Thanks for checking into my blog!

As a "recovering" middle school teacher with a unique outlook on life, I stopped active teaching in 2010 and moved into another career path... writing! Here goes! In addition, I am a travel buff, forever baseball addict, movie fan, music fan, foodie extraordinaire, NCIS devotee, gardener, and more.

Just love writing for kids, travel writing and basic journalism. Pretty unusual, since I taught Home Economics! But there's a story here too - a non-fiction one or more...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

All Hail, the Cheese Steak!

Rule #2 – Write from what you know

     Many American cities are known for specific foods. These foods may come from the industries that keep those cities afloat, or from the immigrant heritage that settled in that area. When you say the name of the city, your brain immediately registers the food in question. For example,
            Kansas City – Barbecue
            New York City – thin crust pizza, brick oven preferable
            Maine – Lobster
            Boston – baked beans
            Memphis – Barbecue
            Maryland – Blue Crab anything
            Alaska – King Crab anything
            Chicago – deep dish pizza and more barbecue ribs
            New Orleans – beignets and lots more
            North and South Carolina – Barbecue
            Texas – beef barbecue

     Hmmmm…. I’m seeing recurring themes here… lots of seafood and barbecue. Not seeing any problems here, are you?

     Anyway, my city of birth is Philadelphia PA, known for the hoagie and the cheese steak. Both are sandwiches. One is cold and the other served hot. Both are loaded with flavor and ingredients. Both tend to explode out of their bread shells, which makes it difficult to eat when you are dressed fancy or in your Sunday best. Neither is recommended on a low-fat, low-sodium diet – but there are ways around that, too!

     The hoagie has cousin sandwiches with different names all over the country. I’ll give you my favorite way to make a hoagie in some other post. Even Subway gets this one right some times.

     But the cheese steak, that’s another matter. Even in Philly, there are cheese steak wars. You have your Pat’s Cheese steak fans. You have your Geno’s Cheese steak fans.  And then there are people like me, who chuck both recipes and make it up as we go. Here we have a sandwich that allows for some creative wiggle room.

Pat's King of Steaks - 9th St. and Passyunk Ave.

Geno's Steaks - 9th St. and Passyunk Ave.,

the start of some beautiful sandwich warfare in Philly

     Oh, the memories of cheese steaks long, long ago! I grew up visiting relatives in South Philly and getting my cheese steak fix from a luncheonette at the corner of 15th and Shunk Sts.  They put the basics together – crusty Italian bread-recipe roll, chopped beef steak, and cheese – with fried mushrooms, onions and green peppers. They didn’t usually use Pat’s or Geno’s Cheez Whiz or orange American cheese. Your choices here were provolone or mozzarella. Drip factor to the max with the mozzarella! 

1 roll + steak + cheese + stuffins = Heaven! (hold the mayo and ketchup)
    I don’t know if that luncheonette even exists anymore – only in my memory. But those memories have me now searching out Philly Cheese steak sandwiches all over the East coast. Many restaurants here in Maryland offer Philly Cheese Steaks. But the question is – are they AUTHENTIC? Some say, if it ain’t made in Philly, it ain’t authentic. I say, it’s a matter of taste. If it’s got the right blend of ingredients, the right textures, the right mouth-feel, the right drip factor… it’s authentic enough for me.
Original Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich - notice orange cheese (not for me!)
     I started my search at a chain restaurant, the Cheesecake Factory. They have a California Cheese steak sandwich on their menu. Ignoring the fact that they put “California” and “Cheese steak” together on the menu (sacrilege!), I gave it the college try. My sandwich arrived on a sour dough round roll, stuffed with chopped steak and a blessing of provolone cheese. It was chock full of fried onions, mushrooms and green peppers. They had the good sense to put lettuce and tomato on the side (some add it directly to the sandwich). This was a pretty good sandwich considering it was made at a chain restaurant. This Philly girl would rate it as:
            Steaky – 4.5 (out of 5) drips
            Bread – 3 drips
            Stuffins – 5 drips
            Overall drip factor – 5 drips since I’m still trying to get the grease spots out of my shirt. Not too bad, really!

