Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Rocky mug

How does a furry little four-legged creature enter your home, proceed to declare himself lord of the manor, and conquer your heart? It all started with the small notice tacked onto the bank’s bulletin board from a family whose cat had recently given birth.

We’re just going to look,” I told the kids. “We’re not going to bring home a kitten, especially since your dad is away on a business trip.”

All the resolve in the world couldn’t trump the imploring gaze of the tiny little kitten who was the last of his brothers and sisters to find a home. He may have been the runt of the litter, but those three little spots marking his nose endeared us to him immediately. In a short while, he was in the car on his way to a new home. Our home. And we had some explaining when the real lord of the manor came home from his business trip.

December 2008 437

In his youth, Rocky was smothered by the affection of two children in the household and soon grew used to the constant hugs and caresses that were showered upon him. He was a docile cat who never scratched a human and rarely dug his claws into furniture. But that didn’t mean he didn’t go after small birds and bunnies (and occasionally other cats and dogs too) in the neighborhood, much to the consternation of me and my husband.

Sept. 2009 013 As he got older, his energy level waned, and he could do little more than just gaze at photographs of birds in the newspaper, dreaming about his youthful, more adventurous past.

May 2010 408

He never managed to capture a squirrel though, even though they were sometimes only a short distance from his grasp.

January 2009 12-31-2008 10-50-52 AM 3264x2448 

Like most cats, Rocky was curious, getting into places he didn’t belong, like here:

June 2010 502 and here:

December 2008 422

As he grew older, he loved to take walks with us down the street, tagging behind us just like a faithful dog. He also loved to sit sentry at the front door, watching the activity on the street:

Rocky doorBut sometimes he shirked his duties and just fell asleep there, bathed by the late-afternoon sun. Copy of March 2008 008 

Many days he could be found outside the front door, watching the neighborhood from his little mat. But even here, he sometimes let down his guard and fell asleep on the job.

June 2010 194 Like most cats, Rocky spent a good deal of time sleeping. He seemed to have perfected the act of sleeping in any position or place, no matter how embarrassing or immodest the pose.

at ease Rocky Dec 2004 

Truly, he could make himself comfortable anywhere – whether in a basket:

Cozy Rocky

a box:

Rocky in boxOr under a down quilt where it seemed like he couldn’t breathe.

Feb. 2010 014

Although sometimes, he would stick his head out for a breather:

The Rock in bed

He sometimes claimed a spot on top of the bed cradled into his master’s arms.

April 2010 692

Snoozing in front of a blazing fire, partly stretched out over his scratch pad was a favorite way to spend a holiday afternoon:

December 2008 521

Or hanging out on the sofa with the people he loved:

December 2008 

He especially loved it if you let him crawl onto your chest:

May 2010 373

Often he would sleep with his nose to the floor and we couldn’t figure out how he could breathe in this position:

July 2009 165

He had a few other unusual habits, including sitting with his paws crossed as if he were following some Emily Post etiquette guide for cats:

March 2010 206He would sit on your clothes and even claim your shoes if you left them lying around:

Rocky and shoes 

And he had a funny extra little pad under his paw that looked like it didn’t belong there:

April 2010 194

  Rocky provided our own in-house inspiration for the annual Halloween jack o’lantern:

come on Rocky

And for wintertime fun in the snow:

 Jan-Feb 2010 Italy 853-1

He lost weight as he grew ill, but seated on the piano bench, he could still look as elegant as Van Cliburn:

August 2009 419He needed little more than food, shelter and affection – but he gave us so much more in return. 

Thank you for coming into our lives 18 years ago Rocky. We miss you.

“Don't cry because it's over.  Smile because it happened.”
-Dr. Seuss

Rocky P.

August 23, 1992 – Sept. 13, 2010 

I'd sing happy birthday but I can't carry a tune

Technorati Tags:

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Lilli’s Eggplant Roll-ups

August 2010 199

Just for the record let me state that my friend Lilli makes the best eggplant roll-ups ever. She’s known for these delicious morsels and everyone in our Italian chit-chat group always requests them when we have a shared dinner or picnic. You know how certain people just have a “hand” for making certain dishes? Well, that’s Lilli and her eggplant roll-ups. Actually, that’s Lilli and her biscotti too, her almond paste cookies (I must get you that recipe), her meatballs, her on and on and on. The girl from Salerno knows how to cook.

