Friday, April 24, 2015

Apéritif Friday - The Elderflower Collins and Spinach Goat Cheese Toast

Several months ago after dropping the boy off at a hockey rink north of us, Mr. Musky and I popped over to Maggiano's for some snacks and drinks before puck drop. Things work out nicely when the game is in a relatively populated area and we can grab a quick bite to eat - it's like date night, but not. Instead of ending the night snuggled on the couch watching a movie, I cling to him in the ever present fear that our kid will get jacked into the boards landing in the hospital with a concussion. Or with a broken collarbone, like two of his teammates this season.

Why is it that the worst pervades my thoughts when watching my kids play sports? Will that ever end?

I digress.

That night we bellied up to the bar which I absolutely adore - it means that we're kid free for the night and I pretend we're 24 again. Until I look down and see wrinkles on my hands. What is up with that? Anyway - I asked for the drink menu - something I do every time I sit at a bar, even if I know I'm ordering a standby or a classic. You never know when something might be worth trying, right?

This time the name alone caught my eye - the Elderflower Collins. I LOVE elderflower liqueur in the springtime, even though it was the dead of winter that night. I knew that a "collins" would involve fizzy something and be served in a narrow, upright glass. But when I read Prosecco on the description, I balked in fear of the drink being overly sweet.

I asked the bartender about the sweetness factor, and he said that the Aperol balances it out. Not familiar with Aperol, an Italian apéritif made with bitter orange, gentian, rhubarb and cinchona, I decided to go for it.

Did you just enter the Wikipedia rat hole like I did? Yeah. It happens all the time.

The verdict? I loved it. And I knew instantly I'd be replicating it when the weather warmed up.

Last Friday proved Elderflower Collins worthy, but not the Magianno's recipe I found online. I clearly had to up the the volume. My collins glasses are much wider than those at Maggiano's. Shocker, right? Additionally, the original Maggiano's cocktail calls for Rhubarb bitters (HELLO SPRINGTIME!) but of the 10 different types I have, rhubarb is not among them. After smelling all the options, I decided to go with the cranberry and liked it just as well as the drink in the restaurant.
The pinkish, reddish, orangish hue tricks me into thinking it's a sweet cocktail, so the first sip is weird. And surprising. The second prompts me to thoughtfully consider the ingredients individually, and the third sip blends it all together and sells me completely. If you're looking for a refreshing yet not overly sweet drink for spring and summertime, this is a great option. Given that it's ALL BOOZE (except for the lime juice), it's an easy sipping drink. In other words, I don't tend to slam this one back quickly - I casually sip it and contemplate all those flavors since it's a little more complex than what I'm used to. Bitter drinks are funky, and I dig 'em.

If this is too bitter for you, you could leave out the Aperol or back it down. Try mixing it with with the Prosecco, St. Germain, bitters and lime, then add the Aperol little by little. If you don't have Aperol you could just add more bitters to mellow out the sweetness. Play around with it, and let me know what you think and how you adjust it for your tastes.

We cooked filets that night and while the grill heated up I threw together some little toasty appetizers. Spinach Toast fit the bill, mainly because I had the greens on hand along with some herbed goat cheese and pecans. This was fairly simple to whip up while I made the apéritifs and despite needing a jacket, the weather proved agreeable to outdoor sipping and nibbling.
These savory bites were better than I expected and my people all liked them too. Shockingly, there were a couple left over. We apparently were all ensuring adequate room in the bellies for steak. Wouldn't you?
I've got some plans brewing to get together with a couple of lady friends tonight, and Mr. Musky agreed to do some grilling for us. Think he'll wear a tall white hat and chef's jacket?

Me neither. Have a great springy weekend.

THE ELDERFLOWER COLLINS (original recipe here)
1/2 oz Aperol
2 oz St. Germain
1 oz Lime Juice
4 dashes of Bitters (I used cranberry, original recipe calls for rhubarb)
6 oz Prosecco

In a pint glass, stir the first three ingredients together. Add the Prosecco, then pour the ingredients into another pint glass, then back to the original glass, then into a collins glass filled with ice. Reserve the remainder to top off your drink after sipping half of it.

