Go Charlestown Chiefs!

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What is icing?  How about high sticking?  If you don’t know, then you probably won’t be tuning in to the Stanley Cup Finals, which start tonight.  What’s the Stanley Cup?  Oh dear…. you might want to check out my recipes (see: cakes, icing).

The Stanley Cup, of course, is the championship playoffs of the NHL (National Hockey League).   As an avid sports fan who follows baseball, football, basketball and SportsCenter pretty religiously, I’ve always wondered why I never got in to hockey.  My father loved the Detroit Red Wings, my brother lovingly taught me and my sisters what a hip-check was, and I was fascinated by the players’ gorgeous skating during the one game I saw live.  But watching on TV?  Zzzzzzzzzz.

The one thing I do love about hockey, however, is the movie “Slap Shot.”  A raw and raunchy comedy from the late ’70’s, it stars Paul Newman in his oh-so-sexy prime, as the veteran coach/player of a downtrodden minor league hockey team (the Chiefs) who realizes that dirty play and fighting is what brings in the fans.  The roster of characters is priceless, especially the completely clueless Hanson brothers, three bespectacled goons who are so outlandish that if the movie came out today, they’d get their own spin-off. Having just seen it for the first time in years, I was struck by a) how Connie Britton/Tammy Taylor-ish Paul Newman’s wife is, b) they didn’t wear helmets in the ’70’s?!? and c) only Paul Newman could look manly in a long leather coat with fur trim. Oh, and for the umpteenth time, I pee’d my pants during the final (hockey) scene.  Don’t believe me?  Forget ESPN and the Yankees and the French Open tonight and check out this hilarious sports gem of a movie, eh?

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Best Tomato Sauce Ever (Vol. I)

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Food lovers, look away, for I have a confession to make:  I hate tomatoes.  It’s blasphemy, I know, for the tomato is one of the staples of practically every type of cuisine, yet since I was young and had my first BLT, I literally gag at the sight of them.  My poor mother spent years picking little cherries out of my salads and big beefsteak slices from my sandwiches, and when I lived in Florence for a semester, it’s possible that I pissed off an entire city. (“Ma che cosa ci fa?? Stupido Americano!”) But what can I say?  Eat a tomato in front of me like it’s an apple and you will see a grown woman squeal like a 5-year-old. (It’s the seeds, by the way.)

Cook the little suckers, however, and it’s a whole different ballgame.  It’s ironic that for a girl who shuns gazpacho and bloody mary’s, I salivate at the thought of a sumptuous tomato sauce.  Remember that scene in “The Godfather” when Clemenza was teasing Michael about his phone call to Kay (“Tell her you love her, Michael!”) all the while teaching him how to make the best Italian “gravy?”  I had to make that sauce right away! And when I first made the holy grail of all tomato sauces, Marcella Hazan’s Tomato sauce with Onion and Butter, I felt like writing the city of Florence a mea culpa.  Chefs from Matio Batali to practically every food blogger out there have sung its praises for years, elevating Hazan, the “Julia Child of Italian Cooking” to superstar status.  It’s also ridiculously easy to make, so there’s really no excuse not to try it.  Oh, unless you’re on a diet.  Or watching your cholesterol.  Because what makes this sauce so good is butter, and lots of it.  Yep, it’s not your nonna’s traditional gravy with garlic or wine or sugar, but rather a lush and velvety sauce that is so simple and good, you may never make another tomato sauce again.*

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Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter
from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan 

  • 1 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes (San Marzano if you can find them), with their juices, cut up
  • 5 tbsp butter
  • 1 onion (preferably yellow), peeled and cut in half
  • salt, to taste

Put the tomatoes, butter and onion in a heavy saucepan over medium heat.  When the tomatoes start to bubble, lower the heat to a slow and steady simmer, and cook uncovered for 45 minutes or until the fat floats free from the tomatoes.  Stir occasionally, crushing the tomatoes to the side of the pot with a wooden spoon.  Remove from heat, add salt to taste, and discard the onion before tossing with pasta (Hazan suggests spaghetti, penne or rigatoni).  Add grated parmesan cheese if desired, though most agree it doesn’t need it it’s so good!

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*That is, until you read my “Best Tomato Sauce Ever, Vol. II and III, coming soon!

Hartwood: Grab some people, go there now.

