Sunday, December 30, 2007

New Toys for Christmas!

Andy and I have been putting off getting Christmas gifts for eachother. We agreed to place a spending limit, but we just kept putting off the shopping part because of other family stuff we wanted to accomplish first. So, after a week of celebrating with his kids and my family, and all the cooking that went along with it, we finally have the house to ourselves and time to splurge. We went to the kitchen porn emporium, Sur La Table. We bought ourselves two things we've been lusting over for months--a Mario Batali 4-quart cast iron enamel cooking pot and a Shun 8" santoku knife.

I have never had a really good quality knife. This is my first, and the first time I sliced through an onion with it I could feel the difference. The weight and balance of the knife combined with the incredibly sharp blade made for a beautiful chopping experience. Just for yucks, I went back to my previous favorite knife for a second and decided there was no comparison. So it was money well spent and I will have years of use out of it.

Andy is making a vegetable curry and cooking it in the Mario Batali pot. We had been looking at the Le Crueset line of cast iron enamel cooking pots, but when Copco came out with this Batali line, we determined that the Batali stuff is every bit as high quality and a fraction of the price. So there. It's a versatile 4 quart size that can be used on the stove top as well as in the oven up to 500 degrees. The finishing on it is so pretty, too, with the lovely brick red with a white enamel on the inside.

The curry is smelling so good, and I am thoroughly enjoying this dirty martini I've been slurping on as I've been typing this entry. I also want to mention that today is our Andy's birthday! Happy birthday, my sweetie.

Hummous is Yummous.

Once you start making your own hummous, you will be completely spoiled. The flavor is nothing like the thick, pasty, overly salty stuff that's ready made in the grocery stores.

I have always had homemade hummous because of my Uncle Shukri, who was born and raised in Jerusalem. He introduced our family to it long before most folks knew what it was. It's always a holiday favorite, especially with my brother, Paul, who came to visit last Friday. I made up a big batch just for him.

Here's what I put in this particular batch:

2 cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup of tahini
3 cloves of garlic
fistful of fresh parsley
juice of 2 lemons
cumin seeds--about a tablespoon
ground cumin
ground coriander
fresh ground pepper
salt is optional

Process all this in a food processor until it's smooth and lovely. If the consistency is too thick, add warm water as you process. Put the hummous in a bowl and drizzle the top with a very good quality EVOO Extra Virgin Olive Oil (couldn't resist!). I served it with toasted pita bread and a selection of olives.

Other ingredients I have put in hummous are roasted red peppers, cilantro, lime juice, chilis--whatever tickles your tastebuds. Just don't leave out the tahini, which I consider to be the definitive ingredient.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Moonlight and Magnolias! Swingtime Canteen!

I took my parents to see "Moonlight and Magnolias" at Barksdale tonight and LOVED it! I mean, how can you go wrong with Joe Pabst, Scott Wichmann, David Bridgewater and Joy Williams? Great script that just crackled with salty and non-stop laughs!
And not to mention "Swingtime Canteen", too, which we saw last Sunday. Every time I glanced over at my parents it was one of three things--lips moving because they knew every word to every song, laughing because they were so charmed by all the girls and their girly ways, or mouths hanging open with amazement at the pipes on these wartime hussies. I feel like such a groupie with all my fantastically talented friends.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Sweeney Todd. Go See It.

Mom, Dad, Andy and I made the trek to Short Pump Suburban Sprawl Center last night to see Sweeney Todd. My hopes were high--my favorite actor in my favorite musical. Not only did it meet my expectations, it exceeded them ten times over!
I was not sure I'd like seeing Sweeney Todd performed by people who were not primarily singers. I'd have never considered casting a stage production of it with anything less than stellar vocalists, given the difficulty and complexity of the music. As it turned out, I was so gob-smacked by all the other elements of the film and so mesmerized by the performances, that the singing abilities of the actors was a non-issue. It's a perfectly cast film, and somehow the story shone through to me more than it has when I have seen it onstage. Sure, there are some things that I missed hearing, like the prologue that has always made the hair on my arms stick up. But the elements that were sacrificed for the movie were done so with impeccable judgement. There's a lot of blood and gore, so if this bothers you, be warned. I had to avert my gaze every now and again! I was completely seduced by the look of the film. It's very dark and ominous and everything has a little bit of decay around the edges, contrasting with the bright sharpness of the blades and the blood. Tim Burton is a genius.
I'm afraid my all-time favorite movie musical, Mary Poppins, has been knocked to second place.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

One Christmas Down, One to Go.

