31 January 2010

And you thought Christmas was over!

Nino asks "Isn't Christmas over? Can't I take this thing off?"

Christmas ain't over till I SAY it's over. And I say it ain't over till I blog about it. So Merry Christmas y'all!

Christmas Eve found me back at sister Maryanne's preparing for the big traditional Haltigan family celebration.

Mrynn's Cookie Sweatshop had been converted to Mrynn's Twice Baked Potato Factory so I rolled up my sleeves and set to work and before long the festivities were ready to begin.

My best Christmas present? Chris arrives fresh from his trip to Jerusalem!! L'chaim!!

Bobby carves. Maryanne assists. Chris lurks.

The tables were festive and beautifully set. I even got to sit at the grown-ups table!! Sharp knives and everything. You are probaly wondering what that thing of beauty is in the center...

...so here's a close up of the lovely antipasto platter from the pork store. Yummm. Maryanne spent most of her energy the night before keeping Bobby away from that platter.

Guests arriving, the room starts buzzing, ladies looking festive, the fellas are dapper, everyone talking at the same time - getting louder and louder, Christmas tunes jingling, tantalizing smells wafting from the kitchen, laughter erupting around the room, passing hors d'oeuvres around, tree-lights blinking, cold air gusting in with each arrival....
Sigh. I wished the night would last forever.

Ever the entertainer, Chris held sway with tales of the holy land.

And gave out Middle Eastern loot to everyone. Michael with his keffiyah.

Eileen rubbing her new magic lamp (no genies reported as yet.)

And Jake wearing his new Turkish cap, which he didn't want to take off all night, much to my Turkish delight.

Helen and Charlie looking blue-eyed and beautiful.

Visions in black & white, enjoying a post-meal chat.

Uncle Tom turns Luke into a human wheelbarrow.

Maggie did the dishes but apparently harbored some resentment and so left a dish-drain-death- trap for the rest of us. Then it was time for desert and the gift grab bag. Let the silliness begin!

Julia gets a snuggie of her very own and models it with cozy enthusiasm.

Mike showed all the ladies his bop it technique. (Not nearly as dirty as it sounds.)

There were coffee beans, board games, sweet treats, and a whole host of items both silly and useful. And of course the best parts were when someone stole a gift. It's not about what you take home, it's about the drama of the moment.

And so Feliz Navidad my friends. It was a good one. I hope everyone's Christmas was as loud, chaotic and wonderful as mine.


29 January 2010

The Jake-meister

I needed a Jake fix and I thought y'all might need one too. Both vids were so cute I couldn't decide which to post, so here they both are.

Twinkle twinkle little devil...


27 January 2010

Strata Straddles the World

The nice things about having a Shirl is you know you are always in-tune with at least one person in the world. The nice things about the Internet is that you and your Shirl can be in-tune from a distance of 4,200 miles.

Shirls enjoy an occasional foray into the kitchen to cook something healthy(ish) and delish. We especially like finding a new recipe on the above mentioned Internet and then sharing it.

Enter "The Spinach & Cheese Strata." Intrigued aren't you? Stomach just sounded out a little appreciative growl? NYC Shirl felt the same way so when she found the recipe at this delightful site, and she promptly emailed it to Vienna Shirl.

Fast forward a few weeks and NYC Shirl is visiting family in sunny Florida while Vienna Shirl is bored in snowy Austria. NYC Shirl decides to make the strata for breakfast with her peeps ON THE VERY SAME DAY that Vienna Shirl decides to alleviate her boredom by trying a new recipe.

"Now what have I come across recently that looked both nutritious and delicious?" thinks Vienna Shirl.

Spinach & Cheese Strata comes to mind and she excitedly emails NYC Shirl that she'll be trying it out. NYC Shirl communicates back to Vienna Shirl that SHE IS DOING THE SAME THING! Remarkable, isn't it?

Which brings us to another thing Shirls like. NYC Shirl has a brilliant idea for a tv show showing home makeovers. Eliminate all that boring baloney about how they do the stuff and just show us the goods. Before. After. That's really all we want, right?

Shirls decide the show will be called "BEFORE! AFTER!" It should have an obnoxiously loud, British-accented host who shouts "BEFORE" when you see the before pictures and "AFTER" when you see the after pictures. I know, right? Genius.