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Hartwood
Carretera Tulum Boca Paila
7.6KM Tulum Mexico

¡Atención por favor, lovers of Tulum!  You’ve no doubt either heard about Hartwood, the remarkable, open-air restaurant in Tulum, Mexico, or even tried to go, but have you gotten in?  There are countless articles about this magical eatery – opened in 2010 by a hipster couple from Brooklyn – extolling its much-deserved virtues that seem hard to believe (No stove? No fridge?).  Believe them all, by the way, and yet I’m going to tell you the most important thing you need to know about Hartwood:  Go as a party of eight. That’s right, eight.  Hartwood (in)famously does not take reservations, and as it’s become insanely popular of late, it seems you have to forsake your after-beach shower and stand in line for hours just for the possibility of a table.  Um, no.  Vacation in Mexico = afternoon siesta, right?  So what to do?!  Well, I recently traveled to Tulum for a certain, ahem, milestone birthday and brought along 7 milestone-making friends with me. Hartwood, you see, does take reservations, but only for parties of 8 or more.  “Mmm, here’s to you!” my friends said as they sipped their grapefruit habenero-infused margaritas and toasted my birthday.  “No, here’s to you,” I replied, “because you all got me into Hartwood!”

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Why all the hub-bub?  The romantic, rustic atmosphere sets the tone, the tropical cocktails almost knock you out, and by the time you taste the rosewater-scented sea bass ceviche, you know you’re in for something special.  Fall-off-the-bone pork ribs made my knees weak, and the charred and luscious “Arrechera Angus” was possibly the best steak I’ve ever had.  You’ll want to take pictures of the creative and colorful sides, like the largest, smokiest red beet I’ve ever seen, and you’ll want to savor your dessert, a lime tart that tastes like what citrus and heaven must taste like if they met. Finally, another juicy cocktail, mixed with a blender that is the only electrical appliance used at Hartwood, because that might be the biggest reason of all for all the fuss – this extraordinary restaurant uses no electricity (only a small generator for said blender) but rather relies solely on sustainable energy, a wood-burning oven, and lots of good knife skills.  It is truly the epitome of living (deliciously) off the grid.

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So if you’re in Tulum only with your beau, or maybe on a girls’ trip with your BFF’s, find a way to bump up your party. Make friends with that couple you always see at breakfast!  Ask your fellow yogis after your morning yoga class!  Did I take 7 friends to Tulum with me just so that I could get a reservation at Hartwood?  No.  Would I?  Um, could you pass the plantains?

 

Mozart, baby.

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Remember that scene in “Out of Africa” where Robert Redford takes Meryl Streep flying in his little yellow plane, soaring over the lush plains of Kenya, an equally lush soundtrack soaring overhead?  Now, do you like babies?  Read on…

A good friend of mine, successful and single, recently had a baby, and one night six months ago, she rocked my world when she asked me if I would be her “birth coach.”  Say what?!  Birth what?!  Me?!  I could go on and on about that night and all that followed, but let’s just say I accepted and it was indeed one of the most heart-stirring and memorable experiences of my life. One of the things I’ll never forget?  The music! Despite my desire to  put together some dramatic, eclectic playlists for the big day, my friend only wanted to hear Mr. Baby Music himself, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  Me, I’d want to hear some soothing Chopin followed by a Jay Z opus or two, but I wasn’t the one popping this baby out.  So a Mozart playlist it was, and when the day arrived and I got THE CALL, I stuffed my Bose SoundDock into my bag-in-waiting, and nervously headed uptown to start my “coaching.”

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About 8 hours and 2 epidurals later, it was time for the final push.  I got on one side, the nurse got on the other, and Mozart played on.  I tried to remember all the breathing instructions I was supposed to impart on to my slightly-drugged yet valiant friend, but all I could think of was, Oh my god, Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto just came on!  This baby’s got to be born during the 2nd movement!  And me being me, that’s exactly what I said.  “One, two, three …. the Adagio is almost here, the music they used in that great scene from “Out of Africa,”  PUUUSH! … six, seven, eight …. “  And guess what?  Beautiful little Claire Luna, all 8 lbs. 2 oz. of her, was indeed born to this beautiful music, below.  And let me tell you, Robert Redford’s got nothing on baby Claire.

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Baby Claire, minutes after birth

Mozart: Clarinet Concerto in A major, 2nd movement (Adagio)

This is CNN.

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It’s easy to recognize James Earl Jones’ signature voice as he reminds us what news channel we’re watching, but have you noticed how many movie stars are now lending their voices to TV commercials? It wasn’t too long ago that voice-overs were considered taboo for a serious actor, with those unable to resist the easy pay day secretly sneaking off to Japan, because, well, I guess Harrison Ford just couldn’t find a beer in the U.S. that he liked. But now they’re doing it out in the open in droves, and some are even double-timing (I’m talkin’ to you, Don Draper!).

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Can you match the celebrity actor with his/her commercial?

