Friday, December 26, 2008

Gigantic Banana Muffins

I had 5 overripe bananas in my fridge just daring me to come up with a way not to throw them away. I found this very easy recipe for banana muffinson a cute blog called Cat Can Cook. The recipe called for 3 to 4 bananas, and I used 5. I added a teeny bit more butter and I added 1/3 cup of organic wheat bran into the mix, just to create the illusion that these muffins would be good for me.

I used one of those large sized muffin tins and filled each muffin about 3/4 full. They puffed up nice and high and smelled so good that Andy's son Tom got out of bed! That was pretty flattering. I ate one for my brekkie with a little butter and it was delicious!

Thursday, December 25, 2008


It's an incredibly warm and sunny Christmas day. I can't believe the weather has kept me from getting to Michigan this year--it just seems impossible when I look at the picture perfect day we're having. I have had my quota of coffee and taken a long walk to help fight the overindulgence that is sure to come later on today.

Andy and his son Tom are upstairs making a ukulele. Andy bought Tom a ukulele kit for Chrstmas, and they are hell bent on getting it made today. I am ready to roll up my sleeves and do some cookin'.

We're vegetarians, so I'm making what is a typical holiday meal at our house--a whole bunch of side dishes. We're having spinach souffle, (my very first souffle!) scalloped potatoes with Gruyere and leeks, pan fried brussels sprouts and sage stuffing patties. For dessert I'm going to make individual marmalade puddings with custard sauce.

Forgive me, for I am about to sin my ass off! If any of this mess turns out pretty, I'll take pictures.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Change of Plans!

I'm getting ready to go to the annual Kennedy-DiPasquale Christmas Eve Party tonight. This is a party that I look ever so forward to. Loads of beautiful food, caroling around the piano, tons of people I love to see! Kelly introduced Andy and me, so going to their house always feels special.

I didn't think I was going to be able to attend this year, and even told Kelly so, because I truly thought I was going to be in Michigan visiting my parents. Unfortunately, Mother Nature was bound and determined to keep me home. I waited and waited at the airport yesterday only to come to the conclusion that I wasn't going ANYWHERE. What was I thinking, routing a Christmas trip through Chicago?? Mom and Dad were really sweet and understanding when I told them I couldn't come.

The upside of all this is that I get to spend Christmas in my own home, a pleasure I rarely get! Andy will be with me and the boys are coming to visit. We will cook and laugh and have a grand time.

I'm making a huge Asian style noodle salad to take to the party. I got the recipe on Pioneer Woman's site. It's got an impossible number of ingredients and it looks like a million bucks when it's done.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Annual Office Christmas Party!

Our theatre company usually has a really fun Christmas party. It's not stodgy or pretentiously politically correct. We just get together and throw down. We each bring a dish to share. Some people have their signature dishes-Gordon always brings his sausage balls. If we're really lucky, he'll have enough time to make his gorganzola cheese grits. Other Andy usually makes some kind of outrageous pie. Phil brings barbecue and Bruce brings shrimp.

I don't have a signature dish yet! I think I have brought something different every year, and this year will be no exception. Last year I brought Stuffin Muffins, which were remarkably unremarkable. This time I am making Smoked Chili Scalloped Sweet Potatoes, many thanks to Bobby Flay (who incidentally is HOT). Andy Cleveland made them for Thanksgiving and I thought they were really good! Plus, they contain 3 ingredients, so they're dead easy! I added a little more pureed chipotle chili than Bobby said to add. Well, I guess I should tell the truth--I doubled it. This dish is going to have a definite kick!

The picture above is from the Food Network's website. I am going to attempt a pic of my own tomorrow morning when I finish cooking the dish.

Update: Here it is! My piccy is much prettier, if I do say so myself. Can't wait to have a taste!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Jackson Pollack Shortbread

As if the plain shortbread wasn't sinful enough...this version will send you straight to hell on the express train.

I used the same Joy of Cooking recipe as I did a few posts ago, but I incorporated the zest of an orange into the dough. Once it was baked, cut and cooled, I drizzled it with melted Lindt Intense Orange Chocolate.

I think I have a shortbread monkey on my back. I am powerless over shortbread.

Friday, December 19, 2008

White Bean and Roasted Garlic Soup

I had an overabundance of garlic and Great Northern beans so I went on a hunt online to find a good recipe to use them up. I happened upon a really nice looking blog called Farmgirl Fare, where I found a recipe called Garlic Lover's White Bean Soup. How perfect is that? It was flavored with rosemary, thyme and most unusually, fennel seed. Plus the added benefit of 19 cloves of roasted garlic. Okay, the recipe called for 10 to 15 cloves, so I figured 19 would just be morer betterer, right? The soup turned out divine. The garlic became sweet and caramelized and the beans had a delicate and very velvety smooth texture when cooked, and they absorbed the flavor of the herbs and fennel seed wonderfully. The recipe has very little fat and, all in all, it was a very thick and healthy soup.

Well, it was reasonably healthy until I decided to top each bowl with homemade seasoned croutons! I had an almost week old loaf of homemade bread that I just had not gotten around to eating. It wasn't mouldy or anything gross like that--just a bit stale. So I cut the crusts off, cubed it into 1" cubes and put the cubes in a bowl. This bread had a hearty firm crumb, so it didn't disintegrate when I melted some butter with some olive oil in the microwave and drizzled it all over the cubes of bread. I then tossed that whole mess with Penzey's Mural of Flavor spice blend, spread it on a baking sheet and baked them at 350 degrees for kind of a long time, like 30 minutes. Then I drained them on paper towels when I took them out of the oven. The result was golden, butter infused croutons that were so crunchy they nearly cracked my teeth.

I usually throw my old bread out into the back yard for the birds, but I might have to reconsider this plan from now on. I like the idea that I can reincarnate old bread as decadent croutons when I don't have time to bake a fresh loaf, y'know? And because fat is a natural preservative, they'll last for a day or two so I can give them a third life with leftover soup. I love being thrifty! And the French half of me hates to waste food, so it's all bon.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Thank You, Orangyna!

My really cool friend, Orangyna, the Roller Derby Queen, left a sample of rosemary infused shortbread cookies on my desk today and man-o-man, were they goooooooood. I am publicly thanking her. The cookies lasted about 2 1/2 minutes. I would never have imagined using rosemary in a cookie, but its lovely perfumey aroma was a delicious surprise. Orangyna's brother-in-law is a chef and has actually been on Iron Chef. That is surely the closest brush with culinary fame that I will ever have.

Monday, December 8, 2008

An Alarming Discovery

I was staring confoundedly at my checking account balance on Saturday. It just did not make sense that there was only 35.00 in the account, so I began to review the account activity online and came to the horrifying realization that, by mistake, I paid my mortgage twice in December. Judas Priest, I was so diligent in scheduling the payment that I did it twice. There's no recourse now, because it took me a week to notice this error. In case my boss reads this, NO, I can't afford to pay double mortgage payments on purpose. Andy Cleveland points out that, in a time when loads of people can't even pay one mortgage bill, I go ahead two steps and pay the bloody thing twice!! And, no, the mortgage people don't give me a month off. They just "apply the excess towards the principle." Well thanks a hell of a lot, because I have so much extra money lying around in December, in a recession.

