Monday, July 26, 2010

Summer Memories Part II.

Part two of my family trip was part trip down memory lane, and part completely new experience, thanks to the addition of J to our family trip. The four days that we spent in Wildwood Crest were filled with a ton of activities, so much so that I spent absolutely no time at all on the computer, even though it rained and poured for an entire day.

Our BlackBerrys were left on the counter in the kitchen while we hit the beach, and for a little while, all that really existed was each other in our little home where due to lack of space, we were forced to spend time together - especially on that day when it absolutely poured for an entire day.

There were a lot of games played (like Family Feud, which is always fun), and after that got boring, my uncle taught us how to play Spades, which was a big hit - especially with my Poppy, who was unbelievably quick at catching on, and was very sneaky for an 87-year-old man! He hustled J and I big time as we played for a penny a point after he kept losing. Many bottles of wine were emptied, the blender got a serious workout, and by the end of the night we were all more than ready to turn in. The daily routine was BPF - beach, pool, food, which was the perfect way to spend a relaxing and leisurely time with each other.

Our little home sweet home.

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One of the best parts about going to my family's condo in Wildwood is visiting all our favorite restaurants. In my last post I wrote about Menz Restaurant - my all-time favorite, but there are so many restaurants that we've frequented over the years for the delicious seafood and entrees, yummy cocktails, and the memories that we've had over the years.

We headed to one of my dad's favorite restaurants down the shore on my parents last night at the house - they had to head back early for work on Monday, so they didn't get to stay the extra day. We rushed back from the beach, quickly showered and got dressed, starving and super excited for a delicious dinner at Duffy's on the Lake.

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(Top, Aqua. Jeans, Seven for All Mankind. Jewelry, Tiffany & Co. Shoes, Marc by Marc Jacobs).

A lot of the restaurants down in Wildwood don't seem like much from the outside - or sometimes even at the inside. I know J looked at the menu at Duffy's, and turned to me and said, "Why do they have such expensive entrees at a place like this?" I told him, "Just wait until the food comes out - you'll see why." The places aren't much to look at, but the food more than makes up for the simple decor.

My delicious crabcake, green beans, and twice baked potato.

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Dad's scallops. Yummo!

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Poppy ordered roasted pork - and put enough butter on his baked potato for everyone at the table. He's 87 though, so really, why should I make him calorie count ;)

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After a delicious dinner at Duffy's that night, J and I decided to escape the drunken escapades at the condo, and go for a nighttime walk around the complex and beach. It was really nice to spend some much needed alone time together.

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Since it's a private complex, there is a private beach for people staying at Seapointe. When you buy/rent a house there they supply 8 beach tags for you and your family. There is this security guard who is probably 80 years old that my family dubbed "Elvis" because he has white, Elvis looking hair, and more than once he has made us go back to the house and retrieve forgotten beach tags. They do not play around there - we've watched him escort many people off the beach!

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I was happy to show off some of my gymnastic skills, which are clearly on Olympic level.

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One of the pools and jacuzzis in the complex. During the day, the smaller pool in the back of the picture has this huge waterfall that comes crashing down. I loved it when I was a kid, but now it gives me a headache just thinking about swimming under the ridiculously heavy crashing waterfall.
It was really nice walking there at night, because there were different colored lights were flashing in the lights in the pool. It was super pretty.

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By the way, if you freeze a mudslide for over a day, it turns into a wonderful type of Kahlua, vodka, and Bailey's ice cream. Only problem would be mistaking the fact that because of the ice cream consistency, you won't get buzzed off it. Made for an interesting last night.

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As we repacked the car for the long drive back up north, I couldn't help but be thankful for the opportunity to give J a first hand look into a piece of my life that he had only seen from the surface. Seeing the way that he fit in so well with my family made me push aside the problems that we've had in the past, and simply accept him for who he is, and for our differences. Throwing him into my crazy family and dragging him along into our traditions was really important to me - and the kid did a great job!

P.S. I totally forgot to thank the amazing Gracey over at Breakfast at Gracey's - she gave the recommendation for China Glaze nail polish in "For Audrey" - it has proven to be the perfect, Tiffany blue shade for summer AND it's only $6!

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Does your family go anywhere together or have any fun summer traditions?

Currently listening to: Bell X1 - West of Her Spine

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Feeling Crabby.

This past weekend, myself, J, my parents and Cooper headed up to our house at Cape Cod to celebrate my dad's 55th birthday.

Birthdays are HUGELY important in my family - we go all out with gifts, cakes, dinners, decorations - the works. I honestly thought that every single family celebrated birthdays the way that mine does, until I went to college where my friends were unconcerned with their own birthdays and the birthdays of their family members. J has almost never bought a birthday gift for anyone in his family, and neither did most of my friends at school, which blew my mind.

Anyway, J and I drove up separately from my parents and were there for most of the day Thursday, which was nice since it was a 6 hour drive due to the summer traffic, ridiculous amounts of accidents on the road, and the fact that I drank two venti Skinny caramel macchiatos, which was unwise for a long road trip.

