Yummy?

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Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers for more slices of life.

The thought of a baked pasta dish makes me salivate. I love baked spaghetti at our favorite local Italian restaurant, but I have not found a baked pasta recipe that makes me giddy with the thought of serving it.

Then I was lucky enough to be watching the Today show and they were doing a segment on a penne pie. Matt Lauer informed the lady cooking that  he was a big fan of spagetti pie. The lady assured him, this penne pie would be just as delicious.

They went through their segment showing how to make penne pie. The final moment when Matt takes a taste . . . drum roll, please . . . he closes his eyes, a look of contentment settles on his face as he savors this bite. “A winner, maybe even better than spaghetti pie!” he exclaimed. “I think you could even use Italian sausage for more flavor.”

My husband said, “That sounds good, we should try it sometime.” Within a week, I had assembled all the ingredients to make penne pie with Italian sausage.

As I am making this, I am hoping this is THE recipe that will be my baked pasta recipe. How can it miss? It is loaded with cheeses: ricotta, parmesan, mozzarella. Perhaps I have even added a bit more cheesy goodness than the recipe called for.

Penne pie process: from browning of sausage, mixing of cheeses with sauce, to adding in the penne

Penne pie process: from browning of sausage, mixing of cheeses with sauce, to adding in the penne

It smelled great. It came out of the oven, rested a bit so it wouldn’t fall apart. The big moment . . . the first taste . . .  waiting for that savoring of this pasta. Where’s the sigh of this-is-the-best-bite-ever? (especially, since we had Italian sausage, not just plain old hamburger) Take another bite, maybe that was the one bite that didn’t meld all the flavors . . .  Nope, that’s not the problem. There just isn’t a lot of flavor in this pasta.

Penne pie resting, and served

Penne pie resting, and served

Another night, we have the pasta as leftovers. This time red pepper flakes have been sprinkled over the pasta. It’s a little better, still not the sigh-inducing-best-pasta-ever flavor. I’m ready to chuck this recipe in the trash. My husband says, “It wasn’t bad, maybe with a few tweaks, it could be good.” I put the recipe back in the cabinet. Maybe one day I’ll play with it and see what else I can add to up the flavor. But in the meantime, I don’t know that I will believe Matt Lauer when he sighs and deems a recipe is wonderful. I will watch with a skeptical eye in the future.

 

Dear Trader Joe’s

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Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers for more slices of life.

Dear Trader Joe’s,

Oh, how I love to wander the aisles of your store! I always find something new to try. Do you know that I have to travel at least two hundred miles to shop? That limits the type products I can purchase to cans, jars, or bags. No frozen items for me. If I have a cooler with a cold pack, I can bring home a few refrigerated items. It is a sad fact of life that there is no Trader Joe store in my town. We did have a great location for a store, but you passed us by and now there is a sporting goods store in the location that I thought would be perfect for you. But that is not really the point of this letter.

I have enjoyed several of your products but then you discontinue them. Argggh! This is devastating! You used to stock Van Houten cocoa every Christmas. What happened? I always bought several cans to carry me through the year. Currently, I have to use Hershey. Definitely not the same!

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My last bag of tangy chips. What a sad day!

On the last visit to your store, I discovered you have discontinued the Cheddar & Horseradish Potato Chips. Why, oh why? I loved those crunchy chips with the spicy tang of the horseradish that makes my tongue burn just a bit. The Siraracha chips just won’t replace the Cheddar & Horseradish. Please reconsider and bring these chips back!

pub cheeseWhat will you discontinue next? The Pub Cheese? If you continue to delete my favorites from your store, there won’t be any joy in shopping. So please, bring back the Cheddar & Horseradish Chips, and see what you can do about getting the Van Houten cocoa reinstated in the stores too. Okay?

A disappointed chip lover,

elsie

 

 

Dinner Rebooted

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Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers for more slices of life.

The hands of the clock move closer and closer to five. I know it’s time for me to head into the kitchen to begin the process known as dinner. I usually have a plan, so I can move straight to the refrigerator to pull out the necessary ingredients for the evening cuisine.

Tonight, it is Healthy Orange Chicken. I chop the chicken breast into bite-sized pieces. I zest the rind of the orange and squeeze the fresh juice to make the sauce. Boxed fried rice is simmering in the skillet. The chicken has cooked, I’m adding the sauce. It seems there won’t be time to cook a few of the pot stickers I have in the freezer. Salads are ready. All that’s left is to thicken the chicken in the orange sauce.

Ding-dong!

The neighbor across the street has a foil pan with a smoked pork butt that he has just pulled from his Big Green Egg. He delivers this with thanks to my husband for helping him with cabinets he was installing in his garage. I think it is also thanks for clearing his driveway when we had our one slightly measurable snow this year. (Side note: we have a snowblower, my husband travels the street clearing all the driveways just because he can.)

The smoked smell fills the kitchen. I lift the lid to sample a bite. Mmmmm, pure heaven! I look at my nearly finished dinner. I look at the pan of pulled pork. I think, the pork would be better tonight, I can reheat the orange chicken tomorrow (and maybe get my pot stickers too). I wonder aloud, “What else could we have with the pork? I have some green beans I could cook.” My husband volunteers to peel potatoes for fried potatoes.

Reboot the dinner. Fried rice set aside. Orange chicken poured into a plastic container. Quick wash of the skillet for the potatoes. Clean and cut beans to cook. Twenty minutes later dinner is ready. Freshly smoked pulled pork wins over orange chicken. Now dinner is nearly ready for tomorrow. Sometimes, you just have to go with the flow.

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The only part of dinner that stayed the same would be the cup of strawberries.