Today was real Christmas. My brother isn't coming until Friday, but since it is December the 25th, a big meal must be cooked!

The day started decadently with chocolate bread. Yes, you heard me right. My mom sent Andy some bread samples from Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Their bread kicks ass. We got a box of 4 breads; Parmesan Pepper (hands down fave), Chili Cheddar, Raisin and Chocolate Sourdough. Now that I have eaten bread with big hunks of chocolate in it, I can't say I ever need to eat it again. Bread and chocolate do not go together, in my mind. I had a slice of it with Andy Boothby's mom's homemade marmalade, which is fantastic. My mom had a slice of chocolate bread with a poached egg on top, which was, well, just plain wierd!

This afternoon Andy and I whirled around the kitchen for more than two hours, chopping and sauteeing and roasting and drinking manhattans and listening to snooty little English choirs singing Handel. I love me some Handel on Christmas or any day. Especially when accompanied by the spare, pure sound of a baroque orchestra. Perfection.

It was sort of a typical English celebratory meal, with a little bit of meat and a thousand side dishes. The requisite two kinds of taties--roasted and mashed, roasted brussels sprouts, stuffin muffins, carrots in a mustard-maple glaze, onion-madeira gravy, and pork tenderloin covered with dijon mustard and fennel seed, cooked atop a pile of sliced onions and granny smith apples. I must say, everything tasted fantastic.

We're all full as ticks now. Everybody's had a nap--wait a minute--except me. And we are going to venture out to see Sweeney Todd tonight. Nothing puts me in the holiday mood like a throat slashing barber! I can't freakin wait!

Monday, December 24, 2007

My Mom Has a Purple Face, and Tomorrow's Christmas!

My mom and dad are visiting. I love having them visit, but I have to be careful that I don't plan so much stuff that they get exhausted. So far, it's been a bit of a flurry!

My mom had a nasty fall about two weeks ago, and though, thankfully, she didn't sustain any serious injury to her skull or brain or the rest of her body, she bumped and bruised her head quite nastily in a couple of places. The bruises are now migrating downward and are presently situated on her face! Basically she looks like she's been pretty badly beaten up. Her face is mostly shades of purple, yellow and green. If she was hiding in the woods, she'd have protective coloration. My dad's been telling everybody that "she said the wrong thing at the wrong time!" and if you could see my sweet little dad saying that, I promise that you'd think it was funny! Andy contributes a favorite joke of his:

What do you say to a woman with two black eyes?
Nothin--you already done told her twice!

Mom's being a very good sport about the whole thing, bless her sweet heart.

Yesterday, Andy's kids came to visit and exchange presents with their dad. We cooked a delicious baked penne and cheese (romano, muenster, chevre, spinach, pureed roasted garlic and calamata olives) and the kids had many, many helpings which made me very, very happy! We served it with blanched asparagus and a lovely, simply dressed salad. The kids brought home made fruit cake and had it with ice cream for dessert. Andy thinks Ben and Jerry should have a Christmas ice cream flavor that has chunks of fruitcake in it. I think that sounds kind of GOOD, don't you?

Tonight we're off to the Kennedy-Di Pasquale house for their annual Christmas Eve singing party, then my parents, Andy and I will share some champagne and probably collapse into a deep sleep.

On the menu for tomorrow's dinner is:
roasted pork tenderloin
cooked apples
mashed potatoes
roasted potatoes
carrots and peas
brussels sprouts
stuffin muffins

I promise I will take piccys.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Me and Rachael, We're Like This.

Tomorrow is our annual office Christmas party and I have to bring a dish to share. I'm making something I've never made before, which is not a very good idea! What if it sucks?

I saw a recipe for "Stuffin' Muffins," created by America's sweetheart, Rachael Ray The ingredients look good--apples, onions, celery, parsley, sage, thyme, bread cubes, stock, and of course, buttuh. Rachael wouldn't dare give me a bad recipe.

The recipe also calls for EVOO Extra Virgin Olive Oil. That's how Rachael Ray always says it. She abreviates the name, then goes ahead and says the whole name anyway, thus defeating the purpose of the abbreviation in the first place. Department of Redundancy Department!