I'm planning on doing a separate post about the Cape - and another one soon as a continuation of the trip to Seapointe Village.

This post is about food - but it does tie into my dad's birthday, since in honor of his big day, I decided to cook crab cakes - one of his favorite foods. I was smart enough to purchase a cookbook at a book sale at school that was a compilation of five-star recipes found at AllRecipes.com. If you haven't heard of/use AllRecipes.com you are seriously missing out - it's absolutely perfect, and everything is submitted by home cooks, so it's not ridiculously intimidating.

There is an amazing recipe for crab cakes, and if you're a seafood lover like moi and my family, this is definitely a can't miss! :)

Cooking these was super fun - I set up my laptop with some movies on in the kitchen while everyone else was at the beach, and just went to work. It really is easy to make, and I tried to take a lot of pictures because visuals and knowing how something is supposed to look is really helpful for me - especially when cooking.

*The recipe calls for four pounds of crabmeat, which is a ridiculous amount - I halved the entire recipe with the exception of an egg and the Old Bay seasoning.*

Crab Cakes

Serves 16
Prep time: 15 minutes (plus time for chilling before cooking begins)
Cook time: 30 minutes
Ready in: 45 minutes

Ingredients

-4 pounds crabmeat (I mixed "super lump" with "lump")
-1 egg
-1 tablespoon lemon zest (grated lemon peel)
-1/4 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
-2 tablespoons fresh Basil; chopped
-1 cup crushed Saltine crackers
-1 cup mayonnaise (I used low-fat to cut a few calories out)
-Salt and pepper to taste

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Directions

1. In a large mixing bowl combine the crabmeat, egg, lemon zest, Old Bay Seasoning, chopped basil, crushed crackers (I put them in a plastic bag and crushed them with a rolling pin), and mayonnaise. Mix thoroughly.

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For chopping the basil, my mom told me that folding the basil leaves and then cutting them with a scissor is a super easy way to get them chopped a little more. We have pretty crappy knives at the Cape, so chopping was difficult - this made it so much easier!

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All the ingredients combined:
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2. Form patties out of the crab mixture (the recipe says 5 oz. patties, but I just kind of guestimated with it and made them the size of a small hamburger patty). Chill until cold before cooking (I chilled them for 3 1/2 hours).

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3. In a skillet, heat 4 tablespoons of oil over medium heat.
Saute the crab cakes for 4 minutes on each side or until golden brown.

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Red wine makes a perfect cooking companion.
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And enjoy :)
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Let me know if you end up making them - they're super delicious!

Miss you all - can't wait to wind down from vacation land and catch up with you all :) Let me know what excitement is going on in your lives! I have another super fun recipe coming that I made for dessert for my dad - I hope you'll LOVE it and it's so easy peasy!


Currently: Talking to J about how miserable I am at my job and getting ready for bed at 9:40 p.m. The things we do for money!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Summer Memories Part I.

My dad's side of the family all lives in Northern New Jersey, and I think they always have. We all live within a half hour of each other, but with the busyness of life, our time together is few and far between.

My grandfather (Poppy) and my Nana were huge on family - they loved having everyone over to swim in their pools, or have Labor Day bbqs, Christmas gatherings, holidays, non-holidays - it didn't matter. My Nana loved having a house filled with people - she and my Poppy met at a ball in the 1930's, so it's fitting that she enjoyed crowds.

When I was 1, my Nana got very sick with stage-3 breast cancer. It didn't stop her desire to want to do as much as possible with family, and up until her death when I was three, she wanted family surrounding her and didn't want her children to lose touch with each other, or with my Poppy.

The year after my Nana died, in memory of her, and her love for us to spend time together as a family, my Poppy rented an apartment for my family - my father, mother, myself and my younger brother who was just a 2 month-old baby at this point; my dad's brother Paul and his new wife Maria, my dad's sister Susan and her husband Domenick, and my Poppy. We all headed to Seapointe Village - a complex in Wildwood Crest, New Jersey where we spent three weeks together (obviously since I was still almost a fetus, I remember none of this).

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Over the years, we all grew up and had new additions to the family. My Uncle Paul and Aunt Maria had two sons - Tom and Tim, my Poppy's new girlfriend Mary Ann tagged along from time to time (unfortunately, but that's another story), and try as we did, a little apartment in "The Garden" wasn't enough for us.

Poppy then began renting a townhouse for our family, and there were millions of memories in the various homes over the years:

-There was the townhouse with the laundry shoot, which Patrick decided that he needed to climb down when he was four years old. Unfortunately he got stuck, which caused quite the production for the family trying to coax him out.

-Or, there was the time that I decided I was going to use every single kitchen utensil we had and cook lunch for everyone (at like, 7 years old). I set the table beautifully, and went to work on my delicious soup, which consisted of water, salt, and a little bit of pepper. It was quite the treat for my grandpa's girlfriend when she wondered what was in the bowl and took a big sip.

