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Don’t call it a comeback! But I’m finally posting about our visit to @_tfl_

Don’t call it a comeback! But I’m finally posting about our visit to @_tfl_

My posts have been sparse (ok, nonexistent) for a little while. I attribute this mostly to the fact that I usually blog for a few minutes watching TV in the evening, and evening TV watching has recently evaporated from my schedule.

While we were on a glorious grown-ups vacation in Napa, I was determined to blog a little each day. Then I soon found that the time I could have used for blogging, I preferred to use drinking wine and reading. I can’t say that’s a bad use of time, I got through 3 books in a week! But here we are, back at home. I was supposed to go off to a half-marathon this weekend, but for various reasons I’m not going. Instead, I’m on the couch with Baby Beez, she’s watching the Power Rangers Movie, I’ve got work to do most of the day, and later I’ll  put on the sauce for spaghetti & meatballs, and we’ll have a family movie night to see Pixels. Even with the several hours working, I dare say it’s a lovelier weekend than driving to the mountains to run 13 miles by myself.

But now, on to the topic of interest.

The French Laundry

Mr. Beez and I are destination eaters. We will travel specifically for the purpose of visiting particular restaurants, and for our vacation this year, I hustled and hustled and got us a very coveted reservation at Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry. It’s listed as a “French” restaurant, but the cuisine does not fit neatly in that description. You certainly will not find boeuf bourguignon on the menu here. I’d describe it more as creative, experimental and fresh.

We did visit Per Se in 2012, and found that The French Laundry was extremely similar to it’s east coast sister restaurant. The cuisine is virtually the same and the service at both is obsessively attentive. I was surprised that the pacing at The French Laundry was a little faster. Dinner there, even with our million courses, was about 2 hours. At Per Se, even with a 10:00 pm reservation, we strolled leisurely through cocktails and dinner and didn’t leave until nearly 2:00 am.

The French Laundry offers a chef’s tasting and a tasting of vegetables each evening. The chef’s tasting includes a number of upgrades that you can select to “personalize” the meal. Mr. Beez selected some upgrades, I selected others, and ultimately we both got to try everything.

I do not have the sophisticated vocabulary to share in detail how gorgeous these dishes were. They’re perfectly portioned– a mere 3 bites, to pack the most potent sensation of the flavors, textures and contrast, without your palate adapting. Since my description cannot do it justice, here are my pictures and the menu for the evening.

“Oysters and Pearls”– “Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar

Royal Ossetra Caviar– Cantaloupe “Gelee” and Champagne “Granite” (upgrade option)

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Garden Strawberry Salad– Marinated Fennel, Marcona Almonds, Nasturtium Leaves and Greek Yogurt

“Mousse de Foie Gras en Gelee”– K&J Orchards Nectarines, Brentwood Corn and Garden Purslane (upgrade option)

*        *        *

Japanese Blue Nose Medai– Preserved Green Tomatoes, Garden Cucumbers, Brokaw Avocado Puree and “Salade Bearnaise”

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Sweet Butter Poached Maine Lobster– Crispy Picholine Olives, Globe Artichokes, Fino Verde Basil and Spicy Tomato Emulsion

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Wolfe Ranch White Quail– Toasted Buckwheat “Rouelle,” Pickled Beet Puree, Pearson Farm Pecans and “Beurre Rouge”

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Black Winter Truffle “Ravioli”– Duck Gizzard “Boudin,” Double Chicken “Bouillon” and Shaved Australian Black Winter Truffles (upgrade option, this was Mr. Beez’ absolute favorite dish of the night. He adored those truffles”

*        *        *

Charcoal Grilled Snake River Farms “Calotte de Boeuf”– Brisket Stuffed Squash Blossoms, Roasted Garden Squash, Kettle Garlic Custard and Black Olive Jus (for me, my favorite was tied between the lobster and the boeuf, both were so buttery, flavorful and delicious)

French Laundry-- Boeuf

*        *        *

Andante Dairy “Acapella”– Jacobson Orchards Peaches, Piedmont Hazelnuts and Black Winter Truffle Confit

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Assortment of Desserts– Fruit, Ice Cream, Chocolate and Candies

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By “assortment” they do not mean you pick from an assortment. Rather, you are served dessert after dessert after dessert after dessert. We were served 10 desserts in all, and then were sent home with even more desserts. It was, as you would expect, amazing. If you are adventurous diner and excited to try unique, unexpected combinations, you will be be astonished by what you are served at The French Laundry. Much like Per Se, the dishes are so dazzling (and the price so, well, insane) that this will probably be our only visit. It was a memorable one, and was truly the highlight of our vacation.

