Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Shroom Soup

Until I was, say, 30 or so, I ate a lot of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup (aka "CrofMush").  Not by itself - it was used in the upper Midwest where I grew up as a kind of culinary mucilage to glue together the other ingredients in the infamous local hot dishes.  Chicken and rice, corned beef and noodles, tuna and bread crumbs, green beans and fried onions - all these and more benefited from the addition of an undiluted can of CrofMush.  Then I tasted Pepperidge Farm's mushroom soup and realized it could be a stand-alone food.

Pepperidge Farm no longer makes soup, alas, so these days I have to look elsewhere when I want mushroom soup for lunch or as the first course of dinner.  If I'm really in a hurry I use Imagine Portobello Mushroom soup, but I prefer to take my time and make my own from scratch.

Cream Optional Mushroom Soup

cooking oil spray (like Pam)
1/2 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
8 oz cremini (brown) mushrooms, sliced
2 teaspoons brandy (or balsamic vinegar, if you prefer)
2 cups beef stock or bouillon
salt and pepper to taste

Spray a large non-stick saute or fry pan with the oil and place it on medium-high heat.  Add the chopped onion and sliced mushrooms; season lightly with salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have given up their excess moisture and the onions are just starting to brown.  Turn down the heat and continue to cook until the mushrooms and onions are turning golden.  Add the brandy and cook for another five minutes or so, stirring more frequently.

Add some of the stock to the pan and deglaze the bottom.  If you have room, add the rest of the stock; otherwise, pour the onion and mushroom mixture into a large saucepan and add the remaining stock.  Heat on medium high to a simmer.

Remove from heat and use an immersion blender to puree, being careful not to splash the hot liquid.  Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

If you would like this to be a cream soup, add a little milk, plain soy milk, or low-fat unflavored yogurt at this point and return to the heat until the soup starts to steam.  Serve immediately.   Makes 2 lunch or 4 appetizer-sized servings.

Variations: You can also use portabella or reconstituted dry wild mushrooms in this recipe.  If you use portabellas, the gills will make the soup quite dark; if this bothers you, remove and discard the gills before cooking.  I also like to serve this soup with just a sprinkle of crispy fried onions as a garnish.

"To dream of mushrooms denotes fleeting happiness, to dream you are gathering them, fickleness in a lover or consort." ~Richard Folkard in Plant Lore (1884)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Un-Wearing of the Green

I've talked quite a bit about trying to make my house a greener one, but in one area I've been wanting it to be much, much less green.

The house and its neighbors were built in the 1970's when avocado was a hot decorating color, and the builder apparently got a smoking deal on a load of avocado green brick, because our subdivision is full of it.  Hardly a house in my neighborhood has not been afflicted with at least a little of the horrible blotchy stuff, and mine is no exception.  The right side of the front of the house was faced (or defaced) foundation to roof with it.  (The bricks looked a lot like the ones in this picture.)

I could have lived with the color and pretended it was the currently trendy "sage green" except for one thing: the house has desert landscaping, which means rocks instead of grass, and the rocks in the front yard are also green.  A different, clashing shade of gray-green.

Add to this the yellow paint on three walls of the house, the gray west wall, the nasty rose-taupe trim, and the front door with only part of the molding painted (also in taupe) and you will understand why this weekend I invested in some paint to improve the poor home's curb appeal.

The front door, eaves, and  shutters are now "Slate Green," a greenish gray that goes well with the rocks in the yard.  The part of the front of the house that's covered in siding is "Navajo Sand," an off-white formulated by the manufacturer specifically to go with the slate green.  The formerly green brick was painted with a white base, then rolled with the off-white and dry-brushed with the gray-green.  (It looks pretty good, if I say so myself.)  I also bought new striped cushions for the bistro set on the front porch that incorporate the slate green, another dark green, the off-white, and a brown that goes with the quarry tile on the floor of the porch.

I suppose it was churlish of me to do away with the green just before St. Patrick's Day, but I don't often have two days straight that I can take off completely from working on the computer.  I hope I can squeeze out some more in the near future, though - that's one side of the house painted and three more to go.  I believe the odd gray wall is destined to be the next to go.

"If bad decorating was a hanging offense, there'd be bodies hanging from every tree!" ~Sylvester Stallone

Friday, February 24, 2012

Perfectly Awful

What would you do if you found that your whole life was based on lies?