I’ve tried photographing these roll-ups at many occasions, but truthfully, the photo always comes out looking like a not-too enticing red blob. That’s what happens when you have poor lighting and everyone is pushing you out of the way, eager to dig into the dish. And trust me when I say that although these were delicious, Lilli has the knack for making them sublime. That’s what comes from years of experience in making a dish until you achieve perfection. Still, I had to try.

So I thought I’d try making them myself and taking photos in my kitchen. But again, it’s tough to take good photos when your husband is pushing you and your camera out of the way, eager to dig into the dish. So these photos are the best I can do.

I used those thin Japanese eggplants for this dish since that’s what I had growing in my garden, but Lilli uses the traditional and plumper Italian eggplants.

Start by slicing them thinly and salting them. Let them sit for an hour or so, then press them with more paper towels to squeeze out the liquid.

August 2010 194

What Lilli does next is dip the slices in flour, then in egg before frying in hot oil. She says that renders them lighter. Risking culinary heresy and other crimes that occur when you don’t follow a master’s recipe, I did the opposite and dipped them in egg first, then flour before frying in hot oil. They turned out just fine.

I followed the rest of her instructions to the letter, slathering on a bit of tomato sauce, a basil leaf, some mozzarella cheese and some parmesan cheese.

August 2010 195

Roll them up, put them in a casserole and top them with more tomato sauce and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. Cover them with aluminum foil and bake in the oven at 375 degrees or so for about 30 minutes.

August 2010 196

Remove the foil and dig in. If you want to save some time, you can make this in steps. the frying really is time-consuming. Lilli fries all the eggplant one day, then assembles and bakes the roll-ups another day. You can also freeze the fried eggplant and thaw it out later when you want to put the whole dish together.

On second thought, don’t make this recipe. At the very least, don’t make it for a group gathering. Once you make this for your friends, you’ll be sentenced to making it for every event you attend. Sorry Lilli, but these are sooooo good, and nobody makes these as well as you do. 

August 2010 197

Lilli’s Eggplant Roll-Ups

Printable Recipe Here

(No amounts are given since you have to adjust according to the size of your eggplants).

Eggplants, peeled


egg(s), beaten

oil for frying

tomato sauce

fresh mozzarella cheese

parmesan cheese

fresh basil leaves

Slice the peeled eggplants thinly, maybe 1/8 inch or so. Salt them and let them sit on paper towels for an hour, then squeeze out the water on the eggplants with more paper towels.

Dip the eggplant slices in the beaten egg, then in the flour. Shake off any excess flour then fry them in hot oil. Drain.

Spread a little tomato sauce over each slice of eggplant. Place a fresh basil leaf over the sauce, then a piece or two of fresh mozzarella, followed by a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.

Roll up the eggplant slices and place them in a casserole, topped with more tomato sauce and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. Bake in a 375 degree oven, covered, for about 30 minutes.

Technorati Tags:

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Quinoa Salad

Sept. 2010 015 Have you ever eaten quinoa, the wonder-food that dates back 5,000 years to the Incas?  It’s never been a pantry staple in our household, but after reading more about its nutritional benefits and cooking with it, it’s going to be a regular in our diets. It’s not a grain per se, but rather a seed from a broad-leaf plant that’s in the same botanical family as beets and spinach.


It’s kind of a “pseudograin” in the way that buckwheat and amaranth are. Unlike rice or wheat, or other grains that have to be eaten with legumes in order to complete the protein chain, quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) is a complete protein all by itself. It’s easy to digest as well and takes only minutes to prepare and it’s great for people who are gluten intolerant too.

Most people say it has a nutty taste, but I think it’s kind of mild and it takes on the flavors of whatever you combine with it.  It has an outer coating called saponin that’s supposed to have a bitter taste, but most commercially sold quinoa already has the saponin removed. If you’re not sure, you can soak it. I  rinsed it a few times before using it. You can cook it in water, but I prefer to use chicken broth to give it more flavor.

I was inspired to make this salad after seeing a couple of recipes for quinoa on Mary’s blog, “One Perfect Bite.” You can find those recipes by clicking here and here.

Mary’s recipes were starting points for me, but I just used ingredients I already had in the house, namely avocados, chickpeas and tomatoes. The chickpeas add even more protein to the dish, giving you another reason not to reach for those chops and steaks. Make sure you squeeze the lime on top at the end. It really makes the dish sing. You can eat this warm, at room temperature or straight out of the fridge, making it perfect to pack in a small container for lunch. 

