21 November 2006

A week of fun, food, family

I’m writing this at the beginning of Thanksgiving week. I’m taking the week off, which really means three days of vacation because the office is closed on Thanksgiving day and the following Friday.

It’s a big week for me. At the end of it, on Saturday, I celebrate my 55th birthday. So I’m taking time off to just relax, take time to do some fun activities, do some cooking, go to a few restaurants, and, of course, spend time with family.

Here’s what I did yesterday, on the first day of my vacation.

First of all, we went to the University of Minnesota Minneapolis campus. My wife and I both graduated from the U of M, and we enjoy just going to campus from time to time to walk the campus and reminisce.

As you may know, the Mississippi River flows by the campus. The East Bank campus is the main campus where we had most of our classes. The West Bank campus (connected by the Washington Avenue Bridge) was the hippie, counter-culture hangout during the early ‘70s when I was there. Now it’s the location of the new law school and the Rarig Center for performing arts. When I was a freshman, I lived in Middlebrook Hall, located on the West Bank.

Besides walking through campus, we went down to the river and walked for a couple of miles. There’s a nicely maintained walking path that follows the river flats. In the ‘70s, they threw some pretty wild parties on the river flats.

After our walk, we went to Al’s Breakfast for a late morning breakfast/lunch. I mentioned Al’s in my very first post, ‘Welcome’ on August 6. My son works at Al’s, though he’s cut back on his hours now that he’s back in school. He wasn’t working when we went this week, but we had fun with his friends who were working that day.

Al’s is good because it knows what it does well and it doesn’t try to do anything fancy. Eggs, omelets, pancakes, waffles – pretty basic but good stuff. I had the Jose – two poached eggs on a bed of hash browns (nice and crisp) with cheese melted over the top, served with buttered toast. Yum! My wife had the Smokey – an omelet with bits of crisp bacon, tomatoes, and cheddar cheese, also served with toast. (She had her toast ‘dry.’ Sad choice.)

My son invented a summer special (scrambled eggs with spinach and feta cheese), a spring special (scrambled eggs with fresh mozzarella and basil), and a winter special (I don’t remember what’s in it, scrambled eggs and something tasty). Of course, all three are available all year round.

On Monday night, I made braised lamb shanks with white beans (recipe in the next post). I’ve been carrying the recipe around in my Palm Pilot for a long time. I can’t remember for sure where I got the recipe, but I think it was from the food page of the Florida Sun-Sentinel. It was an interesting recipe to make. Often, the first step in braising meat is to brown it before adding the cooking liquid. In this case, the recipe calls for searing the shanks in a very hot oven, then adding the beans and cooking liquid.

The recipe says to periodically check the liquid and add more if necessary. I added a half-cup of water after an hour and another half cup during the final 30 minutes. I probably didn’t have to add that last half cup, but I didn’t want the beans to dry out.

We drank half of a bottle of Prunotto Barolo wine. We brought the bottle back from our trip to southern France a few years ago. It was a wonderful wine that perfectly complimented the braised lamb and beans. Trouble is, I can’t find any place in Minnesota that carries Prunotto. So sad.

Try the recipe. I think you’ll like it.

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