Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ring Ching Ching

My friend Andrea and I text one another nearly every month, talk about meeting for lunch, make plans about six times and cancel, then finally sit down together once every eight months or so to catch up. For the past several years, we end our lunch conversations with something like this:
"Kahling, I love you."

"Darlas, I love you, too."

"We should totally have a Pi Phi reunion."

"Yes. We should. Totally."
No, we do not hail from the San Fernando Valley. But we did grow up in the '80s, and for a gal who loves the Safety Dance, the Village People and about leapt out of her skin when C.O. Daniel's announced '80s Tuesdays, Darlas just has a wee problem with overusing the word "totally," especially when reminiscing about the female version of Glory Days.

Ready to reconnect with some good friends, we finally got serious this winter.

Serious equaled creating a Facebook page for my fellow alumni and throwing the idea of a get-together out there. Interest was overwhelmingly positive, so Darlas and I worked together to find a venue and plan a little soiree.

Allow me to backtrack a bit...

When I arrived at the big, intimidating University of Illinois several years (ahem, multiple decades) ago, all doe-eyed and naive and barely past puberty, I knew I wanted to participate in rush and pledge a sorority in order to meet friends quickly. My big brother paved the way for me three years earlier, convincing my parents that the best and fastest way to fit in socially at such a giant school was to join the Greek System. They conceded, making my request easier than a cakewalk. And Big Brother and his fellow fraternity brothers helped a sister out.

That fateful first night of my collegiate career, my brother not only introduced me to my future husband. He also provided me with some guidance on the eve of my first day of rush.

"Jennifer, I will never tell you which house to pledge. Only you can figure that out. But...some of the guys and I got together before going out tonight and came up with something to help you."

He handed me a folded piece of paper, his familiar left-handed scrawl outlining a list of sorts. At that point I honestly couldn't tell the theta symbol from the psi. Nonetheless, his advice was intriguing and marginally helpful. Those brilliant boys from Kappa Sigma categorized the sororities on campus according to the following:
  • Biggest Bitch Houses
  • Best Face Houses
  • Biggest Geek Houses (e.g., won't party with us in football block because they are all home studying. On a Saturday morning. Lame.)
  • Coolest Chick Houses
I kept that list folded and hidden amongst my rush materials, referring it to it often over the next several weeks. As I whittled down the list of potential new places to live and people to become friends with, one house stood head and shoulders among the rest. Because the girls were just so cool. And I wanted to be part of their coolness. At the last party, the president of that house offered a nugget of sage advice to me and the rest of the clueless rushees. "Pick the house where you can imagine yourselves brushing your teeth with the women around you."

And that, my friends, is one of the many reasons why I chose Pi Beta Phi.
They truly were the coolest chicks.
They were laid back.
Happy to hold your hair back for you on your 21st birthday, and also willing to call bullshit on you when necessary.
They've been known to walk across barn dance bonfires, just for fun.
 And shoot a stream of alcohol out of a bota across a river into the mouth of a thirsty friend.
They were involved in whacky moped accidents resulting in crazy insurance claims, thanks to Asian foreign exchange students.
They cut my bangs and loaned me their computers.
They broke rules, poured me beer and listened to me when I needed it most.
They rallied when parents passed away.
And cheered when we got engaged and married. Shockingly, I wasn't the only one to become engaged in college!
We left U of I when email didn't exist, none of us had ever heard the words "power point" and not one of us owned a mobile phone, making staying connected to one another difficult.
This gathering was long overdue.
They were, and still are, the coolest chicks I've ever known.
And they're also the smartest. Our ranks include infectious disease doctors, consultants, attorneys, news reporters, teachers, artists, PTO Presidents, recruiting gurus, PR professionals and the best Stay at Home Moms this planet's ever seen.
The best part of the night was standing back and seeing people reconnect.
People I lived with for three years, during the most formidable years of our lives.
I owe a lot to these women.
And you know what else? My brother and his buddies messed something up. We didn't just rank as the top coolest chick house on campus.
We were also are still the best face house.

