Posted in Monday Mayhem

A Piece of Utopia—Family Day

Stay tuned this Friday when I make a major announcement regarding the direction of JackFlacco.com.

I have to admit something. I’ve been thinking a lot about Utopia. I don’t find it a difficult thought to think about. All I have to do is to think of what would make me happy and I’m there. Given today is a holiday here in my province, I thought instead of writing a dark Monday Mayhem post filled with zombies, the undead and creatures from the abyss, I would concentrate on something light—Family Day.

A game of Apples to Apples
A game of Apples to Apples

Every year, the third Monday in February is when we Ontarians dedicate time toward the family.

Our household celebrates the day off big with board games, a special meal and perhaps some other things that we’ve wanted to do but never seem to have the time to accomplish—like tobogganing.

Casa Flacco loves board games. Over the holidays, we played a fierce battle of Monopoly while gorging on snacks. This year’s version of Monopoly featured characters from cartoons. Have I told you how much I love animated movies? The game went well and we negotiated Park Place, something my younger child was adamant to not bargain away. In the end, I lost to said younger child and it reminded me of when I was young to decline deals from my relatives ultimately winning the game.

I’m not sure what we’ll be playing today, but I’m sure whatever it is we’ll have a lot of fun doing it.

As of the time of this writing, a week ago, I had yet to decide what I wanted to make for our special meal today. In reality, I’ve been preparing the same meal every year. What meal is it? you might ask. Sushi, of course. Would you expect anything less?

I learned how to make sushi a long time ago when a friend introduced me to the delicacy during a long trip from home. I eventually loved it so much that when I returned, I scoured Google to find recipes to satisfy my palate.

If you’re interested in how I make sushi, you can find it in this Freedom Friday post I had published several years ago. The entire process does take time, but it is well worth the effort.

Okay, we spend the day playing games, eating food—basically, having fun. This year is different in that I planned to take the entire weekend off. To me it means not doing any writing whatsoever. You have to understand what that means. I take pride writing every day except Saturdays. Therefore, taking yesterday and today off to spend time with the family is a huge bonus. It means no committed deadlines. Nothing looming to review. But more importantly, it means…

Sleeping in!

There was a time I never used to be able to sleep in. Having suffered from severe bouts of insomnia, it prevented me from functioning like a normal human being. That was then. Nowadays, I live for my bed. It’s cozy. It’s comfy. It’s quiet. Gosh, I love weekends.

All right, I had better stop. I think I’ve deviated from the Family Day theme, but somehow you might not think that.

Anyway, to all those who have today off here in Ontario, Happy Family Day!

Get the Ranger Martin trilogy now!

Does your state or province have today as a day dedicated to the family?

Posted in Food Favorites, Freedom Friday

Food Favorites

Whenever the family and I go to a restaurant, I look for something different to try. I do have my favorites, but I also go out of my way to find a dish that is unique in taste and original in presentation. Sometimes, I won’t know what I’ll be getting until the server places it in front of me.

For today’s feature Freedom Friday, I would like to give you a sampling of what I’ve had the pleasure of eating. I wish there was a way to transform the photos into real dishes in order for you to smell the aromas and savor the sweet flavors, but this is not the Starship Enterprise where I can say, “Tea, Earl Grey, hot,” and the replicator will create the item for you. Wouldn’t that be something? Instead, I’ll give you some background to the shot, and relate my thoughts about the experience.

My goal is to make you hungry.

Prime Rib Burger
Prime Rib Burger

Prime Rib Burger—For Mother’s Day, I thought I’d treat my amazing wife to one of our favorite restaurants here in Canada. They have a delicious gluten-free menu she can enjoy while the kids and I can gorge on the pizza and burgers. For this time around, I chose to order a Prime Rib Burger. Since I love mushrooms so much, I added them as a topping for a buck. I can only describe the meal as an explosion to the taste buds. The chef cooked the meat to perfection and the mushrooms added an extra level of flavor. The side Greek Salad complimented the meal, making it all the more enjoyable.

Curry Beef
Curry Beef

Curry Beef—During one of our Thursday night dinner dates, my wife recommended the Curry Beef. I’ve never liked beef unless prepared on a burger. This time, she was right. I had one taste of her dish, and I quickly ordered one for myself. The plate comes with tender sirloin drowning in curry sauce. Added in the mix is a sprinkling of onions and green pepper. A surprising finish to a morsel is the heat delivered by the sauce. Not overly strong, but having a kick, the dish leaves a satisfying aftertaste.

