Mom’s City Chicken and Grandpa’s Water Works

Funny how this Summer has worked out. At its start, I’d planned to continue making cheese with you, sharing some seasonal recipes, posting more ice cream flavors, and sharing photos of “my girls” and their companions in the garden. Suddenly, Labor Day is here and I’ve run out of time. We’ve still not made Italian mozzarella, I’ve a couple of tomato recipes to share, and there’s still a custard-based peach ice cream to make. Oh! Mustn’t forget the cobbler. Fall will just start late this year. To further complicate my schedule, today’s post was reserved for a special pasta celebrating the US Open Tennis Championship. That was before I saw a package of veal at the market. That changed everything.

Last year, Linda posted a recipe for City Chicken on her wonderful blog, Savoring Every Bite.  At the time, I commented that I’d not thought about City Chicken in years. Mom prepared a version but it’s been some 35 years since I last tasted her City Chicken. Had Linda not shared her recipe, who knows when I would have remembered Mom’s? Anyway, after Linda’s reminder, I decided to put City Chicken on the schedule — last Summer! Well, as you know, it never made it but I had every intention of sharing Mom’s recipe this Summer — and then it again got lost. Last week, however, I saw veal cubes at the market and immediately thought of City Chicken. Since it would make a great dish for the coming holiday weekend, Mom’s City Chicken was suddenly on the schedule. Its addition pushed my special tennis pasta back a week and, well, Fall’s arrival, at least on this blog, has been delayed yet another week. By the way, don’t be surprised if Thanksgiving and Christmas are celebrated in one post this year. Hopefully, I’ll then be able to start the New Year sometime in January.

((cue the harp))

Throughout my childhood, Mom served us City Chicken almost exclusively on Wednesday or Sunday, when Dad was home to work the grill. Although I’ve already mentioned The Barbecue, I’ve not talked much of the rest of our yard. You see, the two-flat was built on a vast expanse of land, in the very center of which was the beautiful, privately owned, Lake Bartolini (pictured below, click to enlarge). While we kids frolicked, Dad was likely at The Barbecue, grilling that night’s meal, City Chicken being a family favorite. In the years following the barbecue’s construction in 1959, Grandpa would build a garage with an enclosed patio, attach a grape arbor, and plant his tomatoes on the lawn just beyond The Lake, after the first of what would become yearly land-grabs. (His tomatoes needed more land, always more land.) When The Lake was lost, the much larger and deeper Bartolini Sea, was erected and filled. As we would all come to learn, ripening beefsteak tomatoes can somehow attract errant pool toys, especially whenever Grandpa strolled through the yard. When the Sea gave way to what must have been near tectonic forces, it was replaced by the even larger and more formidable Bartolini Ocean, the last of the series.

OK, that is the official account of the Crystal Blue Waters of the Bartolini, the version you’ll see on the historical markers that dot the area. Here, for the first time anywhere, is the real story.

Grandpa wanted a garden, desperately, and even though Lake Bartolini stood in his way, he would never do anything to disappoint his adoring Grandchildren. No, not Grandpa. His was a problem that would have befuddled Solomon. You can well imagine, therefore, Grandpa’s relief the morning we kids awoke to find Lake Bartolini had been completely drained. Upon close examination, we saw that one side of  The Lake was inexplicably peppered with holes, while the most attentive among us claimed to have overheard our Parents whispering something about buckshot. Grandpa’s subsequent claim that one of us kids was to blame fell on deaf ears. Our Parents, calmly and coolly, bought and built the Bartolini Sea. With walls made of corrugated steel, the Sea glistened just to the West of the where the original Lake once stood. Grandpa got his garden and we kids had a new, buckshot-proof, Sea in which to swim. All went well until that thing about tomatoes attracting pool toys was discovered, much to Grandpa’s great displeasure.

Not but a couple of years after it’s installation, again we awoke to find that our gorgeous swimming hole, the Bartolini Sea, was but a mere puddle. On one side of the Sea, in the corrugated steel, was a gash of not quite a foot long. Bent inward, the steel pierced the Sea’s lining and flooded the yard. Depending upon which Parent asked, Grandpa said that my Youngest Cousin or I did it with the lawn mower. In our defense, I will merely point out that an old push mower was used to maintain the lawns. Even if we teamed up, together pushing that relic and with a 100 foot running start, never could we two young boys get up enough steam to create so much as a dent, let alone pierce, that steel siding. Our wise Parents, though they never determined “the how”, quickly surmised “the who” and soon thereafter we were erecting the bigger, better, and even sturdier Bartolini Ocean. It remained in our yard until it died of natural causes, some years later. Grandpa, too, remained in his garden, ensuring both he and his tomatoes never went thirsty, for years to come.  Though this marks the end of Grandpa’s Water Works, this is hardly the end of his story. Frankly, I’m just getting started.

Now, back to the Present. Mom’s City Chicken couldn’t be any simpler to prepare. Equally sized cubes of veal, beef, and pork are marinated, skewered, wrapped with a rasher of bacon, and grilled. It really is that easy. I don’t give any amounts in the recipe to follow because so much will depend upon how many skewers are to be prepared. You can add, or subtract, spices to the marinade. Just be sure to make enough so that some can be reserved and later brushed on the skewers as they come off the grill. (Something I forgot to do for the photos.) Although the FDA no longer requires pork to be cooked well-done, many still prefer it cooked more than beef or veal. To accomplish this, I always place 3 pieces of meat on each skewer, pork always being the last/top one. As you’ll see in the recipe to follow, this will allow you to keep the pork closest to the fire, assuring it is cooked more than the other meats.