Sept. 2010 014

Quinoa Salad

Printable Recipe here

1 cup quinoa

2 cups chicken broth

salt, pepper to taste

1/2 cup chopped tomatoes

1/2 large carrot, shredded

1 avocado, diced

1 15 oz. can chickpeas, rinsed

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1/4 cup chopped parsley

2 T. olive oil

juice of one lime

more salt and pepper if necessary

Soak the quinoa in a pot of cold water for an hour in order to get rid of the bitter taste. (I was in a hurry and didn’t do this, but instead rinsed it three times in a colander. It worked fine.) Bring the chicken broth to a boil and add the quinoa, salt and pepper. Reduce the heat, cover the pot with a lid and let it cook on low heat for about 15 minutes. Remove the cover and fluff up the quinoa with a fork.

Let it cool slightly, then mix it in a bowl with the remaining ingredients. Taste it to see if it needs more seasoning.

Technorati Tags:

Monday, September 6, 2010

Very Vancouver


Vancouver grabs you as soon as you enter its airport, with displays of totem poles, boats and artwork of the indigenous people referred to in that part of the world as First Nations. The beautiful city on Canada’s west coast was the starting point for our 7-day cruise along Alaska’s Inside Passage and subsequent visit to Denali National park.

You probably remember it was also the site of the 2010 winter Olympics in February. The Olympic torch is still on display near Canada Place (without the flame of course). olympic flame

Canada Place juts out into the harbor near cruise ship berths and is home to the city’s Convention Center and the Pan Pacific Hotel. Canada Place’s sails are an iconic landmark on the city’s skyline.

July 2010 Alaska 023 

When the lighting is right, the sails make a beautiful reflection in nearby windows.


  A spacious and lovely promenade sits right below Canada Place, stretching out for a long distance along the waterfront. The promenade is an outdoor living room for inhabitants of the city, with restaurants, parks, sculpture and seating all along the walkway.  We were impressed by the active lifestyle of so many of the city’s residents who were biking or rollerblading in a separate lane created for them.


Among the restaurants in a section along the promenade called Coal Harbor, is Cardero’s, where we had our first night’s meal. I was determined to eat fish as often as I could and it wasn’t hard to find it on the menu. The hard part was deciding. I got the Cajun lingcod, while my husband ordered the grilled halibut. Both were perfect and just the right portions, unlike some places where a plate for one could easily serve two or more.

This is Vancouver’s public library – a very controversial building that some say resembles Rome’s Colosseum, but on a much smaller scale. Maybe that’s why I like it – anything that draws on Roman architecture for inspiration is ok in my book.

Vancouver library Through this portal, we headed off to explore a little of Vancouver’s Chinatown.

Chinatown entrance I love perusing food stores wherever I am, and those in any Chinatown always contain surprises I would never have imagined, including these dried geckos – yes, geckos. They’re not used for culinary purposes, but for brewing tea that helps with asthma, back pain and cough. Shall I start the water boiling?

Gecko anyone

It was midday by now and the perfect time for some dim sum. We ordered a variety of dishes, including this fried squid and these pork dumplings, but we both agreed that we’d eaten better dim sum in other cities.

dim sum in Vancouver

Still, Vancouver’s Chinatown has a lovely Chinese garden at Sun Yat Sen park.

There’s an interesting supermarket not too far from Chinatown that has a lot of unusual items.

T&T market

You don’t see lotus root or live tilapia and barramundi in any supermarket in New Jersey like we did in Vancouver.

You can’t go to Vancouver and miss Gastown, a historic part of the city with cobblestone streets and plenty of shops. This section of the city was named for “Gassy Jack” Sleighton, who ran a saloon and could spin tale tales.

gassy jack 

Time for a little culture at Vancouver’s Art Gallery – that’s what they call their art museum. While we were there, we saw a traveling exhibit from Paris’ Musee D’Orsay.

I want to give a special shout-out to Phyllis from the blog Me Hungry for steering me to some really great ethnic restaurants in Vancouver. She knows the city like a native – which she should since she was raised there. She now lives not too far from me in New Jersey, but returns often to Vancouver to visit family.  Naturally, we took her up on many of her suggestions including a place with the best Indian food I’ve ever eaten anywhere. The restaurant is called Vij’s – and a long wait is always to be expected. But it was sooo worth it.

