Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Tea at the Plaza

We visited the Plaza Hotel during our December weekend in New York.   There were the mandatory photos by the Christmas tree.  The boys were in awe of the gorgeous Palm Court.  My husband and I hadn't been to the Plaza since 1999 and due to the busy holiday weekend that year, we were unable to sit down or even make reservations for tea.   This time we were able to make a reservation for 3:45 p.m.  When we mentioned our sons would not be eating due to their food allergies, the manager who was standing at the reservation podium said the kitchen would be able to make the boys a fruit plate with no cross contamination issue.  Had we arrived during the lunch time, he assured us that the Plaza could safely prepare several items on the lunch menu as well.  (We will try it on a future trip).  

The Palm Court
I chose the Fitzgerald Tea for the Ages which included curried lobster salad, local apple deviled quail egg salad, smoked salmon, wild sturgeon, roasted turkey sandwich, and a pomegranate chutney cucumber sandwich.  There were scones and a desert plate with an assortment of sweet treats.   My husband's New Yorker featured a selection which included a roast beef sandwich that looked delicious!  We added the optional glass of champagne for an extra $22.00, and when asked which tea we would like, my choice was the only one with a surcharge!   The Madame Butterfly Jasmine Green Tea was absolutely divine and well worth the extra $8.00.  And I most definitely took advantage of the free refill!   My son David only eats pineapple and strawberries, so the chefs made a lovely plate for him with just those two fruits.  Mikey's plate was gorgeous and even included fresh figs which he adores.  

We enjoyed the elegant atmosphere and drank in the opulent decor in the beautiful Palm Court on this lovely relaxing Sunday at the Plaza. And after, walked out to snow flurries coming down over Fifth Avenue as the doorman vacuumed the sidewalk!   

Monday, December 23, 2013

Gemma in East Village NYC ~ A Leap of Faith

(photo credit - theboweryhotel.com)
The Wine Room
Kudos to Gemma located in the Bowery Hotel in the East Village of Manhattan.  We happened upon it while walking around during our Thanksgiving weekend in New York City and enjoyed a scrumptious Sunday brunch.  After our meal, we were chatting with Sam, one of the waiters, about our sons’ food allergies.  Reed, the manager on duty, joined the conversation, confident in the fact that the restaurant would most definitely be able to accommodate our sons' dairy, egg and nut allergies.  After speaking at length to Reed and Sam, we agreed to have dinner the following Saturday for Mikey’s birthday when we returned to Manhattan.  Our sons just don't eat out in restaurants because of the number of foods they are allergic too as well as the cross-contamination issues.  And an Italian restaurant with cheese and butter!  This was truly a major leap of faith!

We did make reservations for dinner the following week.  Friends from Cooperstown were in the city and planned to meet us at Gemma for dinner.  We requested Sam as our server.  Billy was the manager working this particular evening and he sat with us and again discussed our concerns with the allergy and cross-contamination issues.  While we waited for our friends George, Tina and Aidan to join us, we ordered for the boys.  They shared a huge plate of sautéed green beans, mushrooms and roasted potatos, followed by spaghetti with plain marinara sauce.  I ordered a French martini (or possibly 3).  Armed with epi-pens just in case, my husband and I watched the kids devour their veggies, then dig into their plates of spaghetti.  For desert they had the dairy, egg and nut free cupcakes that I made a day earlier.

The boys loved their sautéed veggies and roasted potatoes.

When David and Mikey were done, they played on their iPad while the rest of us enjoyed a leisurely dinner and some drinks.  The food was delectable and the drinks were fantastic.  Sam was attentive to our every need from start to finish. He also was a good sport, posing for a couple of photos at the end of our meal.

Carpaccio Di Manzo 

Saltimbocca Alla Romana veal cutlet topped with proscuitto di parma and sage with sauteed wild mushrooms.
Torta Di Cioccolato warm chocolate cake with vanilla gelato.
Sam our waiter with Mikey, the birthday boy!

And for one night, I didn’t have to cook.  At all…


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Throwback Tuesday - Christmas Cookies Anyone - Dairy, Egg and Nut Free

This is a post from last year that I am sharing with you again.  For those that deal with food allergies, baked goods can be a challenge.  These are 3 cookie recipes I adapted to deal with my sons' dairy, egg, peanut and tree nut allergies.  

Every year at Christmas my friend Linda gives me a plate of her delicious home-made Christmas cookies.  My sons don't eat the cookies because they are allergic to dairy, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts.  They don't even ask for them as they know they can't eat them...until this year.

Mikey went up to the plate Linda gave me and asked, "Mommy, can you make me some Christmas cookies?"  So I said to myself "Oh crap."  and to Mikey, "Of course I will.  We'll have to look for some recipes tomorrow and I'll see what I need."  I love to cook, but hate to bake.  I overcook things, put in baking powder instead of baking soda and at some point the kitchen ends up looking like a flour sack exploded in it.