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Mom’s City Chicken Recipe

Ingredients

  • Beef, cut into approx. 1½ inch cubes
  • Veal, cut into approx. 1½ inch cubes
  • Pork, cut into approx. 1½ inch cubes
  • Bacon, 1 rasher for every skewer
  • marinade

Marinade

  • juice and zest of one lemon
  • rosemary, chopped
  • garlic, minced or grated
  • Italian seasoning
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper

Directions

  1. Add all the marinade ingredients to a bowl, whisk to combine, and set aside, reserving  a ¼ cup for later use. Place the meats into the bowl, mix until coated, and refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight
  2. Soak wooden skewers overnight. (This will prevent their burning during grilling.)
  3. When ready, light the grill.
  4. Using one thick skewer or 2 thin for each city chicken, pierce one end of a bacon rasher, followed by one piece of each type of meat. Be sure that the top piece of meat for each skewer is pork. After the pork is in place, wrap the meats with the bacon and secure its remaining end by piercing it with the skewer(s) tip(s).
  5. Once finished and the grill is hot, shut down part of the grill to facilitate  indirect grilling. Use a rag dipped in oil to grease the grill plate.
  6. Place the skewered meat on the grill with the pork closest to the fire/heat.
  7. Turn the meat after a few minutes, more or less depending upon the grill’s heat. The object is to cook the skewered meat without torching the bacon. The pork, being closest to the fire, will cook faster.
  8. With the meat still very rare, move the skewers directly over the fire/heat. Now the object is to crisp the bacon and to finish cooking the skewered meats. Turn the skewers occasionally to ensure even cooking.
  9. When grilled to your satisfaction, remove to a  platter, brush with reserved marinade, and serve.

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Variations

Although Mom used all 3 meats, you needn’t if you prefer otherwise.  Use whatever meat(s) you like. The same is true for the bacon. I’m sure turkey bacon could be easily substituted.

Mom used 1 short, thick skewer for each of her City Chickens, skewers she got from her butcher. Try as I might, I’ve been unable to find them. Instead, I use 2 of the more readily available long, thin bamboo skewers. Before soaking, I trim off about 4 inches from each, making it much easier to grill them, especially if you’ve a small grill surface.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Although some have already reached the end of tomato season, many of us are still harvesting the red beauties. One of my first posts featured Mom’s Tomato Antipasti that she made with Grandpa’s tomatoes. This time of year, his vines produced enough fruit to keep both families well-supplied and rarely was an evening meal prepared without tomatoes playing a role. Those who missed it the first time around  can find my post for Mom’s Tomato Antipasti by clicking HERE.

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By any other name …

“Don Juan”

This tour of roses began on one side of my yard with “Opening Night”, a red hybrid tea rose, and ends on the opposite side of my yard with “Don Juan”, a red hybrid tea rose. (Who better to indulge my girls?)

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127 thoughts on “Mom’s City Chicken and Grandpa’s Water Works

  1. It reminds me of a simular meat dish. I will have to make it and blog about it. I needed a inspiration to drag me away from baking. Thanks for the walk down memory lane. You were lucky because we had to settle for a wash tub and a water hose in those days. Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

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    • Thanks for the visit and your comment is appreciated. Between the 2 families, there were 6 of us kids. I think the first pools were a way to keep track of us; we all stayed in the back yard. Later, once the pools grew in size, the adults got in as well. My Dad, who’d almost drowned as a young boy, actually learned to swim a bit after a while. It was something to see, him conquering his fear.

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    • Thanks, Roger. Some stories write themselves. Grandpa’s war on the swimming pools is always sure to bring smiles in my family. I cannot begin to tell you how often Mom served a platter of sliced tomatoes each Summer. It was such a trea!

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  2. Your tour of roses has been a summer highlight. What voluptuous blooms! You must tend them with great care and they show their appreciation.
    The recounting of your growing up is the best, John and the photos enhance your story but your words create the scene perfectly even without their accompaniment. The photo in the garden among the tomato plants is a treasure.
    Will forward the recipe to the Paleo/meat eater crowd. The recipe for your Mom’s Antipasti is perfectly timed for the tomato harvest, too. All delicious and meticulously detailed so the rest of us can manage to replicate in our kitchens, too.

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    • Thank you, Ruth, for you gracious comments. Yes, I think the Paleo crowd would love this dish. It’s meat, meat, meat, wrapped in meat. Not a grain to be found anywhere. 🙂
      Grandpa was a true larger-than-life character. He did nothing in a small way and pity the person or object — like a swimming pool — that got in his way. How dreary our lives would have been without him.

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  3. Wonderful watery stories and the city chicken, too,….what a great idea, I thought, after I’d got over looking for the chicken in the recipe! It reminds me of the Catalan grilled meat I had in Perpignan – also pork, beef and veal. Let summer continue for as long as possible!

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    • Thank you for you kind words. Mom’s recipe is rather unique. Very often city chicken is cubed meat that is breaded and baked. The result is something that vaguely resembles a chicken leg. Nothing about Mom’s even remotely looks like chicken. 🙂
      Your visit to Perpignan sounded wonderful! Festivals like that one are the reason I never took a guided tour in Europe. Tours are too concerned with showing you as many sights as possible, ignoring so much of what gives a country or area its character. My favorite trips involved renting a car and leaving the Big City and tourists behind.

