Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Delicious Summer Dinner

Here is a delicious, easy to prepare, and healthy dinner for the summer.  The prep work is easy, and most of the cooking can be done on the grill.  Vegetables are abundant during the summer, so I made good use of them.  The meal is gluten free as well. This should amply serve two people. 

The salad course is a simple tomato and cucumber salad with fresh mozzarella.  I buy the mozzarella at Stew Leonard’s in Connecticut. You can watch them make it fresh everyday. Don't get something that's been sitting  in the cheese cabinet forever.  Splurge and get good stuff. It makes a world of difference and taste.  That goes with the vegetables too.  Visit your local farmer's market. It's a great way to get the freshest possible ingredients and help support the local economy.  Everyone wins!

I like the salad served at room temperature, but Sal, my wife, prefers it cool.  Either way, it tastes great. 

Two medium tomatoes
1/2 cucumber
1/3 lb. fresh mozzarella
1-2 Tbl. Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper or Penzey’s Herb blend to taste

 Cut the tops of the tomatoes.  You can core out the inside with a spoon or leave it intact.  I chose to leave it because the tomatoes were very firm and fresh.   I use a large dice, but you can of course adjust it to your individual taste.  Peel the cucumber and slice it into wheels.  Cut the mozzarella into cubes.  

 Throw everything into a bowl, drizzle the oil, and add the seasoning.  I used the Penzey's Sunny Paris blend because it has no salt and is very tasty. Toss and set aside. Yes, that is a Harpoon UFO in the background.  Perfect for a warm sunny day.

The entrée is a simple eight-ounce cod filet, marinated in a teriyaki sauce.  Sal has been using this recipe for as long as I have known her.  It is great for steaks and poultry too. We split the filet.  A four ounce serving has about 21 grams of protein, and around 100 calories.  That's pretty good. 

¾ cup of canola oil
¼ cup of honey
¼ cup soy sauce (we used low salt) 
2 TBL white vinegar 
1 small onion medium dice
2 cloves of garlic minced 
1 ½  TSP powdered ginger 
You can of course use fresh ginger, but this is Sal's recipe so I'm not going to change it.  It is good though.

 Whisk everything together in a bowl.  Pour it into a  jar, and it will keep in the refrigerator for about a month. You can personalize or change it to suit your tastes.  A great idea would be to add a little sesame oil to give it a nutty taste.  Just subtract the same amount of canola.  
I washed off the cod filet, placed it in a clean dish and poured the marinade over it making sure that I covered both sides.  I covered it and placed it back into the fridge for about an hour.  

I love grilled or roasted vegetables.  The high heat brings out the natural sweetness of the vegetables.  Also, the veggies are crisp and crunchy rather than wilted.  You can pretty much roast anything.  Root vegetables, beans, squash, whatever you prefer.  For this meal I went with what I had in the fridge and larder.  

1/4 cauliflower, cut into bite sized florets
1 small head of broccoli, cut into bite sized florets
2 large portobello mushroom caps 1/2 inch  thick slices
1 medium white onion, sliced
1/2 large red onion, sliced
1-2 TBL extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper or Penzey's Herb blend of your choice (I used Fox Point blend)

Toss the cut up vegetables into a bowl, add the oil, and season to taste.  Toss to coat. Set aside.  

Sal and I love quinoa.  Quinoa is a seed rather than a grain.  By itself, the taste is bland, but I like to add flavor by using chicken or vegetable stock, and sauteed vegetables.   It is very easy to make and gluten free.  For this dish I'm making curried quinoa, with onions, shallots and garlic.  I'm using a sweet curry blend, because my wife, who was born in India no less, doesn't like hot food.  Go figure! To bring out the rich taste of the curry here is a tip.  Pour the curry into a small saute pan.  Heat the spices on medium until it just starts to turn brown.  Take of the heat and pour onto a plate to cool.  This will give you a more pronounced flavor.

1 small onion diced
1 shallot diced
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 TBL extra virgin olive oil
1 TBL Curry powder
1 cup of quinoa
1 cup of water
1 cup of chicken or vegetable stock.

Pour the oil into a medium sauce pan and heat until the oil shimmers.  Add the onions and stir.  I wait until the onions are translucent to add the shallots.  Shallots are more delicate than onions so you don't want to burn them.  