So, part deux of this little diatribe is least I have a house. I guess I should just be grateful that my problem is not something like, "It's really cold out tonight. Where am I going to sleep?"

I am not rich by any stretch, but I am grateful.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

My First Try at Shortbread

Aside from bread, I'm not much of a baker. I was tickled to death today with this plain Scottish shortbread I made!

I used the tried and true recipe in The Joy of Cooking, and followed the suggestion of replacing a portion of the flour with cornstarch to give the cookie a little extra special crumble. What a good suggestion--the first bite is crispy and buttery and crumbly, then as you chew it all kind of melts in your mouth. Seriously, this is dangerously delicious.

It is really an easy recipe. Take 10 tablespoons of softened unsalted butter, 1/4 cup of powdered sugar, 1 1/2 tablespoons of regular sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Beat them together until well incorporated and fluffy. Take 1/3 cup of cornstarch and dump it into a bigger measuring cup, like a one-cup or two-cup size. Fill the bigger measuring cup the rest of the way with all purpose flour until it gets to 1 1/2 cups all together. Then get your boyfriend to stir (don't worry, I won't tell your husband) as you gradually sift the flour/cornstarch into the buttah. It will get really doughy, and it should, because you then knead it gently until it's fairly smooth and cohesive. You may add a very small amount of water if the dough won't come together.

Press the dough into an 8X8 pan and make it as smooth and even as possible. Pierce the dough liberally with a fork and bake in a preheated 300 degree oven for 45 to 50 minutes. The shortbread should be "tinged with a pale golden color and only slightly darker at the edges." Mine took 45 minues, and it smelled gorgeous when it was baking.

When they come out of the oven, gently cut almost all the way through into little finger squares. When it's cooled, cut it the rest of the way and separate the little bars. I kind of liked the slightly imperfect sizes. They looked sweet and homey.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Holy Crap, 'Tis the Season for Theme Sweaters

Just because I hate your sweater doesn't mean I hate you. Okay, that being said, I hate your sweater.

I work for a non-profit theatre and we produce a show for family and school audiences every year at Christmas time. Consequently, I have had the displeasure of seeing some of the ugliest Christmas-themed outfits known to (wo)man. How much glitter, beading, sequining and embroidery can you punish one sweater with, for the love of Christ?

And the cotton turtleneck that you are wearing under the offending sweater, dotted with little snowmen, is not giving my eyes any respite. You do not need to add insult to injury. You can't improve ugly by layering ugly under it.

I wish I were allowed to take photographs in the theatre tomorrow. It's our first performance of our holiday show, "The Best Christmas Pageant, Ever." I would love to post them on this blog and have a contest for "The Ugliest Christmas Sweater, Ever."

Then I could punish the winner with a public spanking.

There, I've said it!

I feel somehow cleansed.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Snack for a Single Woman

My sweet neighbor, The Debra, gave me a very thoughtful gift the other night. She knows I can't have too much salt, and she found a little jar of this stuff at Penzey's in Carytown called Mural of Flavor. It's completely salt free and really delish.

I had a hankering for roasted garlic tonight. I don't know what brought it on--maybe all the vampire mania lately? Anyway, I trimmed two whole bulbs of garlic, doused them with olive oil, and bundled them up in foil and baked them until they were all soft and sweet and caramelized. Mercy sakes alive, THE SMELL. And I mean that in a good way.

I sliced little medallions of baguette--the very same baguettes I made in my last entry--and toasted the little slices. When I removed the garlic from the oven and let it cool for a few minutes, I squeezed the soft oily and fragrant innards of the garlic cloves out and sprinkled them generously with Penzey's Mural of Flavor. Then I spread the whole mess on bits of homemade toast and gobbled it down for my dinner.

The beauty of being on my own for dinner is that I can prepare any strange thing I desire. It's ever so fortunate that I will not be sharing living space with anybody this evening. I don't need to tell you that roasted garlic definitely has its explosive effects on the digestive system. And two whole bulbs, oh my goodness. Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy ride!

Let's just say that I won't be concerned about vampires tonight. Or any intruder who toys with coming within a block of my house.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Not Your Average Baked Beans

I discovered this recipe for baked beans on one of my favorite sites, 101 Cookbooks. If you've never checked it out, it's authored by Heidi Swanson, who is also a food photographer extraordinaire.

It's a really simple recipe, perfectly suited for the crockpot and so delicious it will make your eyes roll back in your head when you eat it. The only unusual ingredient was the beer. I used the same thing Heidi used--Lindeman's Framboise Lambic. It is a raspberry flavored Belgian style beer. It's way too sweet for my taste, but it makes an outstanding ingredient. I found it easily at our cute neighborhood wine shop, Once Upon a Vine. I think any berry flavored beer would work nicely. We used dried cranberries for the fruit, and we also used cranberry beans, which look quite a bit like pinto beans to me. They're very streaky and pretty. The only change I made to the recipe is the addition of garlic. I put in about 3 or 4 cloves, minced. I can't leave a recipe well enough alone, especially if it doesn't have garlic in it!

I started the beans before I left for work today and let them cook in the crockpot all afternoon. When I came back later and walked in the door the aroma made me salivate. Then I put the bread in the oven to bake and that just about put me over the edge!

And if any of you are thinking of trying this recipe and taking the slacker route, don't cop out and use canned beans or you will be punished. The dried beans cook a lot longer but they pick up all the flavors like crazy and all you have to do is soak them overnight. You can even sleep while the beans soak! Talk about multi-tasking.

I love, love, love coleslaw with my baked beans. I took a shortcut and bought the prepared cabbage and carrot stuff in the bag, but I also added about 1/4 cup of very finely chopped purple onion. I made a non-traditional dressing because I wanted a sesame flavor. I used canola oil, rice vinegar, fresh pureed garlic and ginger, sugar, salt, pepper, tahini and a few drops of sesame oil. Wow, it was really good!

On this cold, rainy and gray day, this ended up being the perfect dinner. Fragrant and savory beans, warm crusty bread (with butter going all melty, of course) and crisp, tangy coleslaw. So much for ramping down after Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Watching Rosie O'Donnell's new show...

...and she is so great! I hope her show does well, because I just love that big mouthed broad. But wait...Oooooh. Liza Minelli just came out onto the stage. Crikees, she's just bizarre. As strange as her mother became in her later years, Liza has more than eclipsed her. Plus she has a vibrato that is so rangey it needs two zip codes. But I am tickled that Rosie has a variety show because I was a child of the sixties and seventies and grew up with the likes of Carol Burnett and Sonny and Cher and yes, Ed Sullivan. (Omigod I am so middle aged).

