Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane Flora and Fauna: As Irene Socks the Eastern U.S., Here's a Primer to Learn More About These Troublesome Storms

Palm trees bend but rarely break in a hurricane.
In a highly anticipated and publicized weather event, Hurricane Irene swooped into the New York area last night leaving by morning. By all accounts, Irene was a messy and inconsiderate guest. Leaves, branches and trees littered city and country streets. Water flooded roads, intersections, basements and beaches. The wind whipped up and took down lots of power lines leaving many of us in the dark. The only good thing: with the sales of flashlights, generators and the panic stocking of personal food pantries it just might give the economy a small boost. Maybe.

Tree down on Lighthouse Hill,
Staten Island
But what are these things that cause so much misery and inconvenience? Hurricanes are severe tropical storms with a large low pressure centers producing intense winds and heavy rainfall. They are formed in the southern Atlantic Ocean, the eastern Pacific Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and in the Gulf of Mexico gathering energy as they come in contact with warm ocean waters. Hurricanes form but do not occur in the South Atlantic Ocean because the waters are too cold. Seawater evaporation increases their power. Rotating in a counter-clockwise direction around an "eye", hurricanes have winds of at least 74 miles per hour that damage buildings and trees when they make landfall. The rain, wind and waves combine to wreak havoc in cities, towns and beach fronts in their path.

In that respect, Irene performed admirably. What follows is a primer of hurricane facts and vocabulary words.

Hurricane vocabulary:

  • Storm surge: giant walls of water with extremely dangerous heavy waves
  • Typhoon: a hurricane of the western Pacific area and the China seas.
  • Cyclone: name given to hurricanes in the Indian Ocean.
  • Hurricane Hunters: brave aviators who work for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). With missions that last about ten hours, the crews pass four to six times through the storm. The planes carry radar, sophisticated computers, and weather instruments that determine characteristics such as temperature, air pressure, wind speed, and wind direction inside the hurricane. The crews also release instruments that measure temperature, air pressure, and wind at different levels as the devices drop through the hurricane toward the ocean. By mission's end, NOAA can warn everyone in the hurricane's path.
  • Coastal beach erosion: the wearing away of land, the removal of beach or dune sediments by wave action, tidal currents, wave currents, or drainage.
  • Saffir-Simpson scale: used to classify hurricanes in the United States. It was invented by engineer Herbert Saffir and former National Hurricane Center director Robert Simpson.
Hurricane facts:

  • Hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean runs from June 1 to November 30.
  • Taping your windows in preparation for a hurricane is a waste of time because flying debris will smash a taped window as if the tape weren't there.
  • Since 1979, Hurricanes have had alternating male and female names but before that, only female names were used. They are the only weather event that is given personal names. The first hurricane of the year is given a name beginning with the letter “A”.
  • The first hurricane with a male name was Hurricane Bob hitting near New Orleans in July 1979.From 1950 to 1952, tropical cyclones of the North Atlantic Ocean were identified by the phonetic alphabet (Able-Baker-Charlie-etc.).
  • Two hurricanes were named Alice in 1954. One in June and one in December.
  • Many hurricanes exist harmlessly in the sea dying there when they pass over areas of cooler water.
  • In Australia hurricanes are called willy-willies.
  • Hurricanes can also produce tornadoes. They are not as strong as regular tornadoes and last only a few minutes.
  • The fastest forward speed for a hurricane was the New England Hurricane of 1938 reported at 70 mph. The forward speed for an average hurricane is less than 20 mph.
  • The first hurricane to hit the American Colonies happened on August 25, 1635.
  • On September 8, 1900, the United States' worst weather disaster hit Galveston, Texas with more than 8,000 deaths. In a category 4 hurricane, a 15-foot storm surge flooded the island, which, at that time, was less than 9 feet above sea level. Now, the sea level of the island has been raised, and a sea wall has been built to try to protect the city.
  • In September of 1928, the Okeechobee hurricane, or San Felipe Segundo hurricane, was a deadly hurricane that struck the Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, and Florida becoming the second recorded hurricane to reach Category 5 status on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale in the Atlantic basin.
  • In 1938, a man on Long Island bought a barometer. The instrument signaled a hurricane but thinking it defective the name went back to the store to complain. When he returned, his house had been swept away from a hurricane. The barometer was correct.
  • In 1944, the US Navy's Pacific fleet was crushed by Typhoon Cobra, which sank three destroyers and damaged many ships.
  • In 1952, Hurricane Fox was a strong and deadly tropical Atlantic cyclone. Hurricane Fox was the first storm to be named in an official weather bureau advisory.
  • In 1967, a hurricane in Texas caused more than 140 twisters.
  • In 1969, Hurricane Camille wrecked a hotel where a alleged hurricane party was being held and killed 8 people. A TV movie called 'Hurricane' was created out of this story
  • In 1970, a hurricane in Pakistan killed more than 300,000 people. A hurricane name is permanently retired and another name replaces it if the storm is really devastating.
  • Bangladesh was a country that was created from a hurricane when in 1970, this region of Pakistan was struck by a cyclone with a resulting huge loss of life. The people felt their government did not do enough to help after the disaster so in 1971, they voted to be independent of Pakistan and Bangladesh was born.
Clement Wragge.
  • In 1971, Hurricane Ginger lasted for over three weeks.
  • In 1989, Hurricane Hugo completely destroyed several forests in South Carolina. 
  • In 1992, the costliest hurricane of all time occurred in Florida, It was called Hurricane Andrew.
  • In 1995, 11 hurricanes made landfall in the United States. 
  • In 1999, Hurricane Floyd was barely a category I hurricane, but it still managed to mow down 19 million trees and caused over a billion dollars in damage.
  • in 2005, Hurricane Katrina in the New Orleans area, became the costliest natural disaster, as well as one of the five deadliest hurricanes, in the history of the United States.[3] At least 1,836 people died in the actual hurricane and in the subsequent floods, making it the deadliest U.S. hurricane since the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane.
  • September is the busiest month for hurricanes. August is the second busiest.
  • Palm trees grow mainly in tropical parts of the world because in strong hurricane winds, their flexible trunks rarely break.
  • The word hurricane comes from the Taino Native American word, hurricane, meaning evil spirit of the wind.
  • The first time anyone flew into a hurricane happened in 1943 in the middle of World War II.
  • A typical hurricane can dump 6 inches to a foot of rain across a region. A slow moving hurricane produces more rainfall and flood damage than faster-moving, more powerful hurricanes.
  • Most people who die in hurricanes are killed by the towering walls of sea water that comes inland.
  • The man who first gave names to hurricanes was an Australian weather forecaster named Clement Wragge in the early 1900s.
  • The planet Jupiter has a hurricane which has been going on for over 300 years. It can be seen as a red spot on the planet. This hurricane on Jupiter is bigger than our Earth. See the oval spot below.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bow Tie Cookies Are A Family Favorite; Recipe From A 'Bridal Shower' Cookbook Scores Well For Any Occasion

I've been involved in giving a few bridal showers and a favorite 'favor' for our family and some of my friends is the publication of a cookbook filled with family recipes from aunts, cousins, nieces, parents, sisters, grandparents (and to be fair also from their male counterparts) and friends.

When my daughter got married a couple of years ago, a family and friends cookbook was my idea to give as a gift to our guests. Thanks to the 'miracle' of email, it was easy to get most of the recipes electronically so that they didn't have to be retyped. Of course, the older family members (with the most sought after recipes) were mailed. Putting a book like this together takes some time, a lot of patience and a sharing of talents. We asked artistic young people to illustrate some of the recipes.

My younger daughter, a design student at the time, helped me put it all together and though our first effort was a bit 'homey' we've since done a few more for friends that are quite professional looking. Of course, the most important thing in these books is not so much the 'look' but the inclusion of the recipes that get passed down from one generation to the next. In just the few years since our first book was printed, several relatives have passed and that makes these book even more valuable. Lots of schools and church groups do similar projects as a fund raising vehicle.

If you're interested in making a recipe book, you'll need to get a memo out with the shower invitation. Email addresses will need to be provided to receive the recipes and expect a few that will have to be retyped. An added extra could be a cookie cutter in a fun shape or a small wire whisk that can be attached to the book with a pretty bow. These can be purchased online for a dollar or less. You'll need to engage a local printer and work within his schedule or use one of the online services. A few cookbook websites are provided for you to look at but there are many more in all price points.

