The Lucky Bog Cat

Irish bog cat 1

My family has always been savvy thrifters. After all, my father was one of New York’s Strongest for 35 years, and he was always looking for hidden treasures “on the job,” so it’s in my blood.

As a kid, my dad would take me to various junk shops but our favorite, “upscale” place was St. Vincent De Paul. It’s close to our house, just a town over in Garden City Park. I don’t get there much any more, but my father still goes regularly in search of a great deal. He’ll look for stuff I “need” and call from the store, “They got a great set of red wine glasses, real cheap, do you want’em?” He knows my style and anything red to match my kitchen I usually take.

The other day when I saw him he looked excited, “I got something for you! I think it’s worth money, look it up on the internet.” Part of the game is to find thrifted items that are expensive and then we try to resell it for a profit. Back in the day my father sold to his “Junk Lady” Ruthy; now my sister does it on Ebay.  My fathers has been doing this his whole life and that extra cash adds up. His junk finds paid for my art classes in high school and stuff like expensive sneakers and Cavaricci’s I wanted for Christmas.

Irish bog cat

He handed me a miniature black cat figurine. The face is so unique looking, I see why he picked it up. It’s not exactly a cat’s face– it’s more human or frog-like. My father taught me as a kid to look for labels and engravings. The cat has a label “Part of a range of images of Ireland paying tribute to its culture and heritage, Island Turf Crafts have re-created these images in turf cut from Irish bog lands… made in Ireland.

This was intriguing to both of us. I took to the internet to research my new treasure. My black cat was in fact lucky – The Lucky Bog Cat of Ireland. I’ve never heard about this or the Irish bogslands for that matter. Legend goes…

“Ireland’s bogland was once home to the much sought after black bog cat which was said to roam the vast bogland near the shores of Lough Neagh. It was larger than the usual cat and lived on insects and small animals, and was said to bring luck and great wealth and happiness to those whose path it crossed. Similar stories are told about a large black cat seen in the boglands in midland Ireland and with its intelligent cunningness always evaded capture.”

Google said my cat was worth 12 euros. My father got it for a buck.  I told him it wasn’t worth much but that it was lucky and would bring us money and happiness. He laughed!  It’s so interesting to me that Ireland is known for the lucky shamrock and apparently … the lucky bog cat. Is this common knowledge to Irish folks?

I read further about the boglands of Ireland. They’re wetlands that accumulate peat, a deposit of dead plant material including mosses. Most  bogs  form where the water at the ground level is acidic and low in nutrients. Boglands have very specific biodiversity and numerous wetlands throughout the world are environmentally projected by the government.

For centuries Irish bogland has played an intrical part of life and culture. Every farmer and most every family’s rural home had their own turf bank (another name for peat fossil fuel). Irish turf was dug from the bogs, dried and used as fuel for cooking food and heating.  It is still used today but less so with a push for green energy. In 2018 dozens of factory bogland closed. Many in Ireland felt it  was an “end of an era.”

What I love about thrift store finds is that they unfold a little mystery and can teach you something you didn’t know about before.

If you have a story about the Irish Bog Cat or more information on its symbolism I would like to hear from you. Email me here.

Reference: https://houseofcladdagh.com, https://en.wikipedia.org, http://www.bbc.co.uk/

tagged in irish

Easy Chinese Eggplant With Garlic Sauce

Chinese eggplant with garlic sauce (1)

I’m in Key Food and I spot these gorgeous, bright purple Chinese eggplants. I had to buy them simply for their beauty. I had no recipe in mind but I knew I’d figure something out.  Oftentimes that’s actually how I shop. I pick the best produce by sight and touch. It’s a fun little challenge too – figuring out what recipe to make with my random purchases.

I unpacked the groceries and snapped a picture of the lovely eggplants for Instagram. I captioned, “What should I make with these?” Several people responded. My friend Kevin Kushner, (who is an excellent cook and grill master btw), suggested a recipe from pickledplum.com, classic and easy Chinese eggplant with garlic sauce. “It’s incredible.” He said.  Incredible and easy was enough to convince me.

