Remembering Whitney’s Anthem

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Who, over the age of 25 from Western New York, does not remember what they were doing Jan. 27, 1991?

My son was just three months old, and we were at an in-laws house watching Whitney Houston sing the most perfect rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” ever.

When she died a few days ago and the world was reminded of her talent didn’t you actually feel some ownership of that song and that moment? I know I did. That’s our Super Bowl and that was our anthem.

In a strange way, I have always said I had Whitney to thank for the many opportunities I have had singing the anthem. When she sang that day with her pitch perfect voice and controlled vibrato countless Whitney wannabes were born. When we would all gather at a stadium to audition they would stand there with the mic screaming and warbling absolutely sure their star was about to be launched.

But no one else is Whitney! Where she was control they were chaos. Lucky for me I never wanted to be Whitney or anyone else for that matter. I just wanted a chance to sing that song on the field of a team I loved in front if 75,000 people.

Denny Lynch, former Director of Public Relations for the Buffalo Bills once told me that the players are anxious to play and anything over 1 minute and 15 seconds makes than nervous. Turns out, based on that advice (and practicing it at least 1,000 times) I sing it in 1:17 when I sing it fast and 1:17 when I sing it slow.

It took me seven years of auditions, singing at smaller venues and building my resume to get my first shot at singing at the Ralph. I won’t deny I was nervous but never paralyzed with fear. I have sung for major league baseball, the NFL, NHL and the NBA and try to think of the words each time I sing them. I don’t have the best voice in the world but I know I sing the words with conviction and understanding.

Those that likely never got a chance, the Whitney clones would drag it out with their drama not realizing they were sealing their rejection letter fate faster than than the jets during a fly past. People would say they want the song to be sung the way it is written but that is not actually possible.

The truth is, the words to the Star Spangled Banner were written by Francis Scott Key during the Battle of Baltimore but the tune is an old English drinking song so it’s hard to know how it was written. What I do know is that people want to hear and understand the words.

When she sang she had the serene face of an angel and was as convincing as a preacher. The way Whitney Houston sang that song allowed many people to actually hear the words and feel their meaning for the first time. How is it possible not to be overwhelmed and humbled when you picture Francis Scott Key witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry on the Chesapeake Bay and still seeing the flag of the fledgling United States of America flying.

…gave proof through the night, our flag was still there!

When she died on Saturday the chatter on my social media included “our Superbowl anthem” as if we were standing beside her waving our flags and singing. In a very real way, we were.

Listen next time and sing like Whitney, with respect, with reverence and with pride.

O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave.

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Have a yummy week.

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Olive Oil Ice Cream, Seriously!

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Do you remember last summer when I attempted sweet corn ice cream and it was an epic fail? It failed for several reasons. I think I overcooked the custard and I made a huge error stopping the churn to add the thick batter.

When you stop a churn there is no starting it again until the chamber melts because it is literally frozen solid. Last week I was at D’Avolio stocking up on some olive oil and vinegar and store assistant Karen and I brainstormed about fun ways to use their products.

She showed me a recipe online (linked here) http://desertcandy.blogspot.com/2007/08/day-12-olive-oil-ice-cream.html and I decided to redeem myself. The first thing I did was decide on which olive oil flavor to use. The possibilities are endless but I finally choose blood orange extra virgin olive oil because I hoped it would taste like gelato, the single best thing I ate in Italy (and that’s saying something).

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This recipe calls for whole milk, heavy cream, extra virgin olive oil, sugar, egg yokes and a dash of sea salt. I followed it religiously but can already think of ways to change it up.

I normally like smooth ice cream but bits of orange peel folded in at the end would be great with this oil.

I am going to make lemon next and add the candied lemon peel I made from the peels I used to make lemoncino (clever, no?).

20120611-192128.jpgTo begin the process you make the custard by heating the milk and tempering the eggs. This method assures you do not have scrambled eggs rather than smooth custard.

This part requires the most concentration and you have to enter the kitchen bubble to stay focused.

There are several secrets I can share with you.

First, you know when the milk is ready to temper the eggs (when you add a little very warm milk to the egg yokes to get them used to the heat) when you stick a clean finger into the milk and it feels very warm but not hot that it hurts.

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Next, when you add the tempered yoke mixture into the pan, whisk vigorously.

