Good as new – well, almost

It’s five weeks now with my new hip and time for me to catch up in the blog-o-sphere. Thank you all for your wonderful comments and well wishes prior to my surgery. The surgery was a complete success and the hospital stay, thanks to the private upgrade, was actually not bad at all. It was a long wait to get this particular surgeon but it was well worth it since he performs the most joint surgeries in Boston, operates out of the Brigham & Women’s Hospital, and performs the newer anterior hip replacement approach which is much less traumatic leading to faster recovery time and no restrictions on movement after – well other than the pain of having the top of your leg sawed off. But really, I’d rather wait for a surgeon who’s done hundreds of these and not just watched a Youtube video before cutting.

The Brigham’s is a world renowned hospital with people coming from all over the world. As I was leaving, someone from the Saudi royal family was coming in and had taken three suites in the private Pavilion – one for the patient, one for family, and a another for a contingent of security. The hospital really does try to make an unpleasant experience as comfortable as possible but I did have a rather disconcerting experience when they were wheeling me down to pre-op. In an effort to enhance the ambiance and relax patients, they have people from the Boston Conservatory of Music play soothing melodies. I’m really glad that I was PRE-op and not any medications when I was wheeled around the corner to see a lady on a stool playing a harp!

Denver Harp Player FAQ

Seriously, harps are very relaxing to listen to, but can you imagine coming OUT of surgery, all groggy and seeing a lady with a harp? I mean…come on folks, even if she didn’t have wings,  would it not cross your mind that something went wrong in surgery? I suppose it’s better than being wheeled through the boiler room though and wishing that you’d maybe made some different life choices.

devil : The Devil who is about to welcome someone Illustration

Unfortunately, yes unfortunately because I couldn’t eat the day after surgery and went home on the 3rd day, I wasn’t able to taste test many of the culinary options.  I know, I know, hospital food is yucky except by booking myself into The Pavilion which is privately run and has it’s own kitchen, I had food options that rivaled the best of Boston restaurants

You may not be able to read the entrée selections on the five page menu, but they included: filet mignon, oven roasted turkey, baked stuffed chicken, spinach stuffed salmon, baked stuffed shrimp as well as a page of make your own burgers, salads and a great desert selection!

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I started with a fabulous home made chicken soup, better than what I’ve ever made…

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Not being in the coronary unit, I was able to order lobster stuffed ravioli in a delicious cream sauce…

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with a beautiful caprese salad…

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Since I could order anything I wanted at any hour day or night, my daughter couldn’t understand why I didn’t just start at the top of the menu and work my way down.  I think the kitchen might have suspected that I was feeding my family though.  I was released late in the afternoon on Friday and the kitchen very nicely made me up a great chicken salad sandwich with cranberry sauce and stuffing to take home.  All in all, no complaints on the hospital stay other than, well it being a hospital stay and they do love waking you up every 2 hours to make sure you’re still alive.

It’s great being back home although I haven’t been doing much cooking to date.  Every now and then I get bursts of energy but they don’t last long before it’s nap time.  As my friend reminded me – “you were just in a knife fight at the wrong end of the knife”.  Hopefully I’ll have more to post as recovery takes place and I do want you all to know that I’m doing my best to keep up with your posts – I’ve loved reading them all even if I haven’t had the brain in gear to respond to all of them, please know that I’m loving hearing what you’re all up to and hope to be tip top soon.

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Feasts of the North End and Suggestions for this Penne Dish

You’ve just got to love the Itialians in Boston’s North End – they sure know how to throw a hellava party!  Not to slight Southie with their St. Paddy’s Day parade but really, that’s just one day whereas the North End starts warming up in June with weekly processions of saints  The saint of the week gets hauled through the narrow streets, down to the harbor for a blessing (now that we’ve gotten that tea out of the harbor, it’s fairly clean), and people run out to pin money on the saint.

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Once August rolls around though, things get serious, its time to close down streets, line up the food vendors, bring on the music, and party!

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The streets swarm with people grazing from one food stand to another, tourists wear weird plastic lobster claws on their heads (no picture of that since I figure they should be embarrassed enough), and plenty of nonas walk around with their string bags inspecting the produce (no picture of them either since I hate getting beat up by a 5′ lady with a string bag of salami).

We went to two of the major feasts – The Fisherman’s Feast of the Madonna

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which was a great time but my favorite feast is the Feast of St. Anthony.

