Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I'm Busy and Not Cooking Much

I am so grateful that I've lately had some fun and relatively lucrative singing gigs come my way. I have a private party to perform at on Thursday evening, then another gig on the following Tuesday at a local club for mostly well-to-do old Richmond ladies. I get to sing old songs, written by the likes of Cole Porter and Noel Coward and Jerome Kern, which are pretty much the only ones I like to do anyway. I'm not thrilled that I'm sick, but my voice, thus far, is still intact.

I have a shload (I'm way too ladylike to say shitload) of practicing and memorizing to accomplish in the next few days. I always hate this part of the process-when the tedious part looms before me.

This extra cash will come in very handy for my trip to England with Andy to see his family. It's just a couple of weeks away!

I love going to England. English people are so pleasant--people who you don't expect to be pleasant, like the cashier at the grocery store. I've gotten so accustomed to people who don't even make eye contact, smile or thank me for my business. We usually have a very relaxing time, visiting Andy's parents and siblings, having a good laugh, beers at the pubs, little day trips here and there. I just love Andy's family, and whenever I come back from England I always proclaim loudly that "I don't want to live in America anymore." We are well chuffed about our upcoming trip to Scunthorpe. A change of scenery always does a body good.

Monday, January 28, 2008

A Day When I Don't Want Food??

Wow, I have been smacked down by a stomach virus that came from nowhere. I was lying in bed this morning, having an excellent adventure dream in which Irene Zeigler and I were stealing bicycles (and totally getting away with it) and as I reluctantly awoke from my big thieving escapade, I neeeded to get up and be sick! It's been a day of puking and being all wobbly. I want my mommy!

I had a more than usually social weekend to boot, and kissed a lot of people. Who knew I was a walking petrie dish??

It can't come at a worse time, as I have lots of singing to do in front of people in the next week.

But this is my worst problem right now. That's not so bad, really.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Comfort Food

Yesterday was one of those days that I couldn't get warm. It was bitter cold outside and I'd had a crazy day at work, what with the opening of Rumpelstiltskin's Daughter and the 400 school kids coming to see it, and the high heels I had on all day. On top of all that I went to the gym after work, so I could eat me some comfort food with perhaps a little less guilt. Macaroni and cheese is my favorite comfort food by far!

Ages ago, when I was a 20-something, I used to have my lunch every day at this great mom and pop place called State Lunch. I took lunch really late on Fridays, which was State Lunch's day to serve baked macaroni and cheese. Those good catholics.
The trick was to get to the diner at the very moment when they were running out of mac and cheese, which was usually at approximately 3:20 p.m. This way I'd get the bottom of the pan, and when they scraped together that last serving, I'd get all those lovely browned and crispy cheese bits. It was heaven. And their lunches always came with home made bread, butter and a salad, all for about $3.95 or so. When I go back home to visit, I usually stop in for a nosh at the State Lunch, but it's got new owners and has expanded to double it's old size. Some of the same waitresses are still there, but the place just isn't the same.

Last night I used penne instead of macaroni, and I added peas, per Andy's request. Here's how I made it:
Cook about 12 ounces of penne until just very al dente. Drain and set aside.
On medium heat, melt 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan. Add 1 1/2 tablespoon of flour and whisk it until blended.
Whisk in 1 1/2 cups of milk gradually. Keep stirring this until it's thick and velvety (Andy thinks I say the word "velvety" too much). Add about 1/2 teaspoon of dry mustard, a sprinkle of nutmeg, and some ground black pepper. Take the sauce off the heat and stir in 3/4 cup of grated parmesan. In a big bowl, mix together the sauce, the penne, 8 ounces of grated extra sharp cheddar and half a cup of frozen peas. Dump this lovely mess into an 8 X 8 baking dish that has been sprayed with non stick stuff. Sprinkle the top with panko and bake it at 350 for about half an hour.

Now this next part is optional. I wanted slightly burned cheesy crispy bits, so I cranked up the heat to 475 for another 10 minutes or so. It came out perfect!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Joy, Sadness, Death, Birth

And all happening within the space of a few days. My dear friend and co-worker Sara and her fantastic partner Carlos welcomed their first child, a son, into the world today. This comes on the heels of Sara's mom's funeral, which was yesterday. I am trying to imagine what it's like to lose your mother and have your first child, all in the space of three days. Having never been through either experience, I can only estimate the weight of going through both simultaneously. I haven't spoken to them yet, but my heart was warmed to see a picture of their absolutely beautiful son on my friend JB's website:

Sara and Carlos, I send you loads of love. And I am in awe of your strength as individuals, and more importantly, as a family.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


My work spouse has been away at a booking conference in New York, and he returned today with a fabulous prezzy. An apron from The Museum of Burnt Food! Yay! If you've not visited the Burnt Food Museum, you can pay them a visit at www.burntfoodmuseum.com.

It is the brainchild of Debra Henson-Conant, who is this outrageous harp player who defies categorization. You can check her out at HipHarp.com. I think she's more famous for her musicianship than her culinary disasters, but the website is a stitch!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Four Years and Counting

Thursday, January 17, marks 4 years since Andy and I had our first date, which was rather hilarious.

We had dinner at the now defunct Cafe Di Pagliacci. We had this darling young waitress who started out being American, but began speaking in an obviously fake English accent as soon as she heard Andy's accent. She actually kept it up for the whole evening, much to our amusement.