Julie Metz's husband Henry was 44 years old when he died in her arms of a pulmonary embolism.  Julie had what she (and many others) thought was a perfect life - a 16-year marriage, a beautiful daughter, and a successful career as a graphic artist.  Her book Perfection: A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal is the story of how she came to terms with the fact that it had been not just imperfect, but perfectly awful.

Henry, a handsome, outgoing bon vivant, had been secretly very insecure and trying to fill the hole in his psyche by chasing (and usually catching) other women.  Julie, who had never suspected his infidelity, was devastated by the extent of it, and by the $40,000 debt Henry had also concealed from her.  Like many women, she had accepted her husband's accusations that she was to blame for their fights and her depression, but after his death she realized that he had been "gaslighting" her to conceal his own guilt.

I think most of us who have lost a spouse wrestle with pain, guilt, and anger in varying degrees; in Metz's case, the anger is supercharged as the truth emerges, and she takes some extraordinary steps to try to discover just what Henry had done and why.  Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction; few novelists would even try to write a story like this for fear that it would be too unbelievable.

This is definitely not the usual uplifting survivor's account of "how I found peace after a year of grief."

"Julie Metz'a memoir of how her marriage unraveled after her mate's death is piercingly honest, haunting, and heartbreaking." ~Susan Shapiro

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Arrowhead Oasis

When I first moved to the west side of the Valley of the Sun from New York, I was dismayed to find very few fine dining establishments there.  Local lore blames this on two factors: the abundance of presumably penny-pinching senior citizens, and the failure of the utility companies to run natural gas lines into many of the subdivisions there.  Fortunately the last few years have seen several excellent restaurants open in this area, and last Sunday Sue and I took our parents to one of them to celebrate Mom's birthday.

Arrowhead Grill is unfortunately located in a strip mall across the street from a giant Wal-Mart/Sam's Club complex, but the interior is sleek and attractive with an in-wall water feature, fresh flowers, and leather and earth-toned decor.  The kitchen is partially open to the main dining room but the noise level is quite low and the servers attentive.  The bread served before each meal is a delicious warm focaccia, and the rest of the food is also wonderful.

On this particular occasion we went for Sunday brunch, but only Dad had Eggs Benedict.  My sister and I had the excellent Shepards [sic] pie, made with ground lamb, and Mom had a cup of French Onion soup and half a Reuben sandwich, which she said were the best she had ever eaten.  On previous trips there I've had a duck sandwich with caramelized onions (a special that day), the Focaccia Chicken Sandwich, and the Lamb Chop Fondue, all of them to die for.  Their wine list ranges from affordable to "splurge."

The Grill opened in 2008 and has apparently had some hard years during the economic downturn.  Sadly (for the owners), every time I've eaten there the dining room is half empty.  I am trying to support them by telling everyone I know about the restaurant and eating there myself whenever I can afford to.  Sue and I are also thinking of joining their wine-tasting club when it starts up again in May.  We don't want to have to go back to driving to Scottsdale for food of this caliber.

"From the Coconut Battered Shrimp to the AG Butter Cake, each mouth-watering menu item has the personal touch of Chef Charles Wade Schwerd, a Valley culinary hot ticket for almost two decades." ~Arrowhead Grill website

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Making a Joyful Noise

One of the things I've always liked most about living alone is that it's a license to be more myself than I can be when living with someone else.  Living alone means I can get up at 3AM and watch old movies with the sound on when I have insomnia.  It means I can have a peanut butter and mashed banana sandwich for dinner if I want to.  If I feel the urge to see Katmandu, I can make the reservations and throw a few things in a carry-on bag.  And if I want to sing at the top of my lungs, only the cat objects.

I don't mean to imply that my singing is horrible.  I can carry a tune.  However, my voice doesn't have much of a range and it's never been trained, and my repertoire leans heavily toward old Protestant hymns, since that's most of what I sang while growing up and during my stint in our church's junior high choir.  Various roommates of both sexes have suggested - politely or not - that I confine my efforts to the shower.  With the bathroom door shut.  (Rusty just howls.)

I haven't been much of a churchgoer since junior high - I actually consider myself to be an agnostic - but my parents' church recently hired me to do the monthly updates for their website, so I've occasionally been attending services to keep the pastor and church staff happy.  A few weeks ago, one of my parents' acquaintances there tried to recruit me for the choir.  I explained that my voice would not be much of an asset to them, but she introduced me to the choir director who said, "It's just about making a joyful noise."  Well, hey, I can do that.