I think I'm going to start doing that. Any time I say an abreviated name, I am then going to follow up by saying the whole thing. IRS Internal Revenue Service. DVD Digital Video Disc. CD Compact Disc. UPS United Parcel Service. You get the picture. LOL Laugh Out Loud!

I'll document my new recipe tomorrow morning, and put it in a PDF Portable Document Format so I can post pictures. I know, I am beating this joke to death already. I'll stop now.

More later!

Just a little update. The stuffin muffins were sort of a hit. People were eating them and telling me they were good. I must admit, that when I was preparing them, I was skeptical. The recipe didn't seem to have much in the way of binding ingredients, and I was thinking they'd fall apart, but they didn't! They needed to be cooked about twice as long as the recipe said. I'm going to try them again tomorrow with Christmas din din.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

If You're Going to Sit in the Front Row, Be NICE!

We had the final night of our annual Home for the Holidays Cabaret. For the teeming millions of you who read this blog from afar, this is a yearly fundraiser that a bunch of singer/actors pool together to produce so we can raise money for the Richmond Theatre Artists Fund. I am very proud to count myself as one of the founding artists. The fund is there to help members of our theatre community if they should ever be financially compromised due to circumstances that arise from an illness or emergency. Okay, enough blabla.

So last night was a very pleasant evening. Everybody was in good voice, the house was packed, the booze was flowing. Most everybody remembered all their lyrics and the crowd seemed to really be enjoying us. That is, except for this particularly sour-faced woman sitting right in the front, directly below our noses. My brilliant best friend Robyn says that "you should have to audition to sit in the front row" and boy, is she right. The three other people she was sitting with were having a great time, smiling up at us and obviously enjoying us. But this stroppy old cow just sat there glaring at us with her chin resting in her hand, seeming to bend over backwards to look bored. We all got tickled about it and she became the talk of the performers' table. Cute Audra made this drawing of her, which is actually quite a remarkable likeness!

Before the show, my boss set up some little hors d'oeuvres for an after-party for us in the boardroom. He told us that, when he was laying out the food for our little after party, Stroppy Cow tried to come in and eat some of our food. My boss explained to her that this food was for a private party after the show, and NO, she could not have any. Not wanting to take NO for an answer, she asked if she couldn't "have just one cookie??" and again my boss said NO. We think this was why she spent the evening sulking.

We all had a good time nonetheless, and I must say that Crabby Cabaret Lady would be very displeased to know that she gave us all a good chuckle.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

My House Smells Good

It's a chilly and gray Saturday morning, but my house is full of warm and happy because I am just about to take a loaf of bread out of the oven. Then I'm off to work until 8 p.m., which is probably a good thing. Otherwise I'd be home all day with a loaf of fresh baked temptation just beckoning me to dig in and slather liberally with butter.

The loaf turned out really pretty. I use the well known New York Times no-knead recipe, which originally comes from Sullivan Street Bakery and is now insanely popular and all over the internet. I've become a bread snob now that I know how to make my own. I like knowing that there are only 4 ingredients in my bread and I put them in with my own hands.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Just a Short, Braggy Thing

I stepped on my scale this morning and was delighted to discover that I have passed that 10 pound weight loss milestone. Naturally, I could not believe it and had to weigh myself about six times to make sure. Especially since I weighed almost 3 pounds more yesterday morning. Now, how does this happen? I've been known to sleepwalk on occasion--maybe I ran a marathon, or cut off one of my boobs? And just slept through the whole thing?
Oh well, I'll just try to celebrate the loss rather than attempt to figure out what's going on with my crazy menopausal body!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Missing in Action

It's ages since I posted, I know. This December is a really busy one for me. I am working 2 jobs--my full time theatre job and my part-time theatre job. I'm painting the living room, dining room, and hall in my house, including all the trim. I'm also singing for 5 evenings in the "Home for the Holidays" cabaret at Barksdale Theatre. My parents are coming in eleven days and nothing is ready.

I have 3 nights in a row off this week, and though I will be home painting, I will be cooking up something lovely in the trusty old crockpot. I have had this warhorse of an appliance for 20 years now--I got it as a wedding present, way back when I was living my other life. The thing just refuses to give up the ghost, and since I turned vegetarian it comes in handier than ever. I'm going to throw together a Jamaican black bean pot.