SPINACH GOAT CHEESE TOAST
1 loaf of freshly baked French bread
Olive Oil
1 Tbsp ghee, butter or lard
1 shallot, sliced
1 garlic clove
6 oz baby spinach
1/2 cup pecans, lightly chopped
2 oz herbed goat cheese
Zest of a lemon

Slice the french loaf on the bias into several rounds. Place them on an aluminum lined sheet tray and drizzle them on both sides with olive oil. Place the tray into a preheated 400 degree oven and toast the bread for eight minutes. flipping the slices after four minutes. Remove from the oven to cool.

While the bread is toasting, chop the shallot and add it to a pan over medium heat with a tablespoon of melted ghee, butter or lard. Sauté the shallot for three minutes, then microplane the garlic into the pan. Add the spinach and stir to wilt it, adding more fat to the pan if the spinach sticks. Continue stirring until the spinach is all wilted, and remove from the pan to a bowl. Toss the pecans into the pan and stir them around to release their natural oils and emit a nutty scent. Remove from the heat and add them to the spinach mixture.

To assemble the toasts, top each round of bread with a few tablespoons of the spinach mixture. Top with dollops of the goat cheese, and put the toasts back into the oven under the broiler for a  few minutes. Watch them closely and remove them when the goat cheese is slightly melted but before the toasts burn. Remove to a platter, sprinkle the lemon zest over the tops and serve immediately.


XOXO,
Jen


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Weathery Juxtaposition, and a Question for the Readers

Up North, where loons migrate to birth and raise babies for the summer on shimmery, sparkling lakes surrounded by towering pines where sharp-eyed bald eagles lie in wait, things aren't going so well.
Meanwhile, down south, the Easter Bunny stopped by. He pooped a garland of eggs around our burning bush and forgot to munch a carrot in the flower bed.
Before leaving, he puked Spring all over the front lawn.
For now, I'll take the Easter Bunny mess. Mr. Musky is holding down the fort north of us, dreaming of giant Esox hammering his bait while he throws another log on the fire and undoubtedly sips on Sapphire. Because what else is there to do when it snows four inches in April? Oh yeah. Watch the new and improved Chicago Cubs and prop your eyelids open with toothpicks for a two-for-one playoff hockey game. So much for a cabin yard cleanup. I guess it'll have to wait until June.

***

Aside from the weather juxtaposition I'm experiencing with my love, I actually have some earth shattering news. After much hem-hawing, gnashing of teeth and cursing at the computer, I'm almost ready to launch a new blog. Guess the name?

Apéritif Friday. Shocking, I know.

Genuinely Speaking will always be my first blogging love, so I have no intention of abandoning it or the fun little anecdotes that make their way to the world through this space. Where else would I share stories about bat extraction, baseball prowess and wedding dress bawl fests? The problem is that the platform of this site is not conducive to food blogging, and while I tried to improve things over the past several months, the lack of adaptability just isn't cutting it.

I've considered paring Apéritif Friday down to a more targeted subject matter, perhaps just cocktails and appetizers, but I simply can't. We eat and drink a variety of food and bevvies, and what we eat and how we eat it continues to evolve. I mean, I actually jumped on the bandwagon and put butter in my coffee yesterday. 

Don't knock it until you try it. But I recommend skipping breakfast and avoiding carbs like the dickens if you do. 

I will always blog first and foremost for myself. Narcissistic much? Perhaps. But I also do this for the scads of sweet peeps who tell me they like to plow through this site with their Saturday morning coffee, or take a break to get a chuckle or two during their workday. People actually whined last summer during my hiatus, and I truly appreciated the feedback.

That's also why I'm keeping on.

So tell me. I am genuinely asking YOU. What do you like about Genuinely Speaking? What could be better? What kind of food and drink would you like highlighted on Apéritif Friday? Do you dig the paleo food? Prefer traditional dishes? Want more weeknight, simple ideas? Need more alcoholic options in your life?

Share your thoughts...below in the comments, via social media, over text or email at jen@jenczupek.com. I can't wait to hear from you all. The new site should be up in a few weeks.

XOXO,
Jen

Friday, April 17, 2015

Apéritif Friday - Homemade Italian Beef Sandwiches and Cucumber Gin Soda

When a person lives in bitter cold and snowy conditions for two-thirds of the year, it becomes nearly impossible to not go outside and let the sun fall on your face as much as humanly possible on the sunny 65 degree days in Springtime, when mosquitoes and dastardly black biting flies aren't even on the radar yet.

Can I get an AMEN?