  Add in the curry and stir to blend.  Stir until the edges on the onions and shallots are start to brown. Make a space in the middle of the saucepan and add the garlic.  Cook for thirty seconds.  You don't want to burn garlic because it will taste bitter.  

Add the stock, water and qunioa.  stir to combine, make sure you scrape off the fond(the brown stuff on the pan that is pure flavor) bring to a boil, cover and let it simmer on low for about twenty minutes.  Give it shookle(shake) every now and then.  When it is done, remove from heat and set aside covered. 

Heat the grill and scrape off any residue.  I use a wire basket specifically designed for grilling vegetables.  If you don't have one you can easily cook the veggies in the oven.  Pre-heat to 450 degrees.  Pour the veggies onto a half sheet pan.  When the oven is heated, put the pan in and set the timer for 20 minutes.  Every now and then give the veggies a shake.  Take them out when the veggies start to brown.  

I cook these over a medium to high heat and shake constantly.  You don't want to burn them.  About five minutes before they are done, take out the fish.  You can grill it directly or put it in a dedicated grilling basket.  I have one for sliders that worked perfectly. Cook the fish for about two to three minutes per side.  Check to make sure that it is opaque inside.   DON'T overcook it.  

Plate and serve.  You can add more marinade as a dressing to the fish and the vegetables as well.

Tomato, cucumber and mozzarella salad.

Grilled cod, curried quinoa, and grilled vegetables.

Hope you enjoyed the recipes.  Now I'm going to have dinner with my beautiful bride.  

Monday, June 27, 2011

Hebron, CT gets an early jump on the Fourth of July

Happy 26th of June, I mean 25th of June, I really mean Happy 4th of July.  Josh and Jen, my nephew and niece, invited us to see the fireworks display at the Hebron Fairgrounds. It was originally scheduled for Saturday, but because they predicted rain, it was postponed to Sunday, when it actually did rain.  We met at their house, got some chairs and drove to the fairgrounds.  Very pretty setting, if the middle of nowhere is your thing.  It’s my thing, so we made a date to go to the Hebron Fair in the fall.   

As we approach the fairgrounds, I begin to smell fair food.  Yum! We pick a nice spot, set up our chairs, and begin our hunting and gathering.  First stop, Philly Cheese steaks.  I get mine “wit,” my wife on the other hand runs screaming and crying at the mere mention of peppers orders her “wit out.”    We get some lemonade in a souvenir cup and sit down.  Soft roll, shaved meat, onions, peppers and Cheez Wiz.  Pretty tasty, but small. For eight bucks I want a foot long tour de force. Sal promised me part of hers’ as she said she couldn’t possibly finish it.  I come up gasping for air after crushing mine in record time and she is stuffing the last morsel into her mouth.  Liar!  Oh well, onto dessert.

My favorite fair food is fried dough.  What could possible be better than light, crisp, calorie dense, nutrient free, fat-ladened, deep fried bread?  I dunno!  Josh and I go for the powered sugar; Jen and Sal opt for the marinara sauce.  These were supposed to be super sized, but mine was the runt of the litter, only measuring twelve inches in diameter.  Josh, on the other hand, got one that was about the size of a bicycle tire.  I tear into mine.  Steaming hot, crispy, chewy, sweet, gooey and greasy.  I finish this in record time.  Josh takes pity on me and tears a Frisbee sized hunk of his dough and plops it on my plate.  A few quick bites and that’s gone too.  Sal wasn’t happy with the marinara sauce.  “It didn’t taste Italian enough.”  I’m too busy brushing six pounds of confectioners sugar off my shirt to care.

We sit and chat for a while and then of course it begins to rain.  People running to and fro to get out of the rain.  No mean feat considering all of the buildings are closed.  Some people, stand under the eaves.  Some of the smarter ones open their umbrellas.  I put my hood up and hunker down.  It rains on and off for an hour. We are having a good time, so it doesn’t matter. 

Anyway, all of this rain is making me hungry.  Hmmm, let’s see, stuffed potato? No, too many carbs.  Pizza?  It’s Pepe’s or nothing.  Nachos?  No señor.  Ah, root beer float.  Now that’s the ticket!  A big pull on the soft serve handle sends a huge stream of vanilla into the cup.  A shot of root beer and we are good to go.  Sweet, cold and creamy.  Awesome. 