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    • Thank you, Mandy. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Like so many of Mom’s recipes, there’s nothing complicated about this dish and it can easily be adjusted to suit your own tastes. I hope you and Pete enjoy it when you make it. Have a great week!

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  4. Oh, how I loved reading your tales of geographic upheaval in the garden! I can see what all the fuss was about, though — those are tomato plants to aspire to. I have also been relishing the tour of your rose garden. All in all, a lavish feast!

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    • Thank you so much! Grandpa and his tomatoes are the stuff of which legends are made. Every Summer, he took seeds from his largest tomato for the next year’s crop. He could be found working his garden virtually every day of Summer, year after year. Woe to the child caught retrieving a ball or toy from within the tomatoes. It was better to do without than to be caught.

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        • Oh, later he’d give us back toys, after a lecture about the damage we were causing to his beloved plants. For our part, we’d promise never to let it happen again — until, of course, it did. 🙂

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  5. I enjoy so much reading your posts…and this one is especially good. The photos are wonderful and your mom’s recipe magnificent. I’m still confuse, though, about the name of the dish, why City Chicken? I’m confuse 😉
    Thanks for sharing these wonderful stories with us

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    • You’re so welcome, Giovanna. Mom’s city chicken, unlike others, wraps the meat in bacon. Most others coat the skewered meat with bread crumbs before baking. The result more closely resembles a chicken leg than does Mom’s. I hope that clears things up a bit for you. 🙂

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    • Thank you. Most versions of city chicken are breaded and baked, the result resembles a chicken leg. Although popular here when I was a boy — you could buy it ready-made at the butcher counter — it seems to have fallen out of favor, as more people limit the meat in their diets. There’s certainly nothing vegan about this dish!

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    • Thank you so much, Marie. That picture is how I’l always remember him, proudly standing among his tomato plants. He spent every day of every Summer tending to them and if he saw you walking past, you were sure to get an invite to come see them. This, though, is fodder for another story. 🙂

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  6. These are little beauties!!! Easy,and you are right, perfect for the upcoming weekend. But that story about grandpa and his antics had me in stitches!!!! He was passionate about tomatoes to say the least! I love the picture too, with the boy in the headlock!

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    • Thanks, Tanya, I’m glad you enjoyed this post. Grandpa was something else! Each of us has our own special memories of Grandpa and when we get together and reminisce, we all end up laughing. In that photo, I am the boy giving the headlock to my Middle Cousin. The “famous” wrestler, Dick the Bruiser, was my hero. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Dave. City chicken was far more popular years ago. There’s not much room in today’s diets for bacon-wrapped skewered meats. As I mentioned in the post, I’d not tasted Mom’s City Chicken in well over 30 years. Preparing them for this post was such a treat. I’ll be making them again and soon!

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  7. fantastic. I always look forward to Wednesday’s there’s Marie and Wildlife Wednesdays, and your tales of life and recipes to sustain me. You are on fine form John, and to hell with schedules and plans, I know I have them and then somehow something much more URGENT or timely happens and bang go my plans !! But I like that free-form element of blogging.
    And what a fabulous story of seas and oceans John, now I wonder who could have possibly done the damage….
    But utimately you know I’ll side with your grandpa and the NEED to grow tomatoes!
    And I’ve never heard of city chicken before, it looks delicious and can imagine the flavours when cooked on the barbeque would be divine, all served up with a fresh tomato salad! YUM !

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    • Thanks, Claire, for being so kind in your comments. I really should give up trying to schedule these posts. The harder I try, the worse it gets. I should do as you say and just free-form it.
      Yes, Claire, we all wonder who could have targeted our pools and attacked them. I don’t think we’ll ever get to the truth. A few of us, though, have carried on Grandpa’s tomato fixation. It must be genetic. 🙂

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    • I’m not ready to leave “peach land” yet either, Teri. I’ll be buying more this weekend at the market. They just seemed better this year, for some reason, and I’m taking full advantage.

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  8. Great story, great recipe, perfect way to start my day… with a smile!

    We are with you on the pork – my husband simply won’t touch it unless it is cooked through, no matter what the FDA says… so I comply. In fact, I also think it tastes better this way

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    • Hello, Sally, and thanks for commenting. I’m glad you enjoyed today’s post. Almost all of my memories of Grandpa leave me smiling.
      Trying to cook the pork more than the rest of the skewer can be a little tricky but it certainly isn’t all that difficult to do. And I personally like the combination of flavors of the 3 meats, not to mention the bacon. Everything’s better with bacon! 🙂

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    • Thanks you for visiting and taking the time to comment. Despite my exaggerated description, ours was a normally sized yard. Still, every year, Grandpa’s garden grew a few feet more. Going back through the old photos, I really had forgotten what the yard looked like before he became Grandpa the Great, expanding his Tomato Empire. To be honest, though, by the time he’d conquered most of the yard, we kids were older and didn’t need a yard to play in. If nothing else, he had timed his conquest perfectly. 🙂

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  9. Love, love your childhood story, what delightful summer days, and such memories. One question, did any of you kids, while romping in the lake/sea/ocean, stretch out your hands and snatch grandpa’s ripe tomatoes?
    Never heard of city chicken, how did it acquire its name, there is no chicken in the dish.
    “Don Juan” sure is putting his best foot forward, gorgeous.