With the warmup comes an unquenchable desire to sit on the patio and sip an apéritif. As in, every cotton pickin day this week at 3:00 I intentionally occupied myself because even it if is 5:00 somewhere else, I need to control things on school nights. 

But when we grilled on Wednesday I simply couldn't help myself. I cracked open the Hendricks because cucumbers danced around my brain. Summer screams Gin and Tonic to me. But since I swore off added sugar, tonic isn't cutting it with it's HFCS which tends to give me a killer headache after just one cocktail. So club soda or seltzer water it is, and I don't miss the quinine factor at all.
This Cucumber Gin Soda is light, refreshing, and mellow. Just like my mood lately. It was the perfect counterpoint to some sliced pears, goat cheese and crackers while we soaked up some rays and waited for the grill to heat up.

However, with the spring sunshine also comes spring rains, and grilling outside isn't always an option. If you find yourself wanting a hearty sandwich to prep your liver for some playoff hockey cocktailing, then give homemade Italian Beef Sandwiches a go.
They require minimal prep work: a la stuffing with garlic and rubbing salt and Italian seasoning all over a bottom round roast - which takes a whopping five minutes.
The cooking time is lengthy though, and you need to allow time for the roast to cool and sit in the refrigerator for a few hours before slicing and simmering in the au jus to finish cooking.
In the end these are so yummy and worth the effort, especially if you start them on a Saturday morning and do chores around the house. By puck drop you'll be a happy human, to quote our beloved Eddie Olczyk.
Enjoy the weekend, Spring weather, playoff hockey, and GO BLACKHAWKS!

Cucumber Gin Soda
4-5 cucumber slices
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/2 oz ginger - honey simple syrup*
2 oz Hendricks Gin
Ice cubes
Seltzer water or club soda, to top

Muddle the cucumber and lemon juice, breaking down the cucumber as much as possible. Pour them into a cocktail shaker and add the simple syrup, gin and ice cubes. Shake vigorously, then strain into a cocktail glass filled with ice. Top off with club soda or seltzer water and garnish with a cucumber slice.

*to make ginger-honey simple syrup, combine equal parts honey and water and add a chunk of fresh peeled ginger. Store in your refrigerator for up to a month.

Italian Beef Sandwiches
Bottom Round Roast, 4-6 lbs
4-5 large garlic cloves, peeled and halved
Kosher salt
3 Tbsp Italian seasoning
32 oz beef stock
French rolls - we prefer Turano brand
Ghee or butter
Garlic powder
Giardineria, recipe here or use your favorite store brand

Preheat the oven to 230 degrees.

Prepare the roast by poking holes throughout with a sharp knife and stuffing garlic into the crevices. Liberally sprinkle the roast with kosher salt and cover it in Italian seasoning and place it on a roasting rack fat side up over an oven proof or disposable aluminum pan. Pour 2 cups of beef stock in the bottom of the pan and roast it in the oven until the internal temperature reaches 110 degrees. Remove the roast to cool, then wrap it in plastic wrap and chill it in the refrigerator for a minimum of two hours to overnight. Reserve the beef stock and any drippings that accumulated in the pan.

Half an hour before you're ready to eat, pour the reserved au jus into a pot and simmer (don't boil!) the liquid on the stove. Remove the roast from the refrigerator and cut off the fat cap. Slice it as thinly as possible with a sharp knife and place the slices of beef in the au jus. Add additional stock to cover the beef slices, if necessary. Cook until the meat is done throughout, about 15-20 minutes.

While the meat is warming up, prepare the French rolls. Cut them open (but not all the way through) and spread a thin layer of ghee or butter over the bread. Sprinkle garlic powder over the top and place them under the broiler until toasty brown. Watch them carefully to ensure they don't burn.

Place a few slices of beef on the roll, spoon some au jus over the top if desired, and top with giardiniera. Enjoy with a glass of red wine or more Cucumber Gin Soda as you watch the Hawks march on to the Stanley Cup Finals.

XOXO,
Jen



Thursday, April 16, 2015

Happy Birthday, Brother John

Today is my big brother's birthday.
He is 46. And hopefully OK with the fact that I just shared his age with the world. Since I'm a slacker and didn't get him a present or a card, he gets a heartfelt blog post instead.

This morning Mr. Musky said, "I'm going to text your brother and ask him how the 13th hole looks. Think he'll get it?"

Yes. I definitely think he'll get it. Because John Henry Kahling IV is introspective.
And sometimes temperamental.
But not as much as he was during the petulant teenaged years. Thank heavens.