Finally the rain stops.  The lights go off and the first rocket screams towards the sky.    Boom! The rocket burst with a brilliant explosion of color. Ooh!  The next one--Ah!  Thunderous blasts of color illuminate the sky.  The concussions vibrate in your chest. The grand finale begins with dozens of rockets screaming skyward.  One rocket after another, booming, bursting, painting the night sky.  Sadly the last rocket explodes and the lights are turned on.  We pack up and make our way back to the car.  We all agree that it was a great show.  Family, food and fireworks, not a bad way to spend a summer evening. 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Growing Up in The Fifties-Drop and Roll--Chapter Four

Growing up in the fifties was not without its’ worries.  Specifically the threat of nuclear annihilation preyed heavily on a lot of people’s minds. Even as a child I was made aware that our lives could be snuffed out in an instant if we were not prepared.  Many companies made their living selling bomb shelters.  They cost between a few hundred dollars to well over five thousand dollars.  In 1959, five thousand dollars could buy you a nice house or a very elaborately appointed bomb shelter complete with a filtration system, months of dried provisions and a generator. I’m pretty certain a hundred-dollar bomb shelter would be a pup tent, a used Coleman lantern and a Snickers bar.  As with anything, you get what you pay for.   

Public buildings had bomb shelters in their basements.  The theory was that in the event of a Soviet strike, alarms would sound, you and everyone else in the immediate vicinity would stampede to the nearest bomb shelter without trampling anyone, quickly lock the doors keeping out the riff-raff and wait for the all-clear signal.  The all-clear signal could be after a few hours or a few months.  In that time you and all of your new friends would more than likely kill each other fighting over the scarce water, food, and hygiene faculties. 

I vividly remember watching the Bert The Turtle cartoon give us advice on what to do in case of an attack.  “When you see the flash” the narrator would intone, duck and cover.  Only later did we learn that when you see the flash you are already gone.  In grade school we had to practice nuclear drills in our class. Each person had a designated job.  One person closed the windows, another drew the drapes, and someone else shut the lights.  The rest of us would crawl under our desks.  The desk was supposed to protect us against a bomb capable of destroying an area the size of Texas. Other pieces of advice were equally feeble such as putting a newspaper on your head to shield you from the light.  Yeah, I could see that working provided the newspapers were made out of lead sheets.  If you were out in the open you could throw yourself on the ground, face down, and wait as the nuclear pulse gently washed over you. 

We still have ridiculous drills in schools.  In addition to fire drills we now have lockdown drills. Apparently when the heavily armed intruders enter the building, the secretary will sound the alarm, assuming she either;
a) Hasn’t been taken hostage or
b) Hasn’t been dispatched to the next world 

The rest of us will lock our doors, and have the kids, who can’t keep quiet during a regular fire drill, huddle in a corner and pretend they aren’t there.  Apparently, doors bought from the lowest bidder will stop an armor piercing round fired from an AK-47.  I feel safe already. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My wife; Sallyanne

The other night I had the absolute pleasure of watching my wife get honored by her colleagues.  My wife decided to retire this year after more than 35 years of teaching.  She spent nearly her entire teaching career at Henry C. Dwight School in Hartford, CT. At Dwight, she made many fantastic friends.  The colleague she knew the longest, who started with her and was a graduate of Dwight herself, Toni, retired and was also honored at this party.  If I were to describe Sallyanne that night in one word it would be magical. She was beaming with happiness. She also looked pretty hot. She treated herself to a new dress, which looked fantastic.  A leisurely trip to the salon gave her a beautiful cut and color, and a pedi as well.  A bit of makeup and honestly, she was the best looking woman there.  But I’m biased. 

She was re-united with her sisters. Through the years, I’ve come to know these people. Sallyanne would tell me stories and relate anecdotes about her day.  The highs and lows, the exciting and mundane, all told to me in exquisite detail.  Sallyanne thought of these people as family.  She even said that she was re-united with her family. 