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    • Thanks, Norma, I’m glad that you enjoyed today’s recipe and story. We kids never touched Grandpa’s tomatoes. It was strictly forbidden. If a toy went into his garden, we were afraid to retrieve it lest he catch us — and that was the quandary. If he found it, it would “disappear” but we’d get punished it we got caught trying to retrieve it. (We still tried!)
      Linda’s blog speaks of City Chicken being a dish that originated during the Great Depression, when chicken actually cost more than other meats. Unlike Mom’s version, City Chicken is usually breaded and baked, and the result looks something like a chicken leg.

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        • I really don’t know, Norma. Linda was from Ohio, Kitchen Riffs is in St. Louis, and I’m from Michigan. We’re the only 3 that I know are aware of them. Maybe it is more Mid-Western dish. Frankly, I’m surprised so few are aware of them. They were fairly common when I was a boy.

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    • Good morning, Maria. Over at Savoring Every Bite, Linda explained that chicken was more costly during the Depression than other meats. In response, butchers created City Chicken, skewered meat that was breaded to look like a chicken leg. Mom’s version isn’t breaded but wrapped in bacon. Nothing about either tastes at all like chicken but at least the butchers’ version made an attempt to look like chicken. 🙂

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  10. omg John, I already fear this will be a long comment, I’ve got so much to say!! First off, thank you for the sweet mention, It’s nice to hear I have brought up past memories! Just as you always do for me! The way you described your backyard so reminded me of my uncles who had the garden next to the garage, the grape vines…and oh I so had to laugh at your Bartolini Lake!! I remember swiming in a lake like that many, many summers!!
    As for the city chicken (I had to smile at the previous comment asking why it’s called “chicken” if there is no chicken in it!) I’ve heard that alot, of course, never when I was growing up because we all knew and understood. Now my mom never grilled it and I’m so excited now to try your mother’s recipe. Ours was always made as I posted. With the bacon wrapped around it, it must keep it so moist and full of flavor. Kinda like a spiedini, which my mom would make and now I just refer to being on a skewer.
    That grill is to die for! What I would give to have that in my backyard! I’d be out there all summer grilling and making pizza too!! We didn’t have one of those but I remember some of my relatives having a brick made grill…probably cuz their Italian husbands were brick layers!!
    Last but not least, I’d love to invide Don Juan over for a candlelit dinner, glass of wine and romantic music…. 🙂

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    • SPIEDINI!!!
      I just got off the phone with Zia and we both swear our families have to be connected somehow. Like me, she had forgotten all about spiedini. Now, neither of us can recall who called Mom’s City Chicken spiedini but both of us remember someone doing so. We both started naming people, trying to determine who it could have been. We’ll be trying to figure this out for weeks to come!
      I’m really glad this post brought back so many happy memories for you. It was quite a nostalgic exercise writing it and I enjoyed it very much.
      It has surprised me how few people have heard of city chicken. I remember seeing them, already made, at the butcher shops and maybe even at the grocery store’s meat department.
      Looking back, I think the pools were a battle over the backyard. When Grandpa made his move, our Parents responded with a bigger pool. I think Grandpa quit because he feared that the next size pool would have crossed over into his tomato garden. They couldn’t buy a bigger pool without doing so. 🙂
      Grandpa was a bricklayer and Uncle, Zia’s husband, a tile setter. When I say that Grandpa built the garage or barbecue or whatever, he build it from the ground up. That is a perfect arch over the barbecue’s grilling area. He made that without a form. I remember all of the adult visitors to our yard marveling about it but I was too young to understand. Now, I’m just as impressed as they all were.
      Don Juan is available for parties and private invitations but, from what my girls have told me, it will cost ya! 🙂

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      • lol…I’m familiar with Don Juans, they come and go, looking all handsome and suave; but soon their petals fall off (their true selves come true) and the game is over. Very nice to admire and get close enough for a nice aroma, but no long term in my book!!
        Now back to the bbq…I so believe you when you saw it was built ground up! I too was young and not interested at the time, but thinking back, I’m so impressed and wish I was more aware and involved in those years to really appreciate their lifestyle. I’m glad we can share our memories, I’m very proud of them 🙂

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  11. John, what a brilliant post! I was glued to the monitor while reading it, almost breathless. Beautiful writing: family memories are treasures of our lives. Your grandpa had an amazing garden (and some character too!), I would love to go back in time and have some of his marvelous tomatoes. I am an official tomato-holic! 🙂 I can’t believe that you don’t have that grill anymore. I think if I had something like that I would be glued to it, and move only with it! 🙂
    You know, I am very intrigued by Italian mozzarella, and can’t wait for your post and recipe. I want to learn how to make Italian mozzarella so bad, searching for ways, but all I can find is an american version, stretchy and rubbery. Please, do share the secret and put me out of the misery and share how to make a pearly white treasure, sensual and soft, full of the mossy flavor of milk (I am ready to settle for regular cow’s milk as it’s almost impossible to find a buffalo milk in our region)! 🙂
    Oh yes, City Chicken looks great, lovely texture and the bacon smells inviting, mmm…

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    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, Marina. How we kids took those tomatoes fro granted. I’d give anything to have just one plant like his in my garden today.
      Grandpa built that barbecue attaching it to a cement base. Whenever the family gets together and starts reminiscing about those times, we all regret that we didn’t figure out a way to move it. It really was something.
      Italian mozzarella is a bit more daunting than American but it can be made and it does taste better, to be sure. I’ll be posting it in several weeks.
      I don’t believe I’ve mention this to you. My Sister’s name is Marina (her middle name, Cecilia, was Mom’s Mother’s name). Seeing a comment from you always brings a smile.