Not that I think everything was better back then, but there was a lot of good stuff on TV. Playhouse 90! A play, every week. Really cool plays, on TV in your living room. Written by real playwrights. And I also remember a show every Sunday hosted by Leonard Bernstein that was all about teaching young people about symphonies and classical music.

And now Harry Connick Jr. is on, so I must excuse myself to give him my full attention.

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

This is really Andy's sauce, but I made it today with his supervision. It's a delicious and versatile sauce, good over anything you can imagine. Pasta, pizza, gnocchi, eggs, whatever makes your tastebuds sing. I love the added smokey richness that the charred peppers provide.

I do the stovetop method of charring the bell peppers. As you can see, I take the grate off of one burner and stack it up on top of another. This keeps the peppers just a little farther from the flame, and as you turn them every now and then, they get nicely blackened all over. Then I close them in a ziploc bag and set them aside.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan saute half an onion in some olive oil until it's soft and translucent. Then add about 4 cloves of minced garlic and a dried red chili. Saute that for a couple more minutes, then add a good blob--about 1/4 cup-- of double strength tomato paste. I let the tomato paste fry with the onion, oil and garlic for a good five minutes or so. This step is important, as it makes the flavor of the tomato paste just explode.

Take the charred bell peppers out of the bag and scrape the skin off. Dice the flesh and add it to the pan, along with a 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes. Let this simmer for about 20 minutes. Then blend it all up with an immersion blender until it has a smooth, velvety texture. Add salt and pepper to taste.

This can easily morph into a gorgeous soup with a bit of tweaking. Add vegetable broth after the saute phase, then cream at the end and a dash of smoked paprika.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

This is Tay.

Tay is short for Taylor. He's my parents' new cat, you can see that he is awfully cute. He's not grown yet, and still thinks he's the big boss of the condo because he has testicles. I've been telling him not to feel too attached to those things, because they're comin' off real soon.

Tay is very sweet when he's sleeping and reasonably sweet when he's awake, despite being a whirling dervish. He purrs really loudly the minute anybody picks him up. I think Mom and Dad are really enjoying him and looking very forward to when he settles down a little. He's kinda wearing them out.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mom!

My mom turns 80 today! I am hopping on a plane at an ungodly hour on Saturday to go wish her a happy birthday in person.

When I called her today, she said she already got her biggest birthday wish--in the form of a really cool new President of the United States! Well, I guess that gets me off the hook for a creative present. I'm just delivering myself to her door.

You'd probably like my mom. She is smart, outspoken, generous, compassionate, liberal, articulate, resourceful and did I say she's outspoken? Yeah, if you don't want to know what she thinks of something or someone, that's just tough titty because she's going to tell you anyway. She swears a lot. It's kind of shocking to hear an 80-year-old lady using the premium cuss words. But when you spend as many years as she did in art education, you pick up a few key phrases from the kids.

At 80, she's not quite as physically spry as she once was, and her eyesight is pretty bad. But she has a first-rate brain, and to this day, when I am faced with any sort of dilemma or heavyweight decision that I need clarity with, she is always the greatest voice of reason in my life.

So happy birthday, Mom! Keep on rockin' like you do. You are my inspiration.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Great Voter Turnout!

I could not have anticipated the hordes of people at my polling place this morning. I've lived in my neighborhood for ten years and have voted in loads of elections, but today's crowd was many times more than ever before. It made my heart sing to see the hundreds of people waiting patiently in the rain to vote. I got there at 6 a.m. and voted at 8:30 or so. I didn't care about the waiting or the weather. Nothing was going to keep me away!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Shepherd's Pie

Tonight we made this Shepherd's Pie recipe that I spotted on the BBC Good Food website. I liked it because it was vegetarian with a lentil based filling and it was made with sweet potato topping rather than white potato. It was really healthy and turned out delicious! I did not follow the recipe exactly. There were not enough flavoring ingredients in it. I mean, it had no garlic! I rarely make any savory type of dish without garlic, and I added 4 cloves to this one.

I was out of canned diced tomatoes, so I omitted them altogether. I had no red wine and omitted that, though it would have been a fine addition. I added a little bag of fresh English peas (six guesses who suggested that!). To punch up the taste, I put 2 tablespoons of double concentrated tomato paste, some worcestershire sauce and some smoked spanish paprika, my new obsession.

I must stop and rhapsodize about smoked Spanish paprika. Andy brought some home this weekend. He made a roasted red bell pepper soup on Saturday seasoned with the paprika. Oh. My. God. I am hooked on that stuff! Go and buy some and do it now. You'll have to search a little, but an upscale grocer or a snooty spice shop will have a good quality one. I promise, you will be hooked.

Anyway, the shepherd's pie was comforting and delicious. I will probably make it again, and the main thing I will do differently is bake the sweet potatoes instead of boiling them. Boiling them makes them much too moist. They just don't firm up enough on the top layer of the pie. They tasted great but they were too loosey goosey. The recipe yields an enormous dish--it says that it serves 4, but you could definitely spread it to 6 if you served it with something else on the side, like steamed broccoli or green beans or salad. Of course, Mr. Cleveland and I just ate a fourth of the huge casserole each! I'm sure I will enjoy the leftovers for my lunch!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

My Trip to a Foreign Land

This morning, I set my watch alarm for 4:30 and my cell phone alarm for 4:45 just to make sure that I didn't oversleep. I had to leave my house at 5:30 a.m. to make it to Ashburn, VA by 8:30 a.m. Ashburn is a new tour stop for our company, and I drove up to house manage the performances and generally introduce us and make nice. We performed at this mammoth mega-church that has a school in it as well. The people at the church/school were incredibly gracious and glad to have us there. "Church" is not an apt word to describe this place. Maybe "multiplex" or perhaps "Testament to Uber-Tithing."

Good heavens, can you imagine a world where nonprofit arts organizations were lucky enough to reap the benefits of that level of tithing?

Also, I just couldn't help noticing the lack--and I mean true complete absence--of Obama signs as I drove on the secondary highways deeper and deeper into the Washington DC suburbs. I was unaware of the DC suburbs being so conservative. I had heard people talk about it, but seeing it for myself was jarring. It's the polar opposite of my blue collar middle class neighborhood in Richmond's south side.

This day served to remind me of what a historical election I am about to be a part of. I've already scheduled the following day as a vacay day. I figure either way I'm going to be up all night watching the returns and drinking wine!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

School Daze

I am just the biggest blogging slacker there is these days, and I humbly apologize. You see, I have been very busy with big important projects, such as creating pretty portraits like these on

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Congratulations, Chase Kniffen!

I absolutely did not feel like leaving my house tonight. My shoulder ached and I was still tired from going out last night--waaaahhhh, waaaahhh, waaaahhh. Yes. I'm a baby.

