Wednesday, November 28, 2012

New Views in Oaks, PA

Intersection of Egypt and Black Rock Roads from Bob Evans parking lot
For well over five years there has been talk of more commercial building on Egypt Road, in Oaks, PA. In the last month there is evidence of such development. The wooded lot was cleared between Black Rock Rd. and US 422 on the west side of Egypt Rd.

Looking east from Black Rock Road towards US 422
The talk on the street is that a Chicago Grill will be the first restaurant built. Originally Chili's was to go in first, but what ever reason, they delayed their efforts. Chili's may still be built but Chicago Grill will be ringing the register first.

Across Black Rock Road from the Chicago Grill site is the reputed site of a Super Wawa, and some restaurant(s)/commercial buildings. This site was cleared well over two years ago and has laid fallow for as long. There was some infrastructure work done over that time, but not much. The lot includes the Oaks Gardens business at the very far edge of the photograph. Oaks Gardens will be history when work begins in ernest.

So much time has past since the original Wawa development sign went up that it has since blown down. There doesn't seem to be any urgent reason to reinstall it.

If I may go back to the Chicago Grill site for a moment, I want to mention the view of St. Paul's Episcopal Church. I am not sure if this view of the church was ever available. There were quite a few trees between Egypt Rd. and the church. The view is available now and it is quite a sight. 

Enjoy it while it lasts. Neon will block the view soon enough.

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving Buffet with Sides of Veggies

Thanksgiving Buffet 
This Thanksgiving dinner was hosted by my sister-in-law in her wonderful home a stone's throw from The Main Line. This year, dinner was served buffet style. Twenty-some people were expected to attend. Each family was to bring part of the dinner. Our family, there were to be only two of us as our children were either in London or working at the Movie Tavern, were expected to bring two side dishes - a spaghetti squash dish and candied carrots. You would think that would be easy. I never do anything the easy and I do the cooking.

I am known to not follow a recipe exactly as written. As a matter of fact, there are few times I make anything the same way twice. Plus, I like to try new recipes no matter how important the occasion.

My wife expected the spaghetti squash dish to simply contain tomato sauce and cheese along with the obvious spaghetti squash. She also expected the candied carrots to be just like frozen in the supermarket. I expected better than that. So I was off to the internet to find some recipes.

I follow a few food blogs. One of them is The Pioneer Woman who has a cooking show on the Food Network on Saturdays. On her show last week she made green beans with whole canned tomatoes. I thought that sounded good.

I also Googled "spaghetti squash" and found several other recipes using, feta cheese, ricotta cheese, spinach and nutmeg, none of which I have ever used in my spaghetti squash. So I synthesized my new recipe from all the above sources. Here is what I came up with.

3lb/ 1.36kg spaghetti squash
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
15oz/ 425g ricotta cheese
1 beaten egg
1lb/ 453g mozzarella cheese, shredded 
1/2 cup Romano cheese, grated
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 cans of diced tomatoes, unseasoned
1 lb chopped raw baby spinach
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Cut the squash in half length-wise, remove seeds, place in baking pan cut side down and pour 1" water into pan. Bake at 400ºF/ 205ºC until done.
Throw the chopped onion and minced garlic in a saute/frying pan on low-medium heat until the onions are just showing some golden brown color.
While baking squash, mix the onions, garlic, ricotta, beaten egg, 1/3 shredded mozzarella, 1/4 cup Romano, chopped spinach, diced tomatoes, salt, pepper and nutmeg in an enormous bowl.

When squash is finished baking turn over and pull a fork across the flesh from blossom end to stem end and create spaghetti-like fibers. Mix then into the cheese/tomato mixture until blended. Transfer everything to a casserole pan. Evenly spread the remaining mozzarella across the top of the pan. Spread the remaining Roman over top of mozzarella.

Bake at 350ºF /176ºC for about 25 minutes or until the cheeses are bubbling and browned in places.

I thought it was good, but then I was invested.

The recipes for candied carrots were also researched on the web. I was looking for a more interesting recipe, a thicker sauce than just brown sugar and butter. I like orange marmalade. I thought the orange would complement the sweetness of the carrots. I decided to use orange marmalade in my candied carrots. Below is my final recipe for candied carrots.