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  12. Ok first of all John, masterful story telling! You have us hanging on every word, with colorful pictures filling our heads! Love All the Bartolini tales…but Grandpa’s water works has to be one of the best! And the classic old time photos Illustrated it perfectly!
    And John, I fess to being naive…maybe the whole world knows but me…every meat but yak in this dish, but where’s the chicken? Wherever did this dish get its name?

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    • Thank you so much, Spree. Yes, Grandpa was quite a character, a true larger-than-life type. The Pool War was a battle for the ages. We all still laugh about it.
      Linda explains, over at Savoring Every Bite, that there was a time during the Great Depression where chicken was not as common as pork and veal. Butchers skewered chunks of pork with veal, breaded them, and shaped them like chicken legs. As a boy, I remember seeing them pre-made at the butcher shops. Perhaps because we don’t eat as much meat these days as back then, I just don’t see it around anymore. I don’t know where Mom got her recipe, bacon and all, but I sure did like them!

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  13. John, this post tells me that you need to publish a book of your family stories and recipes. I couldn’t possibly be the only one to tell you that, but I mean it. I hung on every word and what was most fun was that in my reader I couldn’t see the picture of “Lake Bartolini” until I read down quite a bit. I almost gasped with delight when I saw the photo of you children in a pool! Your grandfathers garden…all of it, brings to mind some of the happiest memories of my own childhood, but you have such a way of making the past a current joy! I am most sincere about thinking publishing…I will probably nag you again. Be forewarned! 🙂

    Now, the chicken! I had to look at the link to Linda’s site, as I was unfamilar with City Chicken, but I love the concept! I think we need to adopt that one in our family, too. I often see some of the recipes you share as the ones I would serve to company and then they are really special. I served your mother’s birthday peach ice cream this past weekend, John, and it was such a treat. What a great recipe! Now I want to work through the other ice cream flavors before we, too, call a close to the season. But I’m not ready yet, either! 🙂 D

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    • Thank you, Debra, for being so kind in you comments and I’m glad that this post can help you, too, to recall happy times from your youth.
      At the time, we were all so young and saw nothing out of the ordinary about our living arrangement. Now, many years later, we’ve come to appreciate that ours was a very special place and we were so very fortunate to have lived together. All of our lives today are so much richer for it.
      I am so happy to hear you’ve tried, or intend to try, these recipes. I started this blog to make sure Mom and the family’s recipes wouldn’t be “lost.” Mom would be thrilled to know this, just as Zia is whenever I show her comments like yours here. Thank you so much, Debra!
      Be sure to try that blueberry ice cream recipe. You may not wish to try another. Just saying … 🙂

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  14. Sounds good! But I kept looking for “chicken” in the recipe. 🙂 I’ve never heard of this one before. Love the story about Grandpa and his garden. Too funny how the pool kept getting bigger!

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    • Thank you! I think that last pool was the definitive “line in the sand.” If it, too, mysteriously got damaged, I think the next pool would have wiped out Grandpa’s garden, or at least part of it. Grandpa got the “hint” and peace reigned in the back yard — well, for a little while, anyway. 🙂

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  15. Gosh, I haven’t thought of City Chicken for years. Your mom’s looks terrific. Such a good dish – I need to make this. It’s amazing how time flies, isn’t it? So much to cook and blog, so little time. Kinda fun to have so many choices, though. Very nice post – thank you so much.

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    • Thanks for commenting and your reaction was exactly mine last year when I read Linda’s City Chicken post! I’d completely forgotten about Mom’s City Chicken and its Italian cousin, spiedini. (Linda reminded me of them, too!) This blog continues to reward me in ways I never dreamt of.

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  16. I’ve had a lapse and can no longer boast as being the first to comment:( That’ll teach me for getting up early to do chores all morning!! What a fun post to read through and I loved that you included your photos from those childhood days. Your pools look awesome, I think the only pool I had was a little yellow inflatable about 6 feet wide (perhaps your oceans began with one of those?). I feel your grandpa’s desperation!! I, too, have longed for a garden and only this year managed to sequester a small herb garden. Oh, to have such a huge space filled with ripening tomatoes!! I’m completely green with envy! Is that a bottle of vino I see in his hands? Well.. I can’t find veal here, but I’m off to make your City Chicken (why is it called that?) with pork and beef.. my son will go nuts when he sees these on the barbecue, lol! xx Smidge

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    • Next time you’re planning od doing chores on a Wednesday morning, send me an email and I’ll delay posting my recipe until you’re ready. We take care of all Huckleberry pickers! 🙂
      Yes, our first pools were the little, inflatable wading pools. Once we grew up a little, they started progressing in size and depth. Having a pool was one sure way of keeping us all in one place where we could be easily supervised. Without it, we 6 would have been all over the neighborhood.
      Grandpa and his tomatoes were well-known throughout the neighborhood. Nothing would be allowed to interfere with them. Period! Those Pool Wars were something, at the time, and are guaranteed to bring laughter among us now. In fact, every time Grandpa’s name is mentioned, someone always follows it with, “Do you remember the time he …” And we all end up laughing. He was really something!
      For this photo, Grandpa was captured holding a bottle of Canadian Club whiskey. Tending a garden can be hard work and Grandpa often needed a shot and a beer to reinvigorate his spirit — as well as the spirits of any visitor that crossed the garden’s threshold. 😉

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  17. Excellent history and recipe! I don’t know where the time is going either. I haven’t posted for a few days because I’m shooting the Paralympics for a German documentary and I feel that my time is not my own…

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    • Thanks, MD. A post like this one pretty much writes itself.
      I noticed you’ve not been around and am glad it’s because you’ve been at work. The Paralympics is such an inspiring event. I hope you’ve some time to watch, as well as film, the events.