Turns out this concept works on lots of things. Let's face it, the world could use some simplifying. Beauty makeovers, wardrobe makeovers, plastic surgery shows, cooking shows....

Which brings me to yet another example of the Shirl mind-meld. While I was making my strata I chuckled and did BEFORE! and AFTER! photos (shouting this out while snapping the pics, of course) in order to email to NYC Shirl.

Hold on to your hats, folks. NYC Shirl was doing THE SAME THING in Fla. And so I present to you...





Go ahead, put your most annoying British accent on and shout it out! BEFORE! AFTER! You might just become the host of our new show.


p.s. anybody hungry?

25 January 2010

Texas Food....Hell Yeah !

I had never been to Houston before but with my employer being based there, it was only a matter of time.After the US lacrosse convention in Baltimore (separate post) I flew to Houston on a plane full of fat people. The guy next to me was pressed up against me and everywhere I looked there were people squeezed into seats.

Little did I know that over the next 5 days, I would gain 8.5 lbs....impossible you say?

Welcome to Texas.

I'm not saying everyone in Texas is fat. Everyone I met in Texas were normal sized and very friendly.

I am saying that if you don't watch what you eat in Texas, you can be fat in no time. The abundance of restaurants and food options is mind blowing.

Meet my first meal, cooked at home by BD..... Venison Backstrap Steaks, Venison Sausage, Maple Baked Beans and Veggies. All washed down with 5-6 beers. While I was waiting for dinner, I had kept the hunger at bay with some fresh Venison Jerky.

Brian had recently shot a Deer, so his freezer was full of deer meat. We ate it for 3 of my first 5 meals in Texas. It was very tasty indeed.

Although we ate at home most of the time, we did go out as well. Thats where the large portion sizes and availability of all sorts of goodies can get ya. Example A was the Brick House Tavern & Tap, whose slogan is "Dispensing Happiness to the Common Man". They have some very clever marketing, but it was shockingly risque' if you haven't been around this sort of stuff in a while.

All the waitresses wear short, short jean shorts and short, lowcut, tight, black shirts....they are all 18 and are instructed to flirt, shamelessly....to the point where it was uncomfortable. You look around and there are 18 year old waitresses flirting with groups of sleazy older guys who I'm pretty sure aren't there for the food.......creepy.

The Menu is slathered with sexual innuendo...."Its ok to get sloppy, thats part of the fun" or desserts like the "Double D Cup Cakes" listed under "Happy Endings". Beer is filed under "How would you like to tap this?"

The food was ok, the idea of the place is great...." Man cave meet bachelor pad, bachelor pad meet man cave"..couches, fire pits, man food, big burgers.

We started with 2 appetizers. One of Soft Pretzels covered in Butter with Cheese Sauce for dipping...and also Deviled Eggs. Trying to be healthy, I had a Chicken Caesar Salad...but my lunch-mates had delicious looking BLTs.

I could have easily had a big burger, a soda and a dessert and been at about a 2,000 calorie lunch...holy crap.

Lunch on day 3 was in a building that looked like it used to house a Bail Bonds office or a Pawn Shop. Now it is a dingy little Chinese restaurant that serves Family sized platters for $5.00...delicious.

I only finished half the Beef & Vegetables as I had also ordered an appetizer of Fried Dumplings. Look at the size of the cups they give you ! 40 oz buckets and they have people going around giving you REFILLS ! How could you drink more than 40oz of soda with lunch? I opted for water but was still amazed at the size of the cups.

Something else I was looking forward the entire trip was American Breakfasts. Brian and I had made some good breakfasts at the house, but one morning we went out to Denny's.

Oh Denny's how I missed you.

Biscuits & Gravy....hot sauce...eggs. Bottomless cups of coffee.

I destroyed this breakfast, sampling all the different hot sauces along the way. Awesome.

On Day 4 I destroyed a meal at a Mexican restaurant....mini-tacos...yummy, but no pictures.

I had 5 great days in Houston, then I put my newly fat ass on a plane for Vienna via London. I felt like this little guy across the aisle.

My new fat acquisition phase is not over yet either. Oh no sir.