But I bought a ticket to the "Ragtime" benefit tonight for Stage 1, the new theatre company started by Chase Kniffen. Now, I have known Chase since he was 10 and played my weak, invalid son in ""The Secret Garden" at Swift Creek Mill Theatre. He was this impossibly healthy looking little boy with the requisite West End haircut. What a treasure he was, entertaining us endlessly in the green room with his antics. We have loved him ever since, and could not have been more proud of him tonight!

Because Chase is so well liked in the theatre community, he was able to summon a huge chorus and principal singers comprised of the cream of the crop of Richmond theatre. Not to mention a full orchestra. They had 3 rehearsals. Chase came out and gave a curtain speech like he'd been doing it for 20 years. Then the concert began, and it was moving and thrilling and amazing!

I was so proud of him, and I can't wait to see what's next for Stage 1.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Whole New Kind of Birthday

As far as I know, I am the inventor of the Quinticentennial Celebration. What the sam hamwich is a Quinticentennial, you ask?

The Quinticentennial is the celebration of a person's 500-month-old birthday. It happens when you are 41 years and 8 months old. (Don't try to do the math in your head if you're at a party and you've been drinking, like we attempted to do last Sunday night. Tragic.) How did the tradition of the Quinticentennial Celebration begin, you ask?

It started when my friends began to have children. They had this annoying habit of always expressing their children's ages in terms of months instead of years.

Janine: "Oh, she's so precious and talkative! How old is she?"

Annoying Friend: "She just turned 26 months!"

26 months? Why don't you just say she's 2?

So I used to make fun of this all the time. Okay, I still make fun of it. And I had this idea that I would go around expressing my age in months instead of years.

Me: "My skin looks pretty damned good, considering I've just turned 492 months old."

My sweet and reasonable friend Lisa reminded me that parents do this because that's how the kids' clothing sizes are set up in the stores. And you know, that's true. You shop for baby clothes by months, then when they get a little bigger, I think it still goes by years. Thank goodness that ends when we grow up.

Andy Cleveland thought it would be hilarious if we still had to buy our clothes according to our ages, long into adulthood. Imagine going into Macy's and asking for the women's size 49 panties! Or the men's 600-month pants!

I maintain that 500 months is a significant milestone in one's life, and one should be taken out to lunch and lavished with presents on one's Quinticentennial!

I treated my dear Robyn O'Neill to lunch for her QC, and I'm sure she'll be taking me out for mine, when that day finally comes. Shut up.

Hallmark should have a whole rack of cards devoted to it. And they need to pay me for the idea!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Beetroot, Squash and Halloumi with Chili-Herb Dressing

I found this amazing salad recipe on a British website called Food Stories. I wanted to try something different for dinner last Friday. This salad had such an unusual combination of flavors, and they sang loudly and in perfect harmony in my mouth! The roasted savoriness of the beetroot and squash plus the salty and bouncy textured halloumi plus the tartness of lemon and the mint contrasting with the fresh hot chili--whew! I almost had to have a cigarette when I was finished.

The only remotely exotic ingredient was halloumi cheese, which can be found at Nick's Produce on Broad Street. Halloumi is weird! You can cut it into slabs and fry it in a dry pan, and it gets browned and crispy all over the outside and soft on the inside, and it retains its shape. It's kind of like paneer, the Indian cheese, but it's salty tasting. What a brilliant addition to a salad! Yum.

And don't tell anybody, but I tiptoed across the street and pilfered some fresh mint from the front yard of Debra, my unsuspecting dear friend.

Also, I could not find the kind of sunflower seeds I wanted, so I went with roasted pumpkin seeds instead. They were just as delicious. I will definitely make this again, and I can imagine serving it with couscous. Doesn't that sound good?

So thank you, Helen Graves, for bringing this new orgasmic salad to my world.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Clearly, there is a family of raccoons living someplace very close to my house. I've seen as many as 3 at a time scurrying away from my porch as I pull my car into my driveway.

A few weeks ago, I discovered a little one sleeping in the bottom of my big empty city-issued trash can one morning. Don't know how long he'd been stuck in there, but thank goodness he hadn't starved to death. I just tipped the big can over and off he went! Not long after that, I found 2 young ones in my neighbors trash can. When my nabe shone his flash light into the can at them, they just reached up with their nimble little fingers and try to play with the light.

Then last night, I heard something fidgeting at the cat door, which is installed in a window and therefore not at ground level. Was it Maggie, attempting to deliver to me her 3rd dead mouse of the evening? No, it was a big ol' raccoon, with his nose pressed right up to the swinging glass door. I must say, he was very cute! And not shy at all. I pressed my face right up to his and loudly told him to get lost! He didn't even flinch. He just looked at me like he was saying, "Hey, sorry to be a bother, but can I come in and have a snack?" You know, he looked kind of friendly. Not like he had rabies.

So tonight, after I get home from yoga class (I just like to say that. I really suck at yoga.) I'm going make sure my camera is standing by so I can get some pictures. Am I supposed to be trying to catch these things and take them to the woods? I have no idea. If they figure out how to get in my house, then it's ON.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Broccoli, Snow Peas and Rice Noodles with Spicy Peanut Sauce

As I stated a few posts back, I am on a doctor-supervised low sodium regime. It is helping. My BP was down to normal last Thursday when I had it checked. But salt tastes good, y'all! And boy, do I miss it. I feel like I have to re-learn a bunch of my favorite recipes with new, low sodium ingredients.

Tonight I made some stir fried broccoli and snow peas with rice noodles and spicy peanut sauce. I was much too impatient to take a picture of it before I ate it, but trust me, it was real purty!

Here's how I made the sauce. This makes enough for two greedy hungry people or 4 boring sensible people:

Bring 1 1/2 cups of low sodium vegetable broth to a simmer.
Add 2 cloves of pureed garlic and 1 teaspoon of pureed ginger root.*
Add 1 tablespoon black strap molasses.
Add 2 tablespoons of cider or rice vinegar.
Add 3 tablespoons of unsalted smooth or chunky peanut butter.
Add 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes.
Add a touch of sweetness, like maybe 1/4 teaspoon of brown sugar or maple syrup.
Swish this around until it's heated through and all the lumps are dissolved.
Gradually whisk some cornstarch into the sauce until it begins to thicken and look creamy. This will probably be a teaspoon or two. And voila--low sodium Peanut Sauce!

*The easiest way to puree garlic and ginger is to use a microplane grater on the fine end. If you do not own a microplane grater, then for cryin' out loud go buy one! Try not to grate your knuckle with it like I did tonight. Micorplanes are really sharp. You can also buy garlic-ginger paste at the Indian grocers, but fresh tastes better.

I stir fried some fresh broccoli and snow peas in a little peanut oil, placed them on a bed of rice noodles, poured the fragrant peanut sauce over the whole mess, and garnished with a little chiffonade of Thai basil. I love to say chiffonade. It makes me sound so snooty.

It turned out really good! I might make it again tomorrow night, since I still have leftover ingredients. I'll try to restrain myself long enough to take a picture before I gobble it up.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Best Way to Roast Potatoes

A potato is a cheap and simple thing, but when prepared just right it can produce intense euphoria. It is the ultimate comfort food.

