Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sideras Family 2009

2009 Christmas letter

Christmas 2009
Christmas this year finds the Sideras family healthy, not so wealthy (two children in college) and perhaps somewhat wise, if you don’t consider the opinions of the Sideras children who are constantly suspicious of their parental units’ cognitive abilities. It’s fascinating that we’ve reached this age in light of how little we know or understand. In spite of our limited mental faculties, we soldier on to the future and remain blissfully happy.

A sad note of 2009 was the passing of Paula’s grandmother, Leah Violeta Matthews. She was 95 years old and lived a full and unremarkable life. I say that in the kindest of ways; she was not famous, rich, or one of the beautiful people. She was a woman who spent her working life for the railroad, to provide a home and life for her children. She was the type of grandmother that would spend hours sewing dresses for her granddaughters, cooking for her family and making needlepoint. She influenced her family by being a role model who found life’s rewards in family and friends and lived her life simply and honestly. I got to know grandma “GG” when she moved to Dayton. I remember the first time I offered to take her shopping. She eyed this long-haired hippie guy with some distrust as we entered the grocery. One inside, our conversation became tense as I suggested to her, as she was reaching for a 100 count box of coffee fitters, that at her age, perhaps she was being a bit optimistic and maybe would like to consider the 40 count. She sneered and we bonded.

Once grandma entered a nursing home, our Saturday morning visits provided me some insight as to what was really important as we live our daily lives. Later on, as her memory became selective, the most important parts of her life stayed in focus and those weekly discussions always seemed to revolve around the same topics. This Grandma who led a remarkably full life and leaves me with these life lessons:

Friends and family matter. As she got older all she would talk about was the trips and adventures she shared with her friends and family. She relived those times again and again and they were a great source of comfort and joy.

The secret to good living was good eating. Leah was an accomplished home cook who believed that an event worth celebrating was worth celebrating with good food. She could recall in vivid details her family members making food and she kept those family members alive with her recipes and memories.
Good food, friends, and family might be the perfect combination for a shot at happiness and a long life. She was loved and she will be missed.

Many of you have reported that you enjoy hearing the tales of the Sideras family tree stalking escapades. This year was a little different in light of the fact that our hunting party was minus one as Zac was away in Egypt. So Paula, a reluctant Luke and I set off on a Saturday morning at 8:30 a.m. (an ungodly hour of the morning according to Luke) to search for a tree. There was some preliminary talk of buying a balled live tree this year, but lack of space in the yard derailed that idea. I did make a fine case to take a live tree and randomly plant it somewhere, in effect, setting a tree free, something akin to random acts of guerrilla gardening. But we settled on the more traditional approach. Once we arrived at the customary site this bitterly cold day, we spotted an attractive, already cut tree. Having always bought a fresh, cheap cut over a stale, pricier tree, we gave it a quick glance - snubbed it and walked deep into the heart of the Xmas tree forest. Luke was able thru email and photos, to give Zac up to the minute information as to what trees we were contemplating and the dynamics of tree selection. As we were debating, our thoughts returned to the stale cut tree we had seen earlier. The thought of spending an additional $10 on a tree that was cut, actually had symmetry, and uncharacteristically cute, was a foreign and alien concept. As you remember from past letters, we have always prided ourselves on finding that Liza Doolittle of a tree and creating a transformation. We lost our will this year, and reasoned that if we started with a nice tree we might be pleasantly surprised with the results. Zac observed that this was part of a conspiracy plot to subvert the ritual by bringing home a “classic” tree and pave the way for an artificial one. Get them a nice tree once, they are hooked on that ideal, and then slip a polyester masterpiece at a future date! While this tree is a radical departure - smaller, better shaped and looks similar to those artificial kinds, I must say that it is working out well and has won high praise from all corners.

Paula is well and embarked on a series of new adventures this year. As you know she has recreationally rowed for years but this year she took the plunge and began to row competitively. She has been rowing a single, double and a quad with remarkable success. She has several medals to her credit and in typical Paula fashion, she will not let me illuminate the medal count but suffice to say that one of the medal’s metal rhymes with the word “bold”. She looks pretty good in her Team GDRA uniform but, then I have always been partial to short shorts.