Here's what will go into the crock:
1 3/4 cups of black beans, soaked overnight
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp. mustard powder
1 tbsp. molasses
2 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried chili flakes
2 bell peppers, seeded and diced (any color!)
1 1/2 lbs. of chunked raw sweet potato
salt and pepper to taste
about 2 1/2 to 3 cups of water

This recipe normally calls for pumpkin, but I adore sweet potatoes with black beans. Dump it in the crockpot before I leave for work, and by the time I get home the house smells so good I can't stand it. Plus, this is a very healthy stew, with tons of protein and fiber. Think I'll make some brown rice to have with it. If you sit there and wait until I get home, I'll let you know how it turns out! Don't move a muscle--I'll be home around 6-ish.

...Hi Honey I'm home!
I was ravenous and couldn't wait for the rice to get cooked, so I just scooped up a bowl of this Jamaican Black Bean Pot and I gotta tellya, it's excellent! For once, I followed the recommended spice measurements to the letter, and it's a very well balanced recipe. The thyme, chillies, mustard, molasses--they all shine through with perfect balance. I got this recipe out of one of those bargain table cookbooks written by nobody you've ever heard of. It's called "one-pot, slow-pot and CLAY-POT cooking and it's by Jenni Fleetwood. Jenni honey, you may not be on the Food Network, but I still appreciate you.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Results

The weight loss challenge has come to an end, and I am victorious. As of Thursday morning, I was down 6.2 pounds, and as of this morning another 1.2 less than that. I'm trying not to be too show-offy about this, as that would be unclassy. But I am pretty stoked (yikes--1980 called. They want their slang back) that I made it through Thanksgiving without gaining anything.

We had a great Thanksgiving in Wytheville. The great big kitchen was abuzz with activity and way too many cooks. I think I counted 5 people at once trying to prepare various dishes. It was pandemonium, but when we sat down, everything was finished at the same time and delicious. I especially enjoyed Andy's stuffing, made the way his mum makes it. It's an onion and sage stuffing that's flattened out and fried crispy in a pan. Yum!

You'd think that I'd have taken a ton of pictures with all the fall splendor around me, but I was kind of busy driving through the mountains. I did notice this billboard and it struck me as funny:

I guess "aiming high" means different things to different people. Not that there's anything shameful about getting your GED, but isn't that kind of a Plan B ?

Yep, I'm a snob. There, I've said it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Thanksgiving is by far my favorite holiday. I love the notion of a day dedicated to gratitude--at least that's how I choose to interpret it. I don't pause nearly often enough to focus on how incredibly fortunate I am. I'm so well endowed over and above the basics (food, shelter, clothing). I have family and friends whom I love and who love me back. I have meaningful work with people whom I don't just tolerate, but whose company I would actively seek out if I weren't lucky enough to have it on a daily basis. I have satellite radio.

This year, Andy and I are doing the same thing for Thanksgiving that we did last year, which is to spend the day and night in Wytheville with Andy's 3 kids and his ex-wife and her husband. I know it sounds a bit unconventional, but we're all grownups and it just makes the most sense, considering how challenging it is for Andy and his ex-wife to see all 3 of their fabulous kids at the same time. We did this same thing last year and it worked out great.

Wytheville is truly beautiful in the fall, and I expect the leaves to be even more vivid this year. Their home is situated in the mountains and you can literally watch deer roaming their property. I will take my camera with me and see if I can get some good pics.

So I wish all (what, 3 or 5) of my readers a wonderful Thanksgiving! Please feel free to let me know what you did, what you cooked (no Robyn, I don't mean you) and what you ate!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Panko, I am Putty in Your Hands.

Today was a bright and chilly and colorful fall day. Andy and I went for a big and exhausting walk at Pony Pasture, huffing and puffing and burning many calories in the process. After all that exercise and fresh air, we felt we deserved a somewhat decadent dinner. Andy suggested some vegetarian sausages like the fabulous ones you can get in England. There were no objections coming from me! He turned to one of our favorite books, Nigel Slater's "Real Food," for inspiration.

We minced garlic, hot red chillies and half an onion. Then we food-processed a 15 oz. can of drained and rinsed cannellini beans and some fresh parsley to a coarse paste and dumped all of the above in a bowl with just a couple of ounces of grated cheese (the recipe called for Lancashire, but we used Cheshire. Any hard sharp cheese would probably do), half a beaten egg, a generous sprinkle with fresh ground pepper and a not-so-generous sprinkle of salt. The lovely blob was then incorporated and well chilled to firm it up.

