focus on being Florence Nightingale). I know they are chocolate lovers, so I looked for something really fun. On Pinterest, I ran across S’mores Bark. I thought, perfect! 

Well…notsamuch. And this from a lifelong chocolate addict, trust me when I tell you. Anyway, more on the final verdict after you click through the picture show.

S’mores Bark

3.5 cups milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup marshmallow creme
3 rectangular sheets Graham crackers

Instructions

  1. Melt 1.5 cups chocolate chips, and spread over a wax paper-lined pan. Be careful not to make the layer too thin. Place in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  2. Melt the white chocolate chips, then add in the marshmallow creme. Microwave until heated – about 30 seconds. Stir together, then quickly spread the mixture over the hardened chocolate layer.
  3. Crumble the Graham crackers and press them into the marshmallow layer. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  4. Melt 2 cups of chocolate chips, and gently spread it over the Graham cracker layer. Freeze for about 2 hours. Take it out and break apart into bark.

(Click on first photo to advance through slide show.)

The really good part? Only four ingredients, and no baking.

The really good part? Only four ingredients, and no baking.

The recipe says to melt in the microwave, but I do enjoy the slower double-boiler method.

The recipe says to melt in the microwave, but I do enjoy the slower double-boiler method.

The instructions warned against spreading the melted chocolate too thin. I used the better part of a 9 x 13 jelly roll pan.

The instructions warned against spreading the melted chocolate too thin. I used the better part of a 9 x 13 jelly roll pan for the recipe, and it seemed the right size.

Melt the marshmallow creme and "white chocolate" together, and pour over the hardened initial layer.

Melt the marshmallow creme and “white chocolate” together, and pour over the hardened initial layer.

Instead of breaking up the graham crackers by hand, I ran them through my trusty coffee grinder because I thought it would look nicer. Turned out to be an unwise move.

Add the graham crackers and press into the marshmallow. (Instead of breaking up the crackers by hand, I ran them through my coffee grinder because I thought it would look nicer. Turned out to be an unwise move.)

Put it in the fridge; wait 30 minutes.

Put it in the fridge; wait 30 minutes.

Melt remaining chocolate, pour over the lot, and pop into the freezer for two hours.

Melt remaining chocolate, pour over the lot, and pop into the freezer for two hours.

Finis.

Finis.

While I absolutely do not rule out chef error, I noticed a few niggling things about this recipe:

  • If the words “marshmallow” and “bark” seem contradictory to you, it’s because they are. Frozen marshmallow is an undesirable texture. The creator of the recipe said, “Keep refrigerated for a more solid bark; leave it out for slightly more delicious, but slightly more squishy bark.” Squishy bark? I initially couldn’t penetrate the layers with my sharpest chef’s knife. After waiting a while so the knife could sink through the marshmallow, the texture of it was somewhat like taffy, but more, well, squishy. Chewy. Bad marks for mouth feel.
  • The top layer wouldn’t adhere to the cracker layer. This could, of course, be due to my using crumbs instead of individual pieces of cracker pressed into the marshmallow mixture. If I made this again, I’d still want to experiment with reversing the cracker/marshmallow order. The cracker pieces (or crumbs) would definitely stick to the bottom chocolate layer, and I think the melted marshmallow would have a much better chance of adhering to the top layer of melty chocolate.
  • It is cloyingly, overpoweringly, altogether utterly over-sweet. Not that I was expecting savory, mind. But with this dish, there’s no balance. You’re all in, and where S’mores are concerned, that’s pretty much what you’re stuck with, which is fine on occasion. But this dessert differs from traditional, over-the-campfire S’mores because the ratio of cracker to marshmallow and chocolate is completely off. Think of a traditional S’more; what’s the overriding ingredient? Graham crackers. Generally, it’s a sandwich of Grahams, with a thin slice of chocolate and one marshmallow. This ain’t that.
  • The chocolate. Milk chocolate chips by Hershey are not Hershey bars chopped into little morsels. The chemistry is totally different, and the taste bears that out. While it’s plenty chocolaty (overly so), there’s just a hint of artifice — especially in that heavy a concentration. It may not bother some people, but I noticed it right away.

Bottom line: This recipe is more work than necessary, and the extra time didn’t justify the resulting taste and texture. If you want to have a bark-like S’more experience, just pour some melted chocolate on a cookie sheet, sprinkle with Graham cracker pieces and miniature marshmallows, and let set. *Bing* S’mores on the fly.

On the Rat-O-Meter scale of five cheeses, I give S’mores Bark:

Nostalgia IV

15 July, 2014
Rat Fink

Yep, it’s another one of those mornings. I’ll read something (in this case, it was Harper’s) that’ll get me thinking about other topics, and before I know it, I’ve got 16 browser tabs running, and I’ve forgotten what drew me to the magazine article in the first place. I love it. Free association, literary style.

Today’s side trip went back to my childhood years. As kids of the 60s and teenagers of the 70s, we experienced many of the then-incredible developments in the food and entertainment industries. In particular, I have vivid memories of new toys and snacks that were just so new and groovy (not to mention marketed with total Mad Men hipness and appeal), you just had to bug your mom to buy them – which, of course, was the entire point. Bait dropped; fish hooked. Ching! It seemed like there was a new product every day, hard-sold to a nation with little to no concern for trivialities like loads of processed sugar, preservatives, red dye, lead-based paint, and other sundry contaminants that lurked beneath the shiny, colorful, chocolaty surfaces.

From the “Remember When” category, behold some gems from my wasted youth:

Yes, Mavis and I each had one. And did you know that hula-hooping is now one of the hottest new fitness crazesHow about that. Everything old is new again.

And how about this awesome stuff that my mother refused to buy?

I think she allowed us to get it once or twice, actually. The taste is not particularly memorable to me (I can’t recall it at all, truth be told), and with no refrigeration, it couldn’t have been anywhere near pudding-like in consistency. Mother was probably wise to veto it.

Never got these, either. What could possibly be wrong with sugar-drizzled sugar inside a sugar cone? *thumbs up*

Never had these, either. What could possibly be wrong with sugar-covered sugar in a sugar cup?

I wonder if anyone else's family called this "Kraft Dinner." Although I don't buy it anymore, I still have to catch myself before calling it "mac & cheese."

I wonder if anyone else’s family called this “Kraft Dinner.” Although I don’t buy it anymore, I still have to catch myself and instead refer to it as “mac & cheese.” It was the 70s version of Ramen noodles. When I was in college in ’77, whoever made this in the dorm’s community kitchen was instantly popular.

And I thank my mother for never doing this to us.

A huge thank-you to my mother for never doing this to us.

Do you remember any of these? Over the years, as I’ve waxed nostalgic about foods here at RtB, I’ve found that much depended on the region where you grew up. What are some of your favorite prepackaged food/toy memories? Were they delightfully tacky, tasteless or dangerous to play with, but you loved them anyway? Like Jarts and Chuckles? You know — the “adult toy” (shyeah right) that had the words “Missile Game” in the title, and the little squares of sugar-coated rubber? Excellent. :-)