Monday, March 2, 2020

Three Beautiful Things 03/01/20: Greek Meatballs and Mojitos, The Main Event and Ouzo, Herb Alpert Transported Me

1. I hosted family dinner this week. I enjoy Mediterranean food a lot and when I looked into recipes, assessed what food I had on hand, and what food I could readily buy here and in CdA, I decided to fix a Greek meal -- well, maybe I should say I decided to prepare food and serve drinks that had "Greek" in the recipe title (for the most part).

I'm not sure I succeeded in creating authentic Greek flavors -- I'm not sure anyone who really knows Greek food would be that impressed!-- but none of us knew any better and we enjoyed our meal and I had a ton of fun preparing it.

We started with Juicy Baked Greek Meatballs as an appetizer. Yesterday, I mixed a pound of ground beef (I wish it had been ground lamb) with finely chopped onion, mint, an egg, olive oil, cumin, ouzo, red wine vinegar, and bread crumbs. I wanted this mixture to sit in the refrigerator overnight and I'm glad I did. I baked and then broiled the meatballs this afternoon and let them cool a bit before serving them to Christy, Everett, Carol, and Paul.

I bought Metaxa brandy on Friday because I found a Greek Mojito recipe that called for it. I muddled brown sugar, mint, and fresh squeezed lime juice in my cocktail shaker and then added ice, fresh squeezed lemon juice, and the Metaxa brandy. I poured everyone a cocktail over ice and added about an ounce of club soda. The drink was good, but, in my assessment, I failed in the mint department. I don't think I used enough and I'm not sure I'm a very good muddler. I need to look into that.

2. I served three dishes for the main event. First, I presented a mint yogurt cucumber salad. Here again, I'm not sure the proportions were quite right. Next time, I think I'll use a bit more yogurt and chop the mint for finely and possibly use more of it.

I also cooked up a simple, kind of rustic, cannellini bean soup and made a tomato feta shrimp dish served over rice. I marinated the shrimp for a few hours in a mixture of oil, ouzo, garlic, lemon zest, salt, and pepper and later added the shrimp into a tomato sauce that included onion, green and red bell pepper, diced tomatoes, garlic, dry white wine, and ouzo. I left out the red pepper flakes.

To help make it feel even more like a Greek dinner, I served a bottle of Retsina wine and everyone enjoyed it. Once we finished eating, we retired to the living room and I served everyone a pour of ouzo, thinking we'd all have one drink to cap off our meal. But, to my delight, Christy, Paul, Carol, and I loved the ouzo and all of us happily and eagerly served ourselves a few bonus pours and the ouzo seemed to inspire us to free and open conversation about continuing to pull together as siblings, especially in support of Christy. Everett, who is nearly ninety years old, is struggling with different things and his struggles demand a lot of Christy.

3. Because Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass plays a version of "Zorba the Greek", I thought it would be fun to play a Tijuana Brass shuffle on the Echo, hoping, I suppose, that "Zorba the Greek" would play at some point.

I put the shuffle on a couple of hours before everyone arrived and I was not expecting these tunes to make me feel so happy. They transported me back to junior high and high school when I played the handful of their albums of theirs I owned over and over and over again, often playing air trombone, and awakened memories of Herb Alpert's music's presence on The Lloyd Thaxton Show, The Dating Game, and in the Figurine commercial (it used the melody from "Tangerine", a Tijuana Brass staple). Even more fun was remembering playing this music in junior high and high school band.

This weekend was the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival at the University of Idaho. Fifty years ago, when this festival first started, it was a modest affair. Lionel Hampton's name was not attached to it and it featured primarily (or exclusively) lab and stage bands from high schools in the region. Kellogg High School's Tijuana Brass sounding band was called "The Taco Benders". I wasn't in this band, but somehow, some way, I traveled to Moscow to hear The Taco Benders play at the festival and heard some other high school bands play, too. Lewiston's superb band directed by Eddy Williams -- his son, Gary (RIP), graduated from KHS in 1970, made a very strong impression on me, especially their rendition of "Norwegian Wood". Any time I hear "Norwegian Wood", it's not the Beatles that flash in my mind, but the Lewiston High School jazz band.

I loved that day at the University of Idaho and I didn't expect Herb Alpert to bring it all back to me so powerfully -- but he did and the music had a similar effect, with different memories, for Christy, Paul, and Carol.

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