Wednesday, August 21, 2013

My Muslim Neighbors Gave Me Dinner

I had met my Muslim neighbors earlier this year when the husband/father came over to comment on my tomato plants. He invited me over to see the garden he had planted out back and challenged me to guess what he had planted. I was able to guess everything. When he learned that I am a fan of the kind of food they eat (very similar to Indian cuisine since they're from Pakistan), he said that he would bring me some biryani some time when his wife made it. I thought, OK, that'll be cool, but really didn't expect it.

I know that they have just come out of the end of Ramadan, so I know they are cooking more since they aren't fasting during the day now. My doorbell rang and I was surprised to see the husband at my door. He asked me where my tomato plants were and asked if I remembered that they were going to make me some biryani, that his wife had made some if I still wanted some.

Then I went over to see his garden and saw that he is growing okra in the front flower bed. His tomato plants, which were much smaller than mine were, are HUGE! Meanwhile, mine are dying out back. He had told me he was a farmer in the mountains. I obviously am NOT a farmer, even if my mother was. I decided to ask him if he can rescue my plants.

Back to the food, though. I was given a platter full of some of the best biryani I have ever had - I just LOVE Basmati rice. This had potatoes and chicken in it and a Tandoori chicken leg on top. They also gave me some mint chutney that she'd made. I did eat some with the rice and meat in a tortilla (I didn't have any naan), but I'm not really a fan of mint chutney. Still, the rice was delicious!! I finished what I couldn't eat for dinner at breakfast the next morning.
But, now I have a question. I know there are Muslim Bubblers out there, so this is a question more for you. I would love to do something for them as a thank you for being so nice to me and sharing their meal. I was thinking of making a uniquely American dessert to share with them. I would never consider offering a pork product, but I don't want to offend them accidentally, either. What I was thinking of making is a pan of apple dumplings the way my mother used to make them. I've included a photo here. It is just apples, cinnamon, sugar and pie crust (like might be wrapped around a samosa). No pork fat at all. I just want to know if there is any reason something like that might be the wrong thing to offer. I'd like them to know that I appreciated the meal they shared with me.

So, what do you think? Would apple dumplings be OK or should I consider something else instead?


The Chicken Biryani photo is from Wikimedia Commons and looks very much like what I given. Even the piece of chicken was the same color. But, no bay leaves.

The Apple Dumpling photo came from a website with the accompanying recipe and looks identical to what Mom used to make. She'd put eight dumplings in her pan and then pour the cinnamon-nutmeg-sugar syrup over it before putting it in the oven. What came out was a gorgeous and fragrant dessert surrounded by a thick, caramel-ly cinnamon sauce. 

A Pot of Chili on the Stove - or There Will Be

There are three quick meals I can make with the pound and a half of ground beef I just started browning. One is chili, one is green beans and meat and the other is meat sauce for spaghetti. I love all three of them, but don't feel like getting a second pan out to cook potatoes (green beans) or pasta (meat sauce), so it looks like chili will be the recipe du jour.

I like that I can make a huge pot of chili full of beans and meat (I know - no real Texan would call that chili, which is good since I'm a Jersey Girl) with loads of onions and peppers and tomatoes. So much goodness to be had in a single pot.

Sure, I could make biscuits to go with it - or have it over pasta similar to Cincinnati - but, I do enjoy it as it is from the pan in a bowl with some buttered bread and some cheddar cheese - maybe even a little sour cream if it's got some kick. I'm debating the "kick" as I write.

OK, debate is done and so is the chili. I used white kidney beans and black beans along with diced onions and diced bell peppers, a small can of Rotel tomatoes (mild), a large can of crushed tomatoes, a large can of diced tomatoes, three tablespoons of chili powder and a half a packet of red pepper flakes that Dominos gives when you ask for them. I only used half because they were so darned hot when I put them on the pizza!! I figured half would let me know they were there and still let me enjoy the flavor. I was right!

So, I'm now noshing on a bowl of red gold with buttered whole grain bread and a cup of coffee. Comfort food to the max!!

Originally published on yesterday.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Question About Goat Meat

I have a question that I've asked once before (I don't think it was here, though), but I don't think my question was understood well. Maybe it was poorly asked. I want to try again.

I enjoy Indian cuisine. I love curries, whether they are Makhani or Masala or Navratan. I might like them milder than many do, but I do like them very much. I've had chicken (my favorite), lamb and goat. I like all three meats. But, only the goat is cut up with the bones still in the meat. Often, I find that what I thought was a piece of meat is actually a very small piece of meat with a large piece of bone attached. I have to admit, it takes some of the pleasure out of eating that particular curry for me.

All meats can be cooked with bone in or boneless, or I have always assumed. I know that when stewing, the bones provide added flavor. But, goat is the only one I've never found boneless in these kinds of meals. Can someone explain to me why the bones are left in when it is cut up into small pieces when the bones are not left in chicken or lamb, both smaller animals? Except for Tandoori chicken, that is. I'd really like to understand the reasoning.

Image from Wikimedia Commons. Previously posted to

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

More Rain Than Superstorm Sandy - 7 inches in Three Hours!!