A little while later, we floured a board, dumped the lovely blob onto it, divided it into four bits and formed each bit into a flour coated sausage shape. We then brushed each roll with beaten egg and rolled it in panko, my new best friend.

I don't know what panko is made of, but I don't care--it's divine! And if you roll something in it and deep fry it, I promise I WILL eat it. It is crispy, light and crunchy. I believe it is a close relative to good old bread crumbs, but who knows? It might be made of shiny-eyed baby animals. I'm blinded by its charms.

So once we formed our nice fat sausages, we chilled them in the freezer while about 3" worth of peanut oil was getting really hot. Then in they went, one or two at a time until they were brown and gorgeous, which took 2 to 3 minutes.

We ate them with roasted brussels sprouts and fennel, and they just melted in our mouths. I think this is a great basic recipe in which the elements could be changed to suit your tastes. You could use a different type of bean, or change up the herbs and spices, or try different cheeses in it. But don't substitute the panko or I'll give you a spanko.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

My Work Spouse

I have shared a small office with the same excellent guy for something like 8 years now. We call eachother "work spouse" because we likely spend more time together than we do with our respective significant others. Forty hours a week is a lot of time to spend with one person. After all these years, you think you know everything there is to know about a person, but today we discovered something peculiar that we have in common.

We already knew that we both had extensive experience in apparel retail in our earlier years, but what we thought was amusing are the little anal retail habits that we have not been able to shake. Neither of us can wander around in a department store without colorizing and straightening. But it's even queerer than that.

We both fold our t-shirts in vertical thirds, then in half, then in half again, and store them stacked in the drawer with the neckline centered and facing up. Dress shirts are placed on hangers and all together, facing the same direction in the closet. Dress pants are hung with side seams matched up, resulting in a vertical fold that is perfectly centered. Jeans are flattened out so side seams are on the outside, folded in half lengthwise, fronts together and pockets visible. He then folds his twice horizontally; I do one horizontal fold. Clothing is grouped in the closet according to category--I guess that goes without saying. Socks are lined up together and the top of one is folded over both, leaving the toes free. Bath towels are folded in thirds vertically, then twice horizontally. And folding a fitted sheet produces considerable anxiety because there's no way to get them all neat and pretty.

As we blushingly described in minute detail how we fold, hang and store our clothes, we were finishing eachother's sentences. I'm comforted to know that there's another anal freak out there--and he's sitting right next to me! I think to most outsiders, we appear to be quite normal.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Contest Continues...

We are still neck and neck in our weight loss competition, lest you thought I had lost my gumption. I have now lost 6.4 pounds and our Andy has lost 5. I'm not too classy to gloat. Clearly, I'm winning! But I won't rest on my laurels, as resting on my laurels is what got me into this unfamiliar, corpulent state.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

A Junk Food Makeover Attempt

I grew up in the middle of Michigan in a little place called Bay City. My mom, who taught school and worked like a woman posessed, always had something on the table every weeknight by 6:00. God, I don't know how she did it without snapping. I love cooking, but I think part of the reason I love it is because I have never really had to do it. It's always been a choice, not a duty. I would go from zero to bitch in 4 seconds flat if I had to feed two whiny kids and a picky eater husband every bloody night by 6:00.

But I digress with this bitch tangent.

So one of my favorite things my mom used to slap together was Sloppy Joes. My brother and I loved those things. She made 'em real nasty, too, with the hamburger and the mystery package of pre-selected unidentified seasonings. They would leave a bright orange greaseprint on the requisite all white bread hamburger buns. There was no whole wheat anything in the 60's in the middle of Michigan. That stuff was for hippies. If we really wanted to go wild, we could add a slice of Velveeta.

My mission tonight was to concoct a healthy vegan version of the Sloppy Joe. I found a recipe on one of my favorite websites that features super healthy vegan stuff.
Here's the link:
It's called Sloppy Lentils (could she have come up with a more lackluster name? I don't think so). I made some vegan coleslaw and had it as a condiment. Then instead of Wonder Buns, (wow, we really are what we eat) I used toasted whole wheat pitas.

I would give it a solid 85. Flavors and spices and texture were good, but I would tweak it next time. I would saute a couple tablespoons of tomato paste in with the onions and bell peppers and I would find a way to add about a tablespoon of some kind of fat to the recipe, which is completely fat-free as is. The coleslaw was just a regular coleslaw recipe, but with tofu sour cream and Vegenaise instead of mayo and dairy. That was delish, and only about 95 calories for a generous serving.