It was pretty dark at our table so my photos are rather lacking, but this is one of the dishes we shared – spot prawns in a sauce with beets. Believe me, it tasted infinitely better than it looks, as did all the other dishes we devoured.

This stone sculpture is called an Inukshuk, and it sits along Vancouver’s English Bay. Inukshuk are used by many of the First Nations people of the Arctic Circle and were believed to have been used for navigation, as a landmark or a marker for hunting grounds.

Indian sculpture

The park along English Bay is a great place for watching spectacular sunsets, and the night we visited we got a extra special treat from a street performer:

You can walk along the bay to catch a ferry to Granville Island, a short 10 minute ride to a veritable cornucopia of markets, eateries and interesting shops. One of my favorite places there was Terra Bakery, where we bought some great foccaccia that we used as the base for sandwiches with fresh mozzarella and prosciutto also purchased there. Aside from the normal things you’d expect at farmer’s markets, like heirloom tomatoes, you can find almost anything else you’re looking for, including a plethora of pates and even sea asparagus, also called hijiki.

Pop into the Granville Island brewery for a sampling of beers – and don’t forget to stop at the seafood place (whose name escapes me) for a platter of oysters.

One serendipitous find was this coffee roasting place owned by a fellow named John Sanders. It’s not a retail establishment, rather a place where John roasts beans and sells them to coffee shops and restaurants. After talking to him for a while, we were impressed by his story and honored to have met him. He’s a man who worked in pest control for many years but found his true passion was coffee. He buys fair trade coffee from farmers all over the world, but what really sets him apart is the humanitarian work he does in those African nations where he buys the coffee. Not only has he sponsored schools in Africa, but each year he spends several months there, volunteering his time to teach people how to become self sufficient through the cultivation and selling of coffee beans.

John Sanders

While we were there, he was giving lessons on making espresso to a young couple interested in opening a coffee shop. One of his baristas made these for us.

decorative touch

Before we left Granville Island, we stopped in to visit the Maritime museum there. What a great place to learn about the seafaring history of this part of the world, including the search for Canada’s Northwest passage.

If you drive a few miles from Vancouver’s downtown, you’ll find the serene and beautiful Nitobe Japanese Gardens at the University of British Columbia:

serene scene

The Museum of Anthropology is also located on the university’s campus. It contains an extraordinary collection of work by First Nations peoples.

inside Vancouver's anthropology museum

Surprisingly, there’s a really well-displayed collection of mostly European ceramics and interesting contemporary art too.

Yaletown is another destination within Vancouver that every foodie needs to visit, since it’s loaded with bars, cafes and restaurants. It’s also the site of the most heralded Italian restaurant in the city - called Cioppino and owned by Pino Posteraro. When I spotted him adjusting something on the menu just outside the restaurant’s doors and started chatting with him, he was extremely gracious. He invited us in (complete strangers no less) and gave us a tour of the restaurant, including the kitchens and private dining rooms.  His award-winning restaurant has been featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and he has cooked for many luminaries, including Bill Clinton and Frank Sinatra.

Sadly, it was our last night in town and we were already booked for dinner elsewhere, but you can bet I’ll be making a reservation for Cioppino’s the next time I visit Vancouver.


The food we did eat that night was nothing like Italian cuisine but really delicious nonetheless. Phyllis of Me Hungry, clued us in to the Japanese pub food scene, known as izakaya. It’s recently exploded in Vancouver, and she steered us to a couple of places.  The one we tried (and loved) is called Kingyo. Here are just a few of the delicious dishes we tried: fried squid, shrimp and braised ribs – all with a Japanese accent of course.

Five days in Vancouver was not enough. It’s a fantastic city with something for everyone – from foodies to art lovers to outdoor enthusiasts. On our last morning there, we rented bikes and rode around the perimeter of Stanley Park, a scenic ride along the sea where you’ll pass a display of beautifully-painted totem poles.

July 2010 Alaska 1428

At one point we stopped for a few moment’s rest to soak in the view, when we spied these two little creatures peeping over the sea wall, looking for help from their mama.

babies need help

Thankfully, mama came back to give them a boost and off they all went, traipsing down the path.

mom lends a hand

And so did we, after pausing for a few minutes at this sculpture based on Copenhagen’s famous Little Mermaid.  Thanks Vancouver, for a great visit to your beautiful city.



little diver