Tuesday, July 31, 2012

We're Having a LUAU!

I’ve always wanted to host a Luau, preferably in Hawaii, but that’s not happening in the foreseeable future.  With my 50th birthday looming in the nearer future, my close friend Linda, my daughter Jaime and I were tossing around ideas for a party this August while hanging out on the beach last summer.  Linda offered to have a party at her beach house.  I also considered renting a house for the birthday week next August and there were a couple of houses that were options, from the house we rent in July to the house across the street from Linda.  Ideas were loosely thrown out, but no concrete plans were made…until January.

I had been racking my brain as to a theme, when it just hit me:  LUAU.  I started surfing the net for Luau party ideas, decorations and menu suggestions.  One of my international customers from eBay had placing some large orders so I began ordering Luau items from Rhode Island Novelties, Oriental Trading, eBay and a couple of other online sites.  For the next eight weeks, I ordered plastic coconut cups, hula girl straws, hibiscus hair clips, leis, table grass skirts, tiki men wine goblets and an assortment of other decorations.  Linda and I separated all the shipments, then boxed and labeled everything to make it easy to sort out once we get back to the beach.  My landlords of the house I rent in July told me I could have the birthday week in August as well.  The tent rental was arranged in July.

I selected a couple recipes to try ahead of time and it was decided against roasting a pig.  (Maybe I’ll do it when I get to Hawaii, but for this party, no pig).  So, Barbequed pork ribs (done in the crockpot so it will actually be like pulled pork) will be the stand in for the pig.  Boneless pork ribs are slow cooked in barbeque sauce and a can of crushed pineapple for a Hawaiian touch.  

The Chicken Luau dish I found online was delicious and easy to make. 

Chicken Luau

2 ½ lbs of chicken thighs
1 can of coconut milk
2 packages of frozen chopped spinach, thawed
onion chips (I used French friend onions

In a baking pan I put the chicken thighs in one layer.  I evenly spread a can of French fried onions.  I topped the onions and chicken with the thawed chopped spinach then poured the can of coconut milk over the top.  Baked for approximately and hour in a 350 degree oven.

I am not normally a fan of chicken thighs, but these were so tender and the flavors blended nicely together.  Glad to have tried this ahead of time, as I will add extra coconut milk to accommodate liquid loss from the chafing dish. 

The Waikiki Meatball recipe I found is a tried and true Betty Crocker favorite and got rave reviews on many of the online recipe sites.  It was easy to assemble, and I could use soy milk and egg substitute so it is allergy friendly for my kids.  The other nice thing is I can mix the meatballs and freeze ahead of time, then pop the thawed meatballs on cookie sheets the day of the party, mix the sauce and heat through.

Waikiki Meatballs

1 ½ lbs ground beef
2/3 cup cracker crumbs (I used Ritz)
1/3 cup minced onions
1 egg (1 egg substitute)
1 ½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ginger
1 tbsp shortening (I omitted as I chose to bake the meatballs on a cookie sheet)
2 tbsp cornstarch
½ cup brown sugar packed
1 can 13 ½ oz pineapple tidbits (reserve syrup)
1/3 cup vinegar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/3 cup chopped green pepper

Mix beef, cracker crumbs, onions, salt, ginger, egg, milk.  Form into tablespoon size balls.  Melt shortening, brown and cook meatballs – I omitted this step, instead baking the meatballs at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.  Mix cornstarch and brown sugar.  Stir in reserved syrup, soy sauce, vinegar and cook over medium heat, stirring until mixture boils.  I then put cooked meatballs in a crockpot, added the pepper and pineapple tidbits then poured sauce over and heated on low for 3 hours.  

Again, this was easy to assemble, tasted wonderful.  I will make batches of the meatballs and freeze ahead of time.  An extra portion of sauce to account for liquid loss in the chafing dish and this will be a simple, quick and tasty entrée, served with rice.

My friend Valerie offered to make Hawaiian chicken skewers (not sure what they are, but she is a good cook, so I’m sure they’ll be delicious. Fruit salads prepared in hollowed watermelon shells cut out to look like waves and a cheese and cracker tray will be offered as well.  There will also be tossed salad. Ham & Pineapple Skewers will be served in hollowed out pineapple shells.

For desert, we will have two cupcake towers with assorted cupcakes (made egg and dairy free so my boys can enjoy).  With the exception of the cheese tray and coconut chicken, my sons can eat mostly everything on the menu. 

We’ll keep it simple for drinks, water, beer, a couple varieties of sodas, sangria and scorpion bowls.  I have a 3 ½ gallon spouted dispenser for sangria and my neighbor has one we can mix scorpion bowls in.  (I just need to find a good scorpion bowl recipe and try it out before the party and am open to any of your recipes if you have one to share).

2 weeks and counting…

Monday, July 30, 2012

I'll Drink To That...

Rhode Island and Nearby Massachusetts has some wonderful restaurants.  And it's always nice to accompany a good meal with a refreshing cocktail.  Here are a few of my favorites!  

