Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Soup Recipe

In keeping with their usual panache, Longwood Gardens has once again, exceeded my expectations. We maintain an annual membership in our family so we can visit as often as we wish and they give us special perks in their loyalty program. We visit their gardens, but also greatly enjoy their food service. They have a garden cafe as well as a full-service restaurant. Large groups can arrange catered events. Their restaurant features bread baked in tiny clay flower pots with the bread "blooming" at the top to produce very cute, tasty rolls. Our favorite dish is the mushroom soup which lures us for lunch any time we visit the gardens.

Kennett Square, Pennsylvania is the home of Longwood Gardens as well as many mushroom farms. This regions calls it the "mushroom capital of the world" because over 51% of the nation's mushroom crops are grown in this location. There is a tourist industry catering to these little caps. This year's annual mushroom festival produced a commemorative cookbook. They are pretty much like chicken in that they are like little sponges and assume the flavors and spices with which they are combined. They are very tasty and very healthy whether in soup or on a pizza. I refer to the mushrooms which are commonly used in cookery, and not to be confused with "shroomery" or the production of mind-altering drugs. TMI on mushrooms?

I mentioned the soup on my previous post and CiCi from "Liquid Mind, Sanguine Soul" inquired about the recipe. I looked on the website for Longwood Gardens, but the recipe was not listed. I went to their "contact us" section and sent them e-mail suggesting that they put it on their web page. They e-mailed a copy of the recipe to me! We had thought it would be a big trade secret and they would never reveal their secret recipe, but here it is. You gotta love an organization that is so responsive to their fans. I haven't tried making the soup yet, but now I know what I have to buy.

1 quart water
½ cup heavy cream
1 leek, washed & diced
2 shallots, diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
1 tsp vegetable oil
2  Tbsps butter, divided
1/2 cup shitake mushrooms caps, julienned
1/2  cup cremini mushrooms, quartered
1/2 cup white mushrooms, sliced
½ cup sherry wine
1 ½ Tbsps flour
2 stalks chopped tarragon
4 stalks chopped thyme
Salt & pepper to taste
1 tsp truffle oil

Heat heavy cream slowly on low.

Over medium heat, sauté the leek, shallots, celery, and thyme with the vegetable oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter slowly until translucent and sweet.  Add the thyme and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Add all the mushrooms and cook until they wilt and liquid is released.

Pour in the sherry and cook until the liquid is reduced by half.

Place the remaining butter in a large stockpot on medium heat until melted, then remove from flame.  Add flour while whisking to combine, and pour in water.  Whisk until smooth.  Return to heat and continue to stir until it comes to a boil for 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the hot heavy cream, tarragon, and sautéed vegetables.  Bring back to a boil for 4 minutes.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Finish with the truffle oil.

Serves 4

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Festive Holiday Scenes

My family seems to have adopted the holiday tradition of visiting Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA at this time of the year. It is a spectacular presentation and different each year.

We like to visit around dusk and have dinner at their restaurant. They make a unique mushroom soup since they are in Kennett Square, the mushroom capital of the world. Their chocolate chip cookies are the size of a plate. Usually, the weather is very cold so hot chocolate is a must.

It is quite a challenge for the photographers, but we try our best. It isn't easy with freezing hands to take those outdoor shots. I managed to find a few photos that were useful representations of the fabulous lights.


We had an early Christmas present yesterday. Our three-year-old grandson came to visit for the day while Mom and Dad went to lunch and a movie. The young man has a passion for making networks with cables he finds in Papa's office and in mine too. His dad and grandfather work with computers a lot when they are here. He thinks this is great family fun, so he takes old coils of Cat 5 cables and a hub box, strings them all together, plugs them together and plugs the hub into the electrical socket. A little green light comes on and he cheers like he has built the empire state building. Mr. M. has had to learn the difference between a phone cable and a computer cable because the end looks the same but there is a slight difference in size. He connects the phone cables to several old princess phones that we have, then he shows us how all of it works together. What a scream. He had cords all over the family room floor yesterday and we just watched and shook our heads. It was so funny. He wants to be a networking expert. Now I have to recoil all of the cables and put them into a box in my office because he will do it all over again next time they visit. Whatever floats his boat is fine with us. What's WiFi?

He likes to clean out the kitchen cabinet of anything that looks interesting. Yesterday, he took out a container with little cups for poaching eggs. The whole thing goes together with a big dutch oven I have and he spent hours playing with it. He went upstairs to get my container of buttons and put them in the five ramekins, then he removed them and replaced them with Scrabble tiles. We are always laughing about how he finds the weird stuff around the house to be great toys. He didn't spend much time on real toys yesterday.

