Fifth World Art by Robert Neff
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When I returned home to support my widowed mother's fight with breast cancer in 2002, I reevaluated my life's journey and direction. Read more...

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Dinner With My Condo Seniors: Chicken Piccata

by Robert Neff, 13 Jan 2014

Tonight my Condo Seniors dinner menu featured chicken piccata made from scratch. We also tested a new approach called portion control

After the Cookingpalooza that stretched from Thanksgiving to Christmas to New Year's to Epiphany, one of my Condo Seniors called me fat. After several failed attempts to overfill my plate, everyone finally agreed to try portion control.

Tonight — thanks to portion control — we did not have appetizers; our wine consumption, however, doubled. Now I am curious whether two bottles (rather than the customary one) will be the new trend.

If you have not been following my Condo Seniors, I need to tell you that they do all of the cooking. I am not allowed to cook, nor am I allowed in the kitchen, except to do dishes!

My condo is the hub of activity because my kitchen has a huge counter and modern appliances — in essence, my Condo Seniors designed my kitchen around their needs. They come over in the mornings to enjoy coffee, read the paper, cut coupons, share recipes and any other excuse they can find.

They also enjoy the instant technical support I provide for their iPads and iPhones. Issues can range from help with an online order for wine or gift cards to how to use apps. While they are catching up to technology, technology is not always senior friendly. One of their biggest complaints is that Apple's email on the iPhone and iPad does not have a "Delete all" button for the email's mailboxes or a "Force quit all" button for the apps. Individually deleting each email or app takes an enormous amount of time and creates unnecessary work for old and tired fingers.

Usability issues are readily evident. If the iPad and iPhone teams at Apple used my Condo Seniors as testers, then the product engineers would go to bed without supper and be grounded!

My Condo Seniors have been served dinnerMy #CondoSeniors have been served! Note red #wine from  @wtso

Best part of dinner is after my #CondoSeniors are full, soak the bread in the chicken piccata>Best part of dinner is after my #CondoSeniors are full, soak the bread in the chicken piccata

Aerolatte frother to make lattes. This is how my #CondoSeniors use @BedBathBeyond aerolatte frother - make lattes. Well, I do it :)

Here is how my #CondoSeniors have been fattening me up for the Holidays! 4 second video

Follow along

Follow their adventures on social media with the hashtag #CondoSeniors. I share an on line photo album on Flickr and frequently update this with iPhone pictures.

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I have also traveled with these two sisters, 90 and 91, and covered their adventure with a story, Driving The Divas. Stay tuned because more adventures are planned.

Driving The Divas

When we travel, follow along by clicking on the link here or use the hashtag, #DrivingTheDivas.

Tonight's dinner preparation started with an emergency. When the chef du jour realized that several ingredients were missing, he hastily prepared a shopping list and sent me out the door to Publix.

Dessert arrived while I was at the grocery store — placed on the kitchen counter to be seen and admired as each dinner guest arrived. The Condo Seniors — master bakers who were studying how the peach pie was made — have been known to reverse engineer a masterpiece.

My #CondoSeniors were impressed with peach pie for dessert. Then loose lips said, store bought ;)

Upon my return, I was tasked with setting the table. One of my Condo Seniors shared how magnificently the table was set on a recent episode of Downton Abbey and suggested making me a stick so I could measure the chair distance from the table like the butler did.

Over at the wine refrigerator, another Condo Senior rifled through the bottles searching for a pairing for the chicken piccata. After pulling out just about every bottle, he found the last white, a Sauvignon Bordeaux.

My #CondoSeniors selected Sauvignon Bourdeax #Wine pairing for chicken picata ;)

At the stove, the chef du jour placed the floured chicken in a pan of hot, melted butter. When everyone was curious why there was no mess, the chef du jour explained that he had precooked the breaded chicken a month ago and cleverly hid it in my freezer.

Once the chicken was simmering, the chef du jour used a shallow pan to sauté the mushrooms with lemon, olive oil and garlic. Next he added capers to the chicken, then squeezed fresh lemons over the top before dropping them into the pan. He cut thin slices from another lemon and set them on a saucer. As I reached for a slice, he responded, "No, I have just enough to put on top of the chicken. You do not have time to run down to the neighborhood lemon tree!"