Salmon Sushi Combo
Salmon Sushi Combo

Salmon Sushi ComboThis year’s Canada Day festivities included a trip to our favorite sushi restaurant here in town. While the rest of my family was ordering Vegetable Maki, Chicken Fried Rice and Miso Soup, I order a Salmon Sushi Combo. I gotta tell you, of all my favorite dishes I’m writing about today, this is my absolute favorite. The meal comes with six salmon maki, three sushi and one salmon hand roll. Like all sushi meals, it also comes with a generous helping of soy sauce and wasabi. I have to tell you something. Sushi is the only meal that feels like home to me. I don’t feel stuffed, sick or bloated when eating sushi, and the next day, I’m gearing up for more. I wish the whole world was made of sushi because then I wouldn’t have to wait so long before eating it again.

Grilled Chicken Salad
Grilled Chicken Salad

Grilled Chicken Salad—As part of an extended celebration my family and I had for my youngest, recently having performed in the drama troupe’s rendition of Beauty and the Beast at a Ribfest, we stopped by the Greek restaurant down the street. I typically order a lamb dish, but that night I had already eaten a bit at the Ribfest, I needed to go for something light. The Grilled Chicken Salad was perfect for this occasion. A Greek Salad topped with the moistest grilled chicken I’ve ever tasted made this meal a treat to enjoy. Every single ingredient was fresh. Every single bite had a perfect finish. One day, I hope to learn to cook chicken this way.

That’s it, folks. Are you hungry yet?

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, on sale now.
RANGER MARTIN AND THE ALIEN INVASION, on sale now.
RANGER MARTIN AND THE SEARCH FOR PARADISE, on sale October 20.

What was the last thing you had that made your latest trip to a restaurant special?

Posted in Freedom Friday, Photo Opportunities

My Vacation

A few weeks ago, I took a much-needed vacation. This means, other than the three articles I publish on my site every week, I didn’t write a word anywhere. I can safely say I enjoyed every moment, and I would love if I could do it all over again.

Ontario, Canada
Ontario, Canada (taken with my iPhone)

Instead of packing my bags and leaving this pleasant town I call home, my wife and I decided to stay local and host my mother-in-law for two weeks. Wow! What a great time that was. I don’t care what anyone says about mother-in-laws, mine is as cool as they come.

She’s eighty years old. When I suggested we all go watch Jurassic World in 3D, she jumped at the idea. She hadn’t seen a 3D movie since the Fifties where red and blue lenses made up the 3D glasses.

Her verdict? She loved the effects and the heart-pounding action sequences.

Okay, let me repeat what I said earlier—eighty years old, folks.

She also didn’t show any fear when I asked if she’d like to eat hot sauce on her food. She went all out and enjoyed it. In fact, you know what she said to me? She said, “I don’t know if it’s because I’m used to it, but the sauce is weak.” The hot sauce is the suicide chicken wing sauce I use to drown my meats in while I cook.

Ontario, Canada
Ontario, Canada

Apart from my mom-in-law visiting, I had a lot of time to spend with the family and hanging with friends. My kids had their yearend recitals at the performing arts studio they attended during the 2014-2015 season. Both came home with awards. My older one brought back the Most Improved Speech Arts & Drama Performer and my younger one took home the Most Outstanding Overall Performer playing Matthew Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables. I kid you not folks, the audience was in tears for his portrayal of the beloved patriarch.

Greek Salad
Greek Salad
Greek Lamb Dish
Greek Lamb Dish

The other part of my vacation involved food—lots of it. We went to our favorite sushi restaurant gorging on all the succulent all-you-can-eat dishes we could consume. The joy of this restaurant is having the ability to eat what we want and sharing the dishes among each other. It’s great. My mom-in-law didn’t wince once. She had salmon sushi even after saying the thought of eating raw fish didn’t appeal to her. She’s courageous, I’ll give her that.

The other place we went to was our favorite Greek restaurant. I don’t think I packed in so much food in one sitting. I had a lamb dish that simply rocked my taste buds. If I die, can I request this to be the first dish I eat in heaven?

Lastly, I took time simply being in a quiet place to exist. I allowed the silence to fill my soul with peace, and I took the opportunity to soak in the calm. Incredible what happens when I do that. All of a sudden, life’s trials don’t appear so big anymore. They still are there but they in turn become little troubles I could work through to a resolution.

Anyway, that was my vacation. I’m hoping to do it all again soon, but first I have to get my next release out the door.

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, on sale now.
RANGER MARTIN AND THE ALIEN INVASION, on sale now.
RANGER MARTIN AND THE SEARCH FOR PARADISE, on sale October 20.