Cheers to you, ladies! I had a blast seeing you all Saturday, and am thrilled to announce that Jeannie Gura is planning the next gathering.

Ring Ching Ching!


Friday, April 11, 2014

Apéritif Friday - Grilled Shrimp de Jonghe, and a Minty Cucumber Mojito

I mentioned in my last post that I'm feeling a bit uninspired lately. That is still true, but I'm slowly emerging from hibernation and getting my mojo back. There's nothing like some good outdoor time to light a fire under my fanny... and on the grill.

This blog also helped. I'm enjoying this guy immensely.

I've got a new nickname for that husband o' mine, but you'll have to come back for a future post for that. I'm not quite ready to spill the beans on what will surely elicit smirks and chuckles from several friends. Not to mention sheer terror for those who watch him grill. Here's a clue - it has to do with a fascination with fire, how to start one quickly and play in the flames.
Weirdo. But I'll refrain from name-calling to his face. Because he cooks and stuff.

Wednesday our kids went to some extracurricular lessons after school. Blessed is the day when your firstborn obtains her drivers license and you are no longer responsible for schlepping. Especially when Spring weather cooperates and the mercury rises above 50 degrees. It's a tropical heatwave, people!

We planned ahead. I bought some hefty rib eyes earlier in the day for some Bobby Flay Perfection.
Steaks cooked this way are my absolute favorite. I don't sweat about getting Meyer Lemons - the dressing works just fine with regular lemon, and I cut the recipe in half when making just two steaks. We use ghee and a steak spice mix on our meat versus canola oil, as we're trying to avoid all unnatural oils these days. I melt the ghee, add the spice, and liberally rub it into the steaks an hour before they go on the grill. Just before he plops them on, Mr. Musky salts them really well. And as for the goat cheese? Just buy an herbed version and call it a day. Schmear it on the hot, juicy steaks, lay them over a bed of greens and drizzle on that honey mustard goodness. It's all you need for a meal - no other sides are necessary because you'll want to lick the plate. It's that good.

We ditched our no no alcohol rule for Monday - Thursday. The first sunny day of the year calls for all kinds of delinquency. And I simply had to recreate last week's apéritif from Catalina Island. Boy oh boy I like this one. It's firmly set in the rotation. I'm calling it the Minty Cucumber Mojito. It's pretty simple to make, and even easier to slug down in 53 seconds. To make it, gather:
A lime, quartered. Rum, Club Soda, Cucumber, Honey Simple Syrup (equal parts honey and hot water), mint leaves and ice.

Quarter the lime, juice it into a muddler and add 5-6 mint sprigs and 4-5 thin slices of cucumber. Muddle away, trying to break down the cucumber while releasing the oils in the mint.
Dump the lime remnants and muddled ingredients into a shaker. Add 2-3 tablespoons of honey simple syrup (equal parts of honey and hot water), and 3-4 oz of white rum.
Shake vigorously, and strain into a tall glass with ice and some sliced cukes.
Top off with club soda and stir. Garnish with a mint sprig.
I've never before been a big fan of rum, but I'm definitely warming up to it. It's light and refreshing and a nice change from vodka, which gets a little boring as a cocktail base. I promptly took this baby outside to enjoy.

Speaking of babies, Miller is like a pig in shit these days. Spring is good for everyone, canines included. He loves hanging outside begging for food instead of inside begging for food.
Clearly he slothed it up and packed on the poundage this winter. Recently I took him to the vet for blood in his urine (all cleared up now, thankfully) and he weighed in at a whopping 119 pounds.
He's in desperate need of some summertime cabin swimming to return to his boyish physique. 
He still eats fresh goose poop and adult male argyle dress socks, as evidenced by the winter cleanup of the backyard I recently undertook. It was all kinds of disgusting. And enthralling, to consider how one's intestinal tract processes such footwear. I'll leave it at that.
OK - enough with the pooch. When you're firing up the grill and want a little somethin' somethin' before the main event, this couldn't be easier to prepare or cook.
Grilled Shrimp De Jonghe.

