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

2008 Christmas Tree before and after photos

You can see that the tree has under gone an extreme makeover. If only hanging lights and shiny baubles worked that good on me.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas 2008 Letter

It’s not a Christmas letter without a story about our annual hunt for that pagan symbol of life, The Christmas Tree. I live in fear each fall as the day of the hunt approaches that I will not be able to write about anything that is fresh or new. It was with trepidation that I approached the day. December 7th, a day with tremendous potential for infamy. This year’s tree dilemma was unusual due to the economic crisis and we anticipated that there would be a run on the “not so premium” trees. As you may recall, it has always been our policy to buy the cheapest tree and perform a decorating miracle. Some people rescue pets; we rescue trees. So fate being a cruel mistress, we combed the discount lot (these trees one step from being mulch) and the field of holiday dreams was nearly bare. You could tell at fifty paces that the pickings were slim - you could see across the field not only through the sparse branches but under them as well, as no tree had any branches three feet or below. Undaunted, we set out to give that one special tree an opportunity to get in touch with its inner beauty and be given an extreme makeover. The winner indeed had no limbs three feet from the ground and a decidedly leftward lean to the trunk. We took that lean as a sign of hope and change to come and took it home. Once up, the apparently not so sparse tree became voluminous, filling the room and knocking man and beast from its path. We were grateful for the ample space which enabled us to maneuver the tree around the room to find the least intrusive position. The decidedly left lean posed a small problem and required corrective adjustment to keep it upright, however it remains stable. To enhance its appearance and take advantage of its natural beauty, I was able to wrap the trunk top to bottom with festive red holiday lights giving the tree an eerie red glow from the middle. Then cover it with a thousand points of light and a bunch of shiny baubles and you have a holiday symbol of fertility. It seems you can put lipstick on a pig and distract folks from the true underlining flaws. The kids are excited about the void of space under the tree because they erroneously assume that means room for more and larger presents to fit. Sadly for them all it means is an avenue to crawl to the other side of the room. As our good friend Louie Ratterman observed, “That tree is showing a lot of leg!”

Luke hit another milestone this year by graduating from high school. Along with this achievement was his acceptance into the University of Dayton School of Engineering. He is doing well and has come to the conclusion that the University does require more effort than his previous academic endeavors. It always good to achieve ones goals in life and Luke was able to tick a few off his life list by visiting the West coast. Going to California and Las Vegas has always been a dream. The marriage of our nephew DeMark and our new niece Colleen drew us there. He held the opinion that sitting on a beach all day is not his idea of fun, but being the good son, indulged his mother’s wishes and joined her for the day. After an hour or two, he aptly observed that the girls of Southern California were ”pretty remarkably fit!” With this new observation in hand he said he might reconsider his harsh judgment of hanging out at the beach. Another transformative experience was his discovery of the West Coast cult involving the In & Out Burger. This famous fast food parlor made quit an impression on him and he managed in 14 days to eat at one six times, including detouring a wedding limo in Las Vegas for a quick drive by of a Double- Double “Animal Style”. He continued on part time with the Dragons ground crew, but took on a full time position with the NCR Country Club grounds crew, and quickly became a valued employee.

Zac is a junior at the University of Dayton and continues to do well. He also has passed some milestones this year. The major one was the celebration of his twenty-first birthday in October. He staged a party that was themed around the life of James Bond. He, of course, came in a tuxedo and invited his guests to dress the parts of various Bond characters in the billon or so movies that have been released. In keeping with Sideras family traditions his party was as the kids say ‘off the hook.’ Paula and I provided the food (apparently serving food at a UD party is unique) so he was able to claim that his event was professionally catered. Luke was the bartender and performed with distinction. Many guests remarked how classy it was to be at a party that not only had food but wine served in real glasses. Combine all that class and Zac in a tuxedo, you could see him as the next James Bond. Zac also received an award from the local chapter of the American Fundraising Professionals in recognition of The National Day of Philanthropy. He was recognized as the Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy (18-23). We were invited to a nice luncheon and awards ceremony. He is still majoring in international studies and history and plans to study abroad next year but details remain sketchy.