In college, while sitting in a tiny fraternity room on a loveseat with my fearless knight-in-shining-armor between us, our contentious words escalated into a fistfight. My sweet prince lost the gallantry contest because as an older brother himself, he decided that it's the job of the firstborn to smack little bratty sisters upside the head every now and then. It wasn't his place to interfere in contested sibling rivalry.
Jerks.

In all seriousness, my brother and I finally came to terms with one another once he chased his dream and moved to the edge of the country. Distance brought us together, and although we don't speak nearly enough, we are closely connected and fond of one another. We have a mutual trust and respect for each other not only as siblings, but as friends. As adults we finally abandoned the art of grudge holding because forgiving quickly and loving deeply are infinitely better.
Happy Birthday, Johnny Appleseed. May you enjoy the back nine as much as you did the front.

Love, hugs and kisses,
The Red-Headed Stepsister

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Adventures in Exercise

I hate exercising. Always have, always will, despite friends of mine who run marathons and others who compete in the top 20% of their worldwide crossfit age group.

These gals text me updates on their workouts. Guess what I text back? Pics of the most delicious cocktails at the cutest new restaurant in town.





My loathe for physical fitness is real, unless it's Up North where I call frolicking in the woods and recreating on the lake exercise.

The Princess and I decided to embark on the C25K (Couch to 5K) program together. The idea is that you gradually work your way up to running 3.1 miles nonstop by completing a series of 24 workouts over the course of eight weeks. Initially there's more walking than running, but eventually the running overtakes the walking until you're running for about 30+ minutes nonstop. We don't intend to finish the endeavor by actually running a race. Rather, she agreed to do the program but suggested we run our 5K at the cabin just the two of us, then celebrate with a spa day and fancy dinner before she heads off to camp.

She's a daughter after my own heart.

So recently we began. Dressed to the nines in her new workout gear, a large sigh couldn't hide her lack of enthusiasm on what we were about to do. I read her the "motivational" quote that popped up in the app on my phone screen: "Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it." She countered: "How about it's time to get your ass in gear because bikini season is staring your fat right in the face?"

Again. Apples and trees.

So we were off. And it wasn't too bad! But of course, week one, day one of the C25K program really isn't too hard. Five minute warm up, 20 minutes of alternating 90 seconds of walking with 60 seconds of running, then a five minute cool down. My five year old neighbor could do that. It's weeks four and five that are killers, when the running starts to exceed the walking. That's when I start crying for Mommy and a blankie.

As we ran, we talked about how exercise makes us feel. Endorphins? It's a load of crap. I've never experienced the "high." In fact, I once read an article about how the endorphin release eludes individuals who hail from a specific region of Eastern Europe. We are both convinced that we are in that gene pool, because Princess also would like a pint of gelato and footed pajamas with Grey's Anatomy on TV after a thirty minute workout. She lacks the enthusiasm to conquer the world, just like her mother.

But we muddle through, her better than me for obvious reasons (hello age and overall health quality). Despite the dread we feel on running day, I have to admit - it's fun. I convinced her she was coordinated just enough to run and listen to music while holding her iPhone (the absence of coordination is real in this endorphin lacking gene pool) so she gave it a go. During our cool down she insisted I listen to the song playing on her pandora station. In my right ear Peter Gabriel sweetly bleated about churches in your eyes while Nicki Minaj grunted about poontang, cookie crumbs and stripper poles in the left.

The chasm that is our generation gap runs wide and deep.

I listened to her station on our next run, despite her warnings that it might make me blush. And while the lyrics are, um...interesting? they definitely made me struggle to listen, primarily because I've never heard any of those songs. I'm thinking on our next run I might try contemporary christian music. At least my struggle to listen might result in more positive reinforcement, because sadly, my stripper pole days are long over. But we struggle on. At least, I do. She runs for twelve to fifteen minutes at a time in gym class several days a week; I work on a computer twelve to fifteen minutes at a time multiple times a day. Weekly I make a trip to the gym where I pretend to be fit enough to tackle the Life Barre class.