Mr. M. spent a lot of time bringing us books to read to him. He prefers the interactive ones that have popups and little flaps that he can open. He knows the entire story and if you skip a part of something on the page, he insists that you say that the mouse is in the closet, or whatever. He knows the whole story but loves to open the flaps. How many kids have two adults all to himself for an entire day? He is so overjoyed when he gets here. He rips off his shoes, waves goodbye to his mom and dad and races into the family room. He is eager to get to his special day. They look at each other and say, "Who are we, nobody?" We all laugh that he is so excited.

This young man is the master of the movable feast. Yesterday, he ate a banana, two little bowls of cereal, four chicken nuggets, two pieces of pineapple, and four Oreos--all over the house. He takes them in small plastic containers so he can eat while he plays. He has no patience with sitting at a table to eat--that's boring. He knows there is stuff to play with while he chews. It takes too long to eat to sit with idle hands at a table. Nana and Papa are very indulgent. He's not ready for a restaurant. We'll have to try to get him to stay at the table when he gets older.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Looking for Santa

Last Christmas, my son's family had given us some Lindt chocolates in cute little boxes that looked like presents so I kept them with my decorations. This year, I put them into a sleigh decoration I have because they seemed to fit perfectly. When the kids visited last Sunday, my granddaughter discovered them and asked where was Santa. I told her I would look in my decorations and see if I could find one to complete the fantasy of Santa with his sleigh. I agreed that the sleigh needed a Santa. 

Later, I was in the kitchen when my three-year-old grandson came in to look at the magnets on my fridge door. He took off a new one of a Santa and showed it to me. I told him that was Santa and that he could play with it. He went into the family room and I went back to baking cookies with his sister. Soon, he came into the kitchen and hugged my legs and I reached down to hug him and say a few words to him. Then he took off to other things.

Tuesday morning, I happened to look at the fridge and wondered where he had left the Santa. I looked at the bins of toys in the family room and noticed the sleigh on the window sill where the Santa magnet was sitting with the little chocolate gift boxes. I don't know if my grandson put it there, but if he did, it explains a few of his actions. I just didn't connect the dots at the time and I thought it was really clever of him. We didn't even know he was listening to the conversation about the sleigh without a Santa and the Lindt boxes. Apparently, he is absorbing everything going on around him--little pitchers. I wish I had noticed it at the time to say something to him about finding a Santa for the sleigh. 

Tomorrow, he will be visiting with Nana and Papa while his parents go out to have lunch and see a movie and his sister is in school. I will make sure we spend some time looking at the sleigh and talking about the gift boxes and the Santa figurine.  I like to encourage the grandchildren any time I can find something they do that meets with my approval.  Everything they do is a hit with me. I wonder if other people are so enamored of their grandchildren.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Shrinking the Bucket List

It would be an accurate statement to say that my passion for the beauty of bridges knows no limits. Since the late 1960's, when we used to go to New York City by way of the Staten Island Ferry, it has been a dream of mine to sail under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which was completed in 1964. We just did that twice this month on the Explorer of the Seas which sails from Cape Liberty Port in Bayonne, New Jersey, to ports in the Caribbean. This particular trip stopped in St. Maarten, St. Thomas, Puerto Rico and Labadee. The ports of call could have been anywhere because my interest was in the bridge.


It is a slow approach, and the sail under the bridge is only about an hour of the most interesting part, but it was beautiful to see the bridge at dusk upon departure and at dawn on the return leg of the trip. On departure, people crowded on the top deck in the very cold wind to take pictures of the Statue of Liberty with the Manhattan skyline in the background. The sun was just setting and the half moon was near the bridge, which was brilliantly lit. Jupiter was off to the side and we could see airplanes were taking off and landing at JFK in the distance. To the northeast was the Brooklyn Bridge which was also outlined in lights.


Everyone eagerly awaited the actual passing under the bridge to see the very top of the ship appearing to barely clear the bridge. At the point that the tip of the ship cleared the bridge deck, everyone erupted into cheers and applause. It is a very unusual bon voyage sail-away and the chills were not only due to the low temperatures in the New York Harbor. The people on the top decks to enjoy the cruise out of the New York Harbor were people with a common interest in bridges, ships and fun experiences.


Even though I took care of that item on my bucket list, I would enjoy doing it again in the summer months. I would also like to get a more powerful camera to fully document the experience. My compact camera gives a lot in convenience, but compromises a bit in the quality department. On the day we departed St. Thomas, I was able to catch the moon with a double rainbow.


We were able to see two different ice shows on board which were outstanding considering the smaller size of the rink. The skaters were really good to be able to perform on a rink of that size on a moving ship.


It was a wonderful cruise with so many great people to meet and enjoy. Cruising is an excuse to make new friends and enjoy conversations to compare lives and activities. Sorting through the pictures will take days and the memories will last a lifetime.