Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Portabella mushroom tacos and Sinatra on a glorious Spring day...what could be better?

The only thing better than a day off is a glorious, warm, sunny day off. Today was one of those days...

I woke up this morning with no definitive plans, other than to take my car for an oil change and tire rotation, and to do the grocery shopping. By eleven, my errands were finished and the rest of the day was all mine!

I decided to try a place for lunch that I’d heard about, called Goghee To Go…Korean BBQ infused with Mexican street food. Goghee is “meat” in Korean. As the name implies, there isn’t a dining room…just a few picnic tables by the sidewalk and a tiny parking lot…that was packed when I got there.

I drove up to the window and checked out the menu board. Beef. Pork. Chicken. Portabellas. What? Mushroom tacos? Yes! Thinly sliced, sweet and savory Portabellas, wrapped in soft white corn tortillas, with gimchee (spicy pickled napa cabbage, caramelized to perfection) and dressed with zesty sesame soy sauce vinaigrette. I was intrigued. I began to salivate. I placed my order.

The girl at the window handed me my trio of Portabella beauties, but the parking lot was still full, so I drove around the corner, pulled into the parking lot of a small market, rolled down the car windows, and tore into my lunch with gusto. The tacos were delicious! Sweet, spicy, crunchy. The food…the sun…the light breeze drifting through my car…I was in heaven!

And, I was so focused on my lunch that I didn’t notice the guy who had just walked up to my car window. “Excuse me Maam,” he said. “Do you have a few dollars to spare? I’m really hungry.” Since I'd just purchased lunch with my debit card, I had to say, “I’m sorry, I honestly do not.”

There were lots of people around, so I wasn’t really afraid. He was of an undeterminable age, but my best guess is that he was in his late forties. He was alert…not “high on crystal-meth” alert…just…aware. He was sunburned, kind of grungy, and looked really tired. He thanked me, and began to walk away. “Wait!” I said. “Would you like one of my tacos?” I wrapped one up in a napkin and handed it to him. He looked at it a bit incredulously, took a bite, and made a face. “What’s in this?” he asked. “Portabellas,” I replied. “What’s that?” He asked. “Mushrooms.” I said. He took another bite and made another face. He stood quietly by the car, eating the taco because he was hungry, but obviously not enjoying it very much.

On the passenger’s seat of my car was a Frank Sinatra CD. “Wow…you have Sinatra…I really like Sinatra. My favorite is One for my baby, and one more for the road.” “That’s on here!” I said. I started the car, popped in the CD, and cranked it up so he could hear it. I finished off my tacos while he stood there grooving to Sinatra.

“Gotta go,” I said, “Have a good afternoon.” “Thanks,” he said. “I’d still like to get a burger at Wendy’s.” “And I still don’t have any cash,” I replied. We laughed, and he walked away as I drove off.

Sometimes you just never know what’s going to happen when you wake up in the morning….


Violet Eyed Beauty...

Elizabeth Taylor who passed away today at age 79, gave one of her last interviews to in late 2010 to promote her fragrance Violet Eyes.

The Oscar-winner, humanitarian, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother shared 25 things you don't know about her with Us:

1. Before I made films, I had a lemonade stand in Southern California.

2. When José Eber is out of town, I love to cut my hair and anyone else's.

3. I'm mad for Law & Order and have seen every single episode. My children and Mariska Hargitay, a dazzling actress, played together as kids.

4. I converted to Judaism in 1959.

5. My Jewish name is Elisheba Rachel.

6. My first horse was named Betty.

7. I didn't go on a date until I was 16.

8. My legs are too short.

9. The film I'm proudest of is Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

10. I never face the day without perfume.

11. I dreamed of designing perfume 25 years before I did it.

12. I love blood-orange juice.

13. My very first memory is of pain.

14. I'm still heartbroken that Richard [Burton] never won an Oscar.

15. I am sincerely not worried about getting old.

16. I never tried to act until A Place in the Sun.

17. I am disgusted by the amount of myth about me that is accepted as fact.

18. People on Twitter named my new fragrance, Violet Eyes.

19. I've never had acting lessons, though many people think I need them.

20. In my twenties, I nearly lost my eye and my leg. Still have them both, tee hee.

21. Nerves are the nemesis of all actors.

22. I hate being called Liz, because it can sound like such a hiss.

23. I believe you can be close to God anywhere.

24. My dog Delilah is in love with my cat Fang. To each his own.

25. My family and people with HIV/AIDS are my life.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Six Surprising Facts About St. Patrick's Day...


For anyone in the Irish pub business, St. Patrick’s Day is the biggest day of the year. All across New Jersey and America, bars and restaurants will welcome big crowds, pour countless pints of Guinness and serve millions of pounds of corned beef and cabbage.

People are often quite surprised when I explain how totally different the holiday is here in America, compared to what I and other Irish natives experienced growing up. Saint Patrick's Day (Lá Fhéile Pádraig) was traditionally a religious holiday celebrating the man credited with converting Ireland to Christianity. While there is certainly still a religious aspect to observances in the U.S., it is much more of a secular celebration of Irish culture and heritage.

People are often surprised when I tell them things about Ireland and about St. Patrick’s Day.

1. St. Patrick was not born in Ireland: March 17th is the anniversary of St. Patrick’s death, not his birthday. In fact, he was not born in Ireland; Patrick was the son of Roman nobleman in England and was kidnapped and taken to Ireland by his captors. He was sold into slavery and worked as a herdsman for six years. Patrick escaped after the voice of God instructed him to flee by ship from Wexford. He traveled to the European continent and joined a monastery. He became a priest and realized his destiny was to convert the Irish to Christianity.

He continued this mission across the island of Ireland until he passed away on March 17th, 461.