Life Barre is a small muscle movement class. Code for minimal cardio, so sign me up. I like it because I leave the class sore as heck, primarily because my arms are held above my head for 55 minutes straight. They scream in protest. But what drives me to insanity is the instructor's comments. I'm sure she would be a ball of fun during happy hour, but at 10:35 on a Thursday morning? Not so much. She calls us all "her dancers" because we angle our feet into some kind of position, perform plies and try to tuck our butts under while squatting like real ballerinas. The dancer reference always gets a grunt out of me, in the back, sweating profusely, red face threatening heart attack. When she asks if we "feel it" I'm the one shouting YES through gritted teeth so she doesn't force another set of 8 counts into the situation. Bile rises in my throat at the beginning of every class when she reminds us this is a "recovery class" because we all work so hard all week and this really isn't a tough workout. I confess. When I hear the word "recovery" come out of her mouth, I'd like to punch her in the gut, despite the fact that I'd probably break my hand on her abs of steel.

Finess is not fun. Exercise sucks. Running isn't pleasant. Working until things hurt sucks. But at this age, things are going to hurt if I don't move around a bit. That is an absolute truth that I've learned. So I might as well move to hurt versus not moving and hurting. And maybe in the process I'll learn to like it a little bit while the god of endorphins shoves a bit of juju my way. A girl can hope.

Happy moving around. I prefer bike riding through woods, hiking along a lake and kayaking to a beach, but for now I'll settle for the Princess kicking my butt at walk/running and a former russian ballerina calling me her dancer.

XOXO,
Jen









Saturday, April 11, 2015

Why You Should Watch Game of Thrones (No Major Spoilers)

All images in this post were downloaded from Google Images.

If you're not watching Game of Thrones on HBO, then stop reading.
Go to your family room, pick up the remote, and record the series. Or if you're techno savvy, stop reading, go to the app on your phone and record it remotely. Go on, I'll wait.

Still waiting.

Waiting some more...some of us are DVR challenged....

OK. Now I'll tell you why you just did what you did. This show, which we binge watched during the winter months, is quite possibly the best series ever produced on TV. It rivals The Sopranos. It is so entertaining I find myself thinking about the story line and characters days after I've watched an episode. Sunday night can't arrive fast enough - I can't wait to view episode one of Season Five.

For the non-believers, I'll give you nine good reasons why you must watch Game of Thrones. And I encourage you to ask around. Watchers of the show will back me on this. I promise you won't be disappointed.

1. Dynamic Characters
Never before in a TV show have there been more dynamic characters. The characters who garner hate in Season One earn your respect and admiration by Season Three. Similarly, the sweet and innocent  characters of Season One spiral into ruthless, patronizing killers by Season Four. It's very simple. If any character whether inherently good or evil remains static, they are gruesomely and unexpectedly offed.

Nasty villains haunt every scene in this show. In Season Two, an evil scoundrel takes over an entire region by brutally seizing the castle and violently killing prominent members of society. This guy is so ruthless and vile his own crew betrays him, handing him over to an even more loathsome brute who takes joy in physically and psychologically torturing him to near death. The new creep takes psychopath to an all time high, to the point you actually feel sorry for the original bad guy and will him to escape. When he gets his chance, he remains loyal to his new master, who clearly has a psychological hold over him, leaving you aghast and filled with dread. Meanwhile, betrayal runs rampant in the capital city between the king and his council, and the heroine of the south vehemently adheres to the eye for an eye philosophy as she rises to power. Even the children in this show, and there are plenty of talented child-actors in GOT, become practiced at the art of survival, relying on manipulation and betrayal on the road to personal safety. There's a little bit of villain in everyone in this series, and watching the characters evolve adds to the intricate sub-plots within the overall story.

2. A Simple Plot, with Twisted, Complicated Sub-Plots
If you're expecting to drink cocktails and eat dinner while texting your friends and watching this show, go ahead and flip over to reruns of the Kardashians. This epic story requires you to think. Overall, the plot is ridiculously simple - a bunch of egomaniacs are competing for and fighting to rule the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros by sitting atop the Iron Throne.
It's the subplots that require heavy thinking and take your breath away with unpredictability. Some of the subplot story lines are so unbelievable you'll actually be questioning your own head while watching it. "Is that man actually having sex? With her? But isn't she his SISTER? OHMYGOSH! Did he just shove that kid out of a balcony window?"
The answer is yes. Yes to all of it, in a matter of minutes. And you sadistically watch to see what unbelievable element unfolds next.