As soon as I got home, the Mrs. gave me a fresh bowl of hot Cauliflower and Cheese soup and then later in the evening I ate a whole package of Pringles. Boo-yah!


24 January 2010

20 January 2010

Adventures with Fruits

I am often intrigued by strange fruit (and I don't mean the kind Billie Holiday sang about.)

Ladies & gents, meet The Pomelo. A milder, sweeter cousin to the grapefruit.

The world's largest citrus fruit.

I had to watch a youtube video to figure out how to tackle it, and it made a helluva mess. Tasty though. Ended up with enough "meat" to give me my citrus fix for two whole days.


18 January 2010

What's For Dinner?

My mother would answer the question. My father would not. Not really.

“What’s for dinner?” An innocent enough inquiry.

My mother would answer truthfully and pretend not to notice the Ewws and Icks and great heaving sighs of the poor put-upon middle class suburban child of hers. “Meatloaf? Spinach? "Oh gawd I think I’m gonna throw up.” (I know, I know. Still living with the guilt here. Roof over my head, clothes on my back, a hot home-cooked meal in front of me every night. And never a moment’s gratitude toward the old gal. Anyway, don‘t judge me…you gonna tell me you were Ghandi as a kid?)

But if my father was around when you asked that question…

I should first explain that my dad was a genuinely funny man. He had a subtle humor that could keep him quiet through the loudest family gathering only to open his mouth during a rare calm moment to let out the funniest line of the night. Something the rest of us would be repeating with knee-slaps and guffaws for weeks, months, sometimes even years. The man knew his timing.

I often wonder how many lines he had that never got delivered. We always assumed he was a man of few words. I now wonder if he wasn’t full of jokes, one-liners and pithy witticisms that just went undelivered all those years because he didn’t like having to shout to be heard. And with ten children, well, that would have been a lot of shouting.

He had a healthy cornball streak as well, as any father worth his salt must. “You got a hair cut!” was always answered with “No, I got them ALL cut.”

One routine he taught us all: He’d do a little soft shoe and wait to be asked “Where’d you learn those steps from?”

“My father.” He’d answer.

“Your father?”

“My STEP father!”

Then we’d all break our necks fake-laughing, which of course was the actual fun part. We all knew the script and Dad was willing to play either part. A long day at work, a grueling commute home, finally sitting down to relax with a cocktail, only to have a young daughter start Shuffling off to Buffalo in front of him for what was probably the thousandth time - I doubt this was ever the highlight of his day. But if not, he never let on. “Where’d you learn those steps from…."

You never heard him say shut up or be quiet. Instead it was “Cease and desist or you shall be cast into exterior darkness!” And when the inter-sibling bickering reached a fever pitch, my father would always throw out a sing-songy “sweetness and luh-ove” to get us to, well, ya know…shut the eff up. It was a snarky reminder of how we were supposed to behave, and it was sometimes delivered through gritted teeth…but it was funny.

So what's for dinner?

While you got facts from my mother, the question elicited one of two replies from my father, each delivered with great drama.

Eyes wide, brows raised, shoulders hunched, “HunGAAARRRReeean GOOOlash” in his best Boris Karloff.

The other answer? “Paaahhstahh Fahzhooooll!” like he had just stepped off the boat from Sicily that afternoon.

Every. Single. Time. Those phrases are the sound bites of my childhood.

As my father was known, on occasion, to let loose a string of invective in his own nonsense language, I always assumed he made both those dishes up. To my young, finicky ears they sounded too intentionally dreadful to be real. His version of eyeball soup or bug stew. I honestly did not know Hungarian goulash and pasta fagioli were real dishes until well into my adult years. (And I couldn’t work up the nerve to try either until I was in my 30’s, so convinced I was that they must be awful.)

I figured my father was giving us an answer that sounded so gross we would get the point…which was that a home made, well-balanced, hot meal of good, wholesome food was going to be served shortly thanks to quite a bit of work on the part of my mother. And that we ought to be grateful and eat whatever it was with the same gusto he always applied to his own plate. There was also the implied threat…you’ll eat what you are given, or next time it’s the HunGAAARRReeean GOOOOlash for you.

