Pecan Pie with Bourbon

My favourite dessert is pecan pie, and I was attracted to a recipe in the New York Times that added bourbon to the mix. How could that be a bad thing? This recipe is modified from the one in the Times.

For the crust, add a quarter teaspoon fine sea salt to a cup and a quarter all-purpose flour in your food processor and mix well. Take a quarter pound of butter, cold, cut into small squares and add to the mix. Slowly add 2 to 4 tablespoons ice water, until the mixture comes together, moist but not wet. You will know the difference. Remove and knead slightly to form a ball, push the ball down to form a disc. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour to overnight.

For the pie filling, beat three eggs together with an egg white from one egg, then mix in 2/3 cup white sugar, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 2/3 cup light corn syrup, 1/3 cup melted butter, 3 tablespoons bourbon (you can use rye whiskey or rum in the absence of bourbon), 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1/4 teaspoon fine salt.

Take your dough from the refrigerator about an hour ahead of baking time, roll it out and place on a well-buttered pie pan, crimping the edges. Roughly chop 1 and 1/4 cups of pecans (I used whole pecans for my first attempt and they make the pie more difficult to slice when serving) and spread on your unbaked crust. Pour the pie filling over the pecans.

Having set your oven to 375 degrees F, bake the pie for 50 minutes, until the crimped edge of the crust is golden brown. Once done, let your pie cool down for about an hour. Slice and serve with whipped or ice cream.

Ventriloquism

While in the car the other day, I was listening to the CBC radio program, “The Current,” which I often do, as I like the host, Matt Galloway. Matt is smart, always well-prepared, and thorough in questioning his guests. And his guests can come from anywhere, with diverse interests. On this particular morning, he interviewed two young (ages 8 and 9) spelling bee enthusiasts, and then moved on to real estate.

Apparently one of the hottest markets for Canadian residential real estate is Nova Scotia. Potential buyers are viewing properties on-line, without conducting in-person visits, before making their purchases.

Matt interviewed Michael Harrison and his fiancé, Jennifer Giesbrecht, who together had just purchased a house in Windsor, Nova Scotia. Windsor is a town of some 4,000 people, about an hour from Halifax. The happy couple, from British Columbia, purchased their new home in Windsor for $225,000. When asked what $225,000 would get them on Vancouver Island, Jennifer’s response was, “a down payment.”

Michael and Jennifer viewed Nova Scotia properties from a distance, putting their trust in their real estate agent (a gentleman named Kevin Spacey, no less) and were quite pleased with the outcome, finally seeing the house in person the day they moved in.

That’s not their house. I don’t have a photo of the Harrison/Giesbrecht home to show you, but this 5 bed, 2 bath Windsor, NS, Victorian shown above, is listed for $269,000. Comes with an in-ground pool. Before you start thinking about Windsor as a place to land, consider this: While summers are warm, winters are not, and Windsor gets about 100 inches of snow annually, often at one time.

OK. Now you might ask, “what does Nova Scotia real estate have to do with ventriloquism?”

Well, it seems that the aforementioned Michael Harrison is a ventriloquist employed by cruise lines. Michael and Jennifer (she had recently quit her job to join Michael at sea), were in Mexico waiting for a cruise assignment, when Michael got the word he was out of a job due to Covid-19’s impact on cruise travel. It was that bit of news that caused the couple to contemplate a move to affordable Nova Scotia from their base on Vancouver Island.

And, as it so often happens when I am doing my “blogue,” one thing leads to another; so I started to do some research on ventriloquism. I did recall the appearances of Edgar Bergen and his dummy, Charlie McCarthy, Jimmy Nelson and his Danny O’Day, all of whom appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. And then there was Shari Lewis with Lamb Chop. She was a hottie – Shari – not Lamb Chop.

As strange as Michael Harrison’s profession might sound, there are a lot of ventriloquists around. I went on-line and discovered you could rent a ventriloquist, starting for as little as $100 an hour. A really good one might set you back $800 for an hour’s work. Might be a great way to liven up a party. And for those of you looking to fill your days, there are ventriloquism classes. A dummy can be had for under a hundred bucks on Amazon (free delivery with Prime). Perhaps a great way to one day impress your friends in the cul-de-sac.

Jeff Dunham, currently the most famous ventriloquist, might pass on a neighbourhood event. Jeff makes between $15 and $30 million a year from personal appearances, shows, DVD’s and streaming revenues. This is Jeff below, with his puppet (better “puppet” than “dummy” don’t you agree?) “Walter.” Think of Walter as a puppet version of Don Rickles.

