Writing for the Sake of Writing

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The wine buzz tonight is taking my head into a tail spin. I guess three glasses of wine is too much for my feeble brain to handle. I just read a chapter of my book to Peg, and for once she didn’t fall asleep. Either the story was good, or she was awake. Earlier we went to a local place called Ryan’s Pub for a wine, and some fish. Being it is Friday during lent it is a meat less day. Ryan’s is a mile and a half from our house, and we have driven past it for ten years without ever going in to check it out. Well my virginity is gone, we walked through the portals for the Friday night fish fry. Lo and behold I spy my friend Al sitting at the bar when we walk in. This is better than I imagined. I ordered a Cab for my self, and a lemonade for Peg, and two Walleye dinners to go. We kibitzed with Al while we waited. I’m telling Al and Peg that the last time I was in this place was thirty years ago for a going away party for an engineer from work. Don’t ask me who was leaving I don’t remember, but I do remember the place. It hasn’t changed much in thirty years. Then I proceeded to talk about my old friend Pat from work who owned the place with his daily presence. He lives right around the corner a block away. A few minutes later a short thin guy with bowed legs, white beard, cowboy boots, and cowboy hat walks in. I ask the barkeeper Heather if that is Pat. She says “it sure is.”

I walk over to him fortified by four ounces of Cab, and greet him with “Hey you old bowlegged sum-na-bitch how are ya doin?” He looks at me with a long dumb look. “You remember me don’t ya?”

“Yeah, but I don’t remember your name.”

“It is me , Joe from Panduit.”

“Oh yes I remember now.”

First impressions hit hard sometimes, and when I looked into Pat’s face I saw an old man, a very old man, a lot older than I ever remembered him to look. Pat was a vigorous young tool-maker who grew up in suburban Harvey, Illinois and moved to live in Tucson, Arizona for a several years. He loved it there, and never got away from the cowboy look. He returned to Chicago to work at the Panduit plant in Tinley Park for his old school chum Roy Moody. Before Pat moved to Arizona he was a motorcycle racer. He loved speed on two wheels, and loved the adrenaline rush he got from speeding shoulder to shoulder around a clay track at ninety miles per hour. Of course his knees are shot, and he has lots of broken bones to his credit. When the weather was right he rode a motorcycle, when the weather wasn’t right he drove a pick up truck. He and his wife raised two kids on a mini-ranch in Frankfort, IL. He still lives there.

One of the most spectacular wakes I ever went to was for Pat’s first wife Bev. She and he were riding home on his Harley one Sunday night about ten p.m. with the Bike Club when a rider in front of him lost control,and began swinging in broad “esses” across the road in front of him. Pat T-boned him going sixty mph. The two bikes went in different directions. Pat’s wife who sat behind him like a proud Harley Girl went flying over his head and landed on her neck, crunch! She was dead with a broken neck.

Pat was President of his Bike Club and his wife was first lady. She was one of the most beautiful women I had ever laid my eyes on, and now she was dead at age thirty-five. The wake was in Frankfort at Gerardi’s Funeral home. Back then Frankfort didn’t have more than twenty-five hundred people and Gerardi’s was a small place. Because Pat and I worked together my wife Barb and I attended the wake. At the time we lived in Alsip twenty miles north of Frankfort. We approached Frankfort on US Route 30 from the east. I noticed many Harley riders going the opposite way. We knew when we arrived at Gerardi’s because there were motorcycles parked two inches apart wrapped around the entire building. I remember saying that if I kicked the first bike they would all fall over like dominos. The line of people attending the wake wrapped around the building too. We assumed our place in line and patiently waited. A number of big brawny Harley guys carried Pat out into the parking lot on a chair for him to get some air. His wife was dead, and he looked like he rolled over the road for a mile or two before he finally came to rest. Lots of black and blue with red raw abrasions on his arms and swollen head. He didn’t look too healthy, but he was alive. The big guys set him down in the center of the lot. The line of people walked past him to the parlor. He sat there swilling a beer accepting condolences like a man who has lost his partner in a bike accident.

Inside the Parlor, we finally got to pass Bev’s coffin. She wore her best Harley attire. Her black leather Jacket with the club emblem was hanging on the kneeler in front of the casket on display. She looked as beautiful as ever.

Funny what memories a little Cab, and a chance meeting of an old friend will induce.

Put A Cork In It

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It finally happened, my cork container filled to overflowing. Can you guess how many corks are in this cagey little container?