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Celebrating Summer with @NickyDCooks String Bean Salad

Celebrating Summer with @NickyDCooks String Bean Salad

Thanks to Nicky D for sharing her summertime memories and recipes with us today!

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Nicky D here from www.nickydcooks.com . I’m happy to be doing a summer guest blog for BeezusKiddo today. I am sharing with you today summertime memories of growing up in Rhode Island and a recipe for a delicious salad that reminds me of this special time.

The Summer String Bean Salad

One of my fondest memories of growing up in Rhode Island was going to the beach with my family. It was always a fun time, playing in the sun and surf while my family was gathered around.

It looked like a Norman Rockwell scene, typical Americana- that is until meal time.

My family brought a bevy of tasty treats with them, they didn’t travel lightly when it came to food. My female relatives suffered from an irrational fear that someone in the family will go hungry and heaven forbid this should happen.

The rationale for the copious amounts of food brought for the day was my Grandmother’s notion that “you never know who’s hungry”. And who is going to argue with an Italian Grandmother’s logic?

Truth be told, if you were running and playing on the beach all day you, really did work up an appetite.

Here was our strategy for going to the beach. First, a liaison was sent out in advance to stake out a prime spot for picnicking and beaching all day. The person in charge of this was usually my dad, who with help from some of the other men in the family, scoured the beach for the perfect spot.

My father was like a war time general, marking out strategic positions and locations. We needed to be near the bathroom facilities and picnic tables but far away from the snack bar. Once the perfect spot was located (this was only signaled with the nod from the patriarch of the family), the unloading of the supplies could begin.

Hibachi’s and coolers and blankets, oh my! Tent spikes were hammered into the sand to hold the canopies in place. The men unloaded the food and supplies and the women set up what looked like a mini-camp.

I’m sure we were quite the sight but we were there for the day, at least 2 meals and multiple snacks. In fact, this is how the day was measured, by the number of meals that were prepared for that day. This task was done and then the day of fun in the sun could begin.

I remember meals at the beach starting by someone in the family asking “is anyone hungry”? The adults would all shake their heads in agreement, and the preparations began: A well-oiled machine, all of the pieces working in unison.

My dad would start the coals on the Hibachi’s, and each male relative had their own tried and true method as to how to get the charcoal briquettes to light. There was intense discussions and debates as the fires were being lit.

As children we were never allowed to go near this area, there was always a fear that someone would catch on fire. Italians always live in the dark place, there was always “someone that so and so knew that had an accident when lighting a fire”. So as kids we stayed closer to the deli meats, no one ever died or lost a limb while near these things.

My mother and the others had the task of setting up the rest of the food, all under the careful direction of my grandmother. Children were discouraged from being around because we brought in the extra sand, so we were given snacks and sent off to play until the meal was ready.

This truly was a thing of beauty. Multi generations of a single family all gathered together for a meal at the beach. The coals burned brightly and the smell of the hamburgers and hotdogs cooking filled the air. Colorful salads and side dishes displayed on red checkered table clothes. Italian cold cuts laid out for sandwiches and bowls filled with various potato chips spread out on the picnic tables. Ocean waves would break in the background and pesky seagulls flew overhead.

I always remember hearing the older family members talking about how much better the food tasted when it was eaten by the salt water.

There was the thermoses filled with Kool-Aid that left a distinctive red mustache on our faces and the directive from my grandmother to go and “clean your face in the water…the salt water, it’s good for you”!

I ingested my fair share of beach sand, but in my family I think that they considered a few grains of this stuff a digestion aid. If you complained about it, you would hear an audible sigh and a collective “it’s good for you” from several family members.

Dessert was always watermelon. Before you think that we brought down beautiful storage containers of precut cubes and slices, I need to relieve you from this notion.

