Food, Fellowship and the Flag

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If you could have seen the sight I had from the Main Stage at the Lewiston Jazz Festival you would have an idea what I am talking about.

As far as the eye could see, on Center Street, the main street of Lewiston NY, people were everywhere. If it was a surface, they were sitting on it…bag chairs, railings, and even window boxes (awkward) provided a base to listen to amazing music and chat with friends. Those without any surface were standing; either trying to find a place to listen or they were trying to move to a place where they could listen to conversation.

Everyone was eating. And, they were drinking.

Local restaurants sold their signature dishes on the street and outside vendors served up everything from brick oven pizza (from a portable brick oven with visible flame) to sushi. There were IPO beers and local wines, red and white sangria and the most delicious Mojito’s that had so much mint you felt like you are getting your daily dose of fiber.

It was noisy, not always easy to navigate and there was zero personal space.

The cacophony of retail, music and conversation would be harsh if heard without context. It was just plain loud but few people seemed bothered. Actually, they seemed invigorated by it. The louder the sound, the more intimate the conversation.

Have you ever noticed how a shared pizza pie or a cold beer act like a binder, providing commonality until conversation can get to shared experience?

And, Western New Yorkers play that game better than anyone I know. We can meet a stranger but know that our Godmother taught their nephew in grammar school in record time. We love the connection.

As I stood on the Main Stage I knew the folks were anxious for the headliners to start their show. I was the last thing between the community service announcements and the music which brought them all together in the first place.

Who could have blamed them for being impatient with the lovely practice of honoring the flags of the two countries sitting side by side?

But honor them they did, standing at attention as I sang the Canadian national anthem. “Oh Canada” their “home and native land” stood just a mile or so behind me. Many Canadians come to our little piece of New York State heaven for this festival as they pour here every day to enjoy the retail and the strength of their dollar.

Clap clap clap. They are sweet with their recognition that I sang their beautiful song with few errors.

Then, as they continued to stand, hats removed and many covering their heart, I began the Star Spangled Banner. I waved my hand as a request for them to join in and to my surprise and delight, they did.

Oh, if you could have seen the view from the stage of bodies everywhere, stopped for just a minute to sing a song that binds us just as an egg binds a meatball, you would have had shivers.

If you could have seen their faces, rapt with pride and a sense of belonging, you would have truly appreciated how food, fellowship and the flag truly represent needs we have as humans to survive not only physically but in our hearts and minds, as well.

 

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It’s Funny about Grief…

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I have my Bachelors degree in Accounting, my Masters degree in Sport Administration and my PhD in Greif.

The first two I earned with hard work and money at an accredited institution of higher learning. The last I earned through life, no formal classroom training required.

English: Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

English: Robert Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s funny about grief…

To say you never get over the death of a loved one is true on the facts only. Of course you never get over the loss, how could you? But you do learn eventually how to deal with it and incorporate it into a full and happy life.

They say happiness is a choice, anyway, right? And I completely agree with that statement. We choose how we view any situation and equally, how we are going to react.

Each loss is different, as well. I have lost a child, parent, sibling and grandparent in that order. On its face that’s messed up, if you ask me. Leave it to me to start big…

It’s funny about grief…

We both lost our son…same person…completely different approach.

But there is no right and no wrong way to feel and react (except if you harm yourself) and I think it is actually brave to get help from someone who does not know you and is trained to guide you through the labyrinth of emotion.

It’s funny about grief…

For as many times as I have experienced it I have never really gotten good at it. And, I think that is good.

Grief, for me, starts with a light blocking Kevlar blanket covering me and shielding me from the piercing cuts of sadness that permeate from the outside. Under its cover I can safely deny the depth of emotion and reality in front of me. You are never actually protected but the impenetrable veneer gives me at least the pretense of safety.

Then the Kevlar makes me hot and sweaty and I can barely catch my breath. Its presence makes me remember the reason for its existence and I fall into a deep depression, often removing myself from any type of social situation which would make me uncomfortable…which would be all of them.

Then, eventually the Kevlar is gone and a heavy wool blanket takes its place, still covering me with heavy protection all the while allowing at least a glimmer of light. The wool is itchy and makes me angry. And, I’m angry with everything.