3. Realistic, but not real
At first blush, the show seems to take place in the middle ages in Europe. It soon becomes clear that there are seven kingdoms, with the remote area to the north carrying a lot of power as it guards the rest of the world with a giant wall designed to keep the "wildings" of the North partitioned off from civilization. Giant castles sprawl amongst chilly but lush rolling mountains. Meanwhile, there's a bustling central capital city set in a tropical, breezy seaside in the south. Despite being filmed in areas such as Northern Ireland, Malta, Morocco and Croatia, it soon becomes clear that the setting is not Mother Earth, and it's not set in a specific point in time that we understand as history. Seasons last a decade. Can you imagine? A ten year winter? There's a degree of fantastical elements at play in the forms of black magic, dragons and ghost-like zombies. But the fantoms play minor, foreboding roles (at least thus far) and merely add to the excitement of the show. They definitely don't make this an all out sci-fi or fantasy series, otherwise I'd have ditched it after the first episode.

4. GIRL POWER!
Love 'em or hate 'em, the women in this show make me want to take up sword fighting or hone my manipulations skills...and maybe both. Going back to dynamic characters...the women balance out an otherwise testosterone filled cast and bring brains and sex appeal into the story in a much needed manner. There's just enough minor love stories to carry the movie along and balance out the violence. And of course, with love comes inevitable loss, heartbreak, jealousy, and mama drama. Much of the content borders on highly inappropriate, and HBO will continue to push the limit on soft porn. Yes, there are whores and plenty of inappropriate scenes but the show would fall flat without the girl power that prevails in all regions - to the North,
in the Capital City,
and in the South. Especially in the South. This one is a diva badass.
If you want to see someone on the cusp of a brilliant career, you need to watch Emilia Clark's portrayal of Daenerys Targaryen. This girl's going to be around for a while doing some amazing thespian work.

5. Hot Men
Pictures tell a thousand words. Women, the eye candy. Tell your husbands you want to watch Game of Thrones because you heard it's an epic tale of battle for world domination. Then sit back, sip a glass of wine and thank me later.
Jon Snow. I'd go cave exploring with him any day of the week.

Robb Stark. A romantic at heart.
Grey Worm. Worm? Nothing wormy about this flawless specimen.
And Jaime Lannister. I'd like to owe him a debt.
6. Representation of Every Deadly Sin
There's just something about the bad stuff that makes us tune in. Maybe it acts as a reminder that in this modern day and age, our first world problems don't seem so bad after all. Sometimes all seven deadly sins rear their ugly heads in a single episode. Pride, envy, lust, wrath, vanity, sloth, gluttony. It's all there. Envy and wrath take on new heights in this show, to the point where grown children murder their parents and entire families are unexpectedly slain. I'll refrain from details so as to not spoil the surprises, but I absolutely promise you will be shocked and awed frequently. Remember - not a single character is safe on this show. Not a one. Even the gentlest of characters exhibits a deadly sin at least once.

7. Conflict and Suspense
Being an epic fight for total dominion and control, there's bound to be inherent suspense in a story like this. The gruesome murder and torture of key characters isn't short on the ick factor. If a character doesn't evolve in some manner, they're menacingly tortured, poisoned, thrown into an abyss, morbidly beheaded or slaughtered by an army. There's crucifixion of entire groups of people and battles resulting in major losses for giant armies. There's one-on-one sword fighting, political jockeying and familial manipulation that leaves your head spinning.

There's an overall sense of doom involved in this show. Just when you think you have things figured out, some perfectly orchestrated conflict comes out of nowhere like a tornado at midnight and has you on the edge of your seat, shocked at the outcome of the cliffhanger at the end of the episode, begging to see what happens next. And that's why you'll stay up until 4:00 a.m. binging on this show because you can't wait until tomorrow to watch another head thrown up on a spike for all to see.


8. Tyrion Lannister
Clearly I'm smitten with the characters on this show, but this guy deserves a line item of his own to promote it. Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister is sheer genius. The scenes are simply better when Tryion is present. I listen more carefully when he's on screen so as to not miss a single witticism or sarcastic riff. He's biting, facetious, honest and conniving. Don't take it just from me - the professionals agree. Since the show began, he's been nominated for an Emmy every single year, winning it and the Golden Globe in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

9. There are books!
This series is based on the books by George R.R. Martin's series, "A Song of Ice and Fire." So even when the TV show is over, we can dig deeper and continue to enjoy the complicated sub-plots and dynamic characters of the story. My brother bought me the books a few years ago for my birthday, and I must confess, they overwhelmed me. I couldn't focus enough (hello, Northwoods summertime) to keep everything straight, so I gave up on them several chapters in. But I could totally see this playing out well onscreen, especially considering HBO was producing it. And I couldn't have been more correct. They blew this story out of the park onscreen, and the original author is involved in the creative process, so you know they're staying true to the spirit of the epic tale. I've read that season one stays close to the books but the following seasons take creative liberties. All the more reason to pick up those books when the TV series is over.