These Italians were hard core and brought a few big watermelons right from the farm because my grandfather knew the farmer. My father brought out his butchers knife and sliced gigantic pieces for everyone.

There we sat munching on our watermelon slices, juices dripping down our arms and we were happy. Inevitably there was a seed spitting fight, this was usually started by my brother and I was his intended target.

My father would bellow loudly “stop spitting seeds on your sister”! I smiled because as my brother was getting in trouble, I could usually get a good shot in at him. I was the baby of the family and it was just what you did with your older siblings.

We played some more and tanned ourselves under the scorching heat. When the food ran out it was then time to leave.

We were tired with sand trapped in our hair and had managed to escape the wrath of the seagulls. We all knew that it could only mean one thing, it was another successful day at the beach.

For me, this is what summer was all about to me as a kid. It was family, fun and of course the food.

I wanted to share my recipe for Neapolitan Italian Style String Bean Salad. This is salad that we frequently brought with us to the beach. It was also a staple at picnics and other family gatherings during the summer months when string beans were readily available from the gardens and local farm stands.

Neapolitan Italian Style String Bean Salad is an Italian American Peasant style salad. I define this to mean that it contains simple ingredients, tastes delicious and is easy to prepare. This classic salad has many variations in Italian American homes. I am sharing with you my family recipe for it.

The combination of string beans, olive oil and mint is truly a delicious one. It is refreshing and the perfect side dish for the summer grilling season. I hope that you enjoy this dish.

Buon Appetito,

Nicky

Nicky D Cooks: Neapolitan String Bean Salad

copyright 2011 Nicole DaCosta Shadel


This is a great dish to make if you are having a picnic or going to the beach. The measurements for the spices are estimates, so go according to your palate. This dish can easily be doubled to serve a large crowd. Enjoy!

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String Bean Salad (Fagiolino Insalata)

 Ingredients

1 pound fresh string beans, cooked and drained

2-3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 Teaspoon red wine vinegar (optional)

1 garlic clove, minced

2-3 mint leaves, minced

Kosher Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste


Directions

Cut the cooked string beans in half and place in a deep bowl. Add the olive oil, vinegar, garlic and mint. Season the string beans with salt and pepper to taste. Gently toss until the string beans, making sure they are evenly coated with the olive oil. Serve at room temperature.

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Yakkin with @YaJagoff about Pgh Summer Favorites!!

Yakkin with @YaJagoff about Pgh Summer Favorites!!

Welcome to John of Ya Jagoff!! as he shares his Pittsburgh Summer Favorites!

Some people mark the start of summer with the opening of local pools, Kennywood Park, the rain on the 3 Rivers Arts Festival or when they start to become overwhelmed with high school graduation invitations. I mark the season opening by when Gus pulls the Gus and Yiayia’s cart out over there on the North Side in the West Park area. The cart has been there for almost 80 years. “Since your dad was a lad,” as it says on the cart.

If ya haven’t been there. The treats are only half of the experience. The cart seems to have a “bubble of happiness” around it. People playing tennis in the park, squirrels running around looking for errant peanuts, bicycles, runners, walkers, kids, adults all catching the bug from Gus’ infectious calm demeanor and gentle smile. Nobody cuts the line. People say “excuse me” and car horns only beep when they’re giving a shout-out to Gus who doesn’t even look up.. he just raises his hand in between ice-shaving strokes to acknowledge.

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So, it is a snow cone, is it an ice ball, is it shaved ice? It’s a topic of family picnic debates. I have no idea but it IS delicious. HINT: it says ice balls on the cart.

My favorite flavor? It’s a tie between banana and root beer. But, without empirical evidence (because empirical evidence is only necessary in Pittsburgh for discussions of Penguins, Pirates, Pitt or Steelers stats) I am pretty sure that the overwhelming #1 seller is the rainbow or multi-flavored ice. I can’t do the mixed flavors.. I don’t even like when my food mixes on my plate.

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The peanuts and popcorn? For all I know, Gus might purchase the peanuts and the popcorn at Costco in 6-ton bags but, when he scoops them into the little bags that feel nice and warm in your hand, ya get this vision that Yiayia just handed them out of her kitchen window to you, the kid next door.

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OK…I’ve just made myself hungry so, gotta head over to the North Side now. If you know about Gus and Yiayia’s, comment below about your favorite ice flavor.