  1. George Clooney
  2. John Krasinkski
  3. Kevin Spacey
  4. Lisa Kudrow
  5. Kiefer Sutherland
  6. Jeff Bridges
  7. Julia Roberts
  8. Jon Hamm
  9. Gene Hackman
  10. David Duchovny
  11. John Corbett
  12. Willem Dafoe
  13. Morgan Freeman
  14. Donald Sutherland
  1. Honda
  2. Pedigree
  3. E-surance
  4. Nationwide Insurance
  5. American Airlines
  6. Visa
  7. Yoplait
  8. Budweiser
  9. Mercedes
  10. Volvo
  11. Bank of America
  12. Hyundai
  13. Lowe’s
  14. Walgreens
  15. Ford
  16. Face Yogurt
  17. Applebee’s
  18. Ford Trucks

Answers: 1-H & R, 2-C, 3-A, 4-G, 5-K, 6-L, 7-D, 8-E & I, 9-M, 10-B, 11-N & Q, 12-P, 13-F, 14-J

Sox in the City

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Sox fans in NYC

The bloom is off the friggin’ rose. Yes baseball folks, it’s time to admit the truth – it’s not as much fun to be a Red Sox fan in New York anymore.  And by fun I mean contentious, controversial, painful!  Boston fans in NYC, like me, used to wear our Sox gear around town as a badge of honor, a kind of “yeah we lost again but we’ll get ya next time” pledge that elicited a few smirks, a lot of pity, and always a conversation.  But now the unthinkable has happened – we won.  And won again, and again!  So now Yankee fans look at me when I’m wearing my Sox hat and, to my great disappointment, just look away.

It wasn’t always like this, of course.  I moved from Boston to New York in October of ’86, when just days into my move I couldn’t believe my luck as the Sox were about to win the Whole Thing in Queens.  Queens!  Just a few miles from where I now lived, I excitedly told a friend back home, and said “I”ll call you back when we win!”  I never called her back, of course.  Was the universe trying to tell me something?  Let’s just say Bill Buckner and I probably went into therapy around the same time.  Years passed, I started hanging out at a Sox bar in the Village, and then 2003 happened – the would-be classic Game 7 in the Bronx where we were finally going to put the ghosts to rest and head to the World Series by beating our heated rivals.  Um, it didn’t happen.  It was bad.  My friend had to walk me home that night, even though I lived only blocks from the bar, because he feared for my safety.

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Thank god for 2004 and the “Greatest Comeback in Sports History” (it’s true, my t-shirt says it!) or my mental health bills would rival, well, Bill Buckner’s.  For the first time in 86 years, we were World Champs and lovable losers no more.  All Yankee fans could yell at us now was “Enjoy your ring, we’ve got 26!”  And then the strangest thing happened … we won again!  We started getting used to winning, and when we won again last year, it seemed like Yankee fans got used to us winning too.  I’m ecstatic, of course,  but I must admit it’s sort of taken the fun out of it.  Gone are the days of my heated debates with Yankee friends about Jeter vs. Nomahhh, A-rod vs. E-rod, the Bronx vs. Kenmore Square.  Gone, too, are those “Aw, good for you” looks when I’d wear my Sox t-shirt to the gym, those drunken “1918!” chants when I’d head to a game, even those “Your dog sucks!” shouts when I’d proudly walk my dog Ruby along the Hudson River in her, ahem, Sox coat.  Ah, memories.  Now all I get is “Isn’t she pretty?” or worse – nothing.  The bloom is off the (Bucky) Friggin’ (Dent) rose, right?!

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Ruby along the West Side Highway 

Friday Night Dinner

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my mother Phyllis

Winner winner, chicken dinner!  I grew up Jewish, and Friday nights at our house were pretty sacred. No parties or outings for us at the end of the week, no siree.  Instead, we had the traditional Shabbat dinner at home, complete with yummy challah bread, icky Manischewitz wine, and chicken. Always chicken.

Meanwhile, my mother Phyllis was a “Three Ingredient Cookbook” kind of cook – the easier the better. And my favorite Friday night dinner, by far, was her super-simple Orange Juice chicken. It’s sweet and tart at the same time, with just a hint of a kick, and couldn’t be easier to make. And the best part? The tangy orange sauce that we used to spoon over white rice. I’m serious when I say that for all my high falutin’ foodie airs, if I had to choose a “last meal,” this would be it!

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BUT, since I am a foodie, I wanted to see if I could come up with a new, revised version, using real oranges instead of the canned stuff – go figure! – and making my own “Lawry’s” seasoned salt.  The first is decidedly simpler, but the latter packs a great punch, if I do say so myself!  See which one you like better!

Phyllis’ Orange Juice Chicken

  • 1 whole chicken, cut up (or 8 skin-on, bone-in chicken pieces of your choice, preferably dark meat)
  • 1 lg. can frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
  • Lawry’s seasoning salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 orange, sliced*
  • 1 small yellow onion, sliced*

*Optional – my mother never did this, but when I make this dish now, I add some orange and onion slices to the roasting dish halfway through the cooking time. It gives a little oomph of flavor, plus it’s nice for presentation.