Paula continues to be the family’s moral compass and the fiber that hold our family together. At her age you can imagine the importance of fiber. We would all surely spin into a downward spiral if not for her strong field of gravity. She continues to work at UD in the Office of Special Events. Her job has taken her on the road a lot this year with trips to New York, Atlanta, and Florida. Because of her being a major-domo she has gotten a Blackberry. I am somewhat worried about her and her new toy after reading a poll that suggested that 38% of woman preferred their Blackberry over their spouses. I feel the heat of competition getting very close. She was pleased with the family vacation not only because it yielded that quality family time but also it resulted in one of the only decent family pictures we have ever taken. (Thank-you Stephanie Smith) Paula continues to be healthy and once again received a clean bill of health from her doctors. Certainly the best Christmas present we could hope for.

As for me, I am still with Nestlé and living the dream. I have managed to combine several business trips this year into add on climbing trips. I have been able to climb in Colorado, Wyoming, and Nevada and do some canyoneering in Utah at Zion Nation Park. The trip to Zion was particularly rewarding, seeing that I was able drag my children and wife with me for some quality time. While the children are not begging to go canyoneering (hiking in water) they will begrudgingly admit that the Virgin River and adjoining canyons are beautiful. I reminded them that someday their turn will come and they can ruin their children’s lives. This letter is getting to be to short of a forum for me and I am not able to share with you all everything that I want. I have decided to try an experiment this year and start a blog about the Sideras family and their many adventures. I want to be able to share with you some action photos, pictures of our rescued tree expanded soup recipes and web links. I hope that you will log into it and see our postings and share with us this most wonderful time of the year.

Homemade Egg Nog is the very best

New Nog
4 eggs
½ cup sugar
¼ t salt
1 quart milk
2 t vanilla
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup rum or bourbon (optional)

In a small bowl beat the eggs, sugar, and salt until combined. Set Aside. In medium saucepan heat milk until hot; remove from heat. Add about one cup of the milk to egg mixture, stirring constantly. Pour mixture into the sauce pan with remaining milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, about five minutes. Do not boil. Stir in vanilla extract. Place pan in bowl with ice water, stir occasionally until cool. Refrigerate until cold, about two hours

Before serving (up to one hour) beat cream into soft peaks, fold into egg-milk mixture. Stir in rum if desired. Just before serving, pour into punch bowl and sprinkle with nutmeg. Makes 12 servings
Paula was a big media celebrity this year and was on the front page of the Dayton Daily News (below the fold). The headline read:

Paula Sideras had to scrape the ice from her windshield during the ice storm on Tuesday evening. Sideras was leaving from work in Dayton.

Christmas Soup 2007

French Onion Soup

In keeping with tradition I am including my annual soup recipes. This one is not an original but taken from the New York Times Sunday magazine. This recipe appeared in The Times in a 1974 article by Craig Claiborne. It is one of the best French onion Soups that I have ever had. Follow the recipe as written the first time then make your own adjustments. I like to cut down the tomato and increase the liquid a little but not much. Enjoy and call if you have questions.
1 baguette, cut into 1/2-inch slices (about 25 to 30)
9 tablespoons butter, softened
9 ounces Emmental cheese, finely grated
8 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced (about 12 cups)
1 tablespoon kosher salt, more to taste
1 cup tomato purée.
1. Toast the baguette slices and let them cool. Spread a generous layer of butter on each slice (you will need about 5 tablespoons), then lay the slices close together on a baking sheet and top with all but 1/2 cup of cheese.
2. In a large saucepan, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add the onions, season with salt and sauté, stirring occasionally, until very soft and golden, about 15 minutes.
3. In a 5-quart casserole, arrange a layer of bread slices (about 1/3 of them). Spread 1/3 of the onions on top, followed by 1/3 of the tomato purée. Repeat for two more layers. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup cheese. To avoid boiling over, the casserole must not be more than 2/3 full.
4. In a saucepan, bring 1 1/2 quarts water to a boil. Add the salt. Very slowly pour the salted water into the casserole, near the edge, so that the liquid rises just to the top layer of cheese without covering it. (Depending on the size of your casserole, you may need more or less water.)
5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the casserole on the stove and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, then transfer to the oven and bake uncovered for 1 hour. The soup is ready when the surface looks like a crusty, golden cake and the inside is unctuous and so well blended that it is impossible to discern either cheese or onion. Each person is served some of the baked crust and some of the inside, which should be thick but not completely without liquid. Serves 6.