If you haven’t been to Gus and Yiayia’ cart yet, go take a selfie of yourself in the bathroom mirror with a sad face… (Make sure you’re dressed appropriately. Don’t be a #SelfieFail) After that, head directly to Gus and Yiayias and come back here and tell me about it. Then you can delete your sad face selfie.

How to find the Gus and Yiayia’s cart:

If you’re a GPS user, the cart is located right around these coordinates:

40.452003 by -80.008682

If you need directions from a traditional Pittsburgh-direction-giver, you can get to the Gus and Yiayia by goin’ up ‘air between CCAC, where my cousin used to go to school before he got a job with the steam fitters union, and where the old plumbing place used to be at the corner of Brighton and North over dair by AGH and the aviary an’nat.

Thanks much to Liz for allowing me to post here!

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The Best Part of Summer for @AlexanderFIV is when @Kenny_Kangaroo is open! #PotatoPatch

The Best Part of Summer for @AlexanderFIV is when @Kenny_Kangaroo is open! #PotatoPatch

This post is from my pal, Alex of Everybody Loves You, and world-famous cookie exchange organizer and Miss America Party Emcee! Send me a message at beezuskiddo [at] gmail [dot] com if you’d like to share your Pittsburgh Summer Favorites on BeezusKiddo!

I grew up in Pittsburgh. I also grew up relatively poor*. That means that there were no Disneyland trips or vacation cruises on the agenda whenever school let out and summer rolled around. Thankfully there was one activity that my family could afford which was a guaranteed rollercoaster of a good time – Kennywood!

On Kennywood day, we’d wake up early to load a Styrofoam cooler with snacks (grapes, cheese sticks) and drinks (Faygo for the kids, Coors Light for the adults). We would then make our way down PA 837 and follow the Kennywood arrow signs through the dilapidated steel towns that dotted the banks of the Monongahela River. The voyage was actually quite depressing, but our excitement would skyrocket as soon as the peak of the Laser Loop came into view.

I have many vivid memories of my trips to Kennywood growing up, and I’ve shared a few below. Enjoy!


I remember the first time that I saw the Dippin’ Dots stand. I could not have been more eager to try the “Ice Cream of the Future” and I begged my parents to buy me some. After much pleading and promising to be nicer to my sister, they acquiesced to my demands. Unfortunately after a few scoopfuls of the tiny frozen spheres, I soon realized that the future must suck because Dippin’ Dots sure did. That experience tied with seeing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze as the biggest disappointments of my childhood.

 I’m not sure if it was all the ups-and-downs of the rollercoasters or what but romance was always in the air at Kennywood. My friends and I would spend half the day riding the Racer and the other half trying to meet girls. On the rare occasion that we succeeded, Kennywood offered plenty of picturesque romantic activities such as holding hands on the Rotor, kissing behind the mushroom fountain and the ultimate – touching a boob during a Gold Rusher gondola ride.

 Imagine wearing jean shorts, a Yancy Thigpen Steelers jersey and high-top sneakers. Now imagine getting that outfit soaking wet with pond water, and then just continuing to walk around in it all day. Sounds horribly uncomfortable and unsanitary, right? That may be true, but a joyous trip on the Log Jammer made it all worth it. I think what I loved most about the Log Jammer was that my whole family of four could pile into one boat. On all the other rides you either sat with strangers or with a partner, but the Log Jammer was a family affair. And just like my family, the Log Jammer had its ups and downs and twists and turns and got messy at times, but we navigated it all together.

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Post-Log Jammer funnel cakes were and still are the bestest thing ever.


* I recently looked up my childhood home in the Allegheny County Real Estate website and found that it last sold for $16,000 in 2012. That’s basically what I spent on Frappuccino’s last year.



Thanks to Alex of Everybody Loves You for sharing his Pittsburgh summertime favorites!!

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Bookworm.

Bookworm.

Unless I get some crazy wave of blogging inspiration (which does happen from time to time), blogging takes mental energy. I do not seem to have mental energy to spare lately, hence the lack of blogging. Instead, instead of putting words out, I have been taking words in, reading like there is no tomorrow.  Between audiobooks and regular books, I’m reading about 2 per week right now. I don’t watch much TV, and I haven’t even been reading many magazines. It’s just been books books books books books. Somehow, even though it’s only June, I’ve already read 45 books so far this year.