A clerk wishes me a nice day and I get angry. How can I have a nice day?

A friend is expecting a child and I have to go to a baby shower to celebrate. But how?

A father is teaching a child how to ride a bike and I am filled with rage. How can life be simply going on?

It’s funny about grief…

The sun comes up every day. And, it sets every evening. All around the world life is going on.

Then, one day, I notice I am bouncing down the stairs. When did that happen?

I notice I wish the clerk a happy day in return.

I look forward to shopping for baby things and showering the expectant mother with love and best wishes.

I appreciate the simplicity of a father teaching a child how to ride a bike and feel the warmth reaching my heart.

It’s funny about grief…

Then, on an ordinary day, many years later,

I hear Mike and the Mechanics sing “All I Need is a Miracle” while driving and burst into tear laden singing at the top of my lungs.

“All I need is a miracle…all I need is you.” In context I know it’s a love song (or a lost love song) but in my own context it represented my greatest hope for a miracle which was not to come.

I am singing so violently that people can not only hear me through the sealed car but start to look with a mixture of worry and fear.

But then…

It’s funny about grief…

It’s because as quickly as the song enveloped me with sadness and memory, the vicious emotion passes and the moment of malaise is over. I dry my tears, brush off and move on.

If I have learned anything these past 25 years it is to allow myself the luxury of these strong emotions because when I actually feel them, feel the grips of despair, I know they are as fleeting as the shape of a cloud on a windy day.

Eventually, if you get past the denial, get help for the depression and allow the anger to dissipate into acceptance and acknowledgement, you will feel happy again. Even that bouncy happy that fills your heart with joy. Choose to be happy. I know you can do it.

Brunch Is Back! Town Hall – Lewiston NY

20130324-201513.jpgThis pretty and delicious drink is the perfect testimony that brunch has come a long way from the long silver chafing dishes filled with dry scrambled eggs, over cooked potatoes and bowls of fruit cocktail fresh from a can.

Town Hall, an upscale bistro in Lewiston, opened during the USA Today/Rand McNally Best of the Road mega food tour last June. Their addition gave us all yet another option for dining on Center Street. I love talking to folks from around Western New York talk about Center Street like they would talk about Chippewa or Hertel or Maple. People know that a drive over bridges and down a hill takes them to shops and restaurants like nowhere else in the area.

Lewiston may not have won best of the road but being named one of the 10 Best Small Towns in America was not a coincidence.

We made 11:30 AM reservations for Brunch and I’m really glad I did. When I arrived the bar was already busy with folks waiting for friends to arrive or to just hang out after church. The tables were filling up and we were seated at one of the booths along the side. The high backs made for a private dining experience although the room is not large and the noise level pretty high.

Brunch is back in a big way all across the country. My son and his friends go to brunch almost every weekend in New York City. Silly mommy thinks it’s for the delicious food at reasonable prices where, in reality, the fact he calls it “Drunk Brunch” should tell me that the reason is the inexpensive drink specials.

Town Hall brings that party theme to Lewiston. A friend of mine told me about the $1 Bloody Mary’s and Bloody Caesars so I was ready. Unfortunately, New York State does not allow beverage service until 12:00 PM.

What to do?

Sydnee, our capable, busy and very sweet server told us about their brunch specials so we decided to enjoy some sliced cinnamon rolls slathered with a not too sweet cream cheese frosting and sprinkled with a little powdered sugar and a cup of coffee while we waited to order our adult beverages. It’s the first time I have ever ordered an appetizer at brunch. Very civilized.

When noon rolled around Sydnee quickly visited all of her tables where the people were just as anxious as us to order one of the interesting beverage options. Check out their menu online to see their brunch offerings. We ordered a Bloody Mary and a drink called a Berries and Basil. It was a wine glass filled with lemon juice, sparkling wine and simple syrup with sliced strawberries and mulled basil. It was refreshing in a sort of wine mojito way. If you like mojito’s and basil you will enjoy this drink. The Bloody Mary was well made and the size you would expect for $1. Still, you could not drive if you spend $5 so it is a great value.