Today I went to my first choir practice and was astonished when the altos and tenors actually squabbled over which section I should join.  Mind you, the average age in this church is hovering around 70, so most of the other voices in the group are probably past their prime, but I was still touched after the practice when the woman standing next to me said I have a beautiful alto.  Well, no, I don't, but being encouraged to sing is a pleasant change.  Now I can warble my head off on Wednesdays and Sundays without antagonizing even the cat.

“He who sings scares away his woes.” ~ Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Alcohol vs. the Cold Germs

When I was growing up, if someone in the family had a cough that wouldn't respond to cough syrup, my father would pour a little hot apricot brandy down the sufferer's throat.  I'm not sure what the basis of this nostrum was - relax the throat to ease the cough?  Put the cold sufferer to sleep with a healthy slug of hot alcohol?  Weaken the cold germs by getting them drunk?  What ever the theory was, my husband Tom's family must have subscribed to it, too - their father dosed them with hot blackberry brandy.

I now know that inebriated germs are not the shortest route through a nasty cold, but a hot drink still does make a sore throat feel better.  I made myself some of this tonight on the strength of that.

Winter Wassail

For each serving:

1/2 cup red wine
1/2 cup apple juice or cider
1/2 cup orange juice
1 Tblsp. Spice Hunter Muilling Spices

Heat until simmering (about 15 minutes); the liquid will reduce significantly.  Strain into a cup and serve.

If you don't have access to pre-mixed mulling spices, use a cinnamon stick, several whole cloves, a little orange peel, and possibly some star anise for a similar effect.

“Then here's to the heartening wassail, Wherever good fellows are found; Be its master instead of its vassal, and order the glasses around.” ~Ogden Nash

Friday, February 17, 2012

Better Late Than Never

For the last few days I've been reading another ebook borrowed from the public library - The Secrets of People Who Never Get Sick by Gene Stone.  Stone is a respected journalist who has been writing about health issues for years and tried many of the treatments he investigated.  (He passed on the electroshock therapy.)  In this book he profiles 25 people and their personal prescriptions for living long and healthy lives.  He also examines the medical theory behind each person's "secret" and explains how the reader can adapt the technique for personal use.

Many of the "secrets" you undoubtedly know already - good genes, good diet, regular exercise - but some of them are obscure, not to say outre - dunking the head in a basin of hydrogen peroxide every morning, or drinking urine.  OK, so even the bizarre techniques have some foundation in science; despite Stone's clear, amusing explanations I'm not convinced that I need to eat dirt. 

Due to my bumper orange crop I am already taking in a lot of Vitamin C, and it does seem to have made this cold quite a bit milder than the usual.  I think for the future I will concentrate on Stone's instructions for stretching, avoiding stress, maintaining a positive attitude, and napping.  Maybe next winter I can avoid catching cold entirely.

"To all the people working toward a health care system that pays as much attention to the prevention of illness as the curing of it." ~Gene Stone, The Secrets of People Who Never Get Sick

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Better Living Through Electronics

This morning I woke up with a sore throat that is obviously the beginning of a cold. I'm afraid the timing indicates that I picked it up at the VNSA book sale this weekend. Someone must have fondled a book with germy hands shortly before I touched it myself.

As a result, I'm considering an unexpected advantage of owning an e-reader. Buying or borrowing e-books via download may accidentally infect my computer with a virus, but I won't have to worry about catching one myself.

Excuse me, I need to go buy myself some more tissues.

"If a doctor treats your cold, it will go away in fourteen days. If you leave it alone, it will go away in two weeks." ~Gloria Silverstein

Monday, February 13, 2012

Another Winter Rose

The name of this variety is Ketchup and Mustard.  Notice the difference in color between the front and the back of the blossom.

"And I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies."

~Christopher Marlowe

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Battered Book Buyer

Maybe it's my imagination, but the VNSA Book sale seemed even more crowded than usual this year - lots of aisle-blocking shopping carts and whole families shopping en masse.  I took one elbow in the ribs but otherwise escaped unscathed.