I could blather on, but I don't want provide any major spoilers. If you enjoy an epic tale, plot twists and turns, complex characters, superb acting and interesting and changing scenery, this is the show for you. I would, however, consider this R-rated. There are plenty of racy scenes including nudity and shocking violence, so if that's not your thing than I don't recommend watching Game of Thrones. But if you're OK with that and want to pick up a highly entertaining TV series, then start from season one. In no time you'll be grateful that Season Five is recorded on your DVR, just waiting for you to "catch up."

And remember....Winter is Coming...so don't delay.

XOXO,
Jen



Friday, April 10, 2015

Apéritif Friday - Spring Storms, Tuna Salad and Refreshing Minty Water

Spring announced itself forcefully last night as we held our first 2015 family convention in the basement under the warning threat of tornadoes. Here's how it went down in our group text:

Despite devastation to the north of us, personal hygiene, ghetto speak and dark humor prevailed.

Since I was a child, recurring nightmares of being caught in a tornado haunt me. As a kid I was like Dorothy in my slumber, flying along with all my enemies cackling evilly as our brick house spiraled into a magical technicolor land. Once I had kids my dream morphed into a mad frenzy to get all my lovies into the basement, only to find that we forgot the cat. I run upstairs, locate Madison, and chuck her down the stairs. Then I realize we forgot the dog. I find Miller, agonizingly coax him downstairs, and settle in for the storms to hit. Then the littles start wailing because they forgot their blankies in their rooms. Can you imagine babies without their blankies? Living hell. So I dash back upstairs to get them, heart pounding out of my chest. On my final descent to safety the roof blows off as I leap down the stairs, which start to give way, so I madly cling to the rail in sheer terror as my surroundings fly up into the vortex, my legs rise above my head, the stair rail starts to break off from it's foundation, a bloodcurdling scream erupts from my lungs...

I wake up drenched in sweat.

After last night's drama I knew the nightmares would visit me. This time it was just Mr. Musky and me in the car driving on a highway toward a menacing, wedge shaped funnel cloud, unable to escape due to traffic in both directions. Just like all the news reports showed last night. I keep asking him in my dream, "Are we dead? Are we dying?" as debris rockets toward us and a jackknifed semi careens our way.

He replies simply and calmly. "No," as our car begins levitating and spinning round and round, traveling a mile before it gently lands on an overpass. We survive.

I wake up panting and sweating, yet again.

I don't make light of spring storms. We all spent a good hour in the basement last night, along with shoes and socks, car keys, wallets and purses, plenty of water and fresh popcorn, pillows, candles, medicine, photo albums, flash lights, dogs and blankies. Tornadoes will always freak me out, even though I wasn't in Plainfield when the F5 ripped through town in 1990, creating a path of destruction and terror that folks around here remember all too well. My parents lived in the area back then and drove home from work in that storm, narrowly avoiding tragedy.

I hope you'll join me in keeping the folks in Northern Illinois in your prayers. They're going to need it.

***

Despite the storms this weather warm up inspires me to start creating lighter fare, especially for lunch. A week or so ago I whipped up one of my favorites, Tuna Salad, which has certainly evolved over the years just like my tornado dreams. Once upon a time I opened a couple of cans of Starkist, plopped a glob of manufactured jarred mayonnaise into it and called it a day. Now I chock it full of vegetables, fresh herbs and homemade remoulade, and it is absolutely divine.
Twenty years ago Mr. Musky didn't have a clue that he'd become an official taste tester some day. If he'd known, would he still have said "I do?"

I'm thinking yes. Mainly because he typically likes what he tastes. A couple of weeks ago he came home from work and went straight for the fridge to pull out some tuna salad.

Curious, I questioned his snack choice. "Didn't you have tuna for lunch, hon?"

"Yes. But this is the best I've ever had. I don't know what you did to it, but I love it."