Celebrate a Day

celebrate new

A day arrives where nothing is required. No chores to complete. No meals to prepare. Freedom to meander as one pleases. These days are rare, but Friday was such a day.

Destination of the day St. Louis. We did have an agenda of places to visit, but there was no rush to get to any single place. The pace was leisurely.

First on our list was the botanical gardens. An orchid show was the draw, but the mild temperatures took us on a stroll through the gardens first. Although it’s not quite blooming season, we were not disappointed.

Crocuses have popped through the grass.

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A few early blooming trees had bees buzzing in and out of the blossoms.

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Bare tree branches intrigue me with their complicated network of limbs.

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A few more glimpses of nature’s beauty on a lovely March day. The top two are a Star Magnolia. The bud of the Star Magnolia is fuzzy like a pussy willow. The second row has an early crab apple, a contorted Filburt, and Hellebore. Final row: Only a few daffodils were open, more will be blooming in a few weeks. The spiky yellow bloom is Witch Hazel.IMG_1925

After strolling around the outside gardens, we returned inside to view the orchids (that post will come tomorrow).

The next portion of our day involved shopping. I know that does not sound appealing to some, but the stores we visited are not in our city, so we take advantage every time we come to St. Louis. Costco was first on our list. They had several items on sale we needed. Of course we had to try a few of the samples offered. Chocolate gummy bears have never appealed to me, and they still don’t. Jelly bellys left an unpleasant taste which was removed by trying a giant green olive. Surprisingly, we walked out with only the items from our list. Trader Joe’s was next to be visited. Only a few items needed there too.

Finally, it was time for dinner. We had a gift card for a new-to-us restaurant. We had a delightful waiter, who shared his favorites from the menu. Fortunately we were early enough to take part in the price break from happy hour on a glass of wine and an appetizer. Every bite was delicious! I meant to take pictures, but I forgot until the food was mostly consumed. Sorry!

A fantastic Friday filled with flowers, food, and finds doesn’t come along every day, so I celebrate my good fortune on this day.

Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers for more slices of life.

Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers for more slices of life.

 

Dinner – Your Choice

Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers for more slices of life.

Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers for more slices of life.

While creating the grocery list for the week, I posed this question to my husband, “Any suggestions for dinner this week?” Being the CEO of the kitchen, I usually determine the menu, but I am always willing to take requests. In fact, I love requests, makes my job so much easier. His response surprised me.

“Chicken pot pie.”

“Really? It’s not supposed to be very cold this week. Isn’t that comfort food for when it’s cold and nasty outside?”

“I know, but we haven’t had it much this winter.”

“That’s because it hasn’t been very cold or nasty outside.”

“We can end the winter with one last chicken pot pie.”

So we did.

It turned out this was perfect because the day deteriorated with thunderstorms. It's always a challenge to get the filling thick enough. One day I will get it right.

It turned out this was perfect because the day deteriorated with thunderstorms. It’s always a challenge to get the filling thick enough. One day I will get it right.

 

Tastes to Tempt

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Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers for more slices of life.

You would think traveling back and forth across the country would allow us to explore a variety of cuisines. Unfortunately, we always seem to be in the same place, at the same time, with limited options for variety in dining pleasures. We prefer to by-pass the usual chain restaurants. We can eat that at home, if we wanted to, which we don’t.

So Yelp has become my friend when we are on the road. A few years ago we discovered a fabulous hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant in San Diego. We have learned not to judge a place by its exterior, but rather by the words of reviewers.

Gallup, New Mexico seems to be our stopping point for some meal no matter if we are traveling west or east. For years we have resigned ourselves to Cracker Barrel, (sigh) until Yelp told me about a burger spot. My eyes lit up when I found a place called 505 Burgers with an abundance of good reviews. I LOVE a great burger! I was not disappointed! It took a few tries to locate this place stuck in a strip shopping center.

Not much to look at, but what a treat inside!

Not much to look at, but what a treat inside!

The list of burgers was long and tempting, but finally we each decided on one. (The menu is either burgers or wings.) When the waitress brought our plates I had to push the fries aside to uncover my burger. The burgers were great and the fries incredible!

 

Before eating

Before eating

After eating my fill

After eating my fill, and I ate a lot, there was still a serving for two left on the plate.

I know we will be stopping here again. I just hope we don’t travel on a Saturday, they close at 5:00.

As we head east, we need a lunch spot and here we are in Gallup once again. What does Yelp recommend? The West End Donut and Deli. photo 1 (24)I must say, I agree! The six inch sandwich is more like ten to twelve inches. They are not fancy, but it hits the right spot when you are tired of fried and more fried food. One day I suppose I should try a donut.

photo 2 (25)

 

A Tasty Bite

Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers for more slices of life.

Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers for more slices of life.

Would you eat here?

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If not, you would never know the one-of-a-kind experience you are missing. This Quonset hut restaurant has been in existence in Springfield since 1909. In 1909 it was housed in another location but it has been in a Quonset hut since 1949. In 1985, the restaurant moved to this location.

What’s so special about Casper’s you wonder? It is a no frills kind of diner and they are known for chili. Actually, the only thing I’ve ever eaten here is Frito Pie. A plate of Fritos as the base, covered in a unique chili, topped with cheddar cheese. When it is delivered to your table, you are warned the plate is hot. Brave souls can add raw onions on top of the cheese. The chili is creamy and like no other chili I’ve ever tasted. This treat must be savored because we only get it once a year.

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While you are waiting for your order, you are entertained by all of the bric-a-brac that adorns the curved walls. It is like a 60’s explosion from Berkeley, CA and it all landed in this hut. This is a time warp of memorabilia.

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Let me know if you are in my neighborhood, I will be more than happy to let you experience Casper’s.

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Here’s Casper’s today. Looks pretty much the same as the photo at the top.