This is the Andy Cleveland method of roasting taties. All the Cleveland boys LOVE roasted potatoes. You would not believe the mountains of them that have been consumed in just one meal. Andy once claimed that mine are as good as his, but only once and very quietly. I told him I learned from the master.

Use the russett potatoes--the oval floury ones. Peel them and chunk them up. The chunks can be any size you like, but they should all be in the same size range so they cook at the same rate.

Place your tatie chunks in a pan and put enough cold water to cover. Bring them to a boil until they are half-tender. You want the outside of the chunks to be tender to do the next thing! While the potatoes are boiling, pour a shallow puddle of oil (I like to use peanut oil because you can get it really hot) in a baking dish. Put the dish in the 450 degree oven and let the dish and oil heat up together.

Now drain the semi soft potatoes of all the water. Keeping them in the pan, shake the pan around until you see the taties have knocked together and gotten roughed up on the surface.

Carefully tip them into the hot baking dish and oil. Toss gently to coat with the oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper and rosemary, or whatever herb tickles your taste buds.

Roast until they are crispy and golden, turning and shuffling them a time or two. This will take anywhere from 25 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of your chunks. They should be crackly and crispy on the outside, but creamy and soft when you bite into them!

You'll need to force yourself to let them cool a few minutes before you snarf them down!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Wow! Michelle, You Rock!

I am watching Michelle Obama speak at the convention and I must say she is fantastic! She is so real and warm. And she seems to be completely untethered by notes and totally at ease. What an asset to Mr. Obama.
Anybody else watch her? What did y'all think?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Habanero Salsa and High Blood Pressure

I want to write about 2 things today.

First, a warning. When you are at Qdoba and they ask what kind of salsa you want--mild, medium, hot or extra hot--think twice and think hard before getting extra hot. They are telling the truth. It is habanero salsa and it is the hottest salsa I have ever tasted. It was literally painful to have it contact my tongue. And I continue to suffer as it makes its way through my intestinal tract. Mind you, I am a spicy food lover. My spice-o-meter is generally set for very high tolerance, so I'm not just whistling dixie here. Don't suffer--I have done that for you.

Next, on a more serious note--I went to the doc for a sore shoulder 2 weeks ago and was shocked to find that my blood pressure was 160 over 90. Yikes.
Sometimes being in pain can cause your bp to be high. I went again today and it was still 154 over 84. Ten minutes later it was down to 144 over 80. Later, at CVS, it was 133 over 78. I am very skeptical about taking the medicine that the doc has prescribed. Do I have actual high blood pressure or just "white coat syndrome?"I have agreed to take medicine for a month to see if it helps, but I'm not very happy about it! I mean, I definitely don't want to have a stroke, but I don't want to be old and taking 40 pills a day, either!

Sheesh, middle age is full of hurdles.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Quinoa Risotto, Recommended by Gordon Bass

Gordon Bass should have his own cooking show. First of all, the camera loves him. He has done so many commercials --you can't turn on your TV without a Gordon Bass sighting. Secondly, he is a fantastic cook and has a passion for food that I have never witnessed in any other human being. When Gordon describes a great meal, he makes it sound pornographic. Of course, the show would have to be on cable or public access TV because Gordon swears like a sumbitch. But ain't he a handsome thing?


2 T butter
4 T olive oil, divided
12 oz assorted wild mushrooms (such as chanterelles, stemmed shiitakes, oyster, and morels), thinly sliced (about 6 cups)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chopped onion
2 cups quinoa (about 13 oz), rinsed
1/2 cup white wine
3 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 lb asparagus, trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 8oz package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup shaved Manchego cheese

Melt butter with 1 T oil in heavy large skillet over medium high heat. Add mushrooms; Saute until brown and tender. Add garlic; Saute 2 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.

Heat remaining 3 T oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion; saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add quinoa; saute 2 minutes. Add wine; cook until liquid is almost absorbed, about 2 minutes. Add 3 1/2 cups broth; cook 10 minutes. Add asparagus and artichoke hearts; simmer until quinoa and veg are tender, stirring often and adding more broth by 1/4 cupfulls as needed, about 7 minutes. Add parmesan cheese and reserved mushrooms. Stir until cheese is melted and mushrooms are heated through, about 2 minutes. season to taste w/ salt & pepper. Divide risotto amoung bowls, garnish with shaved Manchego and serve.

Note: I halved this recipe upon Gordon's suggestion and it still made 4 generous servings. It is delicious! My first time cooking quinoa, but not my last.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Oh Dearie Me

These little brothers were at the back door of our office this morning. So sweet. We have no clue where they came from! They had a very busy morning of romping all over our office, and then they spent 2 hours fast asleep in my office mate's chair. By the end of the day, one of our box office employees was taking them home with her. She fell in love with them at first sight. I'm tellin' ya, these kittens were all that and more. I could barely resist them. I hope they all live happily ever after!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bicycle Riding Update

I'm sure you're all sitting around asking, "Is Janine still riding her bike to work? That crazy kid!"

It turns out I'm riding it as much as possible, and my fitness level on the bike is improving. The first time I rode to work on a bike, I burned a little over 300 calories, and that was just on the way there. Now I burn between 150 and 180 on that same trip. Mind you, I now ride a newer bike that probably operates more efficiently, but I am still moving my big butt and a contraption 5 miles. So I like to think I am improving my endurance. Hills that I found challenging at first seem easy to me now.

By the way, if you wonder how I know how many calories I'm burning, I wear a Polar F4 heart rate monitor. Fantastic gadget!

I am also trying to ride the bike on minor errands, like that trip to the grocery store on the way home from work. I had to run that exact errand today, and I found myself thinking, "It's extra gas to go out of the way right now--WAIT--I'm on a bicycle! I'm not using gas--I'm just using ME power! Plus I can have a little bit more at dinner because of the extra calorie burn from the 2 more miles!" I'm so queer. I actually do have such inner monologues.

Yes, I do arrive at work in the morning with a little bit of a sweat-on. It dissipates fairly quickly in the air conditioning, even in these dog days of summer. If I have a day when I really need to look prissy, I have to drive. I'm grateful that I live and work in the city and my commuting distance is reasonable. All in all, I am truly enjoying this change in my lifestyle. I feel great, and exercise is easier when it's simply a functional part of my day, not a chore that looms before me each morning.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Tomato-Potato Bake. A Semi-Success.

I don't even bother with fresh tomatoes when they're not in season, but I make up for it in the summer by eating them nearly every day. I don't even bother with trying to think of innovative ways to eat tomatoes--give me a tomato sandwich slathered with mayo every day for a whole summer and I won't complain. They're just that tasty.

I made this dish last summer and it came out smelling and tasting okay, but the potatoes were undercooked and not the right type--I used waxy ones and not floury ones. So I made some changes this time around. I used russet potatoes and I partially cooked them first by boiling them for about 20 minutes. Then, I let them cool, peeled them, and sliced them.