By the way, I'm not a perfect vegan. I eat a bit of cheese and an occasional egg. I don't dislike the taste of meat--I just feel 100% better when I'm not eating it. Just doing the best I can. I will not get on a soapbox about it, because that would mean I'm annoying and I wouldn't want my friends to disappear one by one.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

My Name is Janine and I'm a Starchaholic.

The weather's about to turn cruel. It's supposed to get down into the 30's and maybe the 20's this week at night!

Cold weather always makes me think of comfort food. Pasta, potatoes, bread, popcorn with melted butter--all the starchy all-stars. The trouble with my starchy friends is that, when I get started with them, they send me careening on a reckless trajectory of over-consumption. Starch is the devil. Wow, that may be a bit over dramatic. But eating starchy food does make me crave more of the same.

Tonight I need to aim for something a little healthier and lighter. I've settled on roasted vegetables. Fennel bulb, purple onion and brussels sprouts. I know it doesn't sound like much of a dinner, but it's just me, and who do I need to impress? Besides the 5 of you who read my blog.

I could not resist the perfect little brussels sprouts in the store today. They were the most darling little spheres. Little Barbie-Cabbages looking all friendly. And I bought the fennel bulb because I felt sorry for it. It was the last one, and its fern-like foliage was pitifully ragged. I'm pretty sure I saved it from dumpster death. Not that being roasted alive will be a picnic.

If this turns out looking remotely appetizing, I will take a pic. I'm not much of a photographer, so the food needs to be really pretty to start with.

UPDATE. I wish I could have posted the smell. My house smelled like a roasted garlic emporium, and I mean that in a good way. These pix aren't that great, but I'm posting them anyway. FYI, I briefly steamed the veggies, then tossed them in a mixture of canola oil, balsamic vinegar, and pureed garlic. Dumped them in a shallow dish, sprinkled with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper and roasted them for about 40 minutes or so at 400. They were dead excellent. I think the steaming brings out the sugars in the veggies to the surface, which results in lovely caramelization when they roast.



Monday, November 5, 2007

Communion with Nature

Yesterday was such a spectacular fall day. The air was so nice and crisp! I took a rather long walk, beginning at Forest Hill Park, continuing along the river, across the footbridge to Belle Isle and back. Whew! I was knackered but renewed at the same time. Got a great big dose of sunshine, had a good deep think about lots of things, and burned 700 calories.

And by the way, as of last Friday I had lost 5.2 pounds since Andy and I began our contest. I think I'm in the lead for now, but I can't underestimate The Power of Andy. He was temporarily derailed last week but he's scheming to make a big comeback this week. We'll just see about that!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Meet Andy.

My boyfriend is a luthier. Please don't call him a lutheran by mistake. Being a luthier has nothing to do with Martin Luther or Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (that's a run-on name, isn't it?)

Luthiers made lutes originally, but now it's a term to describe a person who makes musical instruments, usually of the violin family. Andy's made lots of violins over the years. This one he's working on is a hybrid design of two violins he admires--a Stradivarius and a Jacob Stainer. He's calling it the Strainer.

It is fascinating to watch a violin materialize out of a few blocks of wood. Andy uses next to no power tools in his process. He just uses a band saw to cut the basic shape at first. Everything from that point is meticulously gouged, carved, planed and scraped by hand. Every bit of the front, sides and back is shaped to a series of specific thicknesses that are measured within tenths of millimeters. Violin diagrams remind me of topographical maps.

Andy has just instructed me to add this: "He's pretty good with his tools, if you know what I mean."

And that reminds Andy of a very funny Andy story. (Damn, good segue, Andy.).
He was taking photographs of a violin he was making. Oh, I should probably include the fact that he was naked. So he stepped up on a chair to get a good angle for the photo, hurriedly snapped a few pics and proceeded to get dressed and off to work. Later, in his office, as he was viewing the photos on his computer, he was alarmed that, in the corner of one of the photos, he had inadvertently included his own fleshy "tool." That's when he started telling people that the picture was a cello, not a violin.