One year I made Christmas cookies with a friend of mine so I went in search of  the recipes we had used which I put in my Chocolate Lover's Cookbook.  I looked in the cabinet that I thought it was in.  It wasn't there.  Oh no, it must be in the bookcase in the garage which was boxed in by some old toys, beach gear and outdoor furniture.  There was a small opening on one side where I began sliding cookbooks out and then smash.  A candle on the shelf fell and the glass smashed in a million pieces.  So I cleaned that up, replaced all the cookbooks and tried to figure out where on earth my cookie recipes were.  As it turns out, the book was in the cabinet over my refrigerator.  

I made my list and picked up the ingredients at the market in the morning.  

And had success!  I first made thumbprint cookies.

Thumbprint Cookies

1/2 C  Fleischmanns no salt margarine (dairy free)
1 C firmly packed brown sugar
1 egg replaced with Ener-G Egg Replacer 
1 tbsp vanilla
2 1/2 C quaker oats
2 C flour
1/2 teas salt
2/3 C apricot preserves

350 degree oven
Beat butter & sugar until fluffy - beat in egg and vanilla.  Combine oats, flour, salt in another bowl then add to butter mixture.  Form 1 inch ball, place on cookie sheet.  Press center with thumb and fill with apricot preserves.
Bake 12-15 minutes, then cool

makes approximately 3 1/2 dozen

The next batch of cookies I made were Craisins Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies.

Craisins Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

2/3 C Fleischmanns no salt margarine (dairy free)
2/3 C brown sugar
2 eggs replaced with Ener-G Egg Replacer
1 1/2 C old fashioned oats
1 1/2 C flour
1 teas. baking soda
1/2 teas. salt
1 5 oz pkg. Craisins
2/3 c (allergen free from Whole Foods) chocolate chips.

375 degree oven

Beat butter and sugar until fluffy - Add eggs mixing well.  Combine oats, flour, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl.  Add to butter mix in batches, mixing completely.  Add the craisins, then the chocolate chips.  Drop by rounded teaspoons full on ungreased baking sheet - Bake 10-12 minutes

Makes approximately 3 1/2 dozen.

Today we began with Butterballs.  The recipe I had made in the past called for regular sugar and was very dry.   My friend Cindy gave me a recipe which called for confectioners sugar and they came out nice and moist.  (I used the wrong measurement for the vanilla (more) and it came out great!)

Cindy's Butterball Recipe

1 cup Fleischmanns no salt margarine (dairy free)
1 teas vanilla (I used a tablespoon)
1/2 C sifted confectioners' sugar
2 1/4 C sifted flour
1/4 teas salt
(I omitted 3/4 c finely chopped nuts due to nut allergy)

325 degree oven

Mix all ingredients together - roll into 1 inch balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake to desired texture 20-30 minutes, I eyeballed it - Cool, not completely and roll in confectioners sugar.  Once cool, roll again in confectioners sugar.

My sons now have three different dairy, egg, and nut-free cookies.  They taste pretty good in spite of the substitutions.  Mikey's favorite is the butterballs!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Little Full, Lot of Sap - Taking a Page From The Griswolds

It is mid-December already  Our New York trips to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade as well as the next weekend to see the Christmas decorations in Manhattan really threw off my holiday decorating timeline. Rather than completed by the end of Thanksgiving weekend, I just finished today.

We returned this past Tuesday night and I immediately went right out on Wednesday to pick out a tree.  There was a decent selection and I found one I liked that looked full and was nicely shaped.  They offered free delivery and the tree was dropped off within an hour. 

My daughter came over that afternoon and when she saw the tree on the walk she just started laughing.  “How are we going to get that in the house?”   We lugged it up the stairs of the deck and with both of us laughing hysterically and my husband shaking his head while holding the side door open.  It took a couple of attempts but eventually we shoved it inside. 

“A little full, lot of sap.”  

Well that was an understatement. 

 "But honey, the tree didn't look that big on the lot!" 

"Dad, that tree wouldn't fit in our yard."  "It's not going in our yard Rusty, it's going in our living room..."

This tree must be six or seven feet wide.  A foot and a half was cut off the top and I even trimmed some of the lower branches. I had to wedge the angel between the tree and the ceiling, but that seems to help anchor it up, although it looks like it has tilted a bit!   So it sat in the stand, bare but for the angel  as I dug out the decorations. I have been refilling the water every couple of hours.  My friends came over for my son Michael’s birthday cake on Wednesday night.  They all did double-takes as they came up the stairs.  It wasn’t decorated as I only had one set of lights.  So Thursday, off to Target to get more lights.  It took 900 lights, but once they were on, the tree looked pretty good.  And Thursday night the boys and I hung the ornaments. 