     Next stop was a local (Millersville, MD) foodie hangout called Zandi’s Grill. Fans of “Restaurant Impossible” will recognize the name, since it was one of those rehabbed from atmosphere to menu on the show. They offer Zandi’s Cheese Steak Sammie, which was stuffed full of sirloin beef roasted right on site. This baby arrived on a sour dough torpedo roll, with provolone cheese and lots of fried onions, mushrooms and peppers. This place put the lettuce and tomato right on the sandwich, but they asked me first. I wanted to hoagie-fy my Sammie, but drew the line at mayo and ketchup. (What is it with mayo on everything below the Mason-Dixon Line, anyway?)  Using the above-listed rating system, I give the sandwich at this eatery:
            Steaky – 5 drips – at least!
            Bread – 5 drips
            Stuffins – 5 drips
            Overall drip factor – 5 drips. Yes, I’m still wearing some grease spots here, too. This place is a keeper on the “I-need-a-cheese-steak” list.

     Last stop - on this round anyway - was the Chesapeake Grille and Deli in Bowie, MD. On their Hot Sammy menu, they offer a Sirloin Cheesesteak. They start with Angus sirloin beef, chopped and grilled up. They grill up the onions (not fried) and top it with provolone, all this on an Italian bread torpedo roll. I added grilled mushrooms to my sandwich and I did hoagie-fy it with lettuce and tomato. The cook added a Maryland extra – Old Bay seasoning! This sammy came with it’s own kick! The Old Bay took the Philly out of the sandwich, but was a very tasty touch. It was a great example of culinary creativity. Not bad, Maryland, not bad at all! This sandwich rated pretty well on my personal rating system:
            Steaky – 5 drips – juicy but not fatty (serious yum)
            Bread – 5 drips – brought back memories
            Stuffins – 4 drips – needs some peppers and more ‘shrooms
            Overall drip factor – 5 drips. No spots as souvenirs from this epicurial adventure, but I have a great memory of the Old Bay seasoning on the sandwich. It wasn’t a totally Philly experience, but it sure tasted good!

     Ok, Self… you are so NOT done searching for the Philly Cheese Steak of your dreams. The tummy and the waistline will continue to seek out the best sandwich around. So far, you haven’t met a cheese steak you didn’t like.

     Now to get more laundry spot remover….

     By the way, here’s a short cheese steak history lesson. Check this out http://www.visitphilly.com/articles/philadelphia/top-10-spots-for-authentic-philly-cheesesteaks/ .


All photos are public domain.

Friday, April 5, 2013

In Search of Spring... Weather

Rule #51 – Make pilgrimages.

     Dictionary definition of “pilgrimage” - a journey of a pilgrim or any long journey or wandering

     Well, Random House Dictionary, this is not enough. Let’s look at what a “pilgrim” is.

     Dictionary definition of “pilgrim” – a person who journeys to some sacred place as an act of devotion

     Much better, Random House Dictionary! I can relate to this portion of the definition.

     I do believe that “sacred” could be anything that one values highly. For me, I hold my relationships with Hub and my kids (in-laws included) and grandkid sacred. These are relationships that make me tick. My religious practices are sacred to me, also. I hold some of my hobbies sacred as well. Now that may sound ridiculous, until you can understand how these hobbies connect to my life.

     Many relatives of mine are making pilgrimages to all the baseball parks. I can relate to that, since I have vivid, comforting family memories around the professional baseball events. Ok, some of them were arguments. Some of them involved questionable language. But memories of those games, discussion, competitions, whatever it was – those memories are precious. The memory makes the event “sacred” and valuable.