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  18. I am in heaven with this chicken recipe. I mean … I have no words lol. And that rarely ever happens. I can’t wait to try this out. And congrats my friend, I am featuring this on my blog on Saturday 🙂

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  19. I’m confused. Where’s the chicken? I have never heard of city chicken but I’m guessing that in your city you can’t buy chicken so you make ‘chicken’ with veal and beef wrapped in bacon so it’s disguised and no one can tell it’s not really chicken? And as for the vandalism of the swimming pool – too funny. I bet until his very last day on earth he never confessed to his crime. Great story! xx

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    • I’m sorry. Charlie, as this day has progressed, I’ve learned that only a few of us were aware of City Chicken. I thought it was far more well-known than it apparently is. During the Great Depression, chicken wasn’t as available as pork or veal. Butchers skewered them, shaping it like a chicken leg, and then coated them in bread crumbs. They were alled city chicken because of their shape and certainly not their taste.
      Grandpa confess? Ha! We kids were to blame. If only we were more careful … 🙂

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  20. City chicken has no chicken? And your Nonno sounds like quite the character, John! They don’t like it when something stands in the way of their gardens – I remember our old Italian neighbours always threatening to poison the trees on the street because they were blocking out the light. I kept telling them that the trees were directly related to our property values..but they wouldn’t listen (although no-one actually ever did do anything to the trees, thank goodness!). 🙂

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    • Oh, Celia, he would have fit right in with your neighbors, to be sure. If those trees blocked his garden’s light, I’m not so sure they would have lasted. Though he never did anything so drastic — that I am aware of — it certainly would not be beyond the realm of possibility. His tomatoes took precedent over everything. Nothing, not even a steel-sided swimming pool would be allowed to get in his way. 🙂

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  21. I love the buckshot story! That is too funny! I can totally see my Grandpa doing something like that. That is just priceless. And then with the mower through steel! Ha! He sure did like his tomatoes. 🙂 I had never heard of city chicken until reading Linda’s post. It does sound like a fabulous thing to grill for Labor Day. Have a wonderful long weekend John. And I have really enjoyed the tour through your roses. Mike’s Grandpa had many beautiful varieties that he tended with such care. The year he passed, I made sure to photo each of them. We have them in frames around the house. Makes his Grandma smile to see them when she visits.

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    • Thanks, Kristy, I’m glad you enjoyed today’s post. Once Grandpa retired, much of his time was spent working on the two-flat. As I mentioned, he built the garage and patio, his grape arbors, and performed a number of building improvements. As the years passed, the projets reduced in scope and he spent more time with his garden. Tomatoes became the center of his world. If you needed him, all you needed to do was look in the garden to find him.
      Hanging pictures of your Granddad’s roses around you home is such a wonderful way to remember him. I bet your Grandma not only enjoys seeing them but is, also, proud of her thoughtful Granddaughter. 😉

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  22. I always enjoy family stories about how things mysteriously get damaged or disappear. Don’t get in the way of Grandpa and is garden!

    Question: If we swing by Chi-town in our wagon heading east, will City Chicken be on the menu? They sound right up my gluttonous alley.

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    • Hey, Jed! There are more Grandpa stories to come and I bet you’ll enjoy them, too.
      I really did think of you when I was writing this recipe. I mean, it’s 3 types of meat wrapped in bacon. If that doesn’t scream “GLUTTON!” then I don’t know what ever will. Don’t worry, when you head this way, Mom’s City Chicken will be on the menu. I’d better start writing this stuff down, eh? 🙂

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  23. It’s ok about the cheese John! I’m kinda glad in a way, because we’ve been finding some amazing artisan cheeses at Madison’s Farmers Market…..but Hubby is ready for more feta. And now I’m looking SO forward to the Italian mozzarella 🙂

    I love your posts John. I love, love, love them. It’s been a perfectly crappy day and your story single-handedly turned it around. Thanks!

    Don Juan = WOW! Stunning!

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    • Thanks, Sarah. I’ve seen the artisan cheese makers at my markets but haven’t tried their any of their cheeses yet. Between the cheeses I’ve made, the new Italian cheeses at my Italian market, and all of the ice cream I’ve been making, my body has just about reached its dairy saturation point. Any more and I’ll start mooing!
      I’m glad that you not only enjoyed today’s tale, Sarah, but that it brightened your day, as well. That made my night!
      Pssst. There’s one more rose to go. She’s just back from rehab and will make a cameo appearance next week. Shhh.