I always associate this recipe with my Aunt Doll. Growing up I remember seeing this in Delia's scrawl on a 3x5 index card in my mom's recipe box. And while I haven't made it very often (WHY?? BUTTER AND GARLIC AND ALCOHOL AND BREAD, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!) I always think of her when I do.

But the other night, too lazy to search in my own recipe mess for her version, I looked up the dish online and savored my cocktail while learning a bit of history. Surprisingly, this decadent dish originated in Chicago, dating back to the 1892 Columbian Exposition (World's Fair). Belgian immigrant brothers - Henri, Pierre and Charles de Jonghe - and their sisters arrived in the Stinky Onion a year earlier to make their fortune in America. They seized the opportunity the fair promised to enterprising individuals and opened a restaurant nearby on the south side. After a successful run, they opened a hotel and moved the restaurant to 12 E. Monroe. Sadly though, they were shut down after the head waiter sold an undercover prohibition agent three pints of whiskey for $10 each in 1923.

$10 a pint? Please tell me who drinks an entire pint of whiskey? Let alone three? Assuming it was uncut, why didn't that goofy waiter just offer to sell him an entire bottle? But I can't judge. If alcohol were labeled unlawful in today's day and age, I'd fork over $100 for a glass of whiskey if I could get my hands on one.

Henri de Jonghe and his head chef, Emile Zehr, are credited for the dish. According to this article in the Tribune, the original recipe went to the grave with Henri in 1961 when he died at the age of 98. I mixed it up the other night and bucked tradition, subbing white wine for the sherry.

Here's how I made ours.

Grilled Shrimp de Jonghe for Two
10 large prawns, shelled and deveined
Several splashes of Chardonnay
4 T butter, softened (microwave for a tic if necessary)
Chopped fresh Italian Parsley - about a Tablespoon or two
Microplaned Garlic (one clove) and Onion (enough to taste)
Salt and Pepper
Squeeze of 1/2 lemon
Fresh focaccia bread, sliced and toasted

Throw the shrimp into a grill proof pan. Splash it with some Chardonnay, probably 4-5 Tablespoons. In a small dish mix the softened butter with the parsley, garlic, onion, salt, pepper and a dash of paprika.

Funny sidebar - when I went to dash my paprika on the butter, I opened the wrong side and about 1/4 cup went spilling into the butter. Don't be like me. My dish is way more orange than yours will be, despite my efforts to dump the excess into the sink.

Break or slice the toasted bread into thimble-sized crumbs, and toss all over the shrimp. Dot the pan with pieces of the jacked up butter and squeeze the juice of 1/2 lemon all over. It's all going to melt together into a gooey yummy mess, so don't stress about how it looks. Throw it on the grill and flip the shrimp a couple of times. It'll cook in less than five minutes. As soon as the shrimp are opaque in the middle, pull it off and dig in. We used extra pieces of toasted bread to soak up the buttery, garlicky goodness.
And to torment the dog.

Enjoy! This is a fabulous way to enjoy Springtime.


Friday, April 4, 2014

Apéritif Friday, West Coast Style

Last week, we enjoyed every living bite of this sushi. Twice.
 By a little pool, overlooking this view.
I drooled at every restaurant over cocktail menus like this one.
Because those Californians make a mean drink. So perfect, at every restaurant, that I had to order for everyone else (over the age of 21, of course) at my table because I WANTED THEM ALL! Guess which drinks I ordered?
Buffalo Milk for the one person who I knew would love it. Hint - it's not the man in blue.
He was happy with the Pacific Classic; that is, what I left of it for him. Delicious, fresh and perfect for Island sipping.

I give you the Cucumber Mojito, which upon hitting my lips landed on my top five list. I will be working diligently to replicate it. But not tonight, as I have none of the ingredients on hand. Boo hoo!
The oyster shooter trio?
Fabulous and weird. I'd do that again, too.

Despite gray skies part of the time, a really sick kid who barely left the couch the second half of our stay, and an earthquake that left us unsettled for the rest of the trip (no pun intended), I want to go back.


Because 12 inches of snow just fell upon my beloved north woods. And it appears as though campfire dining this summer will include snowmobile pants and grumpy old men hats.

Enjoy your weekend!