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This clever wire formed barrel came to me as a gift a couple of Christmases past, and I have been busily engaged in selecting, and consuming the nectar of grapes fermented to perfection. It is no secret (in fact, nothing in my life is secret as one can tell by reading this blog) that I love red wine. It doesn’t matter what kind of red it is. Cabernet, Merlot, Syraz, Malbec, Pinot Moir, Chianti, you name it, I drink it. I listed them in order of my preference. So if you are looking for gift ideas, anything with one of those names on the label will be graciously received and consumed by me. If the color is not red then the game changes a bit. I also imbibe Riesling (Late Harvest) Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, and for the life of me I can’t remember the name of my favorite. It’ll come to me after my brain cells wake up and actually begin working for a living.

Although I enjoy a full-bodied rich Cabernet from Napa Valley the most, I don’t always afford that level of wine. Most of the time, I limit my purchase to a max of seven dollars, with the average per bottle cost coming in around six dollars. I am on a fixed income you know, and I must spend judiciously.

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The number of corks in the container doesn’t tell the entire story, because it does not count the times I drink with my friends at their homes, or in a restaurant. I don’t enjoy drinking in a restaurant as well because my sluggish brain goes into hyper drive when it registers a per glass price that exceeds my average per bottle price. I keep getting a little voice in my head that says “Go home and drink you dummy, it is cheaper.” It wouldn’t be so bad except the brain goes into a loop and I get the message over and over.

On some nights, the buzz is better than on others. I haven’t determined if it is because the choice had a high alcohol content or if the volume did it for me. One thing I do know is that any wine will make me high quickly on an empty stomach, so I always order my wine served with the meal.

I have a couple of friends who make their own wine and have been nice enough to share their product with me. I have to say that they are pretty good wine makers. One of them has grapes shipped to his home from California, the other buys grape juices. The one who crushes his own grapes produces the limit allowed by law. He is Italian and he shares with his entire family. The other, produces less than a hundred bottles a year for his own consumption.

I thought about making wine many years ago, but chickened out for fear of failure. My mother bottled grape juice that she made from Concord grapes grown in her garden. One year, a very loud bang awakened my dad from his evening nap in front of the TV. He jumped out of his chair and looked outside to see what happened. He saw nothing but his own breath. The night air was at zero, and there was not a soul on the street. He continued looking for the source of the noise, and discovered his basement turned purple. One of Mom’s juice bottles, which she stored on a shelf behind his bar, fermented and blew up. The idea of an explosion in my house caused me to stay away from becoming a vintner, but I am extremely happy with the arrangement I have devised for my self, and love sampling the wines of many vintners from around the world.

The cage has 192 corks in it. The estimated value of the wine represented by those corks is $1152. Not bad for an old guy on a pension. Corks are another subject. For many years wine was kept in the bottle by stuffing a cylinder of a squeaky-rubbery substance known as “cork.” Cork was readily available and makes an excellent seal. What I never knew is that cork is the outer bark of a cork oak tree. As the world grows in population and the wine consumption increases, and the number of cork oak trees remains the same, cork becomes scarce. Trees don’t like it when their protective covering gets stripped off. To solve the cork shortage problem, a group of people got together and drank some very good wine. After the buzz was on they dreamed up a plastic solution. Today, they make corks of a compressible plastic foam encased with a thin plastic sheath. It does just as good a job as cork, and is more available than cork. Lower cost wines will use plastic corks, while the higher end wines still use real cork for stoppers, and really cheap wines use twist off metal caps. The twist offs are very easy to open and I prefer them to the corky types. I have broken a half-dozen cork removers and still struggle with pulling the damn things out of the bottle. My wife says that is a good thing because it slows down my consumption.

The name of the white  wine that escaped my memory is Chardonnay. I had to look it up. Evidently, the brain cells associated with remembering white wines were lost after I finished my last glass of the stuff.

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Death By Chocolate

5 minute Chocolate Mug CakeLast week my cousin Rick sent me a recipe called “The Most Dangerous Cake Recipe in the World.”  It sounded cute, and just the type of experiment I would try with my grandchildren. Before I began, I Googled  “Five Minute Chocolate Cake,” and got 137,000 hits in .22 seconds. There must be something to this, I thought. I read several of the recipes, and the comments left by cake lovers from all around the world. They were serious about this yummy chocolate cake.

Over the weekend, I shopped for the ingredients I didn’t have on hand, namely unsweetened cocoa powder and chocolate frosting. The remaining ingredients were in the cupboard and the frig. I’ll post the recipe on my Cook page.