Most of us think eggplant equals Italian food. Or at least that’s what us Italians think. Eggplant is believed to originate from India and has been cultivated in southern and eastern Asia since prehistory. The first written record of the plant is found in Qimin Yaoshu, an ancient Chinese agricultural text from 544 C.E.  In the middle ages, melanzana (Italian for eggplant) was widely grown in Arabic countries and the Mediterranean.

Chinese eggplant in garlic sauce 1

There are countless cultivars of eggplant in different sizes and shapes. Japanese eggplant and Chinese eggplant can be hard to distinguish. They have a similar elongated shape. The difference is, Chinese eggplant is bright purple, whereas Japanese eggplant is darker purple or ink colored. And sometimes Japanese eggplant is longer.

The fleshy texture of all eggplant and mild flavor makes this fruit perfect for meals with rich sauces. Other favorites made with eggplant besides eggplant parmesan are, BBQ grilled, stir fry, stuffed eggplant and smoked roasted eggplant dip or  baba ganoush.

Chinese Eggplant With Garlic Sauce

Ingredients:

2–3 long Japanese or Chinese eggplant, sliced in half lengthwise and chopped
2 tablespoons peanut oil
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon ginger, peeled and minced
2–3 Chinese dried red chilis, chopped
4 scallions, finely chopped on the bias

For the sauce: 

2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon chinkiang vinegar
1 tablespoon shaoxing wine or dry sherry
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Note: I couldn’t find chinkiang vinegar, a good substitute is rice vinegar. I also couldn’t find Chinese dried red chilis so I used a half fresh chilli pepper. Double the sauce amount if you’re serving with rice or another starch.

Directions:

  1. Whisk all the ingredients for the sauce into a bowl and set aside.

  2. In a large pan over medium high heat, add 1 tablespoon peanut oil and eggplant. Stir fry for a few minutes (about 5 minutes) until the sides are golden brown and the center is tender.

  3. Transfer eggplant to a plate and add remaining 1 tablespoon peanut oil to the pan. Add garlic, ginger, red chilis and cook for 1 minute.

  4. Add eggplant and scallions, toss and pour the sauce. Stir fry for 1 minute, until all the vegetables are coated.

  5. Turn the heat off and serve with white, brown rice for low carb tofu.

This was my first time making Chinese garlic sauce so I followed the recipe closely. The main takeaway is adding the sauce at the very end to avoid soggy eggplant. And make sure your pan is hot. It was very easy to make and only took 30 minutes from start to finish.

To my excitement, it tasted like …  real Chinese food – salty,  sweet and sour, yet it felt less “heavy” than Chinese takeout. The garlic was strong and I like heat so I added a nice amount of the chili for that good ol’ punch!  As an accompaniment, I bought bean threads (thin noodles)  because they looked interesting and it ended up working really well.

Give this one a try, it won’t disappoint!

Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eggplant

A Decadent Dish Of Ziti

On New Year’s Eve I made a decadent tray of ziti. I put the cheesy videos on Instagram stories. Several people messaged me asking for the recipe. I gave them some quick pointers because I don’t have a recipe written down.

To elaborate, I want to share my secrets to a delicious ziti here. And I’ll say, it’s more about these tips than it is about following a recipe to the measurement.

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The Sauce: It’s easy to make a good sauce if you throw a piece of pork or sausage in the pot. The true skill comes with traditional vegetarian marinara. Colavita extra virgin olive oil is one of my secrets. Start the garlic and onions in that (and use a lot of everything). Make sure the pot is hot first (2-3 min.) Many home cooks forget that starting off with a high temperature is key to prevent sticking and burning.

I like a little texture in my sauce – I use two diced cans of Sclafani and two puree.

It’s all about the spices – fresh sprigs are preferred but use what you have especially now in the winter.  Here’s what I do – salt, black pepper, red pepper, oregano, basil, thyme. If I have it in, I’ll add capers (and use less salt). I add red wine and/or sugar to taste. Some form of sugar is important to cut the bitterness. I add lots of Pecorino Romano. The block of cheese somehow tastes better than the pre-grated. And this is my big secret – black cured Moroccan olives. It gives the sauce meaty richness.

The Pasta: Al dente! The ziti must be a little hard because it still has to cook in the oven. A common mistake is over cooking pasta and it becomes too mushy, breaking apart in the tray. Always salt the water.