Everyone had such wonderful things and stories to tell about Sallyanne.  She simply sparkled with delight.  She laughed and cried and all who spoke echoed the same words about Sallyanne.  Dedicated, hard working, selfless and organized.  A natural teacher and a beautiful human.  It is clear that the teaching profession has lost a valuable asset.  I am honored that she is my wife. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

My first brush with certain death Chapter 3

I had my first brush with certain death when I was seven years old.  After weeks of riding my bike with training wheels, I decided to ask my father to take them off.  My father, not being very handy, took forever to remove them. He fumbled with the screwdriver.  He couldn’t find the proper wrench.   I stood by practically bursting with anticipation.  Finally he removed them and I leaped on.  A few fits and starts, a lot of falls and finally—FREEDOM!  I could now ride on my own.  No need to ride in dreary circles in front of my house because I couldn’t keep up with the big kids. Now I was a big kid. 
Bikes not only represented freedom but status as well.  Mine unfortunately pegged me as refugee from Eastern Europe.  My parents, in their infinite cheapness, bought me a used bike.  It might have been blue at one time, or green or even red for that matter.  The dirt, grime, and rust obscured the original color.  Still, it was a two wheeler.  It could have been worse.  My friend Earl Garland’s parents were only able to afford a girls bike for him.  When he went riding down the street we used to yell out, “Earl the girl, Earl the girl!”  I’m not sure if that was the catalyst, but the last I heard from him, he and his partner owned a decorating company in the San Francisco area.
Back in the fifties and sixties, we never wore a helmet.  For anyone to even suggest that you wear a helmet would be looked upon as the village idiot. Our bikes were our horses when we played Usurpers and Native Americans (Cowboys and Indians).  We had sword fights with sharpened sticks when we played knights in armor. No one, I repeat no one ever lost an eye.  If you fell, you just got up, rubbed the gaping wound with a little dirt and played on.  My friend Stan Shapiro once tied off a spurting artery with nothing more than some twine and a paper clip.  He continued to play until lunch whereupon his mother whisked him to the hospital.  I heard the doctor was very impressed with his surgical skills.
Oh--my near brush with certain death.  I was riding about 120 miles per hour down Merritt Street in Bridgeport.  I decided to take a turn at Pete Street, a street that ran perpendicular to Merritt.  I tapped the brakes, and went into a full power slide.  At the same time, unbeknownst to me, a car was traveling down Pete Street going at about 90 miles an hour.  The closing speed was 210 miles per hour; a recipe for disaster.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the car coming.  I jammed on the brakes, gripped the handlebars tightly and went into the longest skid in the history of bike riding.  The lady in the car hit her brakes.  The screech was deafening.  My tires threw up a huge plume of acrid grey smoke.  I stopped. The lady stopped.  We were less than two feet apart.  The lady was white as a ghost.  She jumped out of the car and started babbling incoherently.  Well I thought it was incoherent until I figured out that she was talking in Polish.  She had taken a look at my dilapidated bike and pegged me for an Eastern European refugee. I would have jumped off my bike but I was petrified with fright.   After a few minutes I was finally able to move.  I told the lady I was okay and slowly began to pedal back to my house.  When I was halfway home I saw my mother running towards me.  Apparently her mom radar was on and picked up a disturbance in the ozone that alerted her that her child was in mortal danger.  I received another spugging; the simultaneous spanking and hugging.  I love you, BAM!  Don’t ever do that again, SMACK!  You are grounded until you are thirty-five, POW! 
After a few days I mounted up again.  I wasn’t going to let a mere almost head on collision stop me from racing around the neighborhood.  I looked certain death in the eye and walked away.  Shaken, but not deterred! 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Krav Maga-Combat for a Modern World

About eleven years ago my weight ballooned up to 207 pounds, my blood chemistry was off the charts and I could barely make it up the stairway without gasping for breath.  Oh, and I smoked too.  I was definitely not the paragon of health.  I had two food groups, fried and deep-fried.  I love to cook, love to eat and didn’t care much for exercise.  After struggling to fit into size 38 jeans, I decided to get fit.  But what? Running? Boring. Walking? More boring. Swimming? Wet and boring.  Then Sal and I saw an article on television about Krav Maga.  What?  It is a form of self-defense developed by the Israeli Defense Force to teach everyone how to fight.  Remember, national service is compulsory in Israel for both men and women.  Judo and Karate, while great sports, take a long time to master.  The founder of Krav Maga, Imi Lichtenfeld, took the best of boxing, Jiu-Jitsu, Mui-Tai,  Karate and other disciplines and packaged them into a no holds barred, easy to learn system. 