Quite funny, and Jeff does not move his lips when Walter speaks. It’s remarkable when watching “their” show, that Walter (and other puppets) can say pretty much anything, and nothing sticks to Jeff.  He comes off rather saintly.  Catch them on Netflix and YouTube.

And what of Michael Harrison? Content to be employed as a custodian at Acadia University. Jennifer works in a medical office.

Sigourney Weaver

As I scroll down the “Archives” list there seems to be a preponderance of entries about those who have left this earth. Fortunately, Sigourney Weaver (born Susan Alexandra Weaver) is still with us, and at age 71, she remains the picture of stunning elegance. I came face-to-face with Ms. Weaver many years ago, as she was strolling down New York’s Fifth Avenue, with me giving her the subtle up-and-down. Sadly, she didn’t return my wide-eyed look, as she was more intent on window shopping at Saks. No matter. Here is Ms. Weaver as she was photographed for a NY Times Style Magazine article.

According to the article, Ms. Weaver (and I will start to call her Sigourney, because we came just that close to meeting), doesn’t take herself seriously, having appeared in more than 50 movies of much diversity, starting with a brief appearance in 1977’s “Annie Hall.” Followed by “Alien” in 1979, “Aliens” in 1986 (I still squirm when I see both), with “Ghostbusters” in between. Here she is as Ellen Ripley in “Alien.”

To quote the article, there were, “serious roles, silly roles, roles steeped in romance, roles drenched in sweat: She set no trajectory. Established no pattern. Even at her commercial peak, she took minor roles, as in “Working Girl,” in 1988, which gave her a fraction of the screen time of (Melanie) Griffith and Harrison Ford. That performance led to an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress in the same year that she was nominated for best actress for her portrayal of the doomed primatologist Dian Fossey in “Gorillas in the Mist.” Her co-stars in “Gorillas” were the silverback mountain gorillas of Rwanda, where much of the movie was shot. She just plopped herself down in the jungle among them. “Of course, I had to pay attention,” she said, “as the babies were climbing all over me and urinating on me and pulling my hair.”

Sigourney is a true New Yorker; having attended boarding school in Connecticut, moving on to complete an English degree at Stanford, before studying acting at Yale. Her drama teachers referred to her as “talent-less” before acquiescing to at least encourage her to stick to comedy, and avoid drama. What did they know? Sigourney will take on pretty much anything, and then does “anything” quite well.

This particular issue of the Times Style Magazine featured clips of celebrities telling jokes. Sigourney had the best of the lot, which I quote here:

“I went to my doctor, and he told me to stop masturbating.

And I said why? And he said, because I’m trying to examine you.”

Thereby proving that she IS good at comedy.

Baked Chicken Schnitzel

This is a quick and simple recipe that is perfect anytime. Baked schnitzel does not suffer at all in comparison to schnitzel that might otherwise be pan- or deep-fried. This recipe serves four people.

Start by flattening 4 chicken breasts to about a quarter inch thickness, seasoning both sides with salt and pepper.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Line a large sheet pan with aluminum foil and drizzle a tablespoon or more of olive oil on the foil, before placing the pan in the oven.

Mix three quarters of a cup of flour and a tablespoon of paprika together in a large shallow bowl. Beat 2 eggs with salt and pepper and place in a shallow bowl. In another shallow bowl or plate pour a cup of Panko (or fine bread crumbs).

Dredge each chicken piece in the flour mixture, then the egg mixture, making sure to cover each breast thoroughly, before dipping in the Panko.

Pull the heated sheet pan from the oven and place the chicken on the foil. Pour a thin stream of olive oil on the breasts, then bake for about 12 – 15 minutes on each side until golden brown.

Separately, and in advance, empty two cans of chicken gravy into a sauce pot over low heat. As the gravy heats up, add the juice of a lemon, lots of cracked pepper, a teaspoon of dry mustard, a tablespoon of garlic powder, and some hot sauce. Add some water if the sauce gets too thick and stir frequently. In this case I sliced a handful of green olives and some diced pickled jalapeño peppers to add more depth to the sauce.

Once the chicken is done, spoon the sauce onto serving plates, place the breasts on top, keeping much of the sauce for the top of the chicken. To accompany your schnitzel, consider roasted potatoes or tater tots – either works and they go well with the sauce.