I made a bread crumb mixture of one slice of whole wheat bread, 1/4 cup of grated special blend cheese from Nick's Produce, and some fresh ground pepper, and set it aside. I picked a handful of fresh basil from the yard and saved that in a little pile. Then, I sliced two big tomatoes and 2 big potatoes into 1/4" slices. Finally, I thinly sliced a small onion.

I sprayed an 8" square baking pan with non-stick olive oil spray. Then I layered the tomatoes and potatoes in alternate rows, sort of fish scale style. I don't think it much matters how you alternate them. Over the maties and the taties went a scattering of onion slices, fresh ground pepper, 1/4 cup of mozzarella cheese, and a sprinkle of the bread crumb mixture. Now, I scattered a layer of fresh basil leaves, and then I repeated the taties, maties, onions and mozzarella again. Toppped it with the remainder of the breadcrumb mixture, and popped it in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes.

It looked and smelled great! In the interest of creating something healthy, I chose low fat cheese and didn't add any fat to the recipe. Next time I make this, it will have some taste improvements:

There's not enough fat in this recipe to carry the flavors. I would drizzle some olive oil over it before baking, add some garlic, some salt, and maybe use a stronger flavored cheese than mozzarella, like even a full-fat sharp cheddar. The texture and look and smell were all wonderful. It was completely edible and reasonably yummy--the flavor just fell a bit short. But this blog is all about success, failure and learning. And trash talk and gossip.

Despite the dinner being less than perfect, we were not deterred from eating the whole thing, so no food was wasted at our house tonight. I'll just up the workout next time, so I can up the fat and flavor.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Hot Peppa Jelly, Baby!

My neighbor gave me a huge pile of very hot banana peppers. I have never made pepper jelly or any jelly before, so I got busy on the internet and found a bunch of recipes. Had to buy some pectin and had no idea where to look for it in the store, because I'm not even sure what it is. It's magic jelly juice, I think.

First, I cut the tops of the peppers, de-seeded them and scraped out the membranes. I did the same with one sweet bell pepper. I did not wear rubber gloves when I did this, because I was like, "Rubber gloves are for pansy-asses!" A little while later, I absentmindedly rubbed an itch on my nose. My left nostril is still burning as if I rubbed some sort of flesh eating acid on it. So trust me here--wear the gloves.

Put the rough chopped peppers in the food processor with a cup and a half of cider vinegar and processed until the peppers were quite finely minced. Then I dumped that mess into a big sauce pan with 6 1/2 cups of sugar. I thought that seemed like a LOT of sugar, but apparently it's not. Especially since these peppers are not at all sweet, and something had to go in there to counteract the fire.

Then I just let it go to a boil, like a big cauldron, for about 4 minutes. I then added a pouch of Certa brand pectin. I had no idea if this was enough, because all the different recipes and directions I read had conflicting information. But it looked different when I added the stuff. It suddenly began to look like jam, which excited me to no end.

One more minute of boiling, then I ladled into sterile jars. Then I put the sealed jars in a big pot of boiling water for 10 minutes. Now I'm waiting to see if it actually sets up and gets thick. Again, not sure how long it's supposed to take. I have a good feeling about it, though. And I had a little taste of it before I put it in the jars and it was yummy!

P.S. I'm adding this later. After a couple of hours, the pepper jelly firmed up beautifully. It's the perfect consistency. I wish my whole life was like that.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Facebook. I don't get it.

Ages ago, and for some reason I truly can't recall, I signed up for Facebook. Now the Facebook people won't leave me alone.

I get all these emails from people who want to be friends with me. Most of these emails come from people whom I already thought I was friends with. Then I have to go to the Facebook place, sign in and say that, yes, I will be friends with So-and-So. I guess I'm wondering why So-and-So can't just email me directly to confirm our friendship, which I thought had been previously established anyway. It's all very confusing.

I also get things that say "Mr. So-and-So thinks that you and Miss Thus-and-Such should be friends." Excuse me? I am very adept at picking my own friends. Besides, maybe I have a very good reason for avoiding Miss Thus-and-Such. Maybe she annoys me.

And then the other day I got one that said "Miss Whatsy-Whoosit wrote something on your wall." Then the email proceeds to tell me what she wrote on my wall. So why bother with the wall? if you're going to telescope it to me in the email? Plus, I went to Facebook and can't even find my own wall. Somebody please tell me how to find my wall.

Yes, I know I sound like Andy Rooney with this rant. I promise you I say all this with a smile. But I'm also going to take my Facebook thing down, if I can figure out how to do it!

Saturday, July 19, 2008


This past spring, Ellwood Thompson's was giving out these little seedling kits for herbs. It was just a 1 1/2" pot, some seeds, and this pellet that swelled up and turned into soil when you added water. From that teensy kit came about 8 nice bushy basil plants! I eventually transplanted them to my front yard and they have thrived!

The basil was getting all tall and leggy, so I really hacked it back and decided it was time for a big batch of fresh pesto. I had the last bit of the gorgeous expensive Frantoia olive oil that Andy bought on when he had insomnia. We also rode our bikes to Nick's Produce and bought some pine nuts and some lovely cheese. Mani Mouris, the owner, makes this special blend of grated cheese. I'm not sure what's in it. I just ask for the special blend. It gives me a false sense of being in the know.

The smell of a big colander of basil is intoxicating! I spend a long time picking the leaves off, and discarding the flowery parts--they're a little bitter. Then really give it a good wash, like 3 times over.

I dry roast the pine nuts in a pan to get a little toasty flavor, then take them out and cool them before I add them to the rest of the stuff. You can use other kinds of nuts, too. I have made pesto with almonds and I made a really great pesto one time with pecans.

I use a food processor to make my pesto, but if you've not yet been dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century and you don't have a food processor, a blender will work, too. Even a mortar and pestle will do the trick.

I cram the basil leaves in first, pulse a few times to reduce their bulk, then add the other ingredients.

I don't measure anything, I just go by look, consistency and taste. I used a generous amount of garlic in this batch--about 6 cloves. You don't need to chop it up much. Then I used about a cup and a half of the cheese, then about 3/4 cup of pine nuts. I add the olive oil as I am processing, and I stop adding oil when the pesto is thinner than a "paste" but thicker than a "sauce." I like to call it gloppy. Lastly, I process in the juice of half a lemon. This adds a barely discernable tart note and helps keep the pesto from oxidizing.

I think the flavor of fresh made pesto bears absolutely no resemblance to that salty crap you find in jars at the grocery store. Plus, when you make fresh pesto with such lovely ingredients, you must do it justice and eat it at the optimal time, which is right after you make it. I will use leftover pesto as an ingredient--like in soup or on pizza--but with pasta where it's the star of the show it has to be lip-smackin' fresh.