I never saw my father NOT clean his plate. And at the end of each meal, this funny, quiet man who could spontaneously make people roar with laughter yet whose corny shtick caused his children to affectionately roll their eyes would end the meal with another beloved childhood sound bite, a humble and grateful “Good supper Ma.”

Happy birthday Daddy. I’m going to make some goulash tonight.


16 January 2010

New York, The Sequel

In a previous post I prattled on about the first half of my recent trip to NY but left you wondering what would happen next? Hope y'all didn't lose too much sleep pondering if I got any sleep under 47 pounds of blankets. The answer is yes, yes I did.
Such a wonderful (and toasty!) good night's sleep did I get that the next day found me throwing shapes in front of the family Christmas tree before heading over....
...to see my father-in-law and eat half his Godiva chocolates (He insisted!! I swear!!) And from there it was only a hop, skip and a jump to....
...Pattie McGee's place where giant roosters named Victor morph into...
...grinning T-Rex's named Victor.
And once, for 2.7 seconds, the creature known as Derek stood still. Photographic evidence above.

Mama Pattie is 6 months pregnant with creature number three and she is positively glowing (pardon the cliché.) For real people, she looked 10 years younger than me which pissed me off b/c we were BORN ON THE SAME DAY! But I love her so much I forgave her instantly. At which point she fed me a delicious dinner and made me drink some cabernet (I think she wanted the vicarious pleasure of a lil' wine buzz.) Next time, my dear Pattie, we will drink a glass together and marvel at your third bundle of sweetness. It was a great overnight visit and I am already eager to see you & Vic and the adorable creatures again.

I had to cut my time with the Pattie and family a lil' short due to the impending blizzard. That and the fact that Maryanne needed me to come over and bake six thousand cookies. And that brings us through days 6 and 7.

Day 8 finds us at the house of the hosts with the most, Eileen and Jack. Once again I failed to take many good photos (What can I say? I'm too busy living in the moment!!)

But I did manage to get Eileen in her Snuggie (that's not actually a Snuggie but something better, as it has a long pocket at the bottom for your feet, which Eileen kindly demonstrated)

The real fun was watching tiny Eileen get into this thing.
Only other photo? Helen lounging by the fire daintily sipping her "mini." In days of yore, my Dad would fix himself a manhattan each evening after work, always offering my mother one. She rarely took him up on it, but when she did it was always with a "make mine a mini." And thus the "mini" entered the family lexicon. Helen's all about having a mini (red wine, no bourbon for this lady) If you're ever hanging out with Helen, do yourself a favor and encourage her to pursue mini #2. Always hilarious Helen can you make you wet your pants when she is a lil' tipsy. My favorite part is watching her crack herself up.

Alas, on this night she was responsible and stuck to just the one. But we all managed to have lots of fun with good company, delicious food, a warm fire and did I mention the good company? Ya know, bosom of my family and all that jazz.

Staying at Eileen & Jack's beautiful home is so nice and comfortable. They may not give you 32 pounds of bedding but you do get a huge-ass bedroom complete with not one but TWO seating areas. In truth I would treasure my time with them even if they lived in a shack, these two are a magic, feel-good pair. Eileen and I spent hours just chatting over our tea and coffee, something I could do all day long. Oldest and youngest of the clan, solving the world's problems, one by one. Mmm, good day.

But we must move on because the worlds best bossy little boy and his birthday boy brother are waiting for us.

King-for-a-day, Luke ate his hand picked birthday menu of spaghetti and meatballs with gusto.

Luke posing with "the best present I ever got in MY LIFE." A stereo with turntable, tape deck, cd player, ipod port and THE ABILITY TO RECORD from all of these onto a cd. The kid was beside himself. Switching from one source of music to another every five minutes, having the whole workings mastered in mere minutes, rocking his little musical heart out. A delight to behold.
Jake found his fun in a different way: bossing me around. Taking a break only to boss around others on the phone. It was a pleasure being bossed.