It will be a lovely thing …

No Knead Beer “Rye” Bread

We had received a shipment of Montreal smoked meat – an acknowledged Canadian delicacy. And what goes best with smoked meat? Winnipeg rye bread. I am a native of Winnipeg and can attest to what has to be the finest rye bread ever (New Yorkers and others may dispute that claim, but, sorry).

As I set out to make the bread, I had a significant problem. No rye flour. So, with the smoked meat literally at hand, I improvised; and the bread turned out just fine.

If you undertake this, here is what you need:

3 cups bread flour
1 cup whole wheat bread flour
3 tablespoons molasses
1 cup lukewarm water
8 ounces of room temperature beer
2 teaspoons salt
1 and 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon caraway seeds

In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients (flour, salt, yeast, caraway seeds) thoroughly. Separately, mix the water, beer and molasses, then add to the dry ingredients. Mix well to form a shaggy mess. Cover the mess with plastic wrap and a lid and let sit for 15 hours.

After the required 15 hours, take out the dough, cover it with liberal amounts of flour, and let proof under a non-terry towel for 2 hours.

Set the oven for 450 degrees F and insert a covered Dutch oven. Once at 450, add the dough to the Dutch oven and set the timer for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the Dutch oven cover and bake for another 12 to 15 minutes. Remove your loaf and set on a wire rack to cool. Once cool, slice, add mayo and mustard, and your smoked meat with dill pickles on the side. A small feast. If you don’t have smoked meat, go with corned beef, ham and cheese, or egg salad. Here is the loaf (the molasses and caraway made it very rye-like, and oh yes, the beer didn’t hurt.)

Eight Bells

As a youngster, “eight bells” meant the end of the day – my mother’s way of saying, “time to head to bed.” As a nautical term, “eight bells,” poignantly, means that a sailor has died; that his or her watch was over.

And so on the 27th of July, I have no doubt that “eight bells” sounded around the world, signalling that Larry Pardey had passed on.

Larry Pardey was born in Victoria, British Columbia in 1939, and quickly turned his attention to the sea and sailing. In his early 20s, he moved to Southern California, as the publication “Cruising World” noted, “in search of ocean-going adventures.” The “Cruising World” obituary went on to describe Larry as, “one of the greatest all-around sailors of all time, in any era. He was a consummate seaman, a precise navigator, a peerless boatbuilder. He was also a mentor and friend to countless cruisers and sailors he met along his eventful life’s journey.”

Superimposed upon Larry’s prowess as a boatbuilder and sailor, is a love story. Larry Pardey met Lin Zatkin in a bar in 1965. Three days later they were inseparable – for life. Three years on, they married, and just three days after their nuptials (always loved that term), they launched their first sailboat, the “Seraffyn” – wooden, engineless, and self-built.

For the next 11 years the Pardeys sailed the 24 foot Seraffyn around the planet, visiting 15 countries, making friends wherever they anchored.
Returning to California, they built the 29 foot “Taleisin,” again a wooden, engineless, masterpiece of a sailboat (Larry, at work on the “Taleisin” below, in a photo taken by his wife Lin). Lin and Larry put the “Taleisin” to sea in 1984.

They circumnavigated the globe once more; a journey that included some dicey hours making their way around Cape Horn. Again they took their time – almost two decades – financing their travel through writings (several books), lectures and boat repairs.

Eventually, Lin and Larry settled on Kawau Island, off the coast of New Zealand, just 25 miles from Auckland. Larry set up a boat repair business he named Mickey Mouse Marine – “a 3-M Company.”

In recent years, Parkinson’s disease took its toll on Larry, and dementia set in. He passed away following a stroke. Larry, captured in this photo by Lin, was 81 when he died; the end of a very eventful life’s journey.

Three Cheese Skillet Pizza

I am a big fan of thin or at least, thinner crust pizza, but once in a while I need to branch out. Deep dish pizza is a Chicago thing, and with a bit of hunger setting in at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, and with an hour between flights, I went for it. I didn’t even come close to finishing the pizza, which would have fed three or four, but back then I was on an expense account.

This is a good recipe, and it suits me perfectly, as it uses a no-knead technique. In a large bowl, mix a cup and a quarter of all-purpose flour, a cup and a quarter of bread flour, 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast, and a teaspoon of fine salt. Then add a cup of lukewarm water, into which is mixed a tablespoon of olive oil. Mix with a rubber scraper to form a wet blob. Cover the bowl and let the blob sit for a few minutes. With your fingers wet with olive oil, dig into the dough and fold it over the top. Repeat three more times every few minutes, then cover the bowl and let it rise for 6 to 8 hours. Take the dough from the bowl and shape it into a ball. Pour some olive oil into the bowl and put the dough ball back in to thoroughly cover with the oil. Let it sit in the bowl, covered, for an hour.