Christmas Letter 2007

Christmas 2007

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays or Bah Humbug what every is appropriate in your politically correct world. It is the sincere wish from the Sideras family that you have a most pain free and best possible time this holiday season. It is not hard to discern my true feelings about that holidays and I look most forward to the season so that I can bask in my sardonic and cynical humor. I love this time of the year because it provides me with much fodder in which to interpret this, as some have call it,” the most wonderful time of the year.’

Those of you would have been the recipients of this letter in the past have been often regaled with tales of past Christmas tree hunts. The year we cut a tree that had a trunk as big around as my thigh and required us to remove most of the living room furniture, the worlds ugliest and crooked tree in the $15.00 and under category and my personal favorite the tree accidentally pulled the tree though a pile of dog pooh and subsequent indoor tree washing after it was discovered much to late after decorating.. What is that smell Paula kept asking? This year had all the makings of a great tree adventures cold, dark skies and raining for two days. The hunt was I regret to say most uneventful and we functioned like a NSCAR pit crew we had our jobs we executed and returned to the car with a tree which was better off cut down. I can only speculate that if Christmas tree farms are like school yards this one would have been the target of bullies. We embraced our humanity and did the tree a favor.

The year has been good and Luke informed us that this year was his year to be the featured personality of the newsletter. I have done exhaustive searching of the archives and measured on only the column inches but the actual character counts and found them to be pretty much even among the family. However each child always thinks the other one is the favorite so why not chose and remove all doubts.

In Luke’s defenses he is having had a very good senior year. He is maturing into a young man and showing us hope that someday he will fend for himself. He has moved up in The Dayton Dragons, our single A baseball team,. Grounds keeping organization and has been entrusted with the keys to the park on a time or two. He enjoys working with the team and got to grounds crew for the Cincinnati Reds when they played an exhibition game this spring. The result was the Reds players, in print, saying that the Dragons field was much better maintained that their home field. Also he has become somewhat of a celebrity at Fairmont by co-hosting the Friday morning video announcements. They are very funny, have high production value and well written. As with any Sideras no obstacle is too much for a laugh and we had the pleasure of hosting a live turkey in our garage for a week as part of the Thanksgiving Show. The highlight this season has been his video interview with Jenna Bush, the president’s daughter. The asked some hard hitting journalistic questions like ‘What is you favorite piazza topping?” Just for the record and they are mushrooms, goat cheese and artichokes. I guess with several Secret Service guys around it’s probably not the time to ask opinions on dad’s foreign policy. He is building a guitar from scratch in the garage and the wood shavings are coming in handy to abate the smell of the last project if you know what I mean. The coup de grace is him bringing home an A in Physics much to our pleasant surprise. Word count 277