For $13.75 plus the $7.00 parking fee I bought (all in excellent condition):
  • a leather-bound hardcover edition of Postern of Fate by Agatha Christie, to replace my crumbling paperback; one of the "Tommy and Tuppence" mysteries
  • trade paperback of The Blue Girl by Charles deLint; I had several of his early books but not this
  • 3 books in one hardcover of the Lord Darcy mysteries by Randall Garrett, to replace the one I gave away years ago; Lord Darcy is a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Lord Peter Wimsey in a Victorian world where magic functions
  • paperback copy of Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert; haven't read this yet
  • hardcover copies of R is for Ricochet and T is for Trespass by Sue Grafton; I've read these but they were the only books in the Kinsey Milhone series I didn't own
  • paperback of A Year in the World: Journeys of a Passionate Traveler by Frances Mayes; love Mayes, haven't read this before
  • hardcover Provence A-Z by Peter Mayle; another new discovery
  • hardcover of Rules of Engagement, a science fiction novel by Elizabeth Moon, a former career military officer; sequel to Once a Hero, which I loved
  • hardcover of The Ship Avenged by S.M. Stirling; the last book in the Ship Who Sang series created by Anne McCaffrey, and another volume I haven't read yet
  • VHS tape of Though Lovers Be Lost; last season of the cult fantasy TV show Beauty and the Beast, starring Linda Hamilton (The Terminator) and Ron Perlman
  • VHS tape of Legal Eagles; great 1986 mystery starring Robert Redford, Debra Winger, and Daryl Hannah
Now all I have to do is curl up with one of these and a grilled cheese sandwich.

“Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.” ~Mark Twain

Cataloging the Library

Those of us who own a lot of books don't always remember what they all are.  Every once in a while I buy a duplicate by accident.  To minimize that, about 15 years ago I built a book catalog with an early version of Access.  Unfortunately, when Microsoft releases a new version of Access, the database has to be completely rebuilt rather than just updated.  About a year ago I bought a new laptop loaded with Office 2010, including Access, but Barry and I broke up right after that and the old laptop went into storage.  That means not only did I not rebuild the database, I couldn't keep it current with the books I bought while it was out of reach.

So, tomorrow is the VNSA book sale, and as of this morning my catalog was totally out of date.  It still contained all of Barry's books plus the ones I've discarded during the last year, and it was missing the new purchases.  I did have all the books marked with the original owner, but Barry left a lot of his books behind and took a few of mine with him, so I had to do a complete inventory to see what was left.  Since the catalog started with almost 1500 entries, it was a really ugly project.

It took almost all day, but the inventory is now up to date - including the e-books in my Nook - and I can take a current list with me to the sale.  Now all I have to do is rebuild the database in Access 2010.

In my copious spare time.

"Books constitute capital. A library book lasts as long as a house, for hundreds of years. It is not, then, an article of mere consumption but fairly of capital, and often in the case of professional men, setting out in life, it is their only capital. " ~Thomas Jefferson

Friday, February 10, 2012

Chicken Hacking at Home

Shortly after moving into this house I was intrigued by the ads for Top Secret Recipe, a new TV show on CMT.  The premise was that every week the host, a self-styled "food hacker" named Todd Wilbur, would try to replicate a top-secret food industry recipe.  The pilot program was going to feature the recipe for KFC original fried chicken.

Well, of course I watched the pilot.  I love KFC original, but I almost never eat it any more due to the high fat and sodium content.  However, I was hoping that if Wilbur could identify the famous "11 herbs and spices," I could make a baked version of it at home.

The show was fairly amusing, with Wilbur dumpster-diving for ingredient packages and wheeling and dealing to gain access to one of the pressure deep fryers that give the chicken its unique texture, and at the end a KFC bigwig admitted that Wilbur had come closer to the correct recipe than anyone else who had ever tried.  The recipe, we were told, would be posted on Wilbur's website for our own use, although we would of course not have access to one of those pressure fryers.

I meant to keep watching the show and to try the recipe, but I got distracted by home improvement and did neither.  Last night, though, staring at the chicken thighs I meant to have for dinner, I suddenly thought, "What about that KFC hack?" So I went on line and found the recipe.

The reasons for the high sodium count were immediately apparent - brining with salt and MSG, plus more salt and MSG in the breading.  My chicken, like most supermarket birds, had been pre-brined, so I skipped that step.  I also left out the MSG and cut back the salt in the breading.  I didn't have savory or marjoram on hand so I used thyme and oregano instead, and I substituted panko crumbs for the flour.  I also had to use coarse-ground black pepper instead of tellicherry and white pepper.  I ended up baking the chicken for about 35 minutes at 450 degrees, covering it with aluminum foil when it had reached the desired shade of brown.

The results were actually pretty good.  I thought the breading was still too salty and the black pepper a little too assertive, but overall the recipe is definitely worth making again.  Next time I will plan ahead and buy all the correct herbs and spices.

Now I'm thinking I should go back to the CMT website and watch some of the videos of the other shows.  Maybe I can learn the secrets of P.F. Chang's yummy lettuce wraps, or figure out how to make a Cinnabon roll with less than a gazillion calories.