4lb / 1.8kg baby carrots
1 cup orange marmalade
6 Tablespoons cold water
4 Tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 Tablespoons butter, I only buy unsalted so I can add my own salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons corn starch
4 oz Imperial whiskey

Steam carrots until hot and still firm

While steaming carrots mix:
marmalade, 4 Tablespoons water, brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, salt, pepper and nutmeg into a sauce pan. Heat while stirring or whisking the ingredients in the pan until blended.
In a small bowl whisk 4 Tablespoons of water with 2 Tablespoons of corn starch until smooth.
Slowly add the corn starch and water mix to the sauce pan while continuously stirring. Continue to stir and heat the mixture for an additional five minutes as the sauce thickens.
Turn off heat, add the whiskey and stir until combined.

Drain steamed carrots, place in a large bowl. Add in all sugar mix from sauce pan and mix to cover all carrots.

One of the recipes I found on the web called for the addition of rum to the mix. I only had a few liquors in the house and rum was not one of them. Of the two single malt scotches, gin, Kahlua, tequila, red vermouth and Imperial whiskey, I thought the Imperial would work the best.

Again, I thought it tasted good. On the other hand, I thought blue cheese vodka would taste good.

To make a long story short, and let's not mention the fact that I ended up being "Drunk Uncle in the Corner", the meal was a success. Everyone liked my spaghetti squash and candied carrots. Or at least that is what I think they were telling me. 

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Autumn Leaves - Blow Then Suck

On my less than .5 acre/2,024sq meters of property stand 10 large trees. Half are in my front yard. There is a beech, an ash a dogwood, hickory and a huge Norway Maple. The leaves that fall from these trees are vital to the my composting for the garden.

To start the composting process, I blow the leaves into piles. The leaves are then vacuumed, which shreds them as they pass the impeller inside the blower/vacuum. They are then hauled out to the back yard and dumped into the compost pile.

I started about noon to collect the leaves one bright and warm November day. Four hours later, I had the leaves from the main portion of my front yard blown into a serpentine pile across the lawn. 

There were also two piles in the road that I hoped wouldn't be blown away by the vehicular traffic. Big trucks, especially, have a way of relocating leaves. My back ached and my hand was showing signs of a blister. That was it for me until morning.

In the morning I changed the leaf blower over to a vacuum. The part of the blower that took in air the day before became the part that took in leaves. The part of the blower from which blew air would blow leaves.

Originally when I purchased the leaf blower/vacuum, a shoulder bag was supplied to collect the shredded leaves. A bag that became heavier as it filled with shredded leaves. The collection bag soon became cumbersome. If I needed to change hands, which happens often, I also needed to change shoulders. The bag needed to be emptied frequently, too, because it didn't hold that much volume. 

I didn't put up with that for very long. I returned to the home improvement store, from which I purchased the blower/vacuum, to look for an alternative to the shoulder bag collection method. There I found a different manufacturer had a collection kit that included a length of flexible hose connected to a cloth that fit over the opening of a trash can.

Here is how it works. The blower vacuums the leaves, shreds them and sends them through the flexible tubing depositing them into an upright trash can. A can that could support all the weight. It would also hold five times the volume of the shredded leaves as would the shoulder bag. That meant there was five times less emptying of the bag. Pretty simple. I bought the kit.

Leaf Vacuum System

There was one problem. The parts from the two manufactures weren't compatible. I had to jury rig them to work together. That was taken care of with the help of duct tape.

I put the two openings together - hose to vacuum. Two long strips of tape were placed 180º around the tube from each other across the joint. Then several longer strips were placed radially around the tube and vacuum to create the seal and hold down the initial two strips. It has worked for over ten years, so far.

In four hours the serpentine pile and one of the piles in the road were vacuumed, shredded, hauled to the back yard and dumped into the waiting bin. Shredding the leaves sure does reduce the volume. It also accommodates and speeds their composting.

The next step is to get bacteria to do their job making compost.

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Monday, November 19, 2012

Visit Czerw's a Must Kielbasa Experience

I had a photography assignment in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia late last week. One of my first thoughts, kielbasa, a sausage made of pork, garlic and a few spices stuffed into natural casing, smoked or fresh. When I was a child we bought, ate and hand made kielbasa in our kitchen in South Philadelphia. On this date my thoughts were of kielbasa made by Czerw's on Tilton St., less than a mile from my assignment. A visit to Czerw's is an experience not to be missed.

Photo credit:Google Maps
Just off the I-95 Allegheny Ave exit. No signs direct you. You just need to know how to find the small shop on Tilton St. just south of E. Ontario St. 

The shop is in an honest hard working class neighborhood of small streets lined with row houses, affordable houses and little legal parking.

As you turn the corner onto Tilton St. you get your first whiff of burning wood, burning wood and meat. Less than 100'/30.48m from the corner is the unassuming factory, smokehouse and retail shop of Czerw's from which the appetizing aroma emanates.