July 29th was unbelievable!! I was given some cat scratching posts through FreeCycle and knew we were expecting rain, but when 1 PM came and went without much darkening of the skies, I thought it would be safe to go pick them up. I easily found the address and loaded them into the car and decided to treat myself to some breakfast.

I stopped at the Westmont Diner and found that they served breakfast all day, so I ordered my favorite, creamed chipped beef over potatoes with wheat toast and two scrambled eggs. While I was enjoying my meal, the man who was in the booth next to mine had his cell phone go off with one of those emergency tones like the Emergency Broadcast System does on television. He said that the storm was coming and it was a weather warning. OK. It still didn't look too bad outside, but I guess the rain was coming after all. Within five minutes, his cell phone went off again. It was a severe storm warning indicating flash flooding expected.

Well, they've said that before and the flash flooding I'm used to seeing is the kind they have out west where the water comes rushing out of the mountains or across the hot dry desert and into the ravines taking everything in its path with it. I'd never seen anything like that here in South Jersey where we have no mountains and we're maybe 50 feet at most above sea level. I knew the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River had mountain streams and running water, but our side was mostly flat and tidal. The what flooding we get is almost always because of too much pavement and poor drainage. High tides sometimes contribute if timed with the rainfall.

But, when it started getting much darker and I began to hear thunder, I decided to cut my meal short and head on home. I didn't even get out of the restaurant when the rain began. I started driving down Kings Highway which actually runs downhill about half of the way home and the water I was seeing rushing down the road and covering it from curb to curb was incredible. It was raining so hard, I was having a hard time seeing. Cars coming towards me would hit the water and blow it across my windshield completely blocking my view. I was only going 20 mph, it was that bad.

I got to Market Street and turned right to go home. That leads right into town after crossing Route 130, a major divided highway in the southern part of the state. When I got to the light, I noticed that cars weren't continuing through the light. I then noticed that cars were coming the WRONG WAY towards the cars that weren't continuing on. I suddenly realized that the road must be flooded so badly no one could get through. While all these cars were coming back towards us, they were turning into the motel that is right there to get off the highway. Suddenly, one guy in a white truck decides he's not going to turn around, so he just zips on past all the cars turning around and heads into the underpass. I have a gut feeling that the truck you'll see in the photos in this link are him. If so, then GOOD!! If that's what it takes to teach him to not be an idiot, then so be it. Here's that link.

Two of the pictures I have posted are of flooding near where I live that happened before yesterday. The one with the Metro Diner sign is looking west from Brooklawn Circle East to Brooklawn Circle West which, as you can see, is under water, as are a couple of cars stupid enough to drive through it. That was from a storm this past December that didn't
Brooklawn Circle West
dump NEARLY the same amount of rain as we had yesterday. It's because we have so much blacktop and concrete covering all open ground and the drainage is so poor, the water has nowhere to go. At the time of this event, it had the misfortune of being timed with a high tide and a full moon.

The next image where you can see a detour sign and several row homes is two blocks from my house. It is the intersection of Market Street and Broad. That photo was taken in 2009 - again, the rain fall was considerably less than we had yesterday. Honestly, this is what I saw when I came home that day. I'd never seen it before where the water was so high it covered all the sidewalks at that intersection. I usually go home by driving past these houses and
Gloucester City, Broad & Market
turning left two blocks later. I wasn't able to do that. Too much water and a car stalled out in the middle of it. Holy cow!! So, I had to turn left on Broad and then turn on to my street that way.

Finally, there is a picture of a section of town where you can see banners for Max's Seafood Cafe. That is the intersection of Hudson and Burlington. Max's is on one corner and the parking lot with these banners is on the opposite corner. Seeing that photo blew my mind. That WAS taken that day and I never thought that part of town would flood like that!!! I can't imagine what
Gloucester City, Burlington at Hudson
those houses' basements looked like after this was all done. 

So, that's how it was on July 29th. I was soaked to the skin by the time I got from the car to the house. I really didn't have a clue that we were getting as much water as we got, but I knew it was coming down like crazy. I told someone that instead of it raining cats and dogs, it was raining dinosaurs and mastodons!!

This event was originally published at

Images are from local news reports published in our city's small-town paper. Gloucester City News

Monday, August 5, 2013

Blueberry Jam

I am about to embark on a culinary adventure. I have about 4 cups of blueberries on the stove cooking down with a teaspoon of lemon juice and about a half cup of sugar and between a quarter and half teaspoon of cinnamon (no cinnamon sticks). I have no pectin. I have no jars for canning. I do, however, have blueberries I'm going to lose if I don't do something soon.

I was hoping to go sugar-free, but apparently sugar is considered something of a preservative. But, the quantities of sugar most recipes were calling for was mind-boggling. As much or more than the amount of berries!! Some recipes called for lemon juice (probably another preservative) and others called for a cinnamon stick (that one said it helps preserve - but it also helps control insulin, so I'm in). I don't have cinnamon sticks and blueberries are dark in color, so ground cinnamon isn't going to be visible. I went with the approximate equivalent. 