"Creating Original Clone Recipes of America's Favorite Foods Since 1987" ~tagline on Todd Wilbur's website

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Eating Down the Oranges

This is what I've been having for lunch lately to use up part of my bumper crop:

Citrus Spinach Salad

2 cups fresh spinach
1 orange, peeled and cut into chunks
3 or 4 sliced strawberries
2 Tblsp. crumbled feta cheese
2 Tblsp. roughly chopped pecans
Ken's Steakhouse Lite Vidalia Onion dressing

Spread the spinach evenly on a dinner plate. Arrange the fruit on top. Sprinkle on the feta and pecans. Drizzle with dressing and serve.

Makes lunch for one or dinner salads for two.

Poopdeck Pappy: "Eat your spinach, you no good infink. Eat it. EAT IT. Eat it." ~Popeye (the movie) 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Electronic Traveler

Inevitably, the minute I committed to taking the cruise with my sister, I started to think about what to pack.  Never mind that we aren't leaving until November - if I need to buy some vital item between now and then, I don't want to wait until the last minute when it may not be available.  I no sooner started the list than I realized that for the first time ever, electronics may take up more space in my baggage than clothing.

Partly this is because I pick my travel wardrobe very carefully.  I make sure all my clothes are color-coordinated so I need perhaps one belt, very little jewelry, and the fewest pairs of shoes possible.  I try to take mostly washable items so when I flip part of dinner down my cleavage or onto my knee I can rinse the stain out immediately.  I also like to pack multi-purpose items - the white shirt with the long sleeves that can be rolled up and tabbed, cotton tanks that can be worn alone or as camis, sweater sets that can be broken up and paired with other pieces.  My father, who was in the Navy during WWII, showed me how to roll clothing to minimize creases the first time I went to Girl Scout camp; using his techniques, I can fit two or three weeks' worth of clothing into a single carry-on bag.

On the other hand, my electronic burden is growing by leaps and bounds.  When I reluctantly retired my film SLR camera I bought an integrated Konica Minolta digital camera that freed me from the need to carry around a bag of lenses.  Unfortunately, after many years of faithful service the KM has ceased to focus properly, and the cost to repair it would be ridiculous, so I bought myself a new camera for Christmas.  The new camera is not an integrated model; it's pretty much the digital version of my old film camera and it uses the same lenses.  So, I'll be back to carting around a camera body, lenses, filters, and external flash, PLUS the battery charger and the cord that will let me download photos to... laptop.  I can't afford to take the time off from teaching online, so I'm going to buy a package of wireless access Internet minutes and keep going.  Computer, computer bag, power cord, cleaning supplies - you know the drill.  I am going to be rational and leave the cooling pad and graphics tablet at home.

I've taken along my cell phone and charger for most of my past vacations even though it didn't work overseas.  I can get a card for my Smartphone that will let it work there, though; I'm still debating whether to do so.

Whether I take along my phone or not, this year I will definitely be adding another gadget to my load.  The ship houses a lovely library, but we will be logging a lot of time in airplanes and airports to get to Athens from Phoenix and back again from Istanbul.  We don't yet know which airline our seats will be on, so we may or may not have access to personal video screens.  This looks like a job for my Nook.  I spent this morning, guided by this site, downloading free reading material.  By the time we leave I should have a real electronic library to browse in moments of boredom.  Of course it also needs a charging cord.

Good thing this isn't a "roughing it" vacation - I'm no longer able to travel anywhere that isn't furnished with electrical outlets.

"Why is it drug addicts and computer afficionados are both called users?" ~Clifford Stoll

Monday, February 6, 2012

Cruising Again (I Hope)

Today my sister got a little brochure in the mail from the University that granted her MBA. She almost threw it out, assuming it was a fundraiser, but finally opened it to find that the University is sponsoring an alumni cruise this fall. The cruise starts in Athens, ends in Istanbul, and in between calls on Rhodes, Jerusalem, Cairo, and several other spots we've never seen. The price, which includes airfare, is quite reasonable because they're offering "two for the price of one." Sue called tonight to see whether I'd be interested in going with her.  She actually had me at "Athens," but then she mentioned that Jacques Pepin is the executive chef in charge of the menus for the cruise.  How can we not go?

Of course, even at the University's discounted price it won't be cheap, so I'm going to have to start tightening my belt now. This means less eating out, walking instead of driving to the grocery store, and virtually eliminating all unnecessary purchases, but that's OK - I'd rather take the cruise than eat steak between now and then. This also gives me a little extra incentive to lose weight - I want to look as svelte as possible while lounging in one of those deck chairs during the at-sea day.  Fortunately, the losing-weight goal and the spend-less-on-food-and-wine goal will work well together.