Looked like fun and I’m a hobby junkie so Sal and I decided to give it a try.  Twenty minutes into the first class and I was ready to be sick.  Forty minutes into the class and I was sick. One hour later and we were hooked.  We decide to sign up for lessons.  Intense cardio combined with punching, kicking, and blocking.  Practicing situational awareness by fending off multiple attackers.  How to get out of choke holds, and bear hugs.  Kicking a pad for one-minute straight, resting for a few seconds and doing it again... and again.  During the summer I could literally wring the sweat out my shirt.

In eight months I lost 30 pounds.  Sal lost 20 pounds, toned up and was going against and besting, guys twice her size.  Amazing.  We did this for years.  Granted it’s not for everyone.  Many people tried it out and left for various reasons.  I remember one guy that strutted in, told everyone he was in great shape and ten minutes later was puking his guts out.  So much for being in great shape.  My first test to pass onto level two lasted four hours.  I was never so tired nor more proud of myself when I passed. 

The cool part of self-defense and fighting is knowing what to do when the SHTF.  You have the confidence and the skills to at least level the playing field.  I’ve never had to use it and hopefully never will.  Sal and I made some great friends during our time with Krav.  It’s hard to describe the intense camaraderie you develop with the people you train with.   Martial arts bonds people together in an almost “us vs. them” mentality. We train hard, you don’t.  Some of the people that we studied with went on to become instructors themselves.  

Unfortunately, time takes it’s toll.  ACL and spinal fusion surgery dampened my desire for contact sports. Sal’s knees are wrecked so we leave Krav to the younger generations.  Great memories, great fun and great skills to know. Krav Maga, Combat for a Modern World.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Looking Back On My Life--Chapter Two

I was six years old when I discovered that some adults are saints and others sinners.    My mom had made arrangements for me to be picked up after school by my Aunt Rita.  She wasn’t a real aunt, but a close family friend; hence earning the distinction of being an honorary aunt.   I never much cared for Aunt Rita nor her family.  She was a thin, birdlike and nervous woman. She screeched when she talked.  And she talked a lot.  I could never figure out why my mother was her friend. The two daughters, Naomi and Linda, were quiet and sullen.  They weren’t any fun to play with.  They never shared their toys.  They also didn’t talk too much.  George, the father was a tall, cadaverous, cold man.  He also hugged a little too long for my tastes.  Plus, they were rich.  George owned a jewelry store in town.  They had new cars, furniture with plastic coverings, and went on long vacations. They even owned two televisions.  That was a rarity in the fifties. 

At the end of the school day I went outside and walked down to Madison Avenue to wait for Aunt Rita to pick me up.  Madison Avenue was, and still is, a busy thoroughfare in Bridgeport. Cars and trucks raced by.  I’m waiting, and waiting and waiting.  No Aunt Rita.  Waiting some more—still no Aunt Rita.  Not knowing what to do, I decided to cry, perhaps that would alert Aunt Rita.  After five minutes of crying, I’m hysterical.  Finally a car stopped.  A lady called out to me and asked, “Little boy, why are you crying?”  “Because, SNIFF, my Aunt Rita, SNIFF, is suppose to SNORT pick me up, GAG and she’s not here!”  The lady looked at me as if she was examining some rare specimen and then said, “Get in the car and I will take you to your Aunt Rita’s.” I’m a naïve six year old, so of course I leaped into the car and settled in.  “Do you know where your Aunt Rita lives?”   She asked hesitantly.  After all, I’m in Kindergarten and only a few years removed from diapers. I then proceeded to turn into NAV BOY! The human GPS. “Okay, lady, make a legal U-turn and proceed west for 3.5 miles.  Take a left onto Old Town Road and go two-tenths of a mile.  Our destination will be on our right.“  Well, sure enough, we get there in a few minutes.  All throughout our journey the lady kept on remarking about my extraordinary sense of direction. 

The lady parked the car and we trotted up to the house.  The lady rang the doorbell.  When Aunt Rita answered the door, she was so surprised to see me that her eyes actually left their sockets. Her mouth opened so far that her lower lip actually touched the top of her knees. Aunt Rita’s complexion turned white, then crimson and finally settled on a nice, soft, pale grey.  She then proceeded to whimper that she was so sorry, and completely forgot that she was supposed to care of a six year child.   The lady gave me a pat on the head and left.  But not after giving a stern lecture to Aunt Rita. 