Strawberry Martini - Cheesecake Factory
You can't go wrong with a Strawberry Martini at Cheesecake Factory in Providence, especially if Angela is tending bar.  Spring Rolls and Avocado Egg Rolls are a delicious accompaniment. 

Espresso Martini - Cafe Itri
Michelle and James make awesome espresso martinis at Cafe Itri in Cranston, RI.  They have a secret, (Godiva chocolate liquor) but don't tell anyone.  The food is consistently excellent and I LOVE their arugula salads.

Scorpion Bowl - Quan's Kitchen
Shrimp Tempora - Quan's Kitchen
Beef Satay - Quan's Kitchen
Quan's Kitchen in South Attleboro, MA has fresh Chinese food, outstanding sushi  and Cindy our waitress provides impeccable service.  Danny makes fabulous scorpion bowls!  All in all, a perfect night out.

Key Lime Martini - home recipe
A friend gave me the recipe for a killer key lime martini which I adjusted a bit to my taste.  The secret to this is the Ke Ke liquor, which is a key lime cream liquor.  It is not sold in RI, but luckily we can get it in Massachusetts.

Key Lime Martini

2 1/2 oz vanilla vodka
2 1/2 oz Ke Ke Liquor (key lime cream liquor)
2 1/2 tbsp pinapple juice
1 tbsp light cream
lime slices
crushed graham cracker crumbs

Serve in a rimmed martini glass rubbed with lime and dipped in crushed graham cracker crumbs.

Grape Martini - Zooma Restaurant
This grape martini was spectacular, however I think it depends on who is tending bar.  The second time I went, the martini was not as good and quite honestly, the food is so-so.

Salem Witch Martini - Rockafellas, Salem, MA
A tasty treat at Halloween, you can't go wrong with a Salem Witch Martini at Rockafella's in Salem, MA.  The place is always hopping and the food is consistently great!

Pomegranite Margarita - Longhorn Steakhouse
L-R - Wild West Shrimp, Firecracker Chicken Wraps, White Cheddar Stuffed Mushrooms
Longhorn Steakhouse features a terrific Pomegranite Margarita on their drink menu.  Longhorn has many locations, but the bartender in Warwick, RI served mine with a watermelon sugar rim and it was total perfection. We had these with appetizers including the White Cheddar Stuffed Mushrooms and Wild West Shrimp, which is shrimp made like fried calamari.  The Firecracker Chicken Wraps looked better than they tasted.

Margaritas - Cancun Restaurant, Johnston, RI
Warm Bean Dip - Cancun Restaurant
Flan - Cancun Restaurant

Cancun Restaurant in Johnston, RI has an extensive menu of margaritas.  Their mexican cuisine is fantastic.  They serve a complimentary warm bean dip and salsa with chips.  We always save room for their delectable flan for desert.

So if you're in town, be sure to check out these great places.


Friday, July 27, 2012

City Living With A Country Flair

We live in the city.  I'd rather live near the beach.  But I do love our house.  It is an undersized raised ranch on a small city lot, however, my husband purchased the lot next door about a dozen years ago which doubled the size of our property. A wooden fence and some of my landscaping later, our city lot looks more like a city park.

For the past five years, we planned on replacing the deck, which actually was just steps to the back door with a very small landing, not even large enough for a small table and chair set.  The steps wobbled, wood was rotting and the rails had been so rough with splinters that my husband took it off.  We found a reputable contractor and our new deck was built in May.  Not only did we replace the small deck at the side door, but we wrapped it around the back of the house.  

I planted a small vegetable and herb garden utilizing two raised bed kits from Home Depot and large containers dug halfway into the ground to rein in the herbs from spreading wildly.  I was even able to put a small row of corn on the back fence.

A small pond with a waterfall gives a nice soothing backdrop with the sound of running water and a massive butterfly bush attracts butterflies and even an occasional hummingbird.  We have a variety of birds visit the bird bath and come buy for an occasional suet treat!  And although I haven't seen him lately, a frog had taken up residence in the pond area this spring.

There is an 18ft above-ground pool in the back of the original lot which I opened this year in spite of the fact that we were at the beach last month.  We have been home now for a week, but I have been on house arrest.  My husband's car is stubbornly holding out for a reasonable explanation on why it keeps overheating and he had been using mine while it's in the shop, forcing me to do (the dreaded) housework.  But the boys are enjoying the pool, and we have been barbecuing and enjoying s'mores in the evening. 

 And I've been enjoying my homemade sangria while also catching up on some summer reading courtesy of some of my twitter friends!

And while I would rather be at the beach, home isn't really so bad.  And, since I am still on home confinement, I think I'll move on to trying a couple of new LUAU recipes for my 50th birthday bash next month!!

(Psst:  Don't tell anyone, but this is the Sangria recipe from a local restaurant that one of the waiters gave my hairdresser, and he passed it along to me):

made in 8 parts (ounces, cups, etc.)

3 parts ORANGE JUICE  (pulped or not)

cut up fruit to taste (I like apples and oranges)

Mix, Stir, ENJOY!!