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    • I’m surprised to see how few people are familiar with city chicken. It was common enough to be sold in grocery stores when I was a boy. Now I’m starting to feel really old. 🙂
      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

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  24. What an enjoyable post! Loved the story of your grandpa and his tomatoes, and the Bartolini lake, sea, and then ocean! That BBQ pit was incredible! Now for the City Chicken – that’s not just chicken my friend. That’s lots and lots of goodness!! Love it!

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    • Thank you and I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Grandpa’s barbecue was master quality brickwork. He was quite talented in that reagard. Of course, I certainly didn’t realize it until many years later. When I was a boy, it was just a barbecue. What was I thinking?

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  25. Nice story telling John! I was really caught into your Bartolini tale. Your nonno must have been quite a “personaggio”! As for the recipe, I think is a really comforting summer meal – I love grilling so this such a good idea! What side dish do you usually prepare it with?

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    • Thank you, Ambrosiana. Yes, our Nonno was very much a “personaggio.” I look forward to telling you all more about him. I’ve only just started. 🙂
      Mom served her City Chicken throughout the Summer and Dad grilled them each time. Our dinners, then, were quite simple. Just like pictured, there’d be some easy to prepare vegetable like corn, a potato or pasta salad, and a fresh garden salad made with vegetables fresh from the garden like arugula, tomatoes, cucumbers, and herbs. It was just us for dinner and she would avoid turning on her oven unless absolutely necessary. If she was serving guests, she would have served all of the above but also included a platter of roasted pomodori, cipolle, and melanzane, halved and topped with seasoned bread crumbs. Dessert for us kids would have been ice cream and the adults would have had fresh fruit with some cheeses. Nothing at all fancy, Ambrosiana, but who needs fancy when the food is delicious?

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  26. I love your stories John 🙂
    I was smiling throughout reading about your blogging plans. Oh I lost count of how many posts I have planned that never saw the light because they were not photographed in time or written in time!
    I love the marinade in your mum’s recipe..lemon and rosemary are a beautiful combination

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    • Thank you, Sawsan. I really enjoy telling these tales from the two-flat. I smile throughout the writing process, remembering Grandpa’s antics and our Parents’ response.
      Yes, like you, I’ve a number of recipes that have “fallen by the wayside”, for whatever reason. This time, though, I’m determined to get at least a few of them posted. We’ll soon see if I’m successful. 🙂

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  27. Grandpa seems a bit sneaky if you ask me. But your parents had the right idea of getting larger and larger swimming pools. I would have loved one but sadly we lived in apartments so we couldn’t have our own, but at least we had the use the building’s pool. One time I got kicked in the eye which resulted in one stitch, my only stitch to this day, touch wood.
    The BBQ looks wonderful, I wonder if it’s still there, or did they take down your house to build one of those monster homes?
    The City Chicken looks delightful, John, of course what doesn’t taste delicious with bacon wrapped around it? It looks like a perfect food for superbowl, I’ll have to bookmark this recipe for sure.
    You’re very lucky with your tomatoes, our ‘gifted’ tomatoes haven’t ripened yet and I’m really hoping they will before our upcoming trip to Europe.

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    • Oh, Eva. Grandpa wasn’t sneaky. No one was fooled by any of this and, in the long run, he paid a price. THe last pool was a monster, in effect cutting off his garden expansion plans once and for all. He was a character, all right, but he was a man of great character, too, as you’ll come to know.
      Ask anyone in my family and the one regret about leaving the two-flat is that no one took that barbecue. Grandpa was a master at bricklaying and that barbecue his masterpiece. The house, his barbecue, and his grage are all still standing, although the neighborhood has really hit hard times. I went back about 15 years ago and vowed never to return. This recipe would make a Vegan run screaming fromt he table. Meat with Meat with Meat wrapped in Bacon! I’m so glad Linda shared her recipe last year or I doubt I would have remembered it. It was so good grilling up a batch last week for the photos. I cannot wait to do it again!
      I consider any tomatoes I get this year to be very lucky, Eva. I have each in a container and in the middle of the heat wave, I noticed that some were drying up, despite being watered twice daily. Turns out those containers had hairline cracks about 6 inches under the soil line. I’ve already got replacements for next hear. Next year will be better. (I say that every year.)
      I do hope you get some tomatoes before you leave. What a shame if you don’t!

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  28. John, thank you so much for the recipe! Eva, that BBQ will withstand all of the tortures of time. If ever an atomic bomb drops on the city of Detroit, trust me, that; BBQ will remain standing. Grandpa built it to LAST!! The swimming pools and the holes in it, were, according to Grandpa, caused by the local ruffians throwing stones at the pool. Heaven forbid they should be caused by his .22 with bird shot in it…lol. BTW, I have that .22 and I treasure it.