As we walked into the kitchen, I sensed that I really had Aunt Rita at a disadvantage.  “Sorry Aunt Rita, two cookies are just not going to be enough for me today.  And please make my sandwich with extra jelly. I’m sure it was a mere oversight on your part, But my mom cuts the crust off my bread.  I prefer my chocolate milk shaken, not stirred. Also, the extra TV that you have would really look good in my room.”   

After a leisurely lunch, Aunt Rita wanted to play a new game with me.  It was called Please Don’t Tell Your Mother This Ever Happened.  But before she could explain the rules to me, mom rang the bell.  Aunt Rita “fessed” up, but tattled on me, telling my mother that I had gotten into a car with a total stranger.  A total stranger that also had more sense than Aunt Rita.  My mother looked at me with horror and disbelief.  She then gave a strange mom invention; a spug.  It was a simultaneous spanking and hug.  My mom basically kissed and beat the crap out me at the same time.  She made me promise never to get into a car with a stranger and then gave Aunt Rita the “this is not over by any stretch of the imagination” look. As we were leaving,  I tried to remind Aunt Rita to bring the TV the next she saw us, but she quickly closed the door, relieved that we were gone.

A few years later we learned that old Uncle George was a real comedian.  My brother had gotten a part time job at Uncle George’s jewelry store. On his first day on the job, Uncle George called my brother into the stockroom to help him move some stuff. My brother came home looking a little strange.  When my mother asked him how his first day on the job was, he replied, “Uncle George is a funny man.”  “How so?” Asked my mother. “Did he tell you a joke?”  “No.” Replied my brother, “He tried to kiss me, but I said no.” Well that was the shortest retail career my brother ever had. Soon afterwards, George, Rita and the two sullen children moved away. Not long after that, my parents started to hear that there were many other children in town who also thought Uncle George was funny.  The police, not known for their sense of humor, arrested Uncle George.  He served time with some roommates who most certainly did not share his brand of humor.  I don’t know what happened to the daughters, I just hope they never had to laugh at Uncle George’s jokes. 


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Hey Hey, We're The Monkees

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing The Monkees in concert at Mohegan Sun.  The Monkees were an iconic group from the sixties.  They were Mickey Dolenz, Peter Tork, Davy Jones and Michael Nesmith(Nesmith is not currently touring with the band).  They appeared in a television show by the same name that ran from 1966 to 1968.  Their first musical director was none other than Don Kirschner. Kirschner was an extremely talented musical producer and manager.  The show involved all sort of antics, a love interest, a song or two, a heavily modified Pontiac GTO and lots of running around. 

Much controversy surrounded the band at the time.  They didn’t play their own instruments, partly true. They didn’t write their own songs, partly true. They lip synched on the show, true.  Their talent was the singing of pretty well written songs.  Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, a successful song writing team, wrote the Last Train to Clarksville.  Many songs on their first album were co-written by Carole King.  Neil Sedaka, Carol Bayer Sager, Michael Nesmith and Neil Diamond all have song- writing credits for the Monkees as well.    

The Arena was nearly full when The Monkees took the stage.  They were accompanied by a rather large backup band, which included, a drummer, bass, and rhythm guitars, two keyboardists, a percussionist as well as a horn section.  All the musicians were mic’d for back-up vocals as well.

The theme from the Monkees show started up.  The band took the stage and broke into I’m a Believer, sung by Dolenz and Jones.  The crowd was immediately into it with everyone in the audience singing along with the band.    I was struck by the amount of young kids there.  Perhaps they were going out with grandma and grandpa!  In the background a video screen played scenes from the TV show.

For the song, When Love Comes Knockin’ at Your Door, Dolenz sang, and played the drums.  As a drummer myself, I can assure you that it is not an easy task.  The rest of show was, Jones, Tork and Dolenz, trading center stage.  There were some great stage antics and the banter was pretty funny.  It was obvious that they were having a great time together.  Jones told a wonderful joke about his friend Peter Noone (Herman’s Hermits), with the punch line being Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A lovely Walker. Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter was a number one hit in 1965.  Well, I thought it was funny!

My only criticism of the production was the audio set-up. Whereas the band was pretty tight and had a full, rich sound; Dolenz was way too loud and sounded pitchy.  Tork, was not loud enough and his voice was muddied at times. Thankfully, none of the artists were Autotuned!