I hope everyone is enjoying a great summer!! 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

It Went By In A Flash!

It seems like yesterday that my sons and I moved to the Rhode Island coast to spend four weeks at the beach.  This past Saturday, car packed practically to the roof, we headed back home. And I am once again amazed at how fast the time flew by. 

My husband came down a couple of times on the weekends, but he didn't stay long and didn't go to the beach.  The first week was pretty relaxing, breakfast at the house, an early walk on the private beach between Galilee and Sand Hill Cove, watching the fishing boats and ferries come in and go out at Point Judith, then the afternoons at the beach.  The weather was perfect, almost every day was sunny and hot, maybe an occasional shower, but nothing like the rain that fell in spring. 

I fondly refer to this as 'my' private beach

When my daughter Jaime came down during the second week, we spent more time at the private beach and also made my son's Surfin' USA music video.  David, who is completely tone-deaf, loves to sing.  And the more he likes the song, the louder he sings.  Some friends of ours said we should put him on You Tube, that his video would go viral (it hasn't), but he heard that comment and decided he wanted to make a video for You Tube.  The choice was between Toto's Rosanna or The Beach Boys' Surfin' USA.  Since we were at the beach, we decided on Surfin' USA.  We set up camp about midway down the private beach, and hopefully the waves drowned out the 'singing' for the unsuspecting residents!  Tripod up, an audio and video test and Take 1 was underway.  

Some of the early morning walkers went by, and several laughed, one gave a thumbs up and David was absolutely thrilled.  Another take and we decided to go with that!  Check it out, it's pretty funny!  Mikey was the back up dancer and he was pretty hilarious too, especially when he put his hands over his ears as he swayed back and forth!

David Sings Surfin' USA

Last year, we met a family originally from RI but who now lives in Connecticut.  Their three boys are a little younger than David & Mikey, but they all became fast friends last July.  Thanks to Facebook, their mom Mary & I kept in touch, meeting up at the beach in late August for one last 2011 beach day, and even planning a day trip this spring at Mystic Seaport.  

Mary's mother Marcia rents a house in Narragansett for five weeks but only three of their weeks coincide with ours.  Mary's sister Marci was also at the house and several of her eight brothers and sisters popped in for some family time throughout July.  

Mary and the boys arrived right before 4th of July and the kids picked up right where they left off last year, boogie boarding for hours and playing in the sand.  The baby, Nicholas, now nearly 3, kept up with the other boys and even acclimated himself to a boogie board!  They flew kites, played on the beach well after the lifeguards went home, played with a rocket blaster (nerf type) and nerf like air guns with foam bullets.  Mary, Jaime and I went to Champlins for seafood dinners and margaritas, and we saw some beautiful sunsets and even a couple of rainbows.

Fried Clams Dinner and Lobster Roll at Champlins in Galilee

Fishing Boats at Sunset in Galilee

Double Rainbow over the water at Scarborough Beach
Looked like the rainbow was sitting on the water.

Marcia, Marci and her two daughters, Jaime and I set up a little camp on the beach every afternoon.  Umbrellas went up, blankets were laid out, coolers got lined up, beers and Mike's Lemonades flowed freely for the hours of debates, conversation and just plain old sunbathing.  Linda, one of my closest friends who also lives at the beach for the summer and Cindy, the daughter of my landlords, also met up with us on the beach.  

Another close friend of mine, Lori, rented a house in nearby Bonnet Shores.  She and her daughter Gianna joined me, Cindy, Cindy's friend Cheryl and our kids for a Lighthouse Sunset Tour around Narragansett Bay.  The ride took almost 2 hours and we went through Newport Harbor which was absolutely gorgeous.  In addition to the massive yachts and various sized sailboats in the harbor, we also saw Eric Clapton's boat the Blue Guitar, although no sign of Clapton himself.

Plum Beach Lighthouse - Near Jamestown Bridge

The Blue Guitar - Eric Clapton's boat.

There were a couple of nights playing Mexican Train Dominos at Linda's house, and espresso martinis.  I held three movie nights, featuring 80's comedies that the boys could watch:  Weekend at Bernies 1 & 2 and Tootsie, complete with microwave popcorn and pina coladas for the adults.  

I remembered Mary mentioning breakfast in Galilee and there was a small snack bar called Salty's Landing right in the beach pavilion, so Jaime and I decided to try it.  There were young kids working the cash register in the front, but an older gentleman in the back who prepared the food.  And the breakfasts were wonderful.  French toast and bacon, egg & cheese sandwiches as well as a full egg, bacon, home fries and toast dish were all made fresh and tasted heavenly.  I can't believe it took us this long to give Salty's Landing a try!.

And our last week was almost done.  What had happened? A few months ago, summer seemed to be illusive, with the weather unseasonal even for New England.  But as I sit here scanning through photos, reflecting on our perfectly hot and sunny beach days and writing about our adventures, I am incredulous as to how again the time went by in a flash!