One shower book that was done for a friend of my daughter had a recipe for 'bow-tie' or 'chruscik' cookies. I believe this is a Polish recipe and I've made it many times. The word chruscik might come from an old Polish word for twigs which the pastry does resemble. There are many other European versions of the bow tie cookie. An Italian version is called crustci, indicating that one of these pastries might have passed from one country to the other. I forget how good they are from one baking to the next but even better, they're easy to make. When they're dredged in confectioner's sugar they are simply delicious. Give this one a try. The recipe makes about 3 dozen bows.

Bow Tie Cookies
4 eggs
1 stick of melted butter
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup of sugar
4 cups of flour
Powdered sugar
Crisco for frying

  • Beat eggs, butter, baking powder and vanilla until mixed.
  • Add sugar mixing well.
  • Add flour gradually stirring as possible.
  • turn out onto floured surface and knead for approximately 3 minutes.
  • Cut off small sections and roll thin.
  • Cut into strips using a serrated pastry roller. make each bow about 4 inches.
  • Cut a 2 inch slit in the middle of the rectangular piece, lengthwise.
  • Pull one edge through the slit and adjust to make it look like a bow tie.
  • Fry in preheated Crisco until golden. They cook quickly once the oil heats up so stay nearby!
  • Drain on paper towling.
  • Sprinkle with powdered sugar until coated.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Butter + Lemons + Blueberries = A Sweet Occasion Equation; Sometimes A Cake Mistake Can Turn Out Great

I came across a cake recipe I'd wanted to try at the height of blueberry season and my opportunities were dwindling almost as fast as summer days. We had a family gathering this weekend: my niece, her husband and their adorable daughter were visiting from Florida and we got together at my home on Staten Island for a rainy-day repast. I  seized the opportunity and decided to give the lemon blueberry cake a try with my captive audience.

The recipe was intended to be rich: a couple of sticks of butter, buttermilk, 4 eggs, several lemons and of course the blueberries. I decided to save a few calories and subbed 1% milk for the buttermilk but that was about all of the ingredient swaps I dared make. In the spring I made a butter cake with lots of changes and it was a bit of a disaster. I wanted this cake to look and taste great.

In the end when the cake was safely in the oven, I noticed the pack of blueberries on the counter. I had forgotten to fold them into the cake before baking! To save the day, I decided to dredge them in 1/4 cup of confectioner's and granulated sugar mix and place them on top before I applied the lemon/butter glaze. Actually, it make great presentation and was a little more festive-looking than it was intended to be.

The cake was rich even without the buttermilk, the lemon glaze refreshing and the dredged blueberries added a sweetness that was pleasing to all. Sometimes mistakes can be a good thing.

Buttery Lemon Blueberry Cake

2 sticks unsalted butter at room temp
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup nonfat buttermilk (I subbed 1% milk)
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh grated lemon zest (about 3 lemons)
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 cup fresh blueberries

1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (about 4 lemons)
3 tablespoons lemon zest (about 3 lemons)
1 stick melted unsalted butter

  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 10 inch tube pan. 
  • Using an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Mix well.
  • Sift flour, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Add flour mix to butter mix in stages alternating with the milk.
  • Stir in lemon zest and juice. Fold in blueberries or save for top as I did...or do both!!
  • Pour batter into buttered pan smoothing top.
  • Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes testing to make sure cake is done. Cool on rack for ten minutes.
  • Prepare the glaze whisking ingredients in a small bowl.
  • invert cake onto plate. Prick with a toothpick and apply glaze. 
  • If you are adding blueberries to the top, dredge them in a sugar mix of granulated sugar and confectioners sugar. Place on top and around the base of cake before applying the glaze.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

For the Love of Olives: Three Guilt Free Ways to Enjoy This Low-Fat Mediterranean Fruit

Olive Tapenade

We're lucky enough to have friends and family with beautiful second homes. One in the Hamptons, another at the Jersey Shore and another with a mountain retreat in upstate New York. Of course, I don't always relish being the guest and try to contribute in any way I can . . . and nothing says' thank you' like delicious wine and food.