You can use a single skillet – 10 inch will yield a nice, deep pizza – but I use both a 10 inch and an 8 inch, as there is enough dough for both. Regardless, pour a liberal amount of olive oil into your skillet(s) to cover the bottom and sides. Transfer the dough to the skillet(s). Press the dough to the sides. If you meet any resistance, let it rest for a few minutes. Once the dough is pressed to the sides, cover and let proof for about 30 minutes.

Shred a cup and a half of mozzarella, a half cup of cheddar cheese and a half cup of asiago or fontina. I arranged the oven so one rack was close to the bottom element, and one close to the top, then heated the oven to 450 degrees F.

With the dough nicely pressed to the sides of the skillet(s) then, I sprinkled a cup of the mozzarella, followed by a scant amount of tomato sauce (I use fire-roasted diced tomatoes from Italissima), covered with prosciutto that has been chopped and sautéed. The rest of the mozzarella and the cheddar and asiago/fontina are added, along with some dabs of “zhoug” (see below), and the pizza is baked on the bottom rack for 15 to 20 minutes. Check the bottom of the pizza; it should be nicely browned and easily separated from the skillet(s). To finish things off, transfer the pizza to the top rack for 5 minutes to crisp the cheese.

Take a spatula and lift the pizza from the skillet(s), let the pizza cool slightly before lifting it onto a cutting board. Add some herbs if you choose (oregano, basil, parsley for example), although the zhuog makes a nice contrast. I like this pizza as an appy, so I cut the pieces small.

Zhoug is a Middle Eastern sauce that can by used in any number of ways (great in an omelet or in pasta). Here is a recipe for zhoug:

1 jalapeno pepper sliced
2 good sized garlic cloves
1 large bunch cilantro
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes

Blend until a paste is formed, about the consistency of salsa.

 

New York City

I spent three years working in New York, and for many years after, travelled there on business. New York has never failed to fascinate. Always full of energy, diversity (walking north from Madison Square Garden for 20 blocks I would seldom hear a word of English); and not to mention its rough edges and over-the-top opulence. There are apparently 8 million stories in New York, and here are just two of them, hopefully worth your time.

The photo following is of a Mansion at 9 East 71st Street in the Lennox Hill neighbourhood of Manhattan. It recently came onto to the real estate market, with an asking price of $88,000,000.

The Mansion was commissioned to be built in 1930 by Herbert Strauss, heir to the Macy department store fortune. The listing agent, the Modlin Group, describes the Mansion thusly: “Built as New York City’s largest and most luxurious French Neo-Classical Mansion on a 50 foot wide by 102.2 foot deep lot, 7 stories and in excess of 28,000 square feet, some of the property’s luxuries include 15-foot-tall oak entry doors, imported French-limestone meticulously decorated with carvings, sculpture figures and ornamental iron works. Mr. Straus even transported antiques and fixtures along with ‘entire 18th-century rooms’ from Europe.”

There are 40 rooms, with 10 bedrooms and 15 bathrooms. I am doing the math and the math says that 15 rooms remain. I have no idea what there are – kitchen, dining room, living room, library, maid’s quarters?
Taxes are $31,000 per month.

Mr. Straus passed away in 1933, and never lived in the Mansion. It was boarded up and in 1944 it was acquired by the “Roman Catholic Archbishopric of New York as an extension of St. Claire Hospital,” and then sold to the Birch Walten School, a college preparatory day school.

Listing details conclude by stating that, “This Mansion presents a once in a life-time opportunity to own the largest single-family home in New York City. This historic landmark could easily present itself as a palatial consulate, embassy, foundation, or a museum to once again house some of the world’s greatest works of art.”

What the listing details do not state, is that the Mansion’s most recent owner was Jeffrey Epstein (below, and proving that the least of his crimes was his lack of fashion sense).

We all know the Epstein story, so it is not worth spending time on that here. As for the Mansion, there is more. It was acquired in 1989 by Les Wexner, head of the L Brands retail empire (which includes Victoria’s Secret). Subsequently, in 1998, the Mansion was purchased by Epstein, for what seems a very nominal sum. In 1991 Wexner had given Epstein power of attorney over his personal fortune, and that seemed to set Epstein on a path of massive wealth accumulation. But enough of that … I will move on.