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Madonna’s terrific but St. Anthony’s the go-to guy for lost things so I always like to pin a few bucks on him since I’m always losing stuff.  My husband’s quite the joker though – as I was climbing off the platform I clearly heard him say “Well at least it didn’t burst into flames – that’s a miracle right there”.    Ok, so I’m not particularly religious but I’m okay with Anthony.  Anyway, after covering my bases with St. Anthony we did some serious grazing at the stands – slurped up some cherrystones and raw oysters, stuffed clams, maybe a lobster roll – we needed a little break and headed to a great rooftop bar to replenish our fluids and start on some appetizers.

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I can’t tell you how excited I was to finally get a taste of burrata in a caprese salad.  I’ve been craving this since reading John’s (Bartolini Kitchens) pasta recipe using burrata cheese.  It was every bit as delicious as John promised.

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After appetizers, you obviously need dinner.  If you haven’t been to the North End then let me explain that you could put a blindfold on, walk in any direction and stumble into a great Italian restaurant.  Our choice was Artu’s.

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And this is where I need your help…my dinner was fantastic but Niki’s dinner was super fantastic and since she was a little ‘protective’ of her meal, I didn’t get much and I’m hoping to recreate it.  I’ve got the ingredients and was going to take a stab at making this into a recipe post but I’m interested in for your input on the sequence.  I was going to give it a try but figured… hey I’ve got the best food minds around the world – why not ask for some advice, especially on the sauce.

These are the ingredients:  black mission figs, sausage, mascarpone cheese on penne.

Our waitress was kind enough to ask the chef how the sauce was made and he said it was just butter, salt and pepper. I would love to hear your suggestions for the sequence of cooking up the ingredients.  I’m thinking the sausage and figs can get cooked up together – it’s the mascarpone cheese that I wonder when to add in.  I’d love to hear from you before I go messing up a really fabulous dish.

Alas, all good things must come to an end so after dinner we asked St. Anthony to help us find our car and strolling through the streets filled with confetti, I thought to myself….”I’m sure glad I don’t have to clean up after this party!”

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Birthdays & Kitchen Bombs

No, I really didn’t set off any bombs in the kitchen this week but pretty much everything I made was a fail.  No wait, there was a small explosion when I made chicken parmesian.  I’m not crazy about a plain, meatless spaghetti sauce but didn’t have any hamburg or sausage to make my usual.  I did however have bacon!  And as Bam recently mentioned on her latest post – everything’s better with bacon.  I baked a pile of bacon then drained off some of the bacon fat into the sauce pot to saute my garlic.  Wow – bacon fat must get HOT because when I dumped in the ground peeled tomatoes, that pile of sauce just bubbled up like Mount Vesuvius and blew up all over me and the stove. I now have an idea of what those people in Pompeii felt like when that one blew.

Angry Volcano -

Then there was the roast pork that would have been fabulous except for the timing.  My husband was supposed to make ONE stop on the way home but 3 phone calls later to tell me that he was in yet another store looking for soap called “Kiss My Face” (really, he’s got that rash back again & that’s what the dermatologist recommended and yes, I think he got smacked in the face a few time asking clerks if they had it).

I did redeem myself with last night’s meal thanks to ChgoJohn’s absolutely sensational Spaghetti alla Carbonara – do check it out along with his incredible story of his Aunt Zia’s visit with the Pope.

So there will be no recipes of mine in this week’s post.  Instead let’s talk about more memorable meals such as the Sunday brunch for John’s something-something birthday at J’s Restaurant, Nashoba Valley Winery in Bolton, MA.  We’ve had many fine dinners there but never tried the breakfast buffet which was truly outstanding for it’s variety and quality.  I’m not usually a breakfast buffet fan since most are just warmed up scrambled eggs and greasy bacon but this place does it right – perfect breakfast food, soups, stews, sushi and the best steak tips with mashed potatoes that I’ve ever had. A great dining experience in a cozy converted farmhouse overlooking the hills and their vineyards.  (p.s. Thank you Niki for the treat).  The nice thing is that after stuffing yourself, their winery is downhill so you can just roll on down there to sample and buy their wine and beer – my personal favorite is strawberry-rhubarb which is actually very crisp.  So this year was a very relaxed and sedate birthday for John unlike his something-five birthday party that we threw for him in the North End, Boston.