Out in the Hamptons earlier this summer. my sisters, daughter and nieces had a cook-fest. One of the dishes we prepared was an olive appetizer recipe that I'd saved for a while and was anxious to try. I just needed a large crowd of victims (er, people) to try it out on.

Imagine my surprise, when minutes after plating the dish, it was practically gone — that's how tasty this was! The appetizer was actually a spread called Olive Tapenade. According to Wikipedia, a tapenade is a Provençal dish consisting of puréed or finely chopped olives, capers, anchovies and olive oil. Its name comes from the provençal word for capers, tapenas, and is a popular food in the south of France. Well, it was just as popular in Westhampton, Long Island.

The recipe is easy and just takes a few minutes to prepare with the help of a food processor. Don't worry about the anchovies. I dislike them, but in this case, they just added a surreptitious flavor to the tapenade.

A week or two after our Hampton weekend, we found ourselves in the tiny hamlet of Lafayette, New York. There really isn't much of a town there but no matter, our friends luxurious mountain residence had everything we would need: good friends, good wine, good food and a delightful olive entree prepared by our hostess that we all enjoyed immensely. This olive recipe has capers and peppers that add to the piquancy of the olive. Also easy to prepare, the aroma was enough to crumble the resolve of any of us who thought we'd already eaten way too much.

Lastly, I thought I'd throw in an Olive Pesto Recipe. This is untried but it's from Mario Batali....need I say more? I'll give this a go soon, we've been eating pesto all summer long.

Nutritionally, green olives contain around 3 calories and 0.3g of fat, while black olives have about 7 calories and 1g of fat. Olives bottled in olive oil can have another 25 calories each. The good news is that over half the fat in olives is the heart-friendly monounsaturated type.

You'll notice that none of these recipes call for salt. Olives processed with brine can be incredibly salty. If you eat 20 olives you could rack up a little more than half your daily salt maximum. Olives also contain small amounts of vitamin E, which is needed for our skin, and a range of super-nutrients with antioxidant and antibacterial properties.

Olive Tapenade
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup pitted kalamata olives
2 anchovy filets
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
Pepper to taste


  • Place the garlic cloves into a blender or food processor; pulse to mince.
  • Add the olives, anchovies, parsley, lemon juice, and olive oil.
  • Blend until everything is finely chopped. 
  • Season to taste with pepper.
The olives, garlic, capers and basil sizzle before adding the peppers.
Peppers With Olives
4-5 large and sweet red, yellow and/or orange peppers
(if unavailable, use 2 large of roasted peppers)
2 jars pitted kalamata olives
1/2 jar capers
4-5 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/2 cup red or white wine added slowly
olive oil
Pepper to taste

  • Slice peppers, discarding seeds and stems and oven roast until skins are blistered. 
  • Remove skins by rubbing under cold water.
  • In frying pan, saute chopped garlic in olive oil until tender.
  • Add basil, capers and olives and saute until tender.
  • Add peppers.
  • Slowly add red wine and let juices reduce slightly.
  • Season to taste and serve warm.
Green Olive Pesto
Recipe Courtesy of Mario Batali
1 1/2 cups large or jumbo green olives, such as ascolane, pitted
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1/4 cups pine nuts
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, approximately

  • In a food processor, combine olives, onion, pine nuts and garlic and blend 1 minute. 
  • With motor running, slowly pour in olive oil until a thick, smooth paste is formed, texturally resembling rough bechamel. 
  • Allow to stand 1/2 hour before using.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What is Success? A Reflection Wrongly Attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson
I found this quote on the back of a menu in a restaurant while we were on vacation last week.

It was attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, a 19th century American essayist, poet and author. I thought it would make a great blog post and today as I was researching the quote, I discovered from reading the Emerson Society website, that for many years this passage has been wrongly attributed to Mr. Emerson.