This is Larry Kelly. By all accounts a hard-working man, close to family. Larry was an aspiring actor and playwright, who became a teacher. Later in his teaching career he went back to college to earn his master’s degree, eventually becoming a vice-principal at his high school. He and his wife Dawn lived modestly on West 92nd Street in NYC, not all that far from the Epstein Mansion, but truly a world apart.

Larry taught English and drama to mostly Black and Latino students at a Harlem high school. He coached soccer and advised the drama club and the debating team. Larry started a program with students suspended from school, pressing education authorities to credit these at-risk students to receive credit towards graduation for the work done during their “detentions.” In other words, Larry gave much more than he ever took. He retired from teaching in 2017.

On the 12th of March, after a few days of not feeling well, Larry went to an urgent care centre for a coronavirus test. Five days later, very ill, without test results in hand, and while waiting for an ambulance, he asked his wife to help him into some clean underwear (I like this guy!). He went from ambulance right into the ER.

Very quickly Larry was administered oxygen and two days later, he was intubated, put into a coma and with breathing managed through a ventilator. On the 28th of March, Dawn was asked to come to the hospital to say goodbye to Larry. He wasn’t going to make it. But he had said to Dawn as he was taken away by ambulance, “I promise I’ll never stop fighting.”

He didn’t. He suffered seizures, fever, pneumonia, lost 30 pounds and spent 51 days on the ventilator. After 128 days, on the 22nd of July, Larry was able to come home. And with his sense of humour intact. Upon receiving a hospital bill for $1.3 million, he said, ”They bring you back to life and then kill you with the bill!” (Nearly all covered by insurance).

Clafoutis aux cerises

Very timely. Cherries are here in late June and into July. Clafoutis is a classic French dessert, topped with icing sugar or it can be served with a dollop of whipping cream or ice cream. Start by heating your oven to 350 degrees F and greasing a 9 inch baking dish with a liberal amount of butter.

You will need:

One and a half cups of pitted cherries, then halved (the original recipe calls for cherries with pits, but one could lose a tooth – so I go with pitted)
4 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1 tablespoon amaretto or 1 teaspoon almond extract

Spread the cherry halves on the bottom the dish.
Blend the eggs and sugar, then add the milk, flour, salt, and amaretto/extract. Pour the mixture over the cherries.
Bake for 45 minutes or until the mix is set.

Serve at room temperature, sliced as you would a pizza, with icing sugar (or with whipping cream or ice cream – the one above got ice cream).

Brioche Buns

After a visit to one of our favourite dining spots, I was inspired to create brioche buns. At Vis a Vis in Victoria I had the crispy chicken sandwich for lunch one day, followed by the breakfast sandwich the next. Both featured brioche buns, and these are so much better than the garden variety store-bought buns. Here is a recipe.

The ingredients:

2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup warm water
3/4 cup sourdough starter [See “Note” that follows]
2 eggs
2 tablespoons honey
4 – 4 1/2 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 egg beaten in a tablespoon of water for egg wash

In a large bowl mix the dry ingredients well. Separately, blend the butter, starter, eggs, honey and water. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly until a shaggy mess forms. Cover the bowl and let it sit for 12 hours.

The dough will have doubled in size. Move the dough onto a floured surface and work the dough ever so slightly into a long cylindrical shape (this may take some generous amounts of flour to eliminate the stickiness). Cut the dough into 8 to 10 equal segments and form into balls. Flour each ball and space each on parchment paper on a sheet pan. Cover with a non-terry towel and let rise for an hour.

Heat your oven to 425 degrees F, remove the towel (always a good idea), press the balls down to form buns. Brush with egg wash and bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown.

These turned out well, and ideal as burger buns as they soak up the juices.

[Note: If you don’t have starter on hand, here are the ingredients and the process:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 and 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 cups warm water

Mix the flour and yeast thoroughly in a glass or ceramic bowl. Add the water and mix thoroughly. Cover the bowl with a towel and let rest for 2 to 4 days. If after a couple of days the mixture looks dubious (orange coloured), toss it. If good, proceed making your dough. The starter will keep in your fridge for weeks or longer. When you use the starter, simply replace with flour and water. For example, if you take a cup out, replace it with a half cup of flour and a half cup of water, then stir well.]