Are you planning a vacation soon? Where are you thinking about going to?

Posted in Freedom Friday, Photo Opportunities

Our Anniversary Weekend

The cool thing about being married for over twenty years is that we finish each other’s sentences.

Me: Honey, where did you put my slippers?
Her: Did you check under the bed?
Me: Yep.
Her: Did you check the closet?
Me: Yep.
Her: Did you check—
Together: The bathroom?

The other cool thing about being married for over twenty years is that we can go on an anniversary weekend getaway without worrying about the kids.

Our walk by the marina.
Our walk by the marina.

In fact, just recently, that’s exactly what we did. For a number of years now, we’ve packed our bags, loaded the car and headed to wherever the wind would take us. This year we ended up going north into cottage country where the moose are aplenty and the wilderness is our friend. We booked a hotel in Barrie, Ontario and took each day as a blessing without worrying about what came next.

My wife took the liberty to grab the honeymoon suite with a gorgeous Jacuzzi in the middle of the room. I must say, she knows me so well. I should have been a water baby.

The first thing we did when arriving on the Friday night was to unpack, jump on the bed, then relax a bit before heading to our favorite sushi restaurant. It’s a tradition of ours to find a sushi restaurant and stick with it for life. We have a modest dive in our town that only seats twenty. The food is incredible, and we wouldn’t give it up for the world. Similarly, in the town where we were staying, we found a sushi place a few years ago that we always go to regardless of the drive.

I would say the best part of the trip is the unwinding part. Whatever we had brought on the trip, we left in the sushi restaurant when talking about the day. A funny thing happens when we do that. It feels like a cloud lifts and we officially hit vacation mode. In between the Salmon Maki and the Chicken Fried Rice, our life suddenly become less complicated after knowing we have a few days of relaxation to do whatever we want.

Salmon Maki, my favorite of all.
Salmon Maki, my favorite of all.
Seriously, Sashimi is incredible.
Seriously, Sashimi is incredible.

From there, we headed to the theater to watch Tomorrowland. My wife enjoyed it. I, however, was so tired by the week that I fell asleep about halfway through the thing. Interesting tidbit of the evening: A couple of teenagers were sitting next to me doing nothing more than kissing up a storm. I was surprised to find by the end of the night their seats hadn’t caught fire with me going up in flames next to them.

On the Saturday, we spent the entire day in the hotel room. Yes, some of you might be thinking what a waste, but if you knew the hectic schedule my wife and I have during the week, you would take a month in deep cryogenic stasis to regain your energy. Besides, it had a Jacuzzi in the middle of the room—I mention that, didn’t I? I don’t think I need to say anything else.

That evening, we headed over to Boston Pizza then took in Avengers: Age of Ultron. This time, I did not fall asleep. What a great movie.

It looks like an abstract but it's really the blue lights illuminating the outside of our hotel.
It looks like an abstract but it’s really the blue lights illuminating the outside of our hotel.
The marina where my wife and I took our walk.
The marina where my wife and I took our walk.
I'm not sure what this is, but it was awesome to photograph.
I’m not sure what this is, but it was awesome to photograph.

The next day, we checked out early. My wife suggested we try out the marina about ten minutes away. Wow, if there ever was an idea so awesome, this was it. We stayed there a few hours taking a walk on the boardwalk, talking about our future. We dreamed of having a boat someday. Actually, it was I dreaming about the boat and it was her saying, “You’ll have to take care of it. You know that, right?” My feet came back to earth and we continued hand-in-hand talking about other dreams.

We wound the day by heading home, sweet, home where we took the kids out to eat in the evening while talking about our weekend getaway.

I don't eat them often, but chicken wings sure hit the spot.
I don’t eat them often, but chicken wings sure hit the spot.

In the midst of it all, my wife and I eventually concluded as much as we love our getaways, there’s nothing quite like family.

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, on sale now.
RANGER MARTIN AND THE ALIEN INVASION, on sale now.
RANGER MARTIN AND THE SEARCH FOR PARADISE, on sale October 20.

Do you take weekend getaways with your significant other? What is your fondest memory?

Posted in Freedom Friday, Photo Opportunities

Getaway

A few weeks ago, my wife and I left the northern climes of our small town and travelled to Mississauga, Ontario for our annual getaway. No kids. No family. And no responsibility. Just the two of us. We settled on a small inn off the highway where close by we had access to a huge commercial center featuring a movie theater, restaurants and a mini golf place. We were in our element. For Freedom Friday, let me tell you how it went.