Yep, that's my boyfriend.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

My "New" Tomato Bisque Kitchen

Finished painting the little kitchen. I'm very pleased with the tomato bisque color. It reads a bit more salmon on my computer, but in the real world it's really warm and inviting. I also tried to de-clutter as I put the kitchen back together, but it still looks packed with stuff! So round one is complete. Loads more painting to come in the next few weeks!

Eeeewwww! No Pictures, Too Gross.

There's nothing like painting my kitchen to discover all the absolutely disgusting filthy little places I was heretofore so blissfully unaware of. I've discovered all these secret surfaces with thick and sticky layers of dust mixed with grease. I had to break out the fierce stuff--ammonia. And we're talking several rounds of the fierce stuff. I mean, how does grease get all over my whole kitchen? I don't get it. I am so sorry I ever saw the top of my refrigerator. Next time, I'm not going to clean it. I'm just going to buy a new one.

And--note to self--must not invite anybody over to my house who is taller than my refrigerator.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What a Cool Idea!

These little magnetic spice jars are just the cleverest thing.

I found them at World Market, way out on West Broad near Short Pump Suburban Sprawl Center. I would never go to the Short Pump area if World Market wasn't there. That's just how queer I am for that store.

Anyway, these little darlings are just the ticket for my storage challenged kitchen. I can stick them right onto my fridge, freeing up cupboard and drawer space for other, less clever things that aren't magnetic. They have see-through lids so I can immediately see what's in them. One turn of the lid gives me a pour opening or a shake opening. Genius! And I think they look pretty, showcasing all the contrasting colors and shapes of my spices.

I sure hope World Market reordered on these. I kind of swooped them all up when I was there! Sorry.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Getting a Cold

Shoot. I've got that icky all over, head achey, face achey, low fever kid of feeling. Maybe I can fight it with good sound sleep? I hope so. I drank an entire 2 quart pitcher of Crystal Light fake orange juice today. Crystal Light is so trailer trash--it' like drinking Tang. But I'm hydrated and vitaminized.
After all, the rest of my life's going great! I'm happily painting away at my kitchen and I lost 3 pounds last week. I'm succesfully juggling my new part-time job and I still love my boyfriend. That covers all my big stuff.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Gotta Whole Lotta Frittata

I gotta love a frittata. I make them with just about anything that's hanging about in the fridge. Yesterday, it was grape tomatoes, spinach (or as my beau calls it when he's being all hip-hop, "spizz-natch"), a bit of reduced fat cheese and some sauteed onions. It was pretty to look at, delicious, and kept me fueled for several hours.

I cook the bottom on the stovetop, then I pop the pan into a 500 degree oven to cook the top. It puffs up all lovely and lofty! Be careful that the pan handle doesn't melt, though. That is a mess.

Friday, October 26, 2007

It's On.

My boyfriend is a serious and brutal competitor. We are competing (a la The Biggest Loser) to see who loses the greatest percentage of body weight by Thanksgiving morning. I have been just as good as gold this week, but Andy has been positively spartan. He's probably going to win, but I plan to give him a run for his money. Anyway, we both win in the end, right?

Hey wait a minute! That last sentence was bullshit! I forgot who I was for a moment. Of course we both don't win. There will be but one winner here!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Meet Gilda and Maggie

Every night after work, as I pull into my driveway, I am greeted by my two cats, Gilda and Maggie.

Now, I love my kitties. And they say nice things about me ("Love" would be too strong a word for these girls). But these cats can't stand eachother. They've shared a household for 3 1/2 years and they still can't pass one another without a hiss and a swat. They are still struggling to determine who's boss, and I don't see any end in sight.

I've had Gilda (the tabby) since she was a kitten. I got her from my dearest friend, Robyn, for my 39th birthday. Maggie actually belongs to Andy, and joined our household not too long after Andy and I started out together.

Neither cat is particularly affectionate, especially when the weather's hot and they don't need to snuggle me to get warm. I rather like it when the nights turn cold and Gilda burrows under the covers and curls against me to sleep at night. I know it's not about her actually loving me--it's just about being comfortable. But, hey, I could say the same for many human relationships, right?

Maggie snuggles rarely, and only on Andy. She's great at it, though, complete with the ecstatic expressions and the claws digging deliriously into poor Andy's chest.