Last, and this is most challenging for me, use low heat. With low heat you can see the mixture thicken before it boils.

Do not boil it because you change the chemistry and the ice cream will not freeze. You end up with pudding … not the goal. This can take 20 to 25 minutes of constant stirring so patience is truly a virtue.

After the custard is prepared you pour it through a mesh sieve into a bowl that contains the heavy cream.

The custard gets mixed with the cream and the olive oil is whisked in.

That’s it.

I put it in the refrigerator to chill overnight and churned it in the morning.

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The mixture was thick but realitively easy to get the batter into the vessel without stopping it.

This recipe could be doubled because my ice cream maker can make up to a half gallon and this recipe froze to one quart.

That is a lot of time for one quart but … was it ever worth it!

This is the most delicious ice cream I have ever made.
To give you an idea of how good it is, since writing this column there are four spoons in the sink from tasting.

Give this one a try and let me know how it turns out.

Have a yummy week!

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Food TV’s influence reaches St. Peter’s RC School

In 1998, I had surgery and was home all of August. The Food Network was just then launching in Buffalo and my dear neighbor Michelle told me about it. I remember thinking, “Really? What’s the big deal? Who is going to watch that all day long?”

I am here to tell you I had no clue how that network was going to change my life. No longer was I bound by cookbooks and magazines but could see the technique right in front of my eyes. Would a cookbook be able to explain how to chiffonade basil? Maybe not but I could see those two fat ladies riding around in their cycles along the English countryside buying pears and making bread pudding.

It’s a whole new world and St. Peter’s RC School principal Denis Coakley readily admits he is a foodie. Apparently, while watching a riveting episode of “Cupcake Wars” he started to cook up an idea and by the time he watched an episode of “Chopped” the final garnish was in place. The middle school was going to participate in their own version of “Cupcake Wars.”

He wanted to have a hybrid competition in the middle school (6 through 8th grade) where they would bake and decorate cupcakes using secret ingredients and assigned themes representing faith, academics and service. (The wars had to have a cease fire yesterday while they went off campus to volunteer in the community.)

The faith cupcake was to depict Jesus, a pretty straight forward assignment. The academics confection was to represent an historical event or figure. For service they were to bake and decorate a cake which represented the disabled or injured. While they could plan at home, research online and consult their family the baking and decorating happened in the cafeteria at school. This way teamwork could be observed and the students could have the joy of doing it themselves.

Yours truly was invited to judge one round of the competition. I must say, I was thrilled. I vowed not to be as “underwhelmed” as Candace, or like Florian, mumbling in his sweet French accent. There were four three-person teams competing, each completing three cupcakes so there were twelve cakes in all. It is a lot of sugar, even for me but I took one for the team. I joined Colleen Larkin and Sister Malou in our team adjudication.

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First up were Spencer, Christopher and Michael representing the 7th grade boys.

We learned the secret ingredients were butterscotch chips, mandarin oranges and bacon bits. They had a delicious buttercream on several cakes that was a perfect accent.

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Hannah, Gabrielle and all treated us to a coconut covered cupcake representing Jesus as the good shepherd.

They put the butterscotch in the cake for a nice twist.

They made a heart shaped cake using the heavy foil cake liner;

I am going to use that idea great job!

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The 8th grade girls, Leah, Christina and Matteson (Andrea was unable to make the judging) made a beautiful fondant cross on their faith cupcake which was sprinkled with edible glitter.

Their academics cakes had the words “The Civil War” piped across four cupcakes representing the four years of bloody battle.

They sprinkled bacon bits on the plates reminding us of the battlefield.

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The 6th grade girls prevailed in our installment of Cupcake Wars with three clever cakes.

Jaclyn and Teresa made a lemon cupcake filled with a lemon cream that was so good I would have finished every crumb if I did not have to taste 12 cakes.

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It was not only delicious, it was spot on task. This faith cupcake had a cross made of white chocolate covered pretzel sticks with an edible wafer head of Jesus. The cross was on the green frosting and at the base were butterscotch chips looking like rugged rocks.

The historical cake depicted Betsy Ross complete with a crafted fondant head and a fruit rollout skirt. These are great kids guided by a great administrator.

Congratulations St. Peter’s RC School and thanks again for inviting me to your Catholic Schools Week celebration. Have a yummy week!