Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Local Color Tour - Everything Else

After completing the most important parts of trip preparation - asking Mom to bring her famous cream cheese brownies and my grandfather to make me chicken marsala - I made the long, long, loooong-ass drive from Atlanta to Cape May, with a welcome stop at College Buddy's house in Virginia and an unwelcome meeting with North Carolina's Finest about their secret traffic laws.

College Buddy and I weathered classes and finals and being RA's back in the day. I'm hoping we can close the circle by arranging a marriage for my niece and one of his sons. That's a sign of quality aunt-ing right there, isn't it? Anyhoodle, we had a terrific dinner at Kahill's in the South Hill area of Virginia. It pays to know locals with excellent taste, and few things are as uplifting as catching up with an old friend. I highly recommend all of the above.

Cape May, NJ is quaint and lovely and annoyingly quirky with its liquor laws. It had simply never occurred to my drink-with-dinner family that there would be dry restaurants - indeed, an entire dry side of the cape (if I understood correctly). Nothing makes you feel like a lush like trying to decide if you should walk out of a restaurant because they don't have wine... but then, nothing makes you feel like you come by it honestly when it's your own mother saying resignedly "Well, we can leave here and get a mojito."

Mom rocks. She made the brownies, too.

Godmother's, Cape May

Meh. The food was OK - not outstanding, but OK - but we did not care for the snippy hostess and lackluster service. This Italian girl expects more from a New Jersey Italian restaurant.

The Lobster House, Cape May

For our Nice Dinner - we showered after the beach and everything - we went to The Lobster House. This is the first time in my life I said "OK" when the hostess said "the wait is currently an hour and twenty minutes."

The Lobster House compound includes a restaurant, raw bar, takeout shop, cotton mill, Li'l Lisa's Fish Slurry plant (that's for you Simpsons fans), gift shop, ballet studio, bar, gift shop, preschool, etc. It's effin' HUGE.

**Name drop alert** And on the night we were there, Ann Hathaway - last season's funniest SNL host, in my opinion - was eating one table over from us.

The food was amazing. My huge portion of salmon was absolutely perfectly cooked, as were the garlic green beans on the side. Mom and Sis were perfectly happy with their shellfish extravaganzas. It's pricey but worth it.

Pop-Pop's House

And then... oh, then... it was off to spend a few days with my grandfather. A first-generation American, polio survivor, and cook- and vegetable gardener-extraordinare, the man can put together a meal like nobody's business.

I had really hoped to get his recipe for chicken marsala. Of course, "recipe" is a rather loose term where my grandfather is concerned. A little of this, a splash of the other, some time in the pan. Oh, and half the discussion (his half) was in Italian, which I don't speak.

He asked when he had last made me chicken marsala. "When I was in college and you were still living at the old house," I said. Well, he informed me, that was the last time he had made it. Whatever - it was terrific. Best as I can tell, you saute some onions, then dust some chicken thighs with flour, salt, and pepper and saute them in the pan. Then add mushrooms and a little butter, some more flour, and some marsala. Mangia!

We did genealogy, we visited my Aunt Jackie, we ate, we ate, and we watched Lawrence Welk. I was privileged to attend his monthly high school class reunion luncheon with him. Monthly because "who can wait a year at our age?" and lunch because "who can drive at night at our age?" THANK YOU, class of 1938, for the warm welcome and showing the rest of us how it's done!

And on the way back, College Roomie did an impromptu re-arranging of her evening so that we could experience some fine dining at the Richmond, VA Cracker Barrel together. No sarcasm there - I love high-falutin' restaurants with famous chefs and innovative dishes, and I love Cracker Barrel. And Roomie really did make extraordinary schedule adjustments so that we could spend time together.

Some trips are about exploring new places. This was the "These Are A Few Of My Favorite People" tour, and it's just what I needed.

As vacation was vacation from lots of stuff - work, daily routine, healthful eating - here's our energizing breakfast, courtesy of Mom. She's justifiably famous for these brownies amongst family friends. The only thing preventing me from whipping up a batch of these right now is that it's Ramadan. "Wait," you're thinking, "she's Methodist." Yup, but we don't keep sweets in the house so I'd have to bring them to work, and my assistant is Muslim and is fasting all day for the next month. Totally rude to bring snacky-treats into the office right now.

Marble Squares

1 6-ounce package of cream cheese

1/3 cup sugar

1 egg

1/2 cup butter

3/4 cup water

1 1/2 ounces squares of unsweetened chocolate

2 cups flour

2 cups sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup sour cream

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 6-ounce package semi-sweet chocolate chips (or dark chocolate)

1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Combine cream cheese and sugar in a small bowl. Add egg and mix well - set aside.

3. Combine butter, water, and chocolate in a small saucepan. Melt chocolate, stir well, and cool. Set aside.

4. Stir chocolate mixture into sugar and flour. Add eggs, sour cream, baking soda, and salt - mix well. Pour into greased 15 1/2" x 12 1/2" jelly roll pan. Spoon cream cheese mixture over chocolate batter.

5. Drag a butter knife through the batter several times to marble the brownies. Sprinkle with chocolate chips (were there ever more welcome words in a recipe than "sprinkle with chocolate chips"?).

6. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 - 30 mnutes, or until wooden toothpick inserted in the center (NOT through a chocolate chip) comes out clean.

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