Sleeping arrangements in the homes were always the greatest part - since there were usually twelve of us and only four bedrooms, each family would have to sleep in the same room. That meant a lot of sleeping bags and uncomfortable nights - which led to Patrick sleeping in the huge walk-in-closet many times (when he was twelve or thirteen he would bring his computer and speakers, and set up a whole system in the closet - ridiculous!).

Most of all, it was about being with family and enjoying time together no matter what happened. After years of renting, we finally decided to all purchase a townhouse together, so that we could have a home to go to, where we had belongings, and our own decorations, and that we could rent out when it wasn't being used. It gave more control and more comfort for us, even though as we all got older, the home has been used less and less frequently, and rented to strangers more and more.

The house itself is decorated a little cheesy for my taste - putting together the style of 11 people is a little difficult, but for the most part, there is a very tacky, but sometimes cute "beach" theme to the house. There is more beach/seashell/ocean crap strewn around the house than I ever knew existed - there's even some in the garage now because we just ran out of room. Slightly overkill, but that's okay!

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This year, I was lucky enough to get to share a piece of my childhood with J, as he joined my parents, Poppy, and Sue and Dom for five days at Seapointe. It was just like deja vu, since my very traditional parents were not pleased with the idea of me and J sharing a room - even one with two beds in it - so I got to bunk with my parents while J slept in my bedroom in my nice, comfortable bed (luckyy!).

It was really special to get J "in" more with my dad's side of the family - he was a doll as he played Spades with my uncle and Poppy on a nightly basis, held his liquor well as my uncle and dad pumped beer and mixed drinks into him (or mixed drinks, and then beer - we know and obey the old adage "beer before liquor you've never been sicker"), made it through a boring rainy day where we were practically stranded at the condo, and learned how to boogie-board with my dad on a day when the waves were pretty rough. It was a great time to spend with family and so good for J and I to have a break from our lives in North Jersey and see each other in a different light - this was our first vacation together.

J and I headed down earlier in the day - before my parents, and before my aunt and uncle arrived, which gave us some one on one time with Poppy - and just enough time for Poppy to pretty much adopt J into the family (he made a toast at dinner one night telling J - "You're one of us now, welcome to the family"). So cute. The downside, was the unpacking - especially since we brought so much crap that my car couldn't fit it all - we had to take my mom's!

And there was still more left in the car...
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J smiling, even though he was not thrilled that my mom's whole big car was still not 100% unpacked...(she'd kill me if she knew the license plate was now online - but I trust you all).
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I got to learn more about my Poppy, which was so precious to me now that he's 87 and noticeably getting older - through late night talks I learned how he met my Nana, about their honeymoon (where, to quote him, they "went to Colorado and froze our asses off"), and about how he grew up (I never knew that one of his brother's died at age one after he was bit by a black widow spider - crazy!). I could tell that he enjoyed sharing these stories with J and me, and his eyes lit up as he recalled seeing Nana on their wedding day - though when I asked him if he cried when he saw her because she looked so beautiful, his response was (picture this said slowly and drawn out), "Oh, absolutely...not. That would be very embarrassing." He's adorable.

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It meant so much to me to visit the same restaurants that we always went to (where my Poppy took my Nana when they were dating/married, and when my dad and aunts and uncles were young), but this time to share that with another person I love.

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We got to go to Menz Restaurant- my absolute favorite restaurant in Wildwood, where I've been going since I was three years old, which has always been the absolute best. My Uncle Paul, Aunt Maria, and two cousins joined us, so the whole gang was there together (minus Pat, who had to work - lamee). It's this really fun family-restaurant, with amazing seafood, but lots of weird crap laying around it.

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This would be an example of some of the weird crap they have there - I didn't Photoshop this at all!
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The man who owned it only had one leg, and he used to sit out of the restaurant and would ask kids if they ate a good dinner, and if they said they did, he would give them a lollipop. Now, there's a big tub of lollipops sitting in remembrance of him - it's kind of a fun, nostalgic place to go.

My dad and his nephews
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All the sister-in-laws
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"And we're the three best friends that anyone could have..."
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The fabulous first few nights were ended with a trip to Seashell Ice Cream - another family favorite that really brought me back to my childhood where I would spend hours trying to pick a flavor from one of the 60+ different options - I seriously sampled probably 10 flavors before making a decision. Apparently when my Nana and Poppy used to go there, she would get a cone of pistachio every single time, no other option even existed. This time when we headed there, I followed in her footsteps and was not disappointed at all.

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As we visit these places, as much fun as we all have, we deal with the ghosts of the past and the sadness that comes from us being together, but without someone who made such a contribution towards the family, and who drew us all closer together. As I see us growing as a family, I always am grateful for my Nana, who was so into bringing us together. Her family bonds were and are the glue that make us so happy to see each other and spend the quality time together.

I have so much more to share about the trip - but I seriously took way too many pictures, so I'll be sharing again soon (sorry if this little account was tres boring for you - skip the next one!).

Hope you're all doing well - I look forward to catching up before I head up to our Cape house for my dad's birthday on Thursday! Miss you all and hope you're enjoying the summery weather!

Currently: Watching my new favorite trashy obsession - You're Cut Off. I can't get enough of it, which I know says a lot about me :)