2. St. Patrick was never canonized by the Catholic Church: St. Patrick was not canonized by the Roman Catholic Church; that’s because there was no formal canonization process until the Middle Ages. Patrick was already considered a saint by the time the official process for canonization was established around the 12th century.

3. Until recently, the pubs in Ireland were closed on St. Patrick’s Day: St. Patrick’s Day is a holy day of obligation to attend mass in Ireland. In fact, up until the 1970s, the law required that pubs remained closed on March 17th. It wasn’t until I came to America that I encountered St. Patrick’s Day as a boisterous, primarily secular celebration of heritage.

4. People in Ireland don’t wear green on St. Patrick’s Day: You don’t have to wear green in Ireland because everybody is already Irish. (They don’t eat green bagels or drink green beer either.) However, the green shamrock – which has three leaves, not four – is appropriately associated with the day, since it was the vehicle by which St. Patrick explained the Holy Trinity when converting the Irish to Christianity.

5. Corned beef and cabbage is not a traditional meal in Ireland: For a long time, Ireland was a poor country, and people couldn’t afford beef. More likely, they ate boiled bacon if they had any meat at all. Many Irish emigrants never ate beef until they left their native country and achieved some level of prosperity in America. The popularity of corned beef and cabbage is an Irish-American phenomenon. It will be the top selling menu item at traditional Irish pubs like Kilkenny House on St. Patrick’s Day. However, few restaurants in Ireland offer corned beef and cabbage – and those that do are likely serving it to tourists.

6. The first St. Patrick’s Day Parade was in New York, not Dublin: The St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City pre-dates the Declaration of Independence and will take place for the 250th time this year. Dublin did not host its first St. Patrick’s Day Parade until the 1930s, and it was decades later that the country created the Saint Patrick's Festival to promote March tourism. If anything, the Irish are more likely to come to the U.S. to partake in the fun.

Coming to this country changes one’s perspective on many things. In my case, it was an increased understanding of the reasons why Irish Americans celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and passionately embrace a country across an ocean that they might not have ever visited. America is a nation of immigrants, and no matter where their country of origin is, people take pride in the traditions they bring with them from their homelands. That’s why you’ll hear Irish ballads, bagpipes and see adorable step dancers perform at pubs and restaurants across the state and the country.

I feel fortunate to be able to share Irish culture and heritage here with other Irish natives, with those whose families left generations ago, and those who have no Irish connection at all. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Barry O’Donovan is the owner of Kilkenny House Pub & Restaurant, in Cranford, NJ

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Whatever Happened To Style?

In the midst of all of the low-brow humor that passes for clever Super Bowl commercials, there was an ad for Chrysler called “Arrive in Style.” It was very subtle…filmed partially in black and white…nostalgic of the forties and fifties.

The narrator asks, “where has the glamour gone? It wasn’t long ago, America had it…looking, feeling like a million bucks. It was practically our birthright. We didn’t race from A to B…we cruised. Going for a drive was a big deal. And when we arrived, we arrived in style.”

Ok, yes…it was a little pretentious and snobby. But something about it made me long for the days when going for a drive was actually a pastime. My family didn’t belong to the country club set. We were strictly middle-class suburbia. But we had a big, beige Pontiac that was always clean and waxed, with lots of shiny, polished chrome. My dad kept the interior immaculate.

Sometimes on a Sunday afternoon, we’d go for a long drive through the countryside surrounding Memphis, where we lived. Usually, we’d stop at a roadside stand for an ice cream cone. Dad would stand there, leaning against the car, smoking a cigarette, looking like Frank Sinatra, with his pressed shirt, sport’s jacket, and pleated trousers, complete with fedora, while Mom and I, in our pretty dresses and white gloves, savored our ice cream. We “dressed” for a drive in the country! Can you imagine?

Now you might be asking, “Who wants to get dressed up to ride in a car? Why not just wear some cut-offs and a tee shirt and be comfortable?” Comfortable is pleasant….practical. It makes sense when you’re riding around in an un-air-conditioned automobile and eating ice cream on a warm Spring day…right?

Maybe so. But, whatever happened to style?

I feel like I’m a thousand years old when I say this…but I miss the decorum of the fifties and sixties. Good manners were required. Our elders were treated with respect. Invitations arrived in the mail. And writing thank you notes was a must. There was no dashing off a quick text.

We “dressed” for dining out…even if it was just the neighborhood Shoney‘s. On special occasions, we went to Justine’s and ate lump crabmeat curry, served by elegant waiters in starched white shirts…very gracious, “old school” South. We dressed for church…for school…for dates. We turned off the television and sat together at the table for meals. The one exception was dinner on Saturday night when Mom let me eat on a TV tray and watch “Fantastic Features.”

We wanted to grow up to be "Jack and Jackie." Boys brought flowers and opened doors and walked on the curbside. We went downtown on the bus to stroll up and down Main Street, and to go to the movies. Teenagers didn’t have cars! We rode our bikes to school. We sat together in the evening in someone’s back yard…and talked! We had televisions, of course, but we preferred laughing and talking with our family and friends. There was nothing better than laying on the cool grass on a summer evening and wishing on the stars. We went to the library, the skating rink, bowling, the park, the zoo. And we always “dressed” for the occasion.

Don’t get me wrong. Progress and technology are wonderful. TV is way better now. Computers expand our knowledge and boundaries, and cell phones make communication so much easier. Facebook makes it possible to stay in touch with family and friends far away, and that’s a good thing.

Times have changed, that’s for sure. But sometimes I feel like I’m always racing from A to B…and I really miss the cruising. And when I throw on a pair of sweatpants to go to the grocery store, or sit staring at a TV while I eat my dinner, I wonder, “whatever happened to style?”