There are a lot of breakfast/brunch/lunch options on the menu and they are all reasonably priced. I also appreciated the portion sizes. They were perfect not just at noon but all day long. I had a hard time deciding what to have. I waffled (not on the menu and you won’t miss them) between the Lobster Frittata ($10) and the Eggs Benedict ($8) and eventually chose the Duck Hash ($9)

20130325-065152.jpgServed in a cast iron casserole dish, the combination of duck confit, potatoes, onions and a poached egg topped with a Tabasco hollandaise was the perfect choice. Duck confit? That takes two days to prepare and I thought the duck had good flavor. The dish had a great balance and the poached egg was cooked just right so that when I put my fork into the yoke it ran happily to over the spicy potatoes and onions.

We also had the Pulled Pork Quesadilla ($8). It was a crispy tortilla filled with slow roasted pork, Chipotle BBQ sauce, peppers and onions with Jack cheese I liked the crunch and flavor. It was not too spicy and I would not have minded more heat.

When we ate every last morsel on our plates we decided to order another beverage sampling. The BLT was surprisingly good. Usually when I get one of these funky drinks I love the first few sips, like the next few then regret the order. The flavor of bacon in a beverage is unusual and not unwelcome. It was a pretty presentation and good to the last drop.

20130325-070043.jpg I ordered the French 75 with vodka. Had I known the original was made with gin I would have had it that way. It was a light wine spritzer with vodka, lemon juice, simple syrup and sparkling wine. It is the kind of drink I would enjoy on a summer day over ice.

If you go, be sure to make a reservation and remember that it may be noon somewhere but it’s not until 12:00 PM in Lewiston.

Have a yummy day!

Get to Know Jude The Foodie

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Transcript of an interview between Jude The Foodie and Jey Case

Interviewer: Jey Case (JC)

IntervieweeJude The Foodie (JTF)

Interview Setting: A rich imagination

Affiliation with Interviewee: They have so much in common they could be the same person

(Start of Interview)

JC: Hey Jude, it’s very nice to meet you. Do people ever do that…say “Hey Jude?”

JTF: Quite often, Jey.

JC: You have a great name. How did that come about?

JTF: Well, my maiden name is Judith Anne Russo and my family called me Judianne when I was a girl. We all had mashed up names back then. It was the ‘60’s. My father actually starting calling me Jude and that name stuck when I got older. Funny though, I still introduce myself as Judi Caserta (married my college sweetheart in 1980) so there is constant confusion what to call me.

JC: Not exactly the answer I was looking for but interesting, I guess. To be more specific, how did the name Jude The Foodie come about?

JTF: A few years ago a friend of mine was starting an online newspaper to serve our small community which was always under represented by the city newspaper. He asked me to give him some ideas as he posted content and eventually asked me to be a food and wine columnist. I think I used to refer to myself as a foodie so one day he changed the title to Jude The Foodie. I guess you could say “the rest is history.”

JC: You must have quite a resume in the cooking world. Did you go to culinary school?

JTF: No Jey, I did not. I went to Canisius College and studied accounting.

JC: Oh. Did you do graduate work in the cooking field?

JTF: No again, Jey. I work at Canisius in the athletic department. My title is Assistant Athletic Director for Business Affairs. I did my graduate work in Sports Administration.

JC: You’re not giving me much, Jude The Foodie. With your completely unrelated background in Accounting, how did you end up a foodie?

JTF: To begin Jey, accounting and baking are actually intimately related. Baking is very exact where even a teaspoon of something can change the chemical outcome. In accounting we always have to balance. It is the same type of person who spends two hours looking for $1.97 or starts measuring the dry ingredients all over again when they lose count because their phone rang.

And cooking? Well, cooking is not nearly as exacting but is a fantastic creative outlet for me much like music and singing.

JC: You sing?

JTF: I do. I used to sing in church primarily but sadly don’t have the time these days. My singing niche is unique. I sing the National Anthem before sporting events. A few highlights include singing for all of the major teams in Buffalo including the Bill’s, Sabre’s and Bison’s. I’ve sung at Shea Stadium for the New York Mets, in Toronto for the Blue Jays and Raptors, the Cleveland Indians and the Ducks at the Pond in Anaheim.

JC: What does singing the national anthem at sporting events have to do with being a foodie?