The Cheese: Use plenty of cheese and never use part-skim. You’re making ziti – it’s not a low calorie meal, so just go for it. For one tray (1 pound pasta) I use one 16 oz. Polly-O mozzarella. I put chunks of mozzarella mixed in with the pasta and sauce and  layer the rest on top. For the top layer, cut the cheese thin and add many layers overlapping. Also add, three heaping scoops of Polly-O ricotta. And again … a bunch of Pecorino Romano. Make sure the mixture of cheese/ pasta / sauce is very fluid. The pasta will absorb this mixture and if you don’t use enough of everything, it will dry out.

The Oven: Don’t overcook the tray. My oven, which is a convection, gets very hot, fast. I cook the tray of ziti for 30min covered with tin foil. Take off the foil for the last 5 min. to get a little crispness on the edges. If you’re unsure of the time, just open the oven and take a peek at the cheese. It should be melted and bubbling only a little bit.

Serve: I mention  “don’t overcook” because when you take the tray out of the oven, the pasta and cheese is still cooking. Wait 5 minutes before serving. Drizzle additional olive oil on the top of the ziti before bringing it to table. So important – always have extra sauce and Pecorino when serving.

Follow me on Instagram for the day-to-day in the kitchen – @theglorifiedtomato

tagged in italian, recipe, recipes

pushin’ 40

Tomorrow is my 40th birthday. I’ve been using the line “I’m pushin’ 40” for the past two years because it’s hilarious. You can essentially say any off-the-cuff or inappropriate comment followed by, “I’m pushin’ 40” and somehow it makes anything okay, and provides a nice jeuje to almost any joke. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. If you’re in your mid to late 30s, I highly recommend you try it. The only thing that bothers me about turning 40 is that I can’t say “I’m pushin’ 40” anymore.

A few weeks back, I posted the magic one-liner on Facebook for the pure joy of typing it out for one of the last times. Within an hour, I’m receiving  these “words of wisdom” responses:

“Welcome to the other side.”
“It’s not so bad cuz.”
“Wow that’s big kid! Good luck with labor!”
“U got this chica!”
“Same here. It’s terrible.”
“Don’t sweat it, I’m pushing 63 and have a great life.”

I couldn’t believe what I was reading. To me, it is just a great line — I hadn’t been sweating it at all. Only two of my friends understood the gag. I thought “Anyone who truly knows me must  know I don’t give a [insert profanity here] about getting older.”

Why is getting older in our culture a negative? 98% of my friends and family that commented on FB assumed I was upset about hitting the milestone birthday. Instead of getting a laugh, it messed with my head. It backfired for the first time in its history. The more I thought about the responses, the more I realized there are only a  few people in this whole world that truly know and understand who you are.

This brought me further down the rabbit hole, thinking about the pandemic and Covid-19. Whose lives have we sacrificed for our need to continue our leisure activities and comfortable lifestyles? The elderly and weakest of our society, yes? I’ll leave it there.

I’ve written about aging a few times. To reiterate in short … there’s no stopping the clock, we’re all getting older. Let’s take the ride with a positive mind and embrace each new phase of our journeys. There have been people in my life that have died young. And around my birthday I think of them with love, as I pass the age of their passing further and further. This is a reminder to me, to be grateful for every year this universe allows me to live.

The average life expectancy for men in the U.S. is 79, women 81. This means our mid-life crisis is around 40 years old. Who made us believe it was in our 50s? I guess TV. To celebrate my mid-life crisis milestone birthday, I’ve decided to shave the side of my head. Think Rihanna cirica 2012. I’ve always wanted to do it and what better time than now. It’s also a lot cheaper than buying a fancy car or getting Kybella.

So my good friend Keith came over and helped me out, buzzing my head on the front porch. It was exhilarating! And I think it looks pretty good.

If you’re approaching a milestone birthday my unsolicited advice is to embrace it. Don’t post anything weird on Facebook. Do something silly, winter swim in the ocean, get botox, shave your head – anything that makes you smile. We’ re all so fortunate to be breathing on this planet earth, in NYC, in our special oceanside community.

Anyway, I got to wait a few more years, but I’m already looking forward to peppering off-color comments with “I’m pushing 50!”

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tagged in memories