In fact, the misattribution might have occurred back in 1911 when a second volume of a book called 'Heart Throbs' was published by the Boston National Magazine. The book was a result of a writing contest that the magazine sponsored. On the very first page a essay titled “What is Success?” was written by Bessie A. Stanley. Ms. Stanley was a school teacher from Lincoln, Kansas who was born in 1879. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s entry titled “Good-Bye” appeared a few pages later. It is widely thought that a mix up might have been by publications reprinting the 'Success' piece due to the close proximity of the two pieces in the book.

But whoever wrote it, it is an inspirational message that has endured. To give him equal time, Emerson's poem 'Good-Bye' follows.

What Is Success?
To laugh often and love much;
to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children;
to earn the approbation of honest citizens and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty;
to find the best in others;
to give of one’s self;
to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation;
to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived
- this is to have succeeded.
Bessie Stanley
Good-bye, proud world! I'm going home:
Thou art not my friend, and I'm not thine.
Long through thy weary crowds I roam;
A river-ark on the ocean brine,
Long I've been tossed like the driven foam;
But now, proud world! I'm going home.

Good-bye to Flattery's fawning face;
To Grandeur with his wise grimace;
To upstart Wealth's averted eye;
To supple Office, low and high;
To crowded halls, to court and street;
To frozen hearts and hasting feet;
To those who go, and those who come;
Good-bye, proud world! I'm going home.

I am going to my own hearth-stone,
Bosomed in yon green hills alone, --
A secret nook in a pleasant land,
Whose groves the frolic fairies planned;
Where arches green, the livelong day,
Echo the blackbird's roundelay,
And vulgar feet have never trod
A spot that is sacred to thought and God.
When I am safe in my sylvan home,
I tread on the pride of Greece and Rome;
And when I am stretched beneath the pines,
Where the evening star so holy shines,
I laugh at the lore and the pride of man,
At the sophist schools, and the learned clan;
For what are they all, in their high conceit,
When man in the bush with God may meet?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Breaded Sausage and Peppers Are From, Not For, the Heart; A Family Recipe That's A 'Shore' Thing in Spring Lake, N.J.

You never know when a good recipe will present itself.

My husband and I were on vacation last week. A whirlwind tour took us from Staten Island to Boston to welcome our fifth grandchild (an adorable little girl!), to Lavalette, New Jersey for two nights at a friends beach house to celebrate a milestone birthday, and finally to the Breakers Hotel in Spring Lake, New Jersey, another shore town a little closer to New York where we finally relaxed. We had almost come full-circle.

The weather was with us all the way and on the day we headed to Spring Lake we were invited with another couple to see the ocean front home of a family from Staten island whose children had attended the same school as ours.

The house was lovely, full of art, photos and beach details without being fussy or overdone. The color scheme was reflective of the ocean, sand and beach grass just steps away from the house. There were breathtaking ocean views on every level.

In this close-knit family, the kitchen was the heart with children and grandchildren coming in and out. This was a dream kitchen but not just for show....there was a something wonderful cooking in the oven, the scent permeating the large open room.

We didn't intend to stay for lunch but when our husbands spied the source of the aroma we knew our hotel arrival would be a bit delayed. The dish was breaded, fried sausage with peppers.

Our gracious host explained that it was her mother's recipe who by all accounts was a fantastic cook. Probably Neapolitan in origin, it has become a family favorite of theirs, not just because it's delicious but it also can be made ahead and served easily when there is a large crowd.

While it's not exactly a 'heart-smart' recipe, my husband and I are already vowing to eat salad for the rest of the week so we can enjoy the sausage cooking deliciously in my oven, guilt-free!

Breaded Fried Sausage with Peppers
Serves six (increase ingredients for more people)

8-10 sweet Italian sausage
2 cups seasoned bread crumbs
2-3 eggs
4 large peppers (I used 2 red and 2 yellow)
Oil for frying

  • Butterfly sausage lengthwise set aside
  • Whisk eggs in bowl
  • In another bowl add seasoned breadcrumbs
  • Dip sausage in egg to coat, then dip in breadcrumbs to cover completely.
  • Heat oil in fry g pan and add sausage browning on both sides.
  • Separately, saute or oven cook julienned peppers.
  • When sausage is cooked and drained, place in baking pan adding peppers.
  • Bake for an hour or so at 350 degrees until peppers are tender.
  • Serve with crusty bread and salad.