I read fast and I read a lot, but my retention is terrible. As soon as I finish a book, it’s like it erases from my memory. This is probably because there just isn’t enough space in my brain for all this, plus everything I have to remember for work. And it really does not bother me much. I remember generally whether I liked it or not, and if someone brings up things that happened, it often jogs some memories, but there isn’t much of a long term benefit for me remembering the plots of various novels anyway.

In spring,I hit a streak of particularly good novels. If you are shopping for your summer reads, I highly recommend the following, which the summaries from their respective Goodreads pages:

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth, Christopher Scotton (I liked this so much, I picked it for my month in book club)

Timely and timeless, this is a dramatic and deeply moving novel about an act of violence in a small, Southern town and the repercussions that will forever change a young man’s view of human cruelty and compassion.

After seeing the death of his younger brother in a terrible home accident, fourteen-year-old Kevin and his grieving mother are sent for the summer to live with Kevin’s grandfather. In this peeled-paint coal town deep in Appalachia, Kevin quickly falls in with a half-wild hollow kid named Buzzy Fink who schools him in the mysteries and magnificence of the woods. The events of this fateful summer will affect the entire town of Medgar, Kentucky.

Medgar is beset by a massive mountaintop removal operation that is blowing up the hills and back filling the hollows. Kevin’s grandfather and others in town attempt to rally the citizens against the “company” and its powerful owner to stop the plunder of their mountain heritage. When Buzzy witnesses a brutal hate crime, a sequence is set in play that tests Buzzy and Kevin to their absolute limits in an epic struggle for survival in the Kentucky mountains.

Redemptive and emotionally resonant, The Secret Wisdom of the Earth is narrated by an adult Kevin looking back on the summer when he sloughed the coverings of a boy and took his first faltering steps as a man. His story is one with a rich cast of characters and an ambitious effort to reclaim a once great community.

Secret Wisdom

The Execution of Noa P. Singleton, Elizabeth L. Silver

  Noa P. Singleton never spoke a word in her own defense throughout a brief trial that ended with a jury finding her guilty of first-degree murder. Ten years later, having accepted her fate, she sits on death row in a maximum-security penitentiary, just six months away from her execution date.
Seemingly out of the blue, she is visited by Marlene Dixon, a high-powered Philadelphia attorney who is also the mother of the woman Noa was imprisoned for killing. Marlene tells Noa that she has changed her mind about the death penalty and Noa’s sentence, and will do everything in her considerable power to convince the governor to commute the sentence to life in prison, in return for the one thing Noa is unwilling to trade: her story.

      Marlene desperately wants Noa to reveal the events that led to her daughter’s death – events that Noa has never shared with a soul. With death looming, Marlene believes that Noa may finally give her the answers she needs, though Noa is far from convinced that Marlene deserves the salvation she alone can deliver. Inextricably linked by murder but with very different goals, Noa and Marlene wrestle with the sentences life itself can impose while they confront the best and worst of what makes us human in this haunting tale of love, anguish, and deception
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The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin (h/t to Sonia for this recommendation)

On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto “No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World.” A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.

A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, but large in weight. It’s that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

Fikry

Ruby, Cynthia Bond

Ephram Jennings has never forgotten the beautiful girl with the long braids running through the piney woods of Liberty, their small East Texas town. Young Ruby Bell, “the kind of pretty it hurt to look at,” has suffered beyond imagining, so as soon as she can, she flees suffocating Liberty for the bright pull of 1950s New York. Ruby quickly winds her way into the ripe center of the city–the darkened piano bars and hidden alleyways of the Village–all the while hoping for a glimpse of the red hair and green eyes of her mother. When a telegram from her cousin forces her to return home, thirty-year-old Ruby finds herself reliving the devastating violence of her girlhood. With the terrifying realization that she might not be strong enough to fight her way back out again, Ruby struggles to survive her memories of the town’s dark past. Meanwhile, Ephram must choose between loyalty to the sister who raised him and the chance for a life with the woman he has loved since he was a boy.

Ruby

What is on your summer reading list?