Charles Siskin: Weekend With Charlie

Tuesday, June 16, 2015 - by Charles Siskin

I went up to Atlanta recently to spend the week end with two of my grandchildren. At their age, 13 and 10, I don’t consider it babysitting; it’s more like “hanging out” or whatever young people call it when their Grandfather Charlie comes to stay for a few days? 

With my daughter and son-in-law off for a long week end and my bride headed off to California,  for the first time I was totally in charge of making the big decisions like Mexican or Italian - nachos or pasta - the heavy stuff.

Since food is a serious passion, and Atlanta has a plethora of great options, the girls and I headed to one of their favorite Italian restaurants, Mirko, the first night.

What Atlanta has that I miss down here in the Panhandle is totally awesome breads. While the girls were settling for their favorites, simple pasta with red sauce for the 10-year-old and tortellini stuffed with ricotta cheese in a rich cream sauce for my 13 year old, I thought a couple of baskets of bread, some excellent cheese and a glass of red wine would do me fine. And it did along with a perfect spinach salad laced with pine nuts, goat’s cheese and studded with dried cranberries. Actually I took most of the second basket of bread home to share with the girls for breakfast.

I will share with you that the girls had killer sorbettos; one a frozen peach hollowed out and filled with peach sorbet and the other a Meyer’s lemon filled with lemon sorbet. The intensity of the flavors was remarkable. A definite dessert winner next time we go there.

I think one of the most sentimental part of the trip happened when that 13-year old slipped into the passenger side front seat. Yep! Molly was riding shotgun.  I was about to burst into a chorus of Sunrise Sunset  from “Fiddler On The Roof” but stopped short because am I really the Tevye type and besides my granddaughter hardly lives in a shtetl (a small ethnic village) and likely never heard of one.

Actually I didn’t spend as much time as I would have liked with 10-year-old Mary as she was doing marathon soccer matches all week end.  I watched one of her games on Saturday and still have the mosquito bites to prove it. Yes, we were bonding out in the woods a gazillion miles from downtown Atlanta. I drove so far and for so long I thought I had to be close to Chattanooga or maybe Los Angeles?

I should share that my little blond haired Mary, a Soccer Princess, would look over at me whenever she was goalie and give me a faint wave and a look that said, “Keep scratching dude, this will end soon for both of us”.

My other very special highlight; seeing all three of my granddaughters walking together after Saturday night dinner, laughing and chatting and bonding. And then the almost 17-year old peeled off, got in her car and drove home. Reality check.

About Saturday night dinner; I’m still in recovery. I’ve always known that restaurants in Atlanta were noisy but we hit an all time high on the decibel level at this Mexican Cantina where you literally had to scream at the person sitting next to you to be heard. I would not make this up. Comparable to the person in the car that pulls up next to you at the light and the volume of the music makes your car roll side to side, no wait, that’s the driver’s car. Mine goes into cardiac arrest.

The real highlight of my visit however was taking Molly, my shotgun passenger, to this remarkable Asian super market with heavy emphasis on Korean sustainable called Super H Mart. Until my daughter casually mentioned it before leaving, I was not aware of the market but knew of others along Buford Highway in Atlanta where there is a large concentration of Asian supermarkets and restaurants that I have frequented over the years.

This one is just inside I-285 at Peachtree Industrial Boulevard. Apparently this is a chain of stores with a heavy presence in New England and down into New Jersey and New York as well as out in California.

The supermarket was a revelation not only for me but more so for Molly. She was like a kid in, well, an Asian Market. While she was not giving up Fresh Market for sure, now she was Alice dropped not down the rabbit hole but at the front door of the Super H Market.

It was one of the best afternoons I had spent with one of my grandchildren. First off there were samplings of exotic and unusual foodstuffs even I wasn’t aware of until then. Like the sesame leaves which had been marinated in what I guessed to be a sesame oil and Chinese Vinegar. I bought some and marinated them and think it would be a good condiment to place alongside seaweed and cubes of tofu, pickled ginger and a variety of hot sauces. Actually tossed in a stir fry as I recently did it was perfect.

Molly and I had an introspective discussion on the merits of taking home one of the green coconuts and trying to open it. I told her about the coconut I brought back to Chattanooga when I was her age or maybe a bit younger from South Florida. I thought it a great treasure until I tried to open it. It seemed so easy when the natives in the movies wacked it with a machete. Rule Number 1, I’m a native of Chattanooga not Tahiti and Number 2, I actually don’t like coconut.

Molly quickly recovered and went on to fresh lychee nuts. For those unfamiliar with this fruit the outer shell can be deceiving. Once peeled away inside lays a treasure of sweet flesh that looks like a white grape with a seed and has a sweet taste. Lychees are available canned at Oriental grocery stores and while I haven’t checked more than likely in the Oriental section of the supermarket.

I believe Molly consumed a dozen or so and brought maybe a dozen to share with her sister, I hope. Then it was on to the frozen hors d’oeuvre section where there were samplings of wrappers with numerous assorted fillings. She scooped up a bag after tasting several. Then it was onward to the fish section where I was informed she was eating fish for the first time. I think she accepts shrimp in a totally different category. Nevertheless what she was sampling looked to be fish roe. A true first and maybe a last?

What I did discover at the check out that in addition to lychees and frozen hors d’oeuvers Molly had loaded up the cart with scads of candies.  Apparently Asians love their sweet stuffs and Molly had discovered that in high fashion.  What the heck, by the time her parents arrived home I’d be down the road and across the Florida line.  Hey, I’m the Grandfather and indulging is what Grandparents do best.

Tofu Scramble (for 1 or 2)

I buy firm tofu and if you’ve always meant to try it but haven’t now is the time to “dive in”. Firm is the easiest to work with and is very versatile.

There is an abundance of recipes on line. I thought it interesting to see how tofu could be incorporated into an Italian dish as a substitute for pasta. Tricky. That should be good news for people with high cholesterol who have to cut back on carbs. Okay nothing can sub for pasta but it is an interesting and creative thought.

What you need - the ingredients- for the Scramble:

1 package firm or extra firm tofu sliced in half then one half diced into cubes. (Some stores sell packaged tofu cubes)

1 small red pepper sliced into julienne strips

1  green onion diced or ½ cup Vidalia or sweet onion diced

1 cup portabella mushrooms sliced

1 tablespoon minced garlic

½ cup pure Sesame oil divided

¼ cup of Oriental vinegar

Sweet Chili Sauce (my answer to ketchup and great with or combined with most anything. Okay not ice cream)

Cooking Instructions 

Put ¼ cup of the oil in a wok or fry pan and heat

Add tofu cubes, coat well with oil and let them cook until they start to turn a nice golden brown turning occasionally

Add the other ingredients with the exception of the remaining oil and vinegar.

You might need to add more oil for the mushrooms

Add the vinegar at the last much as you would Brandy or Sherry, cook one minute then turn off heat and shake pan vigorously

Makes a great and easy brunch dish  Add a salad and don’t feel guilty about serving a rich dessert.


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