There were no lines of people waiting to make a purchase at Czerw's when I visited the last Friday before Thanksgiving. Well, Thanksgiving is not a traditional Polish food holiday. Christmas, Easter those are traditional Polish food holidays. On the weeks leading up to those holidays lines of people flow out the door and down Tilton St. On some days the line turns the corner onto E. Ontario St. as people patiently wait for kielbasa, kabanosa, kiszka, krakowska, perogi, chrischicki and babka.

Upon entering the shop the pungent odor of smoke and meat thickens. Where the sunlight steams through the windows the air appears just slightly blue from the smoke. The meat case captures the majority of my attention. Within are all kinds of sausages draped, coiled and arranged in pans inside the unevenly lit case. There are descriptive labels taped to the glass for each stuffed meat. "Keep the Vampires Away - Smoked Extra Garlic Kielbasa", "Our Hot Kabanos aka Hot Sticks", "'Our Hotter Than Hell' - Hot Sausage Links -'For Those That Like It Hot' ". All a great help to the uninitiated.

In a separate vertical refrigerated case are pirogies. Some pirogies are filled with traditional fillings of potato, potato and cheese, sauerkraut and meat with onions and mushrooms. The Kielbasy Boys, which the Czerw boys call themselves have creatively fused their line of Polish foods with other cuisines. Existing in Philadelphia, just 6 miles/9.6K from Pat's King of Steaks, the Boys fill pirogies with cheese steak. Other creative fillings are bacon and cheddar, pepperoni and cheddar, Cajun chicken and Buffalo chicken. I've tasted them all and recommend each and every flavor.

The Boys recommend warming their perigees in a deep puddle of butter in a frying pan. Diced onions may be added to the butter to increase the savoy flavor. If you are like me and don't like them crispy, heat them over low heat in a covered pan until they are just warm.

I asked permission to photograph the meat case for this blog. Upon hearing that, I was offered the opportunity into the work area to see a new fire that was recently started. Being a polite person, I couldn't refuse.

The room was dark for photography without a flash but I was able to capture the fire in a brick stall where the meat was to be smoked. Stacks of apple and cherry wood were close at hand in wheeled carts. Immersed in smoke near the wood fire with hanging meat nearby, I could hardly appear polite for very long. I desired meat. I needed smoked meat.

Back in the shop I purchased four dozen perigees - cheese steak, Buffalo chicken and cheese and potato. I also purchased three pounds smoked kielbasa and one pound smoked Cajun kielbasa wrapped in individual pound packages. Two of the four packages will be presents for friends out in the Valley Forge area. Friends who don't get into Philadelphia much. Friends in need of a kielbasa fix.

There were other items for sale in the shop including pickled green tomatoes and Zayda's prepared horseradish. I bought some Zayda's but my desire to eat some kielbasa drove me to leave the shop. Once in my car I snapped off a chunk of the kielbasa. The heady odor of smoky meat and garlic filled my nostrils and taxed the Fabreze deodorizer in my car. My desire was fulfilled. My need vanquished by smoke, meat and garlic.

Although the food that Czerw's produces is great, a visit to the shop is a must experience, I promise, you will never forget.


©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Monday, November 12, 2012

ABC 6 Action News, Maybe

Last winter, during a winter snow storm while I was shoveling snow from my driveway, I looked up to see my neighbor, from directly across the road, carrying a huge video camera crossing the road in my direction. He has a position with a company that produces the intro to the news programs at the ABC-TV affiliate in Philadelphia.

He requested my permission to video me for the intro that may be used winter of next year. I gave my permission and he recorded me as I shoveled. He directed I throw the snow in his direction as I smiled. I was already breathing and shoveling and he was requesting me add two more actions? I agreed to try. 

At that time I was wearing a fleece ski cap, a fleece jacket, fleece gloves and a fleece neck gaiter. The only flesh visible was between the top of the neck gaiter covering my lips and my eyebrows. I don't think anyone, not even close family members, will recognize me as the shoveler when seen on TV.

Yesterday, as I used my electric leaf blower to gather leaves in my front yard into piles, I looked up to see the same neighbor crossing the road in my direction with the huge video camera. He had been out and about looking for people doing fall activities. He captured every fall activity except one. All he needed was someone blowing leaves. There I was blowing leaves. Kismet.

If this clip is included in the intro next autumn,  I believe people will recognize me. I wasn't wearing a cap, jacket, gloves or neck gaiter. They'll see the top of my old balding head, my fat face and big belly. Undeniably me.