JTF: Not a thing. I just thought it would be cool to tell you.

JC: Thank you. But let’s get back on track, shall we? With your analytical background, how is it you began to identify yourself as a foodie.

JTF: I’ve always been a foodie but didn’t know there was a word for it until the last number of years. There’s a name for everything now, you know that? I laughed so hard the other day when I heard someone talking about “home gating” and after listening for a few minutes realized they were talking about having a party at your house during a football game. Seriously? We’ve been doing that for years. Who knew? Oh, and the Weather Channel now names winter storms. Can you believe that? It’s all kind of silly if you ask me. What was your question again?

JC: You are easily distracted, aren’t you?

JTF: Me? No…well, maybe.

JC: When did you first realize food held a fascination for you?

JTF: Ever since I was a little girl most of my memories with my mom involve either cooking or reading. She used to take me to the library every Saturday. I loved that. I used to sit in a leather wing back chair by the fireplace in the historic building in my small town and read. When we went home she would usually bake something.

She often made pie. She baked typical round pies in the winter and created sheet pies in the summer to feed me and my cousins after getting out of the swimming pool. It seemed like it was every weekend but that’s my child like memory. She did everything by hand and had the “touch” with the pie crust. She could tell just how much ice water to add to get the dough into a ball. She rolled it out with the precision of a diamond cutter. It was flaky and tender at the same time. To this day I still cannot make a crust like my mother’s. I can bake cakes, cookies and other confections with ease but pie crust is still my nemesis.

JC: What is the first thing you remember making by yourself?

JTF: Up until I was 14 or so cooking was a spectator sport. I think it may have been that incident when I was 8 and ended up in the emergency room in anaphylactic shock that may have made my mother squeamish about letting me help. It was Christmas time and I begged her to let me help with the cookies. She handed me a bag of nuts, a nutcracker and a pick to remove the meat from the shell. How handy is it that nuts come shelled these days?

Anyway, one for me, one for the bowl until I could hardly breath and I was one big curly haired hive. My helping days were over.

As a pre-teen I subscribed to Seventeen MagazineIn January, 1972 this magazine began my path as a foodie. One of the cover articles was titled Bread: Bake Your Own. And I did. It came out pretty well, too. Prior to that baking experience my grandmother, who lived next door, was the primary bread baker in the family. She made everything from loaves of bread to English muffins. She made the best pizza in the world and even tried her hand at making bagels.

JC: That bread sounds so good. Did your grandmother have a big influence on your life as a foodie?

JTF: Both of my grandmothers did, actually. They both made different things that were family favorites. My paternal grandmother prepared a St. Joseph’s Day feast every year. I still have the actual table used for the meal in my garage. It’s huge and we use it outside for picnics and celebrations.

One of my favorite memories about my grandmothers was when my maternal grandmother (the bread maker next door) and my paternal grandmother collaborated to memorialize the Easter bread recipe.

Let’s just say my grandmothers were not the best of friends. One glorious day when the bickering mothers-in-law declared an unspoken ceasefire, my one grandmother went about baking while the other took the actual “hands full of this and hands full of that” and measured it with cups and spoons and recorded it so we can make the recipe today. I try to bake it every year and can still smell the house in my memory. Actually the smell of anise permeates our house for weeks after baking this bread.

JC: Do you still like to bake bread? Do you have a bread making machine?

JTF: I love baking bread but don’t have as much time as I used to. I do not have a bread making machine but have that handy dough hook attachment to my beloved Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer. I actually adapted my grandmothers Easter Bread recipe to my Kitchen Aid and it cuts the prep time in half. All I have to do it make it twice to get the same number of loaves as I used to.

Baking bread is, to me, the single thing that makes a house smell like a home.

JC: You talk about smell a lot. Why is that?

JTF: I have always been very sensory. I can remember as a little girl walking up my driveway when I got off of the school bus trying to guess what was for dinner. I would stand outside the door and smell and announce to my mother what was for dinner before asking her. It was like a game to me and those memories of finding my mother keeping our wonderful home still make me happy.

As I got older and would come home from college she would be sure to have something wonderful on the stove or in the oven for my homecoming. The smell is the first hug of food.