From behind, another senior added, "You crossed the line. You know you are not allowed in the kitchen while we are cooking or baking!"

Timing is everything to my Condo Seniors. They are very well practiced in the art of serving dishes on time. In fact, it's safe to say they've made it into a fine art.

The chef's focus turned to the pappardelle egg noodles. He took out what was needed for dinner and placed them in a bowl. Realizing there was not enough to save, he added the rest of the bag (much to my delight!). No one else objected either; they were from the local Italian market, Mazzaro's.

One Condo Senior quipped, "I guess you don't need to be reminded to get more from Mazzaro's Italian Market." Then the chef said, "Get more foccacia bread from Mazzaro's!" And another said, "I need rolls," then added, "Hey, don't you have a freezer full of bread from there?"

One of the newer Condo Seniors asked, "How do you decide what to cook for dinner? What goes into the menu planning?" The response? "Whatever is in everyone's fridge or freezer!" Then another interrupted and mentioned that several of us were making a grocery run tomorrow. "Who wants to have an outing? We have extra coupons."

With dinner under control, the chef du jour placed the mushroom sauce in a bowl to cool and said, "Everyone take a seat, and let's enjoy the salad while the noodles boil."

Manners are ever-present amongst my condo seniors, as the men helped the ladies into their seats and even placed a napkin on their laps.

When the chef finished his salad, he excused himself to check on the pappardelle noodles. He exclaimed, "Al dente!" as he poured the noodles into a strainer, which he then placed on top of the pan to drain. Next he mixed Parmesan cheese into the cooled mushroom sauce, added the noodles and slowly mixed the ingredients to coat the noodles in sauce.

Back at the table, one of the Condo Seniors quietly said, "We finished that bottle." When I replied that we were out of white wine, there was silence before everyone turned to the chef du jour. "Guess we will have to drink red!" he replied, pulling out several bottles before one struck a chord. He handed the bottle and electric opener to me and said, "You're up!"

So dinner begins. My #CondoSeniors were waiting on me to return from emergency @Publix run!

Lemons and capers are added to the chicken piccatta.Next up, my #CondoSeniors are ready for the chicken piccatta

Pappardella egg noodles from Mazzaro's Italian MarketMy #CondoSeniors chose Pappardelle noodle  for chicken piccata - I need to get more from @mazzarosmarket

Mixing the  mushroom sauce with pappardelle. My #CondoSeniors are mixing the mushroom sauce with pappardelle - yum

Adding the Parmesan cheeseMy #CondoSeniors just mixed the mushrooms and added the Parmesan cheese

My  Condo Seniors say watching the plates
being prepared is the best part... My #CondoSeniors say this is the best part... Watching the plates being prepared ;)

My #CondoSeniors shout, Encore! Encore! My #CondoSeniors shouting,  Encore! Encore!

This is how my #CondoSeniors serve peach pie ;)This is how my #CondoSeniors serve peach pie ;)

After I cleared the table of our salad plates, we all turned toward the counter. Then the chatter started about how this was the best part: watching the food being placed onto the plates. The chef du jour placed the pasta and sauce on each plate and topped it with beautifully golden-brown breaded chicken.

When the plates were ready, we watched impatiently as the chef meticulously wiped trickles of sauce from the edges to create a beautiful presentation. I felt a kick under the table as one of my Condo Seniors whispered, "Are you going to serve the plates some time today?"

Dinner conversation flowed as fast as the wine. Topics jumped around as they always do, making it a challenge to keep up with the subject at hand. At the very least, I try to keep them on track.

The conversation turned to condo politics. The big yearly board meeting was next week, and new officers were running. I gathered Sun Tzu could learn a thing or two here with this condo association.

One of our Canadian Snowbirds organized a meet and greet for the board candidates. He created a Wiki page that was met with some confusion. One asked, "Didn't Snowden do that or whatever?" Another replied, "No, that was not him, but is that Wikileaks movie out on Netflix yet?"