And it’s still quite big, but it looks pretty nice!  And we tied it to the wall in case it tips any more!  But finally the decorating is done!  I guess I’d better do some Christmas shopping now!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

I Love a Parade. Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade - Bucket List Item Completed

Who doesn’t love a parade?  Truth be told, I was never a parade person and if I’ve seen 2 in my lifetime, I’d be surprised.  That is, not counting TV as I grew up watching at least a portion of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade every year.  And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve thought about seeing it in person just once.  The opportunity arose this year and my husband and I packed a minivan, loaded the kids and headed to New York City the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. 

As Wednesday approached, there were some hurdles thrust in our way.  A nasty storm was hitting the east coast with torrential rains and wind gusts in excess of 50 miles per hour.  There was talk of the big balloons being grounded because of these winds.  Traffic was expected to be horrific as this was the busiest travel day of the year.   But this was one of my bucket list items.  I was not daunted and just knew it would work out.  (I also prayed a lot)!  And we drove right in with only a couple of miles of bumper to bumper traffic in Bridgeport and Stamford, CT.   There were only sprinkles of rain and not much wind. We sailed into Brooklyn with virtually no traffic and checked in our suite at the Box House Hotel. 

Once unpacked and kids fed, we took a subway to the Museum of Natural History where the balloons were being inflated.  People were in a festive mood.  We took photos of families for them, they took photos for us.  Music played and people sang along as we walked along the street pausing long enough to gaze at the massive balloons and take a photo here and there.   There was a three block walk to the next street with more balloons and I began to get apprehensive at that point.  Thousands of people were out to see the balloons the night before the parade. How on earth were we going to be able to get a spot?  People camp out in spots all night.  They get up at 4 am to claim a front row spot.  My husband had no intention of getting up that early.

I didn’t sleep well Wednesday night, dozing off then waking when I’d hear a wind gust, but optimistic the big balloons would fly.  By 3am, I didn’t hear anymore wind and at 5:30am the alarm woke me up.  By the time we got into Manhattan, it was 7am.  We walked up to 6th Avenue.  At a corner on 6th, a large party of people  had set up camp with chairs and blankets.  To their left was a huge metal street sign, and to the left of that was another group of people with chairs and blankets.  As we were walking over, a woman started ranting at us.  “I was here at 3:30 and this is my spot.  No one except my kids are going to be here.  This is my spot.”  We had never said a word to her and she kept going on and on.

My husband and I exchanged incredulous WTF looks and I told him ‘don’t even bother.  Not even worth saying anything especially if we are here watching the parade and have to be around her for several hours.”  

I tend to be non confrontational.  I will generally back down and walk away.   I was thinking maybe we should walk a little further down 6th Avenue.  So we headed back towards the corner and I looked down under the sign.  There was one single row of 4 people sitting on the sidewalk, with room for another row behind them.  One of the guys on the corner  came over to me and said, "go over there, it’s a public sidewalk", and he let us by his party so we could go in front of the sign.  As I went in, that nasty woman tried to walk in front of the sign as well. 

Oh, no.  This is my spot.  You have your spot.  Go back to it.  And with that, I stood my ground and would not let her in front of the sign.  Anger flashed across her face and she said, “I would have had this spot but the police had it blocked off.  I retorted, “Well it’s my spot now.  Only my kids are standing here.  You have your spot.  Go back to it.”  Not wanted to deal with her trying to edge in while I would be taking pictures, I called to my husband.  He came over and kept her at bay for the parade.  He was quite amused that I stood up to her and said he wished he heard the exchange as it was not normally something I’d do.

So we were in the front, only four people in front of us.  We were practically on the street for the parade. I can’t thank Dave from New Hampshire enough for his kindness in letting us pass by his group to get in front of that sign.  He also let  a woman named Beth and her daughter Claire from Minnesota in front of the sign.  They were sitting on the curb and had arrived shortly before us.  A woman with her teenage son from San Francisco were likewise let in by Dave and we ended up part of a very fun, loud, friendly group. 

Watching this parade on TV and watching in person is a completely different experience.  While I knew we would enjoy the parade, it was even better than we expected.  This one time bucket list item was such an unexpected phenomenal experience, my husband may be coerced to do it again sometime.  It was so exciting to be high-fived by the clowns, getting confetti thrown on us, saying hi and Happy Thanksgiving and even briefly conversing with the performers.  We were singing, shouting, waving and having the time of our lives!  The people around us were very animated and friendly as well and we all got to know each other a little.  It was a little cold, but no one seemed to notice or care.  

If you have the opportunity to go to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, do it.  You will not be disappointed.  Go to Central Park Wednesday afternoon/evening and watch the balloons get inflated.  Get up early and get a spot.  The experience of being in front is amazing.   I can now say with certainty, “I love a parade!”

And by 1:00 pm, they were all asleep...