Boston’s North End is Italian.  It’s got lots of charm and quite a history.  My friend’s aunt used to live there many years ago in a house with a tunnel that connected to other houses throughout the neighborhood.  Second story lookouts were posted and when the Feds showed up they usually found empty rooms with a Nona making bread.  But even in ‘the old days’ it was always a safe neighborhood to have a great meal.  They did their own policing, not wanting to draw unnecessary attention to their neighborhood and dead bodies would get dumped across the river in Charlestown.

Now, Hanover Street is the trendy, hot spot for those who love waiting outside in long lines to get squished elbow to elbow with people you don’t know.  Almost every place has good food but if you want to enjoy your meal with people you do know and would like to socialize with, there’s a great place a few blocks off Hanover called Piccolo Nido owned by Pino Irano.  Now Pino is an very interesting guy and he loves his Boston sports teams – they also love him so you could be dining with Robert Kraft of the Patriots, John Henry, owner of the Red Sox, or Bruins management.  When the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup, they brought it personally to his restaurant.  Pino greets everyone at the door and in our case often sits down with my husband to ‘discuss’ the teams…sometimes he gets a little worked up (do not ask him what happened to the Sox this year!).  Since it’s his restaurant and he treats it as his home with you as his guests, you can have a terrific, authentic meal and take all the time in the world to eat, drink, and chat without being pushed out the door.  Unless you piss him off…DO NOT piss off Pino.  And what might piss of Pino?  Well it could be anything from acting snooty, to complaining about the service, or as this table of SIX found out – complaining about the $45 bill for Cokes after taking up a table for 3 hours without ordering anything other than Cokes.

A couple years ago, we were enjoying a great dinner with another couple just before Christmas  when Pino stood in the middle of the restaurant & called for everyone’s attention.  The place went quiet as Pino worked up to a classic Pino moment.  “Attention my friends…I would like to ask you…what you think I should say to these people – these people who sit at MY table for 3 hours and order Coke then say I rob them because they think I charge too much for Coke!  They no order my food, they no drink my wine, they drink Coke for 3 hours and no like the bill.  Pino’s is fine dining establishment…(at this point the waitress is hastily helping this group put their coats on as some are running for the door).  How you people find me?  Never mind, I don’t care as long as you never find me again.  Maybe you go back to Cambridge (a little N. End dig about the Cambridge elite) and sit in coffee shop with you snooty no manners attitude.  You! you dare ruin Pino’s Christmas?  My Christmas gift to you is you get free Cokes – once – and you get out forever!”

Okay, so like I say, don’t piss off Pino.  I understand they weren’t the first people he’s tossed but it was the only time I had a front row seat and it was really kind of entertaining.  You just don’t get that everyplace.  And because we love Pino and his restaurant that’s how we ended up there for John’s something-5 birthday party.  We closed the place down and as you can see, when Pino loves you and you mind your manners, he’ll make sure you have a great time. (note the guy, probably from Cambridge, who goes racing out about 1/2 way through the clip when we get a little loud).

A Super Mother’s Day

How perfect is it when the sun shines, the temp’s in the 80’s, and your  favorite daughter & husband take you to the best sushi restaurant around – Yama Zakura?  I just love this restaurant in Northboro, MA which is self described as a fusion of Thai and Japanese.  The owner welcomes suggestions from her customers and will honor you by naming the new creation after you.

We did a lot of sharing at dinner starting with the Gyoza – Japanese style pork fried dumplings.  After that came a melt in your mouth Tuna Crunch, the Philly – smoked salmon/cucumber/cream cheese/scallion, and their very best The Lobster Bomb – cucumber, avocado and panko roll topped with baked lobster in a sweet lemon mayo sauce, drizzled with Zakura sauce, panko, and tobiko.  Apparently we must have looked like we had room for more and it being Mother’s Day, our waitress brought a complimentary molten lava cake topped with ice cream and caramel sauce.

Not anticipating the molten lava cake, John and Niki had taken a trip over to our new Wegman’s pastry department and bought these for dessert!

And why wouldn’t I be smiling – on the left is a raspberry tart (awesome), on the right is not just any old chocolate mousse, but a chocolate mousse that is in an actual chocolate cup – yes, that cup is made from chocolate, even the little chocolate handle.  Tell me that isn’t a clever idea & if anyone has any suggestions for making those cups, please let me know because I think it would make the greatest idea for a “wow” dessert to bring to someone’s party.  I would imagine it’s done in two halves and then melted together at the seam but I’m not quite sure how you would do it.  It was very thin so I’m guessing breakage could be an issue.  In any case we may have been stuffed, but there’s always room for just a little bit more.