The Inn
The Inn

For those of you who may not know, we’ve had our share of travelling and this time around, we wanted to stick around our own province. Nothing quite compares to exploring the surrounding region and having fun doing so.

Arriving at the inn, we unpacked quickly and that evening, we headed to an all-you-can-eat sushi bar. My wife’s never been to one and it was an experience for her. I knew exactly what we were in for, so I walked her through it. This particular sushi bar provided customers with iPads at the table to order their food. The uninitiated would find the food choices overwhelming. Folks, the point of a sushi bar is not to order everything in one shot, but to experience a relaxed atmosphere while eating at a leisurely pace. Customers tend to make the common mistake when they enter an all-you-can-eat restaurant to load their plates and then they have a table full of food they can’t finish. Guess what? The restaurant charges for leftovers. Surprise.

Night at the movies
Night at the movies

I’m happy to say, I taught my wife to pace herself. We ordered light at first, going for small avocado salads, headed for medium dishes such as maki and sushi, then we hit the big dishes like Salmon Teriyaki and chicken fried rice. By the time we were done, three hours had passed and we were ready for a movie. We took a long walk talking about our life together, the kids, our family, then went to see the new X-Men: Days of Future Past on opening night in 3D. Wow. Wow is all I can say. Great movie.

For all you romantics out there, yes, we held hands and yes, we snuggled.

Sushi
Sushi
Spicy salmon
Spicy salmon
Salmon, avocado and cucumber dishes
Salmon, avocado and cucumber dishes
Mushroom dish
Mushroom dish

The next morning, the inn provided a free continental breakfast where we had a chance to relax without the stress of being somewhere, having to do something or needing to finish quickly. We—wait for—took it easy. I’ll tell you something, whenever I hit vacation mode, something happens in me that always makes me want to sleep. A switch in me says, “Jack’s in vaca mode, time to shut down the factory.” I’m quite all right with it, too, since my wife’s the same way. It feels as if all the stress washes away like a blanket pulled from a bed.

Later that morning I hopped into the pool and had a nice one-hour swim, and followed it up with a long stay in the Jacuzzi. When I got back to our room, we hit a local Greek restaurant and talked for a long time about our future. I don’t know about other couples, but for us, we’re always thinking about what’s next in our lives. We purposely have long conversations mapping our destiny with little interference from anyone’s influence. If this is what freedom is, then I’m all for it.

After the restaurant, we went to see the new Godzilla movie in 3D. You can tell we’re avid moviegoers. Boy, were we surprise. Incredible movie in 3D is all I can say. By the way, the theater that afternoon was, how should I say, ice cold, it felt like I had walked into a meat packing plant. Do theaters really have to be that cold? But maybe it was me. After all, I had a T-shirt and shorts on, but I’m not complaining.

Yes, more snuggle time with my baby.

That evening we stayed in and had fun playing video games together on my tablet while sitting on the bed watching TV. Nothing beats that alone time I spend with my wife away from the stresses of the world.

The next morning, we woke up late, had breakfast, packed our things and left the inn refreshed and feeling great about the coming months. From there, we ended up at the glow in the dark mini golf place. My wife cleaned up the game. Eighteen holes of pure defeat for me as she pounded par or strokes under par to blow me away. She had her game face on and totally trashed my game. Gosh, I’m proud of her.

Glow in the dark golf ball in my hand
Glow in the dark golf ball in my hand

From there, we popped over to the same sushi bar from a couple of nights ago and feasted for hours until we left to pick up the kids that afternoon. By the time we got home, we had all we could do to keep from going to bed early. That’s when I knew we had an incredible time.

Writing this today, I can’t wait until our next getaway. I’m not sure where we’re going, but we’re certainly again going to have the time of our lives.

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ALIEN INVASION, on sale October 21.

Do you take getaways with your significant other? Where’s the last place you’ve gone?

Posted in Food Favorites, Freedom Friday

Food Photography

Taking pictures of food has become a hobby of mine. For a long time, I took the photos not knowing what to do with them until one day it’d dawned on me. I didn’t need to do anything with them. The photos of the food not only represent edibles, but of times gone by. A single image floods my mind of all the good times associated with those meals. Let’s have a look at some of those photos and of what they mean to me for Freedom Friday.