Now, if I were a really perfect girlfriend, I would have made fresh pasta today. But perfection is so boring, and trust me, it's difficult to maintain. So I just used some penne rigate we had in the cupboard.

Talk about a taste explosion! I was going around imitating Gordon Bass, exclaiming, "MUTHER. OF. GAWWD." We made lots of moaning sounds when we were eating it. If anybody had come to the door, they'd have thought we were having an afternoon shag!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Potato Salad with Peas, Onions and Roasted Peppers

Today is my company picnic, and I am making this lovely French style potato salad to bring. This is a departure from the mayonnaise or sour cream based potato salads that you usually see, and I love it.

Roast a red bell pepper. I do it in the oven. Just place it whole under the broiler and turn it occasionally until all the skin looks black. Then take it out, seal it in a plastic bag and let it sit for a good 20 minutes. Then peel it, discard the peel and dice the yummy roasted flesh. You don't have to be persnickety like me and roast it yourself. Alternatively, just buy some roasted red peppers in a jar--they are really easy to find and work well for this salad.

Take one dry quart of little red skin potatoes and chunk them up. Put them in water and cook them until they're tender.

Thaw a cup of frozen peas. Let's reflect on frozen peas, shall we? You simply should not be without them. They are an invaluable ingredient in your kitchen, they are wicked cheap, and they taste nearly as good as fresh picked. Plus, if you have had oral surgery and need an ice pack for your face, a bag of frozen peas is the ideal thing to use.

Take about half a medium purple onion and slice it very thin.

Those are the main ingredients, now the dressing:

Olive oil, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup and whole grain mustard. I don't measure, but in this picture there's about 1/4 cup of olive oil and about a tablespoon of everything else.

Whisk it together. You'll find that the maple syrup and mustard are fabulous emulsifiers, and the dressing stays nicely blended.

While the taties are still warm, toss everything together. I love to eat this at room temperature, but you can chill it and let the flavors meld for a while.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

This is our harvest.

I haven't got much to brag about in the gardening department! Just one lone roma tomato and a deformed jalapeno. Maybe I have enough here to make a bowl of salsa for my Barbie doll.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tomato Time

Is there anything quite like a tomato sandwich in the summer? On lightly toasted bread? With thick slices of sweet flavorful fresh tomato? And the juice sort of runs down to your elbows when you take a big hungry bite of it?

I stopped at this little produce shack on Highway 301 on my way back to Richmond today. She had bushels of tomatoes out in front, but just one bushel of tomatoes by the checkout in the back that were about a dollar more per pound. I asked what the difference was and she told me the cheaper ones are from South Carolina and brought up here on a refrigerated truck. Wrong! Mustn't refrigerate tomatoes. Kills the flavor.
So I paid more for the local ones and dwelt on my little lesson learned. Just because it's by the side of a country road, sitting in a basket in the sun, doesn't mean it's local or fresh.

I'm going to bake a loaf of bread this weekend and we are going to eat tomato and mayonnaise sandwiches. Actually, I like to eat this stuff called Vegenaise. It is every bit as fattening as mayonnaise, but it's made of vegetable fat. It tastes fantastic! And no cholesterol. But lots of delicious calories.

It's more expensive than mayonnaise, but you're supposed to make up for that by using it in moderation. I know--hilarious, right?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Calgon, Take Me Away.

This morning was the beginning of two weeks of theatre camp, way out in the country at Historic Hanover Tavern, the original home of Barksdale Theatre. We spent two hours (which felt like 10) winging it with the 20 kids because a storm last night had knocked out the electricity. I sure hope it's fixed by tomorrow, because I might have to poke my eyes out if it's not.

The kids are very cute. This is little Sean, going into second grade in the fall. Doesn't he look like a pistol?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Black Bean Lasagna

My cute and funny friend, Georgia Farmer, gave me this recipe for Black Bean Lasagne. It's supposed to be made with lasagne noodles, but we have this huge stack of wheat tortillas, so we're using those instead. We tweaked the sauce a little, too, by adding a spicy salsa. This lasagna was so damn delicious. This really should make 6 servings, but we went for the more popular four glutton sized servings. I'm taking leftovers for lunch tomorrow and I'm living for the moment.

Preheat the oven to 350.

4 burrito-size tortillas

1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
2 jalapeno peppers
Cool, peel, and dice.

*If you can't be bothered by all that, you can buy roasted red peppers in a jar, and you can use canned jalapenos, but it won't taste as good. The smoky taste of the roasted peppers is a key element.

1 medium purple onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin seeds

Drain and dice one 28-oz. can of plum tomatoes. Heat in a medium saucepan. Add one 7-oz. can of Herdez Salsa Mexicana. Add the previously mentioned roasted and sauteed ingredients along with:

2 1/2 cups cooked black beans
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
zest of one lime
1 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground coriander

Heat the sauce through and set aside.

Make the cheese filling:

8 oz. grated extra sharp cheddar
1 cup whole milk ricotta
1/3 cup of Crema Mexicana ( this is like Creme Fraiche. You can substitute sour cream if you can't find Crema Mexicana).
Mix this all together.


Spray an 8" x 8" square pan with olive oil spray.
Sread 1/5 of sauce on the bottom.
Layer like this:
tortilla (cut it up to make it fit), cheese mixture, sauce
Do this 3 more times, then top with 1/2 cup grated parmesan

Bake for about 45 minutes, let cool for 10 minutes if you can stand to wait (we couldn't).

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Our Athletic Prowess

My 49th birthday is next week. Good gravy. How did this happen?

My excellent boyfriend got me a new bicycle and gave it to me early. I'm pretty jazzed about it. It has more speeds than I know what to do with! And it's a lovely pearly yellow color that just happens to match my backpack. And my dining room. Matchy Matchy Poo Poo.

So now Andy's riding my old bike--the one that keeps getting a flat rear tire. Yesterday we went on what we considered to be a colossal bike ride. We rode 22 miles--all the way to Midlothian and back. Well, at least I made it back. Andy got a flat tire, of course. I forged ahead alone, and came back in the car to rescue poor Andy, whom I found wandering along Forest Hill Avenue with a blank expression on his very pink face, poor dear.

We both felt a great feeling of accomplishment for our feat of strength and endurance. I was a piece of rubber for the rest of the day! The only thing I could summon the strength for was to lift a glass of chardonnay.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

I'm too tired to give this post a clever headline

Why am I so tired, you ask? My cat Maggie has this new thing she does; when she's bringing an animal into the house, she does this whimper-meow sort of noise that she doesn't make any other time. So I always know when she's bringing in the kill, and her little announcements can cut right through a sound sleep.

Last night it was a mouse, and it wasn't dead yet. It wriggled out of her jaws and darted under a piece of furniture in the living room. A piece too big to move. I tried to scare it out with a broom, opened the front door so it could run to freedom, tried everything I could think of at 3:45 a.m. No mousie. So I went back to bed, figuring one of the cats would catch it, and I'd deal with it in the morning.