JC: But it’s said that “you eat with your eyes first.” Do you think that’s true?

JTF: Oh, I agree. Pretty food is important. But, it does not need to be fancy to be pretty. You could put a yummy beef stew into a pretty bowl and find that very appealing. I leave the towering entrees and sculpted garnishes for the pros.

JC: Are you sorry you never went to culinary school?

JTF: I am not the least bit sorry I did not go to culinary school. I’m a home cook. I went to the cooking school of mom, did my graduate work with my dozens of cookbooks and my post-graduate work with the Food Network and the internet.

Cooking is a wonderful creative outlet that has gotten me through some very difficult times in my life including the deaths of my first son, my father and my brother. I have had a lifelong struggle with my weight and cooking has actually helped.

JC: How has cooking helped you with your weight issues?

JTF: Nearly two years ago I had lap-band surgery to help me lose weight. It took me about two years to make that decision because the unknown life after surgery was scary. I had no idea what would happen. The result for me, since I went into it with my whole heart, was I learned to put food into its place in my life. It was no longer an obsession (I would wake up in the morning and plan my day based on what I was going to eat and where I was going to eat it. When fast food restaurants started accepting credit cards I gained 20 pounds almost immediately.)

I learned that the first few tastes are all you really remember. And I can taste almost anything. I now regularly order appetizers for my main meal and enjoy everything I eat. If I taste it and do not like it, I stop eating it.

The clean plate club is dangerous. We really must stop thinking that if you don’t eat all of your food someone else will not be hungry. That’s just silly.

Food brings me joy and I love sharing the joy!

JC: Do you think your lack of formal training diminishes your message?

JTF: Not being a trained chef does not diminish my message. Actually, I think it supports it. When I write, it’s just you and me talking to each other. I encourage folks to interact with me because I think monologues are boring. When you walked into a classroom and you knew your teacher was going to talk at you for 50 minutes didn’t you sort of turn off? I know I did. Boring!

Everything I write can be discussed. Every recipe I create is ready to jump in your pot. I want people to make good food.

JC: I understand you have big news: is it true your column will be picked up by WNYPapers.com?

JTF: Yes, for the next 13 weeks Skip and Josh and their crew will be posting my Jude The Foodie column every Monday. I am so excited to expand my audience and express my food and life perspective.

My tagline is “Living a “Glass Half Full” Life!” and having the opportunity to share this with the Grand Island, Niagara Wheatfield and Lewiston Porter communities is a wish fulfilled.

JC: What makes your writing in WNYPapers.com different from JudeTheFoodie.com?

JTF: Good question, Jey! Nothing about my writing really changes. I will continue to post columns about good food, good drink and living a glass half full life. What is different is that the original column will run on WNYPapers.com for one week and then be archived on my JudeTheFoodie.com website.

I’m really excited about the exclusive contest we will have on WNYPapers.com. Often on my website, JudeTheFoodie.com I post Quick Bites or Quick Sips to briefly describe something I either prepared or had at a restaurant. Each month we will award a prize to someone who submits their favorite Quick Bite or Quick Sip based on the monthly theme. Only readers of WNYPapers.com will be able to enter. I think it would be fun to get restaurant patrons involved and get more than one foodie perspective.

And there are prizes! Who doesn’t love prizes?

JC: Why WNYPapers.com? Why now?

JTF: You would never know by reading city newspapers that most people do not live in cities. Don’t get me wrong, life without city newspapers would be a life I would not like to know.

But local publications like the Lewiston-Porter Sentinel, the Island Dispatch and the Niagara-Wheatfield Tribune add life and connection to my writing. This happens to be my hometown but you don’t have to be from here to understand my writing and my message.

My goal is to bring you back to the great memories food can provide, make good food with you and help you make those same memories for your loved ones.

JC: Well Jude, we will see you online.

JTF: Thanks Jey. This interview was fun.

It’s Been 20 Fast Years, Dad…

image

He wore leisure suits.

He played golf very well. And he played so fast we used to say he played polo with a golf cart.

He would clear his throat at a chorus concert so I would know where he and my mom were sitting.

He could dance like Fred Astaire to my mother’s Ginger Rogers. I never learned to dance but when I danced with my father he guided me with his hand on my back. Oh how I loved that.