One highlight of the show was Jones coming on stage in a white tuxedo.  He did a song and dance routine.  Juxtaposed on the video screen, was a much younger Jones, doing the same routine.  It was pretty cool.  Another highlight was seeing some of the clips from the original show.  I was pointing excitedly to them and telling my wife, I remember that one, and that one, and that one too.

During the show, I was struck by the innocence of the songs.   The lyrics were playful, catchy, fun and clean.  I’m no prude by any stretch of the imagination, but it saddens me that many songs these days have such an overt sexual tone, are misogynistic and glorify drinking and drug use. 

The last song they played before the encore was Day Dream Believer.  That song hit number one in 1967. John Stewart, of the Kinston Trio was the writer.  This also happens to be my favorite Monkees song, so it was a special treat for me. 

The band briefly left the stage and then returned for a three-song encore of Listen to the Band, Pleasant Valley Sunday and a reprise of I’m a Believer. 

Everyone left the arena with a huge smile on his or her face.  I was hoarse from yelling, screaming and singing.  It felt good to be fourteen again, if only for two hours. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Black Duck, Westport, CT

My wife and I attended the 2011 Greenwich, CT Concors d’Elegance today.  I am a car fanatic so being around all these magnificent automobiles made for a truly amazing day.   We also attended the Bonham Auction.  Many different Marques were represented.   I had to be careful not to scratch my ear so I wouldn’t accidently clean out my retirement account.  Some idiot actually bid on a car by accident. He was playing with his paddle.  The auctioneer was not amused.  Luckily, someone else outbid him. 

On the way home we decided to go the Black Duck in Westport, CT.  I had heard about this place on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.  I’m a big fan of the show.  I’ve visited all of the places showcased in Connecticut except the Black Duck.  We set the nav and got onto to the highway.   Fifteen minutes later we pull into the parking lot. Juke box music and chatter can be heard twenty steps before we get into the place.  This is going to be fun. 

The Black Duck was a sea going barge that was built in the mid nineteenth century.  It hauled ice from Gloucester, Boston and Portland and exchanged it for other cargo on its journey.  Ice was a valuable commodity one hundred-seventy years ago. It was  converted into a restaurant and moored on the river, near the railroad station. 

We walk into a loud, raucous and comfortable place.  The view of the Saugatuck River was tremendous.  Nautical tschokes adorned the walls.  The waitress was prompt and attentive.  She swiftly brings out our drinks.  My beer was great, but Sal didn’t like her lemonade.  The taste was lacking.  No problem; the waitress rattles off a bunch of other choices and swiftly replaces her drink.

The menu is pretty much your standard burgers, sandwiches, and seafood.  We ordered a fried calamari appetizer.  It arrived in a few minutes, hot and fresh from the deep fryer.  The calamari was lightly battered and not at all greasy.  The marinara sauce was okay. Too hot for Sal, so she ordered a plain one.  It took a little time to get to the table though.  The bus-girl messed that one up.  The waitress finally arrives with the sauce.  Not the best calamari I’ve had, but by no means the worst.  Sort of in the middle, but very fresh.

I order the Doctor Proctor burger and onion rings.  It is stuffed with bleu cheese.  Can’t wait.   Sal orders a classic bacon cheeseburger with curly fries.  We are not quite done with the calamari when the burgers arrive.  Okay, it was busy that day so I can see the cook wanting the get the orders up.  I usually like to wait a few minutes between the appetizer and the entrée.  I toss some A-1 Steak Sauce on the burger and dig in.  The sharp tang of the bleu cheese hits you immediately.  It oozes out in a savory trail of goodness.  A huge meaty taste from the burger combined with a soft, fresh bun rounds out the package. Absolutely delicious. On to the onion rings.  Hot, fresh and not oily.  Handmade rings of heaven.  The rings have exceptional crunch on the outside with soft, perfectly cooked onions on the inside.  Too many places use industrial onion rings.  You can tell these are handmade by the taste.  A little cole slaw on the side, not as good as my wife’s, but sweet and crunchy. 

Sal loved her bacon-cheeseburger.  I gave her my “I’m still hungry eyes,” but she wasn’t having any of that. She did share her curly fries with me.  They too were cooked right.  Another beer for me and we were ready to leave.  The floor is off kilter so when you get up, you think the room is moving.  Sal made sure the barge was actually secured to the dock.  I was secretly happy I stopped at two beers.   Forty-four bucks plus tip. 