As soon as I was nodding off to sleep again, Gilda (other kitty)jumped up into my bed with the mouse and started to chase it around ON MY BED. I managed to trap the poor thing under a dishtowel and scoop it up and fling it to safety outdoors. Jesus.

I'm switching the pet door to the "out only" setting tonight. They'll be able to go out but not come back in. Then the Merry Murderesses will just have to play with their victims outdoors whilst I catch up on my sleep.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Meet My Vespa

I have been riding my scooter a lot lately! Yeah, it's economical as hell, but I mostly ride it because it's cute and sexy. Andy's got one, too. His is white. Together we are an unstoppable force of cuteness. I think I just puked in my mouth a little when I typed that.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Walk Away, Muffin Face. This is About Curry Paste!

I'm a huge fan of Jill Bari, who pens a blog called The World According to Muffin Face. I post this warning for her, as she has a particular aversion to curry.

I am working like a dawg this week. Scheduling and staffing two summer camps has me stymied and I am working my second job this week on Wednesday through Sunday. Now, I love to cook and I can't stand shortcuts, but I am against the wall. Thai Kitchen Red Curry Paste comes to the rescue. I don't have much time to shop. I have frozen cauliflower and broccoli and peas, so I'll use the curry paste to make a veg curry. Rice is a given, as Andy has purchased what looks like a 50-thousand pound bag of rice so we'll have something to eat when there's no more oil. Go ahead and laugh. We'll be livin' large on beans and rice while you are all reminiscing about the good old days when we had gasoline.

Anyway, here's a quick red curry for you. Sautee an onion in some canola oil. I like to add some pureed ginger and garlic to this when the onions are soft. Add the curry paste and saute it until you can smell the aroma come alive. Add broth--maybe a cup. Heat through. Add your veggies. Add coconut milk, about 6 ounces, to lend a creamy element. Get everything incorporated and just simmer until the veggies are tender. They should be just tender--not cooked within an inch of recognition. Feel free to substitute any veggies in this recipe. It's a good one for using up little bits of this and that.

These quantities are not etched in stone. If you like a really rich curry, use less broth and more coconut milk. The end result should look like a creamy broth with a generous amount of chunky vegetables sitting in it. You can use reduced fat coconut milk, but you will forego some of that wonderful coconut flavor. Serve this with rice.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Westwood Club

I had a little gig tonight at the Westwood Club, a social/sports sort of club in the West End. Scott Wichmann (Currently killin-em as Nathan Detroit in Barksdale's Guys and Dolls) asked if I would sing a couple numbers at he party. He sang 10, and I sang 2. He was flawless, and I was not. I messed up one of my songs and the exemplary piano man and bass player covered for me fantastically.

Lemme tellya, Scott is a great singer. He is sort of known for his bigger-than-Scott presence on stage, but what a lot of people don't know is that he can just stand there and sing a dang song. The guy has range. Not just vocal range, but emotional range. And he can sing a story. I so enjoyed listening to him and watching him, and he can work a room like nobody's business.

After the music was over, Scott was surrounded by gaggles and gaggles of girls, mostly all over the age of eighty. In fact, I don't think I chatted with anybody under the age of 80 tonight. These were the nicest couples. Literally every couple I met had been married for more than 50 years, and they all said things like, "We've never had an argument" or "We're still in love." It made me lonesome for my mom and dad, who just celebrated their 52nd anniversary.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Guys and Dolls this weekend!

I went over to the theatre today to record the pre-show announcement for Guys and Dolls, which opens this weekend. I popped into the theatre to check out the set and it looks fantastic!! I'd post a picture of it on here, but I'm fairly sure I'd be violating some kind of intellectual property law.

I do most of the pre-show announcements for Theatre IV and Barksdale. They're pretty standard--okay, I'll say it--they're pretty dull. What fun it would be to do the pre-show announcement of my dreams...

Good evening, and welcome to Barksdale Theatre's performance of Guys and Dolls, performed at Richmond's historic Empire Theatre.

Please don't take pictures or tape this show. You know you're not supposed to. We tell you a hundred times and there are signs all over the place. If I catch you taking pictures, you will be shaken and have your hair pulled.

And for the love of Pete turn off your cell phone. I know you don't think I mean you. If I hear your phone ring, I'm going to snatch it from you and give it to the first bum I see on Broad Street.

If anybody in your party becomes peckish for a cellophane wrapped treat or overly chatty, we'd like to warn you that you will be required to walk the walk of shame from the theatre and made to sit in the crying baby area for the rest of the show.

We encourage you to get really liquored up at intermission. The actors will like you a lot better if you're tipsy. And speaking of tipsy, be sure to tip those bartenders generously! "Tips that go clank" (thank you Andy Boothby) are not considered generous.

Now do as you're told and enjoy the show!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Fettucine with Arugula, Caramelized Onion and Olives

We went to the farmers' market again yesterday and got more of the same lovely arugula that was abundant last weekend.

This is a dish I've made before for myself, but this was the first time I made it for Andy, too.

First, let me say that I am officially spoiled by always having fresh pasta these days. I love my pasta machine so much! It is like having a craft class and a cooking class all in one. Today I made whole wheat fettucine for the first time, and it turned out great! Much better tasting than the dried stuff in the store. Whole wheat pasta is such a healthy choice, but the dried stuff in the store tends to have a rather cardboard-ish texture. But our fresh stuff was springy and supple! Look.

Start a pot of pasta water to boil.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of canola oil, take 2 onions, slice them thinly and caramelize them in a big pan. When the onions are limp and becoming translucent, you can add a slosh of sherry or medeira if you have it, which I didn't so I sprinkled a little sugar to help the caramelization along.

Add a couple thinly sliced cloves of garlic toward the end. Then I added about a cup of halved and pitted calamata olives.

I don't usually use olives in this recipe. Normally I use dried shitake mushrooms that I've soaked in warm water, but the grocery store did not have the shitakes so I improvised with the olives. I actually recommend the shrooms over the olives--better flavor balance--so whichever thing you have, add it to the onions and garlic to heat through.

Your pasta water should be boiling rambunctiously by now. Tip the pasta in and cook it. If it's fresh, that will only be a couple of minutes. If you use dry pasta, just cook it until it's to your liking. Drain it when it's done, and add it to the pan of onions. Then put in the arugula. I use probably 6 or more cups of arugula--it's like any other green in that it really cooks down. I barely cut it up before I add it--just a few broad cuts across the whole mound. Place the pile of lovely arugula on top of the pasta and gently toss the whole mess to incorporate. The arugula will wilt from the heat of the other stuff.
As you mix the mess together, drizzle another couple of tablespoons of your absolute best olive oil and several generous spritzes of balsamic vinegar for some bite. Finally, sprinkle generously with fresh ground pepper.

I must say, the olives were a bit bossy in the flavor balance. The shitakes are a much better balance with the other ingredients, if you ask my humble opinion. But overall, it was pretty tasty and nice to look at, too.