I was directed to stand behind the collected elongated leaf pile and sweep the blower left to right and back as I blew the leaves. The leaves fluttered to rest atop the pile. Several times my neighbor gave me hand signals and I saw his lips moving. Each time I turned off the blower to hear his directions- bigger sweeps, faster, slower, smile, look directly at the camera. I tried by hardest. Whether I met his expectations or wore him down, he claimed we were finished.

I stopped my neighbor as he started off towards home. I turned the tables and asked permission to photograph him for my blog. He agreed. That's what neighbors are for.

I will need to wait until next autumn to see if this clip is included in ABC-TV 6 News intro. That's a whole year. I may be dead by then. Of course, the snow shoveling clip captured last winter is due out the Monday before the winter solstice. I should be around for that.

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Electrical Outage Due to Sandy

There is a road I pass daily that has been closed since super storm Sandy went through Oct. 29 and 30.

The sign on the road stated it was closed because of flooding. Two days past the last of Sandy, the road was still barricaded. Sandy didn't deliver enough rain for that kind of flooding. I decided to investigate.

It was fifteen minutes before sunrise and birds were singing and chirping all around. I parked just past the barricade and walked towards the stream where the flooding would occur. As I progressed farther, I could hear the drone from one electrical generator.

In front of the house with the droning generator I saw a large branch of a Catalpa speciosa(cigar tree) lying atop the power lines. It was putting a severe amount of tension on those wires.

Beyond the broken branch, on the ground, was a electrical transformer. Due to the tension on the wires the utility pole, on which the transformer was mounted, was broken and dangling upside down. When this incident originally happened, this was a very dangerous situation. Live wires on the ground. The ground wet with rain. A deadly situation.

The transformer was definitely off the pole and on the road pavement. It was fairly obvious the electricity had been turned off to this section of the road. But you can never be sure. It is best to stay far from the wires and transformer if you were to come across this situation.  Electricity is not forgiving.

At the time this photograph was captured, except for the one house with the generator, the houses on this road were without electricity for four days.

As sure as the sun will rise again, electricity will return to the houses on this road. Just not sure when.

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Super Storm Sandy Clean - Up

Thursday morning, two days after Sandy blew through my neighborhood, with the sun above the horizon just twenty-five minutes, I noticed an impressive mass of trucks in the nearby Target parking lot. There were, by my estimations, thrity-some six wheel bucket trucks, utility pole lifting trucks, trailers, 12 passenger vans and pick-up trucks from out of town. Originating, I figured from the license plates, in North Carolina and Florida.

Organizing amongst the trucks were dozens of safety vest wearing workers - lineman, flagmen/women, tree trimmers and supporting crews. Workers that left their families and put their regular lives on hold. They traveled hundreds of miles north to help clean up and re-energize my neighborhood. An unfamiliar community hard hit by a powerful super storm.

They arrived the night before and stayed at a new hotel in the area, Hilton Garden Inn in Oaks, PAA facility that opened its doors just three weeks earlier upon finishing construction. The hotel is a few hundred yards away their hot tired trucks rested overnight in the Target parking lot.

According to Nicole Ream, Regional Director of Sales, the hotel embraced the arrival of the workers. "After three days on the road",  Ream said, "Garden Inn wanted to make the workers feel at home. These are great group of guys. They will be working long hours doing dangerous work with high voltage. Once they are here in the hotel we want them to relax and provide them with good food and comfortable surroundings." 

"We here at the hotel are very interested in our community," Ream told me. "The owners and staff are grateful for the sacrifice of these out-of-town workers are making to help our community," she said. She added, the chef has put extra effort into making sure the breakfasts are hearty and will last the men through their mornings. He personally baked cookies to include in the box lunches to bring a little bit of home to their mid-day break and meal. And lastly after sixteen hours of hard labor, the workers should have good hot filling dinners before they get to lay their heads down and close their weary eyes.

Hilton Garden Inn usual guests are corporate and leisure travelers was well as guests from the community. Guests such as grandparents visiting for the holidays or those storm victims without electricity looking for a dry comfortable place with a hot bath to stay for a few nights.

The hotel is located in Marketplace of Oaks /422 Business Center. It shares space with large retail stores Target, Lowe's, BJ's, indoor entertainment and The Greater Philadelphia Expo Center. There are also several eateries such as Bob Evans, Max and Erma's, a hot dog and a sushi restaurant and a pizzeria.

The inn also contains a bar and restaurant that are open to the public as well as a banquet facility for meetings, parties and wedding receptions.

If you see one of these men sacrificing their lives to bring our community back to full functioning, stop and say thanks, thanks a lot.

©Damyon T. Verbo - all rights reserved