He could tell a story better than anyone I knew. I could listen to him talk about his customers and staff forever.

He and my mom traveled around the world. My favorite story happened in Paris. They stayed in first class hotels. They came back to the hotel a bit tipsy and switched all of the shoes for shining outside the doors. They said it sounded like the UN the next morning as all of the gentlemen, wrapped in robes went searching for their shoes.

He couldn’t cook anything but scrambled eggs but could grill a steak better than any chop house.

He loved football. He worked tons of hours and when he was home on Sunday he was obsessed with the game. So, in order to speak his language, I learned football by the time I was six or seven. Twenty years ago when the Bills staged the greatest comeback he was in the hospital. I remember going straight there after the game, telling him every detail I could remember. It barely registered. I guess I should have known then.

Whenever I smell a cigar I think of my dad.

He could play billiards with the eye of a shark. When he was a boy he used to hustle at a pool hall on Pine Avenue. He used to store his winnings in the encyclopedia volume including the word Money.  Apparently he must have gotten his clever streak from his mother.

She found it. And, she kept it. Never a word was spoken.

dance at wedding

The only time I cried at my wedding was when I danced with my father.

He never met a stranger. When you met him he would make you feel as though you were friends forever. Then you would never forget him. He cut a very wide path.

20 years has passed but you are every bit as real to me today as ever. I see you in my son’s face. How lucky is he? How lucky am I?

August 1, 1927 – January 15, 1993

Love you Dad

Elton John’s “Your Song” – Who Would Mind?

This morning I was driving and heard Elton John singing

I hope you don’t mind, I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words…How wonderful life is while you’re in the world.

English: Elton John, English singer-songwriter...

English: Elton John, English singer-songwriter and pianist, performing on stage at the Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster, England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia

And I thought, who would mind?

Doesn’t everyone want to hear they are valued, treasured even?

Today is often a day of reflection and this girl is no different.

Looking back on 2012 it was an anything but typical year. There were great beginnings and sad endings.

Our son graduated from college, passed the CPA exam and began a job in NYC at a Big 4 accounting firm. Heck, I think they still call it that…it was the Big 8 when I was in college…who knows?

My mother-in-law passed away just days before our son moved away.

I wrote my Jude The Foodie column for BelowTheFalls.com until it faded quietly into cyberspace in the early summer…endings…

I brought all of my original content over to JudeTheFoodie.com…beginnings…

And, that’s where my connection to the Elton John comes in. In the six months I have been writing my own site I have been overwhelmed by the support and interest you have in my writing.

It is clear to me that you all “get” the connection between food and life. I posted a picture on my Jude The Foodie Facebook page  of a container of onion dip and pita chips and got hundreds of hits and 34 comments. Imagine that?

Please click here and “Like” it so you can also get in on the fun.

2013 is going to bring some exciting beginnings for Jude The Foodie. I’ve cleaned up the categories on the right to make it easier to navigate. We will soon welcome advertisers into our family.

In a few short weeks my weekly column will be published on a local news online site every Monday. I will have more information soon. The fun continues because we will have exclusive monthly give-away’s for those online readers.

The column will be archived here the following week so you will still be able to find recipes or suggestions of where to dine. I will continue to post “Quick Bites” and “Quick Sips” as I go and we will try to make the content as interactive as possible. I love when you “Like” a post or, even better, post a comment. It is great to know what you are thinking.

I’m thinking big. By the end of the year I would like to have 20 local online news organizations from across the country get in on the fun. Heck, why not one in each state?

We may not have grown up in the same neighborhood or graduated from the same high school but we all have memories of food and life. Many of you are children of the ’60′s and ’70′s and have similar memories of the sights and smells of your house growing up. My goal is to keep the nostalgic conversation going, whip up some yummy food and get to know you.

If you are a WordPress blogger you know following is simple. If not, simply follow my blog via e-mail over there on the right.

If you would like your local online news organization to post lively and original food and life columns weekly please feel free to contact me and I will happily make it happen.

Meanwhile, thank you again for making Jude The Foodie the success it is.

Have a yummy New Year!20121123-135709.jpg