     Gardening is another sacred item in my world. For me, working the earth is an honor. It doesn’t matter if what I put in the ground grows or not. (It’s great when it does, but… no guarantees) Just thinking of who may have walked on this soil in the long distant past, or who may have passed by where I live in the history… working in a garden is such a humbling thing to do. It’s such an act of faith.

     With this in mind, I prepared to be amazed again during my annual pilgrimage to the Philadelphia Flower Show. This year’s theme of “Brilliant!” brought hope of a trip to England, with all the formal gardens and wonderful roses. I went to enjoy, be inspired, learn, and bask in the spirit that is shared by gardeners world wide.

     This year, my sisters, aunt and I decided to save the environment and use public transportation getting to the Philadelphia Convention Center. We trained in from New Jersey and walked the few blocks to the Center. Inside, we got our chance to walk through the gates of Buckingham Palace – sort of. The entry into the show was meant to be dramatic and did not disappoint. Beautiful groupings of roses and carnations greeted us at the Palace gate. 

Gates at the Palace - entry to the Show

     This year, the landscape designers honored the many items we associate with England. One large display paid homage to cricket, a relative of baseball. Others brought back the days of old when knights were bold. The flowers and plants enhanced the designs and fit into the overall color palette of the scene. Designers took plants that I grow in my garden and showed how they can become visually dramatic. Many designers took everyday items and turned them into planters, or worked them into the basic design of the garden view.
Cricket bench at the Downend Cricket Club
More Cricket Club displays
It's good to be the king!
The full medieval look
Flowers that would work in my zone
My impatiens should look this good
Kitchen Garden
No backyard kitchen I've ever seen before
Including the kitchen sink

     The Beatles were honored in a number of locations within the show. Several displays took individual Beatle songs and created displays using the name as the theme. We saw “Rain” gardens, a few “Octopus’ Garden” displays, and a display of a great use for a “Yellow Submarine”.
When the rain comes....
... a nice way to hide your head
I'd like to be....
Under the sea
in an Octopus' Garden...
in the shade!
My Yellow Submarie
     One display took us to Professor Sprout’s garden from Harry Potter. She was growing items for Professor Snape’s potions stores. How else could you make a display of herbs, medicinals, and edible plants work and be interesting to kids? Add a few owls to the display and… Clever!!!
Hedwig helps Professor Sprout
These can go directly to Professor Snape's store room
One of the many "post" owls
Errol delivers to Professor Sprout

     Austin Power’s Mod Pad was redone using flowers. After all, he was a Man of Mystery in the Flower Power era. Bright colors of flowers and furniture brought back memories… since I survived the Flower Power era. There were lots of groovy things to look at in these displays.
Peace, Love and all that
Don't worry.... be happy
One groovy pad, Baby
Relax and get your groove on
Oh, so '70's in the colors

     Big Ben was the centerpiece of the displays. Projection screens allowed Big Ben to tell the exact time at all times. But on the hour, show goers were treated to a 5 minute montage of everything exported and British. The Beatles, Adam Antt, The Rolling Stones, Mr. Bean, 007, the Eurythmics, Benny Hill, Sgt. Pepper and the Blue Meanies… these and many more were worked into an MTV style video montage. I had to see it several times. Each time I found something else new. 

Big Ben
Big Ben, during the video montage

     I left those hallowed halls feeling inspired, rejuvenated, and just itching to go dig in the dirt. I had to hold onto those feelings since Spring arrived officially with snow and lots of cold and wind. Then it would get warm… and rain. This gardener couldn’t catch a break from the weather. Guess I just had to "Let it Be".

Homage to "Let it Be"

      But now it seems like the warmer weather will be with us starting next week. Time to get outside and work the dirt. Time to get that garden party started. Time to take some of the inspiration from “Brilliant!” and put it into action.

     Now if I could only get a mailbox that looks like this…

Mine.... not yours. Mine!

     And until next year, when we get to journey to Ireland…

     Who needs a gym membership when you can have a garden?

All photos are the work and property of Marge McGugan. No reuse or duplication without permission.