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.