It’s a great joint.  Fun, good service, and great food.  What more can you ask for?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Looking Back On My Life--Chapter One

I’m currently re-reading The Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson because we will be discussing it at my book club this month.  Bryson describes life growing up in the idyllic fifties.  Since I too am a product of the fifties I started to think about my own experiences of growing up in that era.  I set foot on this earth on October 8, 1953.  Googling my birthday proved that my birth was probably the most eventful thing as nothing else of any great significance happened on that date.  My mother loves to tell the story about how I was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck. I was turning blue from the lack of oxygen.  Dying if you will. The doctor slowly unwrapped the cord while simultaneously smacking my butt.  I finally sputtered to life like an old Chevy. What a pleasant introduction to life. 

My first memory was that of being kidnapped.  Really!  My brother, who was five at the time, was pushing me in my stroller.  I was watching the sky and trees when suddenly the pleasant afternoon that I was enjoying turned to chaos. The stroller began to pick up speed and bounce around the sidewalk.  It came to an abrupt halt and then silence. My brother ran home crying and starts blubbering that the neighborhood kids took me.  He was probably secretly happy and hoped that I did not return.  After all, he was the king until I, the pretender to the throne, came along.  My mother ran outside and found me serenely parked in a thick hedge oblivious to the pandemonium that occurred.  Mom to the rescue!

I spent my first few years in Bridgeport Connecticut.  Its nickname is the Park City.  There are close to thirty parks in Bridgeport.  One in particular is Beardsley Park—Connecticut’s only zoo.  I spent many summers wandering around the zoo checking out the animals.  I still enjoy going there today.  It remains a well-maintained facility that humanely treats and houses the animals.  Seaside Park, located on Long Island Sound, was a favorite of mine. Ah, the memories! The sharp tang of salty air as you approach the beach from an unbearably hot and sticky asphalt parking lot.  That first plunge into the cool salt water on a hot summer day was heaven.  Quickly licking a Mr. Softee cone before it melted into a river of sweet, brown goo. Endlessly building and re-building sand castles and moats. 

As far as cities went, this wasn’t too bad.  Bridgeport was a manufacturing town and good paying jobs were plentiful.  We were able to play in streets and not worry about muggers, thieves or other miscreants that seem to populate cities theses days.  Streets were clean, sidewalks swept and we all felt a general air of prosperity.  America had become the economic giant of the world and anyone with a little spunk could achieve their dream.

Our house was a post World War II ranch house, located on street that had nothing but ranch houses.  The only thing that distinguished one from the other was the paint scheme.  Ours was grey.  It was a two-bedroom one-bath house.  Cozy enough for my parents and my older brother, but when I came along it started to get cramped.  This necessitated my father hiring someone to finish the attic.  It must have pained him to hire someone because a) my parents were very cheap in many respects and b) my father was not handy at all.     So not handy, that he would pretty much break everything he was trying to fix. This would then force him to hire someone to repair it at double the rate if he hadn’t broken it in the first place. The irony was that he thought he was handy.  His job during the war was to fix the brakes on the B-17 bombers.  I hope they had long runways in England.  He eventually was made an MP.   I guess prisoners were harder to break. 

One of the first lessons I learned in school was that life is cruel.  I was in Kindergarten and we were practicing for the Thanksgiving play.  We had black paper hats that were supposed to resemble Pilgrims hats. I’m sure if the Pilgrims saw them they would be scratching their heads in wonderment at the strange headgear we were wearing.  We made a model of the Mayflower out of blocks.  My role was to jump out of the ship and exclaim, “Let’s chop down the trees!”  I remember practicing this over and over until I had just the right intonation and feeling.  Butterflies fluttered in my stomach as the day of the play approached.  Finally--show time.  Opening day.  My mom was proudly sitting in the audience.  The play started.  The boat “docked.”  Here’s my moment and…  Freddy Aimes, hijacked my line!  I heard him yell, “Let’s chop the trees!”  I was stunned, frozen in my spot.  Paralyzed that he stole my line.  STOLE MY LINE! My one and only line—my springboard to stardom.  I slowly jumped out of the boat and half-heartedly pretended to chop down pretend trees.  I hated that kid.  I wished him a slow painful death.  As luck would have it he spent most of his adult life in and out of prison for grand larceny.  Life can be cruel, but karma is a bitch.