Since he complemented it so profusely I thought I'd better write down how I made it since I never seem to make tuna salad the same. Here's the Musky approved version. This tastes good immediately after you make it, but it gets even better after the flavors meld in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Being that we consumed this at lunchtime there was no aperitif involved. But I did mix myself some tasty water. My local little produce store had this sitting out one day, and with the first sip I was smitten. It's a refreshing alternative to plain old H2O.
Enjoy and embrace the Spring, but take those car keys to the basement with you!

XOXO,
Jen

Refreshing Minty Water
5 mint leaves
1/2 lemon, sliced
1/4 cucumber, sliced

Place ingredients in 2 quarts of water and let steep for 15-30 minutes. Pour and enjoy!

Tuna Salad, Mr. Musky Approved
Three to four 5 oz cans of tuna (I prefer a combo of Trader Joe's pole caught skip jack and albacore)
1/2 cup remoulade (recipe follows) or mayonnaise
3 Tbsp chopped pickle
1 Tbsp capers, chopped
1 Tbsp chopped fresh dill
Dash of champagne vinegar (apple cider or distilled is fine)
2 T Italian parsley, chopped
2 scallions, sliced thinly
2 radishes, diced
1/3 small yellow pepper, diced
1/2 carrot, diced
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
1 head of Romaine lettuce, chopped

Drain the tuna and flake it into a medium sized bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and gently stir to combine. Serve on a bed of chopped lettuce, in a pita, on crackers, in a tortilla wrap, or make a sandwich. For tuna melts, slightly toast an English Muffin, top each round with a scoop of tuna, then top with your favorite melting cheese (swiss or gouda is awesome). Place under the broiler and watch carefully until the cheese is bubbly and begins to brown.

Remoulade
(recipe inspired by Emeril, original recipe found here)
1 egg
1 Tbsp whole grain or dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, microplaned
juice of a lemon
1 Tbsp fresh or prepared horseradish
1 cup light tasting olive oil

Put first five ingredients in a blender and mix. SLOWLY with the blade running, drizzle in the olive oil. This will take a few minutes - don't rush it or your sauce will not come together in a mayonnaise-like consistency. If using a blendtec blender, hit the speed up button twice for the right velocity. You will need to run speed 2 through an entire cycle, then again for half a cycle to allow for enough time to slowly pour all of the oil into the blender.

The remoulade will keep for a week in the refrigerator and is awesome on sandwiches.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Apéritif Friday - Paleo Blood Orange Margarita

Today is all about an apéritif that makes makes me happy.

Scratch that. It makes me giddy.
Wrong again. It makes me close my eyes and conjure seventy-five degrees and sunshine, a gentle breeze caressing my face as my toes sink into sugary soft sand while cool waves from the ocean lap at my ankles. A brilliant, perfectly arched rainbow decorates the horizon as a backdrop for snow-white unicorns with fuchsia horns and golden hooves to glide past.

It's that good.

I give you the Blood Orange Margarita.
It's slightly sweet, but not overbearingly so. It's refreshing and light, with the unmistakable hint of tequila underlying bright, fresh flavors. I guzzled mine alarmingly quickly and told Mr. Musky he probably shouldn't drink his, as it would likely cause his acid reflux to flare up due to the acidity of the citrus juice. I recommended that he hand it over so I could take care of it for him.
"You know what?" he declared. "Ever since we did the Whole 30 I haven't had much of a reflux issue. I think I'll be just fine."

"I don't know, Babe. I don't want you to suffer later."

"Do you just want to drink this because you like it that much?" he was on to me.

"Maybe," I conceded. But happy to finally get him to try one of my concoctions, I just made myself another with the juice I had left. Even though I could have easily downed three of these babies.

I'm sure these would be equally delicious with other fruit juices, but the blood orange gave it the most dazzling color. And the beauty? This drink is 100% paleo as it contains no added sugar.

While I loved it, something was definitely missing. It took me several sips before I put my finger on it.
Aaaahhhhhh..... Perfection. Pair this with some chips and my guacamole and you'll soothe your brain via hallucinations of rainbows and unicorns - no therapist required.

Blood Orange Margarita 
2 oz agave tequila
1 oz blood orange juice
1 oz fresh lime juice
3/4 oz (or to your liking for sweetness) honey simple syrup (equal parts honey dissolved into water)

Shake all of the ingredients vigorously in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Serve in a salt rimmed glass (or without the salt, for those boys and girls who prefer clean glasses). Enjoy!

XOXO,
Jen