I tried to explain what a "Wiki" is. Some asked, "I have to log on?" Another said, "I already know everyone. Been here 30 years." Another added, "We all have iPads, so is there an app?"

I refocused the conversation back on the meet and greet and said, "Maybe we should ask them questions about getting car ports. Our snowbirds have garages up north to keep the car. We have summer, and its heat destroys the paint!"

After they stopped laughing, one said, "Our snowbirds won't pay for any improvements here. They have homes up north and don't want to cough up any more money. They wonder why our home values aren't rising!" He added, "In the past, some didn't want to spend money on landscaping. Now we have some who want to replace all the stack pipes that transport sewage down the floors from the bathrooms. They're old and cracking but would cost $600,000 to replace. That would be a huge assessment that won't fly with our snowbirds and seniors living here on a fixed income!"

Next, everyone was talking about all of the new people at the complex, namely several students from Eckerd College. One said, "They have three girls in one condo, and each one has a car. They are taking up our guest spots. My friends have to park on the opposite end and walk." Another one added, "And each of them has a boyfriend over there all the time, and each of them uses a guest spot too!"

One said, "We need to stake out the cars and put notes on the windshields, then inform the condo manager! Also, did you know one condo owner has four cars here because he collects them? You can only have two cars per condo." I chuckled because we have several residents who retired from military intelligence.

I added that this would be a perfect way to use the Wiki and ask questions of the candidates running for the board. After getting a couple of blank stares, I just said, "Or maybe you could ask them at the meet and greet."

The conversation quickly changed when one Condo Senior started talking about how easy it was to open a business when he was younger. He shared a story about how his father had him go into the furrier business. He explained how the furs were prepared. He said he didn't do so well there, so his father made him a machine operator. He then described how he didn't like the fur business and left. Then one Condo Senior interrupted, "My husband is furry, and I don't like it either." I made a mental note to pick up hearing aid batteries.

Next up was dessert and coffee. I have become the resident barista with the aero latte my Condo Seniors purchased from Bed Bath & Beyond. When the milk didn't foam well, my Condo Seniors immediately scolded me for purchasing fat-free half and half! I assured them that half and half was on the list. Then the chef du jour made it clear to everyone, "We all know not to buy fat free!"

I mumbled that while half and half was on the grocery list, he forgot to write "no fat free." They all sighed because they are the power shoppers here. One remarked, "And that is why we don't let you shop!"

The chef served the peach pie, and it was a hit. Compliments were flowing all around until our resident "loose lips" couldn't hold back any longer and revealed, "It's from Walmart. A Marie Callender famous pie." Then everyone started talking about how they liked her pies. I heard a sigh of relief from the one who brought the pie.

This is how my #CondoSeniors serve peach pie ;
)This is how my #CondoSeniors serve peach pie ;)

Dinner conversation continued well past bedtime for a couple of my Condo Seniors. This gave me plenty of time to clean up, load the dishwasher and scrub the pots and pans. However, the best part of tonight's cleanup was soaking the one remaining piece of focaccia bread in the chicken piccata!

Saying goodbye is always a long process. We share hugs and go over the next day's itinerary. But there is another contributing factor: I send each one off with a sort of back massage that my Condo Seniors have come to expect. It all began when I did it once while hugging my 92-year-old neighbor, and she melted. Now they have me trained to scratch their backs before they go. Yes, they are spoiled, and I am glad to send each one off with a smile!

As I turned around at the door, our chef du jour was sitting down to watch what I soon learned was a show he had recorded while cooking at my place last week. Emeril's Florida is a favorite of my Condo Seniors because they watched Emeril grow up on TV and really like that the show features chefs and Florida restaurants.

A few Condo Seniors who were leaving noticed what was on TV and came back to watch. I knew from past experience that there was no way I could barter for the remote. I sat down, knowing I would be fast asleep in no time.

What seemed like moments later, I was startled from my nap by screechy voices. It was the sitcom Two Broke Girls — a show my Condo Seniors love, but I do not. Seems I just can't win. So I put my headphones on to listen to music and pulled out my laptop to write this story.

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