Luke has embarked on his second year at the University of Dayton, switching from Engineering to Biology. He passed the summer working long, hard and hot hours on the NCR Country Club greens crew. He was up at the crack of dawn each and every day and worked harder than any human ever has. He picked up conversational Spanish from his co-workers, but probably not polite conversational Spanish. He was one of the unfortunate contractors of H1N1 this fall, and we were grateful he was living at home. He plans to move back into the dorms in January, leaving us empty nesters once again.

Zac was quite the traveler this year. He spent the spring semester in the West Bank in the Palestinian Authority at Berzeit University. He had some remarkable experiences there and you can read excerpts of emails and see photos on the Sideras family blog. After returning, he secured an internship with the Palestine Center in Washington, DC. This fall, he was off to American University in Cairo on a Boren scholarship and will finish out his academic year at the University of Dayton. We are looking forward to his return just before Christmas.

As for me, life is very much the the same. One highlight of the year was celebrating my 10th year of rock climbing. My climbing partner, Tim and our wives returned to West Virginia to the same crags where we first started to climb. I am happy to say that while I am not climbing any better, after ten years, I have not gotten much worse. Nestle continues to be very, very good to me.

Thanks so much for being part of the Sideras family throughout out the year. To read more about us and our adventures please visit us at

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Contemplative Zac

Photo montage of the Zac's travels

University of Dayton Alumni Magazine article about Zac's travels, pages 19-21.

Roasted Plum Tomato and Basil Soup

I think that this soup was one of the first soups that I made for Christmas Eve. It is simple and quick. Also it has the added bonus of providing those festive holiday colors of red and green. Nothing takes the edge off of a hectic day than a bowl of hot soup. You can garnish this soup with a crouton of French bread, and fresh basil or you can try my recipe for savory popcorn.

Roasted Plum Tomato and Basil Soup
Sevres 10
Yields 21/2 quarts
24 oz. Diced Plum tomatoes drained, juice reserved
2 oz. Olive oil
8 oz (2 small onions) small diced
4 oz. (2 ribs) celery small diced
1.5 quarts whole Milk or half and half
4 cloves garlic minced
2-3 tablespoons fresh basil (dried ½ to 1 tablespoon.) reserve the remaining fresh basil to use as a garnish.
1/8 teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon salt

1) Place plum tomatoes on a baking sheet and bake in a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes until visibly dry and slightly charred.
2) In a soup pot sauté onions, garlic and celery until translucent 3-4 minutes
3) Add milk or ½ & ½, juice from tomatoes and the roasted tomatoes to the pot and bring to a GENTLE one bubble boil. If you boil it to hard the soup will break.
4) Add basil, salt and pepper.

Soup will be thin at this point depending if you used milk or half and half. You can thicken the soup by removing some of the soup and putting it in a blender to puree or using an immerseable stick blender to puree it right in the pot. Make it as thick as you like. Also you can drizzle a bit of Extra Virgin olive oil on top for added flavor.

Parmesan Pepper Popcorn
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
About 8 cups hot plain popcorn
1 oz finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or any grating cheese (1/3 cup)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
Drizzle oil over hot popcorn in a large bowl and toss to coat, then toss with cheese, pepper, and salt

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas 2008 Soup

Bouillabaisse Soup Base
Yield 4
This is a great soup that can be used for a make-ahead meal. You can make the base the day ahead and just throw it together the next night. Add a green salad, some crusty bread and a glass of wine and watch the stress melt away.

3 T olive oil
1 medium carrot julienned
1 medium onion julienned
2 ribs of celery julienned
3 cloves of garlic roughly chopped
1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes
1/8t fennel seeds
¼ t saffron
1 cup of clam juice or Minor’s fish stock you can buy this and other fine Nestlé products at
2 lbs fresh mussels
1lb mixed seafood Trader Joe’s has a great frozen blend or you can use any fish
1/8 dried peppers optional
Sauté carrots, onions, celery and garlic in the olive oil until slightly soft. Add tomatoes with juice, saffron, fennel seed, clam juice and dried peppers. Simmer for 30 minutes, the soup will be thick but will thin out as you cook the seafood blend and mussels as they release their juices. When ready to eat place seafood and mussels into the pot cover and gently simmer until mussels are open. Discard any mussel that are not open, Divide contends between four bowls and serve immediately. You can add chopped parsley at the