Oh lordy - I just realized I left out a whole night of fun! Between klotching with Eileen over coffee and being bossed around by Jake, a handful of us girls went and saw Julia and Emmet play in the East Village. Casey, Eileen, Collyflower, Mrynn & myself trained it over there and met up with our favorite musicians as well as cousin Kristin & Beau George (not to be confused with Boy George.) Turkish food for dinner then an amazing (and all too brief) set by Julia & her Hooligans.
Do us both and favor and stop reading right now and check them out. http://www.juliahaltigan.com/
Go to albums and have a little listen. Even if you've been there before, go again, lots of updated versions. Nothing I write can do a better job of showing you how amazing, unique and talented they are. I burst with pride. And now I will leave you because you have some listening to do.


p.s. And the NY trip STILL isn't over! Yay!! I promise to wrap it all up in a third post sometime soon.

13 January 2010

Back where I belong

Two weeks. Count 'em. Two whole, long, delicious weeks to spend in the proverbial bosom of my family and luxuriating in the company of friends. Someone asked me what I did in NY while I was there. What did I do? Hmmmm. Nothing, really. Yet I accomplished just about everything I set out to.

First stop on the tour? The fabulous Miss Alli Arnold. Sister-in-law, friend and the best Shirl a girl could ask for. It's impossible for me to not enjoy time spent with my Shirl. She is my sister from another mister, my soul's kissing cousin, the peas to my carrots. I was grateful for two nights there, checking our her new apartment (gorgeous) and her new 'hood (classic) and even heading back down into the old 'hood of Murray Hill for sample sales (bargains!) and diner eats (mmm, reuben sandwich.) We may or may not have gorged ourselves on three episodes of Jersey Shore in the evening, but I won't admit to that publicly and will leave it as a hypothetical scenario for you to ponder.

Somehow I took no photos of La Shirl herself. But I did snap her artwork hanging up on banners all over NYC. So proud! I also got pictures of her dog and, inexplicably, her bookcase. Thought both are lovely, for the sake of brevity, neither will be included here. (After all, it was a two week trip, and I am only on day 2) Suffice it to say, Alli always leaves me wanting more.

Next stop...Albany to see A. (sometimes known as G.) & B. & family. Roll on Megabus!

I got to meet Elena for the first time. And loved her immediately.
Old friend Dave came up to Albany for a visit and the four of us grownups nearly wet ourselves laughing after the lil' ones were in bed. This may have had something to do with the wicked chocolate martinis Ann was mixing. Or maybe not, you never know with this crowd.
Ann and I figured out why I am practically a midget by comparing our legs. Seems I am missing about 4 or 5 inches off of mine.

Also while in Albany, I crowned Miss Eva Diva a princess (merely confirming what she already knows)...
...helped Jonah compose a song, and ate Ann's home-baked bread like my life depended on it. Alas, sadly, after all that it was time to move on. Bring it, Long Island!!

My first night back on the island was a casual affair at the ol' family homestead, affectionately known as 106. So the family gathered and we had dinner and of course, lots of laughs. I never feel as comfortable as I am when around this crowd of wacky yahoos. Love 'em all to death.
Sister Maggie's patients love her so much they send her GINORMOUS gift baskets full of yummies. Hooray Maggie! We all did our very best to put a big dent in it. (You are probably wondering how a lil' thing like Magpie can hold up that massive box. Yoga. I swear, sometimes I just wanna be her.)

In an evening loaded with highlights, on a trip loaded with highlights, nothing warmed the cockles of my heart so much as seeing how much my younger nephews adore my older one. Michael and Luke above, figuring out something electronical or mechanical no doubt.

Here's Michael with the Jake-meister. Jake won't even LOOK at me when Michael is in the room. But that's okay....warm heart cockles and all that. (What exactly is a cockle anyway?)

But moving on, because it's only day 5 of 14 and we'll see more of this motley crew at a later date. Actually this might be a good time to pinch off this post and start again fresh another day. After all, a good blogger knows a cliffhanger will keep 'em coming back for more.

What wonders will days six through fourteen hold?! Only the Shadow knows!! (And also me and the 19 other people in my family, a handful of friends and a big bunch of Chris's relatives as well. Oh and some people on the Long Island Rail Road, the A and L subway trains and anyone who was at the 11th Street Bar on December 22nd and....well...you get the point. Only the Shadow knows!! )

Anyway, I'll leave you with these words of advice, if ever you are in Bellmore and need a place to lay your head, drop by 106...

...they'll give you this much bedding to sleep with.