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Clean chicken pieces and trim off any fat or extra skin. Season generously with the Lawry’s salt and a little pepper and place in a large roasting pan.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, mix the can of orange juice concentrate with 1 can of cold water and stir.
  4. Pour the juice mixture over the chicken and cook for 45 minutes to an hour, or when the meat is tender and no longer pink. If adding the onion and/or orange slices, put them in the roasting dish after about 20-25 minutes and continue cooking. And that’s it!

Serves 4-5

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Revised Version! (aka Leah’s Orange Chicken)

  • 8 chicken thighs
  • 3 oranges
  • 3 shallots, coarsely sliced
  • 6 rosemary sprigs
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp. butter

Homemade Lawry’s Seasoned Salt:

  • 2 tbsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • ½ tsp. paprika
  • ¼ tsp. turmeric
  • ¼ tsp. garlic salt
  • ¼ tsp. onion salt
  • ¼ tsp. corn starch

(mix together in small mixing bowl and put in old seasoning bottle if available)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Clean and trim chicken pieces and season generously with the homemade seasoned salt. Heat olive oil in large ovenproof skillet over medium heat and place chicken in skillet, skin side down. Sear about 7 minutes, until the skin is a nice golden brown. Transfer chicken to a plate and pour off fat from the skillet. Return chicken, skin side up, and add rosemary and shallots. Slice 1 ½ oranges into wedges and put in pan, squeezing a little juice over the chicken when you do this. Transfer to oven, and bake until cooked through, about 25 minutes.

When chicken is done, take the skillet out of the oven (don’t forget to use a towel or oven mitt!) and place on stovetop. Using tongs, remove chicken to a plate, along with the shallots and oranges. Discard the rosemary, leaving just the sauce. Squeeze the juice of the rest of the oranges into the sauce and heat over medium heat. Add vinegar and stir, then reduce by half, about 3 minutes. Take pan off heat and add butter, stir, then put the chicken, orange wedges and shallots back into the pan and coat. Serve warm, especially over rice!

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LA dee dah

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Petit Ermitage Hotel

West Hollywood, CA

What do a skinny celebrity stylist from NYC, a nouveau-riche televangelist from Seattle, and a retired lesbian couple traveling with their pet shnoodle have in common? They all stayed at the Petit Ermitage in West Hollywood, a little gem of a hotel that even my most in-the-know Angelinos didn’t know existed. And what attracted them there, as it did me, was its stunning, sexy rooftop. Up top is a charming restaurant, a cozy, laid-back vibe, and most of all, a lovely European pool (no kids! bikini tops optional!). As I partook in the overflowing breakfast buffet every day – served till noon, my kind of place – and swam in the warm-as-bathwater pool, all surrounded by orange trees and wildflowers, I wondered if I’d ever stay at the W again. (Answer: hell no.)  And at night, it transforms into a candlelit outdoor lounge with an inviting fire pit, animal print blankets, and ne’er a bad attitude in sight. Truly!

The hotel has spacious, comfortable rooms that run a little more shabby than chic, but they’re reasonably priced and really, it’s all about the upstairs. Book a room, invite some pals, and head to the most charming rooftop in town.

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Rooftop restaurant

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Rooftop pool

 

Have a nice day!

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“Aye, that’s right…” I heard Alan Cumming say on NPR the other day, and I did a double take – Eli Gold is Scottish! Cumming has been so convincing as a slick Chicago politico on “The Good Wife” that I had completely forgotten his nationality. Ditto Damien Lewis. Can you even remember how frightfully British he was in the BBC’s “The Forsythe Saga” when you watch him as the plain old frightful Nick Brody on “Homeland”? Here are some other Brits on TV with bloody good American accents that might surprise you…

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Alan Cumming in “The Good Wife”

Hugh Laurie“House.” You mean he’s not a slightly strange doc in Princeton?
Josh BowmanDaniel on “Revenge.” What a dopey character, but at least he nails the accent.
Simon Baker – as “The Mentalist” (My mother says he’s quite good.)
Natasha McElhone – David Duchovny’s ex-wife on “Californication”
Hugh Dancy – as an FBI guy on “Hannibal”
Kevin McKiddOwen on “Grey’s Anatomy.” Again, he’s a Scot!
Stephen Moyer – in “True Blood” ….. that is, if those vampires are actually American!
Idris Elba –Second-in-command Stringer Bell in “The Wire” AND corporate guy Charles Miner on “The Office”
Kate Winslet – as “Mildred Pierce.” A mini-series long over, but come on, how good was she?!
Minnie Driver & Eddie Izzard “The Riches.” And how good were they, both of them!  (for the 20 or so people who watched…. )

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Minnie Driver and Eddie Izzard in “The Riches”