Zac is now a sophomore at the University of Dayton majoring in International Studies. He had the opportunity to spend the summer in Morocco at the Al Akhawayn University . The trip was an intensive 8 weeks of Arabic language studies or so I am told. We went to a movie that was primarily in Arabic and I asked if he knew what was going on and he said he could read the stop signs. Along with his trip he ate a Rick’s Café in Casablanca and flew to Spain to run with the bulls. I have been informed that bulls are much quicker and bigger in real life. and it looked easier on TV. He also has been named as a Presidential Embassery at UD and represents the university at various functions. In addition to his school activities he was the feature of a newspaper article on his internship at United Way and his speaking program on youth and how community can promote a healthy environment to foster youth. Word count 170

Paula is doing well and recently got a promotion at UD as Director of Special Events of Advancement. She continues to work way to hard at her job. This summer three of her BFF (best friend forever) celebrated there fiftieth birthdays in Mexico. Details are still very sketchy and we have quit asking. I believe a good time was had by all. She continues to be the glue that binds us and the ribbon that makes this package shine and the only reason we continue to flourish as a family.

As for myself I am still employed by Nestlé. I had the opportunity to do some traveling this year and was lucky enough to be able to incorporate some climbing into one trip. Tim Kambitsch (my BFF) got to go to New York and climb at the Holy Grail of East Coast climbing, The Gunks over Labor Day weekend. Life is good.

One of the best pictures of Zac that we have. This was two summers ago when he was getting ready to go camel riding in the Sahara Desert. I think he looks happy!

Ladies , here he is! Luke is breaking heart in Las Vegas at his cousin DeMark and Colleen's wedding.

Christmas Soup 2006

Vegetable Italian Soup

Simple and quick with bonus feature of the colors of Christmas. Some people decorate their home for the holiday, some just their plates

1 medium onion diced or sliced any way you can cut
3 cloves garlic thinly sliced
1 bunch of kale
8 oz baby carrots
1-pound fresh washed baby spinach
1 teaspoon dried basil
1-quart vegetable or chicken stock
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes (use juice)
1 8 oz package of Butoni fresh Tortellini’s (a shameless plug for a Nestlé brand)

Serve 6-8 cups
Prep and cook time one hour

Trim kale stems from leaves. Chop stems into ¼ inch pieces and sauté with onions, garlic and carrots for about 5 minutes or until onions begin to soften. Chop kale leaves into one-inch pieces. Add to pot and cook for 2 minutes. Add stock, tomatoes, and basil and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30-45 mins. Add spinach and return to simmer. Right before service bring to boil, add tortellinis and cook according to package instructions. Soup will thicken slight. Serve immediately and garnish with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese. Add a salad and crusty bread and you have a quick, and hearty meal in less than hour.

Ghost of Christmas Past Letter 2006

Those of you who see me often will be quick to recognize one of my favorite catch phrases in response to how I am doing is “I’m living the dream!” I know for a fact that I am, and hope you are too. This has been a better than average year for the Sideras family and we are reasonably well adjusted, pretty healthy and a little smarter. Not a bad result for a years worth of living.

The highlight of the year was a family vacation to Europe. A causal observer might surmise from the cruise itinerary that we were seeking to be in multiple places at one time due to the action packed schedule. Eight cities in twelve days often resulted in the question where are we and didn’t we see that ruin yesterday? This trip was conceived thirty years ago with my Cousin John Sideras as we discussed the possibility of returning to our homeland Greece in search of our Hellenic Heritage. We dreamt of long sunny days on Mediterranean beaches, scantly clad hippie girls and warm nights drinking in the taverns. It was fantasy that we had for years. Well, this year the dream came true, we landed in Santorini with our current scantly clad hippie wives, our children, and a favorite father in-law in tow. Not quite the original version of two young men running amok and redefining the term Ugly American but we had arrived. It was unsettling however because every time I mentioned that my soul was alive being on my ancestor’s soil. Paula kept reminding me that we were in Greece, not Ireland, which is a larger portion of my genome. With a reckless disregard for the facts, we embraced the experience with all the gusto we could muster. In retrospect’ this new incarnation of our original plan probably involved less contact with the local constabulary and less diplomatic intervention. , and as with all dreams, they are subject to reinterpretation, and this version was superior in every way.