The recipe tauted five minutes from start to finish. It took me longer than that to assemble the ingredients, and then another five minutes to put it together, and yet another five minutes of mixing to get a smooth creamy uniform mixture of chocolate goo. The components are mixed in a coffee mug.  The final step is three minutes in a microwave at full power (1000 watts). The recipe writer warns that the cake will rise out of the cup, but not to worry that is normal.  Mine did, and then it retracted (fell) back onto itself. ????? What did I do wrong???? Nevertheless, I removed the super hot cup from the micro, removed the cake from the mug, and allowed it to cool. That’s when I sliced it into two pieces and spread the ready made chocolate over the top. I went so far as to experiment and cut one half into half again. This piece I made into a layer cake with frosting between the layers.

I cleaned up the kitchen while the cake cooled. By the time my implements were clean it was ready to try. I couldn’t wait.  I took a large forkful of the single layer version and tasted. My God!!!!!!!!!what a super mouth watering chocolate treat. Not the best chocolate layer cake made from scratch using a Betty Crocker recipe, but really good and tasty chocolate cake, and  I left out the chocolate chips.

There is one way to make this even better, I thought; pair it with some full bodied Cabernet. So I did, Wow, Super Wow! I started with a single fork full and couldn’t stop until I finished the single layer half, with a glass of rich red wine.

I am returning a  message to Rick to warn  him that I am re-writing my will. I will make mention that if it is proven that I died from chocolate overdose, he should be arrested. It was by his power of suggestion that I tried this recipe, and by my weak will that I overdid it.

I can hardly wait for the kids to come over, so I can teach them all how to make this cute little cake. I can see an assembly line of seven mugs with  flour and sugar flying around the kitchen as they make their own concoction. As the teacher, and ring leader of this experiment, I get to taste all of them. Of course mine will be with a glass of red.

Why is this called the most dangerous recipe inthe world?  I quote the inventor,

“Because now we are all only five minutes from chocolate cake  at any time of the day or night.”

I agree, with some practice, I could do it in five minutes.

Five Star Italian

Red Wine and Bread, Staff of LifeThis evening I met with my men’s club. Five of us dined at a new restaurant in Orland park called Ottimo. Originally the building was occupied by a mid-eastern restaurant that was quite interesting. We dined there two years ago. First strike against it was that it didn’t serve alcoholic beverages. Not a good thing for my group. Secondly, we felt we were a part of a some terror group. The clientele were mostly Muslims. Women all around us wore head scarves. A group of dark men sat at a round table in the back smoking a hookah. We don’t know what they smoke in one of those things, but suspect it to be  something mysterious.  The food was mediocre, and the service the same. That’s probably why they are no longer in business.After that evening we vowed never to return.

This evening was another matter. We barely sat down when the waiter brought a loaf of hot bread and a tub of garlic butter as an appetizer. We ordered drinks off an impressive wine list. I started with a Cabernet which arrived quickly. I decided to pass the bread around, and bumped the full  glass of red wine over onto the table and my lap. What a mess. Thankfully, Miguel, our waiter was right there and helped clean up the mess  quickly. He also followed up with a second glass of wine to replace the one I tipped.

Ottimo offers a special on Tuesdays; spaghetti and meat balls. It comes with a garden salad, and served family style. Three of the group opted for the spaghetti. I chose Chicken Marsala. It came with a rich sauce and smothered in mushrooms.  The taste was exquisite.  Sherman ordered mussels over linguine. He has a case for overcooked pasta, but noted that the linguine was cooked to perfection; al dente. I ordered some ravioli with ricotta cheese as a take home for Peggy. She also commented on it’s excellence.

We completed the meal and got the check. Most of the time, the longest part our evening belongs to calculating who pays what. This evening was a little strange, in that we were able to make it work in just a few minutes.  As we waited for Miguel to pick up the check, we expressed a  curiosity as to which part of Italy this style of cooking came from. I hailed the Maitre-‘De over to the table and asked. He told us that it was from southern Italy below Napoli. We then quizzed him about  which part of Italy he came from. It was like twenty questions as we rattled off town names. He kept answering, “further north.”  We ran out of towns and gave up. “Where,” we asked?

“Austria,” he replied. We were in shock. The guy was from Salzburg Austria. He left for a moment and returned with a complimentary after dinner drink of limongello. It was grand.

All in all, we gave this new restaurant five stars. A bit pricey since the menu is a la carte, but well worth the exquisite food.

Ottimo

161st and LaGrange Road

Orland Park, IL

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