Now, I have no idea how this will turn out. It will require tasting, I know. Some of it will go in the fridge and some of it into the freezer. Hopefully, I won't have to add too much more sugar (if the berries are sweet). But, I'm determined to do it and not lose these berries. I also eat plenty of PBJ sandwiches, and I like jam on toast, so this will work out. If it turns out well, I will plan ahead for the next time and have jars and lids on hand so I can make more and keep it longer.

I'm far from a culinary queen. I'm more like the kitchen jester. My mother was the cooking expert with regards to preserving and "putting away". She'd can, she'd freeze and she'd "make do". We had a large chest freezer in the basement dedicated to her garden produce and sales on meats and baked goods. Steel shelves were lined with the products she'd can - in fact, her canning kitchen was in the basement. A little four-burner gas stove from the 30s hooked up to a small propane tank and an old kitchen sink with drainboard hanging on the cinderblock basement wall. It was also her summer kitchen when it was too hot in the upstairs kitchen to cook what she wanted (before we had central air).

That's not me. I'm a hit or miss kind of cook. I can do it, but I tend to be lackadaisical about it. I like slow cookers because I can ignore them. For me, spending hours in a kitchen putting together a meal is shear torture. Yet, I like having home canned foods on hand. I miss that. I remember once I made 12 quarts of stewed tomatoes. I was so proud of those tomatoes. Actually, it was more than that, but I remember the 12 because my neighbor, who was helping me clean house, claimed she threw them out thinking they were trash. Yeah - the entire case of home canned stewed tomatoes. Personally, I think she took them because they were nowhere to be found at the apartment dumpster where she said she threw them. I never had her help me again. It wasn't worth it. (Some lessons are hard learned.) But, the ones I got to use were just fine. And, I even used iodized salt which it says not to do. I'm sure there's a reason, but I did it anyway.

I also made several jars of green tomato relish once. Why? Because my tomatoes refused to ripen! They were big, robust beauties, but they stubbornly refused to blush even when set on the window sill in a paper bag. And, I don't do fried green tomatoes, so I made relish. I don't do that, either, but I was able to give it away. At least I didn't lose those tomatoes. 

Anyway, the blueberries are on the stove on a very low flame cooking down. I need to mash them and stir them and make sure they're gently boiling because that is what brings out the natural pectins. I also need to taste them to see if I need more sugar. 

Wish me luck! So far, they taste pretty good with minimal sugar. I'm hoping.

Photo is mine. Previously published on

Sunday, August 4, 2013

I Received My Appointment As a Board Worker

On August 13, New Jersey is having a special primary election to elect a replacement for Senator Frank Lautenberg who died while in office. There was a lot of talk about how much holding this election would cost since the general election is only in November, especially for a state whose taxes are already the highest in the country. Not to mention that it's usually Democrats who are accused of excessive spending and this is a Republican governor who chose to do this. I think I understand why he did this, but that still doesn't help with the overall cost..I'm pretty sure he felt that appointing a replacement would be a lose-lose situation. If he appointed a Democrat, the GOP would accuse him of being a RINO (some already have). If he appointed a Republican, the Dems would accuse him of not honoring the electorate's original party of choice. It's beyond my control, no matter why it was decided.

I was unable to work the regular primary because they didn't need all the people they used in last November's general election, so you know how it is - last hired, first fired. But, this time, because it's an election that doesn't normally exist, several people had plans to be away at this time, so I was called to work this election. The official appointment came in the mail on Wednesday the 31st, although I was told on Monday about it.

I have to be at the site by 5:15 AM so we can get the voting machines set up, put out the flag, post all the regulations where they can be viewed by voters, sign all the statements required of every board worker assuring that we will uphold election laws and similar statements. Plus, if we want to be paid, we need to be sure our signatures are in place. Then we set up the tables and divide the registered voters between us so that we know which part of the alphabet will sign in where.

It is really an interesting, yet tedious, process with color coded seals and code numbers having to be matched to the proper items to ensure integrity. When the polls close at 8 PM, anyone still in line will be allowed to vote, although I don't think that will be as likely during a special election like this one. If someone comes in and they're names aren't on the rolls, but they are sure they are registered, then we must supply a provisional paper ballot to ensure that their vote is tallied once their declaration has been verified. 

We will be on site for approximately 15 hours. If I am not loaned a car, my daughter will have to get up to take me and drop me off. No matter what, I will need to stop at the Wawa to get breakfast because there just isn't time to do it any other way. A nice big cup of coffee to sip on while I'm there, maybe a can of soda or two from home. Then, during the lunch break, there is at least one place I can go that is across the street, so if I don't have a car, I'll be OK.

The day before the election, I have to go to the municipal building to pick up all the books and keys that will be used during the election - I mentioned them above, with the color coded seals, etc. I will be responsible for getting it to the poll site without the seal being broken, but I have to get to the municipal building during business hours. My daughter will be at work, so I'll need my friend to take me or loan me his car.

But, that's what I'll be doing on Monday and Tuesday. It will be a long day and I might just be too pooped to post when I get home that night.