The trip as a whole was great and extremely educational. We all agreed that we should go back and see those two or three churches that we missed and we all are positive that we might have missed a flavor or two of gelato. Other than the return to the homeland we loved the city of Barcelona, great food and architecture. Florence a city that is by all accounts “as old as dirt” remains most memorable, not just because of the art but the place where we had the perfect lunch. Few meals stand out in my life (those who have seen me recently will attest that I have eaten considerable) as the one we had in Il Latini. When you come to see me in the” Old Chef’s Home” I will be smiling, remembering fondly a perfect meal with the perfect family. I try summon the culinary muses yet have not been able to replicate that meal and recapture that moment. I guess we will just have to go back.

Now for the bullet points:

Paula continues to be strong and healthy. She is still working at the University of Dayton, rowing when she can and now lifting weights. I think that she might give that competitive rowing a shot this coming spring.

Luke is a junior in high school. This past summer he worked on the grounds crew at the Fifth Third Field Dayton Dragon’s. He learned how to pull a tarp on and off the field, drag the infields; squeegee water in rainstorms and that you can make a good living being a profession greens keeper. He has also become an accomplished guitar player and is making noise about a public performance in the coming year.

Zac is a freshman at the University of Dayton, majoring in International Studies. While he is only a mile and half from our house he might as well be on the other side of the world. We only see him at holidays and when he needs his car. He just got a job with the United Way as a consulate to help organize a countywide youth program.

And our narrator of this letter has changed jobs and left SYSCO to work for Nestlé Foodservice as Corporate Chef for the State of Ohio and Western Penn. It is a welcome change and a great company. “I am living the dream “.

That’s all the news that fit on two pages. Remember the Sideras family motto as you live each day: Listen, Learn and Love.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

This is a great recipe for Cararmel Corn Clusters. I have had some great reviews this current holiday season. The only change that I have made is that I only can get the mixture up to 250 degrees (it starts to smoke ) instead of the 300 degrees called for in the recipe. It still works great.

Caramel Corn Clusters
Makesabout 12 cups
Active Time:20 min
Start to Finish:1 hr
January 2007
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/3 cup popcorn kernels
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup salted peanuts (5 ounces)
Special equipment:
a candy thermometer
Heat oil with 3 kernels in a 3-quart heavy saucepan, covered, over moderate heat until 1 or 2 kernels pop. Remove lid and quickly add remaining kernels, then cook, covered, shaking pan frequently, until kernels stop popping, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and uncover.
Line bottom of a large shallow baking pan with foil. Lightly oil foil. Melt butter in a 6-quart heavy pot over moderate heat. Add brown sugar and corn syrup and bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring, then boil, without stirring, until syrup registers 300ºF on thermometer, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove pot from heat.
Using a wooden spoon or a heatproof spatula, stir salt and baking soda into syrup, then quickly stir in peanuts and popcorn to coat. Immediately spread mixture in baking pan as thinly and evenly as possible. Cool completely, then break into bite-size pieces.
Recipe by Melissa Roberts

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Countdown to Christmas The things you learn!

I must share a very important lesson that I learned leading up to the big day. It was my wife who instructed me on the major gaff, breach of procedure if you will. It seems that when I was moving my office in the basement from an unheated concrete coal room to the warmer recess of the corner of the basement, I took it upon myself to move several plastic bins of Christmas decorations into my formally occupied space. Little did I know that aside from being some reliquary or sacred artifact, it is wrong to have the Xmas decorations separated. You see I did not move all the boxes, only a few. I am still a little fuzzy as to why they can not be separated by fifteen feet in the same basement but I suspect that it has something to do with them being part of a community and by “partitioning” them is created what can be describe a as disturbance in force. I have yet to see the errors of my judgment but that is common especially after twenty eight years of marriage. Like so many mysteries of life I have embraced this one on faith.