Maggie is an expert huntress, having presented me with a wide variety of treats like mice, voles, birds, bunnies, and cicadas.
Gilda's specialty seems to be depositing inordinate amounts of cat hair all over my house. She kills an occasional bird to keep up appearances.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Well-Rounded Girl

I'm what's called a well-rounded girl. Both literally, as I divulged in my last post, and figuratively. I like lots of things that don't appear to go together, like theatre, reality shows where spouses are swapped, practicing my French, and women's roller derby.

If you haven't gone to Skateworld to see the River City Roller Girls, you are in for a treat. It's everything you'd imagine and more. Thrills, spills, tough-looking chicks on roller skates whizzing around the track, all the while bobbling around trying to either get to the front of the pack or block girls from getting to the front of the pack. The part I like the best is when a whole bunch of skaters have a giant wipeout and fall in a big pile right in front of me! It's just plain addictive! Find out more about these rockin' bitches at

Tickets are 10 bucks in advance (a little more at the door) and you can bring your own everything, including booze! You can even bring your own chair, and I recommend that, seeing as they don't have chairs at Skateworld. But look at the place!

It looks like George Jetson designed it. I hear tell it's the oldest skating rink in Richmond. They serve an underwhelming array of food that ranges from A to B. I'm talking real crap, like pretzels and very nasty pizza and possibly Mountain Dew. So bring your own, already!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

We Have Reached Critical Mass

My boyfriend, Andy, and I are on a weight loss journey starting today. Each of us is a good 20 pounds overweight. I could actually stand to lose 30. Andy is as weight-obsessed as any of my girlfriends. I kind of like the fact that I actually have a boyfriend that I can obsess about weight with. How many women can say that?

Of course, it's no fun for Andy unless there's a competition involved, so all I can say is bring it on, Andy Cleveland! We'll see who can stay on the wagon and lose the most weight by Thanksgiving.

Tonight's dinner was a delicious vegan stir fry of onion, red bell pepper, broccoli, snap peas, carrots, ginger, and garlic. We made it with a side of brown rice with peas mixed in. I made a spicy/sweet sauce of veg broth, soy sauce, Sriracha (that's an Asian hot pepper sauce that is a staple in my kitchen), Healthy Boy (another Asian sauce that's thick, sweet and dark like molasses) and a bit of cornstarch for thickening.

We are satisfied and fortified for our night out at women's roller derby. We're going to see the Tiger Beat Downs vs. the Flaming Hips. It should be a slammin' good time! Pics to come.

My Little Kitchen, Before

Here's my dinky kitchen. It's currently a sunny yellow, with bits of paint peeling all over the place. The blank spot with primer splotches is where my new washer/dryer will go. I've picked a nice, mellow Tuscan-ish brick color. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Thrill of a Shiny New Purchase

I just bought a new washer and dryer at the Sears scratched-and-dented outlet. It's a Maytag with a dent right in the front, but it's in perfect working order and I got a great price on it. I'm giddy with excitement, which is really quite tragic, when I think about it. It used to be clothes and jewelry that gave me that shopper's high, but now it's dented appliances. Hmmmm.

My old one wore out after about 9 years. It, too, was from the scratch and dent place. I can't complain. I washed many a happy and heavily soiled load in it. I gave it away on Craigslist and this complete moron came to pick it up. I had a male co-worker come to my house with me to meet him, just in case he was a rapist. This guy was so dense, I don't even think he could have figured out how to take advantage of himself, let alone me. He showed up alone to fetch a stacking washer and dryer, first of all. And as he and my poor co-worker (who, of course, was roped into helping Mr. Moron) were struggling to get this thing in his pickup truck, he says he can't believe he didn't bring his hand truck. If you don't know what a hand truck is, it's a wheeled platform-y thing that was created for moving big heavy objects with ease. I can see why he left his hand truck at home.

Anyway, it's going to be lovely to quit the laundromat. I am just not a good laundromat person. Even though my laundromat has free high speed wireless that is wicked fast, there's an evil, competitive undercurrent in the laundromat. On Sunday afternoons especially, people will do all kinds of subtle things to mark their territory. The basket placed in front of the unused dryer, the bottle of detergent sitting on the unused washer. These are subtle signs that say "I know I have no right to reserve this machine, but if you move my shit I will kick your ass." This is not a good place for me. I'm too fair and too polite to fit in.

I know this entry is not about cooking, but it is about my kitchen. My house is teensy, and my washer/dryer is in my kitchen. So it qualifies.

By the way, I have to paint my kitchen before the shiny new dented baby arrives! Next time, before and after pictures.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007