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    • Hey, Paul. Thanks for checking in. Grandpa’s story changed depending on who asked the question. I was seated at the table in the patio when Grandpa said I made the gash in the pool with the push mower. Dad laughed at the suggestion and I got the lawn mower out, took it to the pool, and asked him how I did it. Ask Zia. She’ll tell you that he said her youngest did it with the lawnmower, too. The main thing is that he never took the fall for any of the pools — nor anything else for that matter. 🙂

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  29. Loved to hear about your childhood stories. Why is that parents/grandparents are so against the waterholes? I think it is the upkeep or it just gives them something to ride the kids about…
    I find it so true in many households that grilling is one of those things to do when the guys can run it and this yummy dish would keep everyone happy in my family. Bacon wrapped around anything gets top votes by my teenagers. Have a great day. BAM

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    • Thank you very much, BAM. I certainly won’t speak for all houses and swimming holes but, at ours, Grandpa was against them from the time the first beach ball or inner tube was found in among his tomatoes. Of all the crimes we kids could commit, harming a tomato plant or its tomatoes was the worst. Well, you see what lengths Grandpa went to just to prevent such an occurrence from happening.
      And you’re right about barbecuing, too, BAM. That was Dad’s contribution to the dinners, Mom kept her kitchen cool, and we ate something wrapped in bacon. We were all winners. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Stefan. Although I agree with your bacon stance, some of my subscribers do not eat pork. I wanted to address their needs, as well as those of the omnivores like you and me. Italian seasoning is a blend of a number of seasonings. They mix of spices, and quantity of each, may very depending upon the brand bought. Mine uses dried marjoram, thyme, rosemary, savory, sage, oregano, and basil.
      Have a great day!

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      • You must be a better host than I am 🙂 I refuse to serve well done beef, or ketchup (unless it is part of the dish). I make some exceptions and do serve cappuccino after 11am, and of course I take dietary restrictions into account. I even cooked a vegan dinner once, and ate it myself too! (I did serve it with wine, and was a bit taken aback when those friends served me wine without alcohol at the return invitation for dinner.)

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        • I don’t know that I’m a better host. I’m lucky to have friends who don’t have many allergies or dietary restrictions. Those that do are easily accommodated. Like you, there are some lines I won’t cross but I’ve never had any insurmountable problems.

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  30. Pingback: Weekly + Labor Love « Pure Complex

  31. Your post about your grandfather’s tomatoes reminds me of the stories my I hear about my husband’s grandfather and his garden. I’m in the group that has never heard of city chicken but it certainly sounds good.

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    • Thanks, Karen for commenting. I’d love to swap stories with your DH. I bet we’d be roaring with laughter within a few minutes.
      You’re in the larger camp, to be sure, regarding City Chicken. So far, there are only 3 of us who are familiar with the dish. I’m rather surprised, having thought they were much more commonplace. Who knew? 🙂

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  32. You stole a little of my day with this gorgeous post. I got so lost in the story it was wonderful. As we just hit the first days of Southern Hemisphere Spring, I’ve had similar thoughts… “but I haven’t made pea and ham soup yet”… On the other hand I’m looking forward to mango salsa 😉

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    • Thanks, EllaDee. The first days of Spring … those words have such a nice ring to them, don’t they? And as much as I enjoy a big bowl of split pea soup, I’d gladly go without if it would delay Old Man Winter’s arrival. Truth be told, though, I wouldn’t like living in an area without the 4 seasons — even if 1 of the 4 leaves a great deal to be desired. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Jasline. This post represents 2 of the best things about blogging for me. I get to recount some of the stories that my family has laughed about for years and I have an opportunity to try some recipes that I’ve not tasted since I left home over 30 years ago. The fact that others enjoy both is icing on the cake. 🙂

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  33. My own version of your Grandpa’s waterworks was the recommissioning of a series of stock tanks, starting with a wonderful 6- or 8-foot long steel beauty I snagged from a landscaper’s pasture when his horses or cattle ‘upgraded’. I planted all sorts of things in that (including a banana tree, which thanks to western WA’s mildness can be grown as a tender perennial ornamental plant if protected) and added three 6′ diameter steel stock tanks (these, bought new from the local feed store) that became the front planters, full of herbs, Beautyberry, perennials, bulbs, cardoons–you name it. One year the neighboring kids were particularly happy because I planted white mini-pumpkins to trail out of one of the planters and they were rewarded for their good behavior with adoption of the fruits for Halloween. This was a step up from the year I’d installed the planters, when the kids were horrified that I would pierce the bottoms of such perfect potential kid-sized pools and, as they’d tested, kid ‘hamster wheels’, so we all got on much better after the plantings were shareable. Loved your stories in this post, obviously!!! But now I miss my stock tank planters. Sigh.

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    • Those tanks must have been something to see, Kathryn, once they were fully planted and established. And, yes, I can see how your use of them would have made you a tad unpopular with the neighborhood tadpoles. I must admit, though, that seeing you planted cardoons really caught my eye. That was a special dish (gobbi) at our house growing up, making its appearance every Fall until just after the Holidays. I’ve only been able to get it for the last 2 years, much to my Zia’s great pleasure. If you grew it and were our neighbor, you would have been treated as royalty and guaranteed a seat at the table whenever you wished. 🙂

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  34. I love this! I remember having something similar as a child, but it was never called City Chicken. And why haven’t I made it when it’s so easy and fun to eat? I’m late reading and commenting due to being out of town, but can’t wait to try this out next time we BBQ. There’s still a lot more summer around here, regardless of whether or not the “official” end has come to the season! Don Juan is so aptly named…a showy and beautiful rose. 🙂

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    • Hello, Betsy. Name aside and including myself, you are now the 4th person to have at least a memory of this dish. I thought they were far more well-known and would have spent more time explaining their origin otherwise. They are so easy to make and as long as you can still grill, they make a great meal. Nothing fancy but really tasty.
      I’m glad you enjoyed Don Juan. I like the idea of “anchoring” both ends of my garden with red roses and I think I chose 2 good ones to do that.

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  35. Pingback: Playing Catch Up | gluten free zen

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