Mamma's Penne Pasta
Mamma’s Penne Pasta

My mom’s pasta is to die for. I don’t know how she makes the sauce, and believe me, my wife’s tried to replicate it, I’ve tried, yet to no avail, we have never been able to duplicate it from scratch. In its place, my wife has her own recipe, which I love with a passion, but it’s not mamma’s sauce. Don’t worry, my wife knows how I feel, it’s no secret. The point being, this photo of my mom’s penne pasta coated with her delicious sauce represents a typical Sunday meal at my parents place. Whenever I look at this picture, memories of all those good time family gatherings come back to me. Every so often, we also have the typical Sunday meal here at my house.

Curry chicken, corn, green beans and marinated eggplant
Curry chicken, corn, green beans and marinated eggplant

Every Saturday afternoon I cook something special for the family. It’s my time when I treat everyone to a culinary creation of my choosing. One of my favorite dishes I enjoy making is chicken. I think I’ve cooked chicken in every way possible, yet, I’m sure someone will say to me, “Have you tried it this way?” I’m sure of it. This photo has all the fall colors wrapped in a delicious assortment of vegetables and chicken. For anyone curious, those are marinate eggplants. I enjoy this photo because it reminds me of our Saturday family time together.

Sushi
Sushi

Sushi reminds me of special occasions, long weekends and my absolute love for Japanese food. For those who don’t know, I make my own sushi. It took a long time to understand how all the ingredients worked together, their names and their distinct flavors. Nowadays, it’s second nature making this stuff. This photo is of one of the long weekends here at Casa Flacco, and of how I spent my afternoon. Salmon, avocado, sticky rice, all wrapped with nori. The other dish I made with cucumber, sticky rice and nori. I love long weekends because of our sushi binges.

Salad
Salad

Nothing quite tops a good ol’ fashioned salad in my family. Salads remind me of summer and fall. We make our salads from the choicest, freshest ingredients. All of it organic and most of it comes from our backyard. This photo captures the essence of what our meals are like in the summer. Every day is salad day with olive oil, feta cheese, Greek olives and onions as extra ingredients. What this photo does not capture is the hard work involved with tilling the soil, watering, babying it every single day to allow it to bring forth an incredible bounty for all of us to enjoy.

Now do you see why I take photos of food?

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, now on sale.

Are you one of those folks who also take photos of food? What is your favorite food to shoot?

Posted in Freedom Friday, Other Things

Family Day

During these dark days of winter, nothing quite beats the freedom we have to enjoy our indoor activities. In Ontario, Canada, we have a statutory holiday called Family Day, which is the third Monday in February. Yes, it is this Monday, in fact. My family’s typical use of the day goes something like this: I make a bucketful of sushi, we pig out, then we play board games until dusk. I have to admit, I’m looking forward to it.

Family Day
Family Day

I’ve always tried to make Freedom Friday to revolve around things that make me who I am in an effort for you, the audience, to understand that not all authors who write about zombies are half-crazed loons with a bone to pick on a society gone mad. Some of us, if you can believe it, walk on the right side of normal—depending on what normal is.

As I was saying, here in Ontario we have this awesome long weekend called Family Day. What do I have to do to convince you we don’t only eat, and play board games all day? Some of us—me—wake up at an incredibly late hour and lay in bed doing absolutely nothing other than enjoy the warm comfort of our bed. When I say wake up late, I mean eight or nine in the morning. Remember, I’m a parent whose kids have no concept of what sleeping in is all about.

Chess
Chess

That day is also when I can dedicate a large chunk of my time on productive activities. Like, chess. Have I ever mentioned I once won Second Place in the Eighth Grade Ontario Regional chess tournament? I say it in passing because I think it’s the most perfect game on the planet. I mean, here’s a game with the potential to provide countless hours of fun yet only a handful of folks know how to play. Most of my play nowadays is either on my iPod or on my Nexus 7. I have two different apps to satisfy my craving. Let’s not forget the other apps on my laptop. Needless to say, I get my fill of chess whenever I can.

Not any different from any other weekend other than for nostalgia, but Family Day also includes a movie. I say nostalgia because I’ll usually whip out a title I haven’t seen in a long time that would remind me of when I was growing up. A title like Raiders of the Lost Ark brings me right back to 1981 watching the movie in one of those big screen/big sound theaters. It may also entail my watching something like Terminator 2: Judgment Day where the film brings me right back to the cusp of my youth. Am I allowed to say, those were the days?

This last Family Day bit has to be my favorite. I’m talking about spending time with the family. The sushi, the board games mean nothing without someone to share. And share I do, with those I love the most—my family. Without a doubt, no matter how bad things may get, family makes things all better. Nothing quite compares to having them around to boost ego and morale. What would Family Day be without family?

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, now on sale.

Do you have a special day where you can splurge doing the things you like doing without worrying about time or responsibilities?