Of course, the annual VNSA book sale is this weekend, and I am going to splurge a little there - but last year I scored a large bag of books for the price of a single retail hardcover, so it won't be a huge extravagance.

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." ~ Mark Twain

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Library Nook

One of the reasons I've been carting my own personal library with me across the country is that many of my favorite books have not been accessible through the public libraries in my neighborhoods.  The branch library near my first apartment in New York, for instance, was small and had very restricted hours.  The library nearest to my current home, although now part of the Maricopa County Library System, was originally a private library made up of donated books, so its inventory is missing some entire fictional genres.  Until now, a private library and inter-library loans seemed the only answers to this dilemma, but I'm happy to say that my new Nook is also helping to bridge the gap.

I mentioned earlier that I had downloaded the app that allows me to borrow ebooks from the library system, and I used it for the first time this week.  Every week I get four "tokens" from the library that I can use to borrow books.  Books are worth one, two, or four tokens, based on their popularity and other factors.  Each ebook can be borrowed for two weeks and then renewed if necessary; renewals generally do not cost any tokens.

A few days ago I browsed the mystery ebooks available and was delighted to find that many of the works of Georgette Heyer have been digitized.  Heyer was a contemporary of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers and wrote both historical (Regency) romance novels and English country house mysteries.  I have almost all of the romances - in crumbling paperbacks dating from my high school years - but none of the mysteries, which I never bought because they were available from the public library in Sioux Falls.  I was delighted to re-read one of them (not available in hardcover through my current library branch) as my first borrowed ebook.

The only drawback to this system is that I can already hear a little voice in the back of my head saying, "You can use the Nook to find new authors whose books you'd like to BUY!!"

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” ~ Jorge Luis Borges

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Book Club Coup

This month our book club met at Coup des Tartes, a mostly-French restaurant on 16th Street in Phoenix, just south of Highland.  Coup des Tartes is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, and is the oldest BYOB (bring your own bottle) establishment in the Valley of the Sun.  You bring your own wine (no hard liquor or pre-mixed drinks) and open and serve it yourself.  They do charge a $10 corkage fee.

I had never been to Coup des Tartes before but I had heard good things about it.  The building is a converted residence, so the eating areas are small, intimate rooms.  Our group of nine filled a tiny former bedroom, so we were able to carry on an animated discussion without disturbing the other patrons.  The decor is also bistro-ish, featuring reproductions of fin de siecle French advertising posters. 

The food was superb.  We shared three appetizers (the Brie Brulee, the Three Onion Tarte, and the Chevre / Tomate) and three desserts (Banana Brulee - the special of the evening, Chocolate Lovers Tarte, and a Cherry Tarte with vanilla and vodka in the crust).  I ordered the signature Roquefort salad as my entree.  Parts of my salad were a little saltier than I would have preferred, but I can recommend everything else without qualification.  I understand why tartes of various sorts are their namesake dishes; I've never tasted better crust than the one on that cherry dessert.  The next time I go back I will definitely order the Three Onion Tarte and keep it all for myself.

During the evening, the owner stopped by, helped one member with an iPad sign into the restaurant's wireless network, and told us about the charities (including the Susan G. Komen foundation) that the restaurant supports.

The evening wasn't cheap, but it was definitely one of the most memorable venues our group has visited.  If you live anywhere in the greater Phoenix area and are still looking for a place to celebrate Valentine's Day with your sweetie, check out their special menu for that night and give them a call; if they still have room for you, you may get lucky twice.  Just don't forget to BYOB.

The Mad Hatter: "Would you like some wine?"
Alice: "Yes..."
The Mad Hatter: "We haven't any and you're too young.” 

~Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Time To Call The Gleaners

The friends who came to my fruit-picking party cleared about half the fruit on one of my naval orange trees.  Since they're in the age group where practically everyone is on statins, though, nobody wanted any grapefruit.

This still leaves me with one entire navel orange tree and the grapefruit tree virtually untouched.  It may be time for me to call in the volunteer gleaners, who will pick citrus for charity for $15 per tree.

I still may make the fruit-picking party an annual event because it was a lot of fun.  The refreshments were popular, too.  Even relatively inexpensive supermarket cheese and fruit looks pretty impressive when it's nicely arranged on good plates:

“Life is great. Cheese makes it better.” ~Avery Aames, The Long Quiche Goodbye