Dinner was followed by a trip to the men's bathroom (both of us) where we turned off all the lights and chewed wintergreen lifesavers in the mirror to see if they produced sparks. I think mine did make sparks, but Andy's didn't. Now don't be skeptical, Dear Readers. This does work, and it's a great way to get a cute guy alone in a dark bathroom, if you like that sort of thing. I snuck a little minty kiss before we left.

We then went to this northside bar called Shenanigans to hear a bluegrass band formed by SPAB, which stands for the Society to Preserve Adolescent Behavior. We met up with our friends Kelly and Paul, who introduced us lo those many years before that first date. Andy sat in and played a couple of tunes with the band, which was fun.

Then there was the shagging incident. SHAG--Is it a style of beach dancing that is hugely popular in the Carolinas, or is it English slang for doin' the nasty? This very twangy lady came up to us and said, "Hey, aren't you the couple who shags? I think I saw you two shaggin' last weekend." Andy gamely assured her that, yes, that was us, and we shagged every chance we got.

All in all, it was the best first date I ever had, and I was already half in love by the time we said goodnight. Now, four years later, I still can't believe my luck, to have this kind of happiness when I wasn't really expecting it or even looking for it.

Happy Anniversary, my Sweetie.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

When Life Hands YouToo Much Yogurt, Make Cheese?

Last Tuesday, I was making a black-eyed peas recipe that required about 2 tablespoons of yogurt, but the smallest quantity of unflavored yogurt I could find in the store was a giant one quart tub! I suppose I could have driven around to other places to find a small container, but it was New Year's Day and I wasn't in the mood for a scavenger hunt. So whaddaya do with all this extra yogurt? You make cheese, that's what. I remember my Arab uncles doing this--draining the yogurt in cheesecloth until it turned into a cream cheese-like consistency, separating it into balls and storing it in olive oil. Don't know if I'll go quite that far, but I've put the whole mess in a sieve lined in paper towels, closed them up with a twist tie, placed it over a bowl to drain in the fridge, and we'll see what happens.

Maggie looks as if to ask, "What the hell are you doing now, Mommie Dearest?"

Details at 11:00...

Update: It's Monday, 6:00 pm. The yogurt has lost lots of water and is considerably thicker, but I can't say it's crossed over into cheese. I re-wrapped it in fresh paper towels. put it back in the strainer and put a heavy bowl on top of it to see if I can get it more dense. The experiment continues...

Tuesday morning, I can finally call it cheese. That's about 32 hours or so of draining. It's thicker than sour cream, and not quite as thick as cream cheese. I used nonfat yogurt, so this is a nonfat cheese. I am wary of fat-free food, as I usually think it lacks something essential--namely, fat. But this tastes quite good!

For breakfast, I spread a generous amount on toated homemade bread and topped it with Judy Boothby's Moxie Marmalade.

A Dang Good Party

Last night we attended what is sure to become the mother of all dinner parties, Lauren and Larry's Second Annual Epiphany Dinner Party. I'm feeling the pull of gravity especially acutely this morning!

But holy moly, it was worth it. Lauren is an amazing cook, from the delicate pear and watercress soup to the basil intoxicated caprese salad to the savory eggplant and goat cheese timbale on a bed of lentils to the wicked rich chocolate gateau that made me ache. I could rhapsodize for a good long time! Not to mention the fact that Lauren prepared the timbales especially for Andy and me, the only non meat eaters out of the 16 people she so graciously fed last night. I also must comment on Laine's amuse bouche, which was homemade ravioli--delectable little pillows with a surprise in every bite, simply dressed in a brown butter sauce. Oh, and we even had our own personal wine expert, Tony, to guide us with our food/wine pairings and enhance our wine literacy.

What a wonderful way to usher in the new year. Lauren, you are an entertaining goddess! I salute you.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Bubble and Squeak!

English food has some humorous names. Bubble and Squeak. Spotted Dick. Bangers and Mash. Toad in Hole. They sound more like embarrassing conditions you'd whisper about behind closed doors rather than savory and delicious dishes.

Tonight I'm making a recipe for Spiced Parsnip Bubble and Squeak that I found on the BBC Good Food website. We need something comforting, spicy and not too fattening, and this fits the bill. In fact, on the website, you can search for recipes in a certain calorie range, which was how I found this one.

Here's what Wikipedia says about Bubble and Squeak:

Bubble and squeak (sometimes just called bubble) is a traditional English dish made with the shallow-fried leftover vegetables from a roast dinner. The chief ingredients are potato and cabbage, but carrots, peas, brussels sprouts, and other vegetables can be added. It is traditionally served with cold meat from the Sunday roast, and pickles. Traditionally the meat was added to the bubble and squeak itself, although nowadays the vegetarian version is more common. The cold chopped vegetables (and cold chopped meat if used) are fried in a pan together with mashed potato until the mixture is well-cooked and brown on the sides.

This version is vegetarian and not made from leftovers, though I'm sure it will turn into lovely leftovers for tomorrow's lunch. I think the spice mixture looks really good--turmeric, lemon juice, cumin, garam masala, coriander and red chili. I'm going to serve it with a tangy tomato chutney, just as suggested. I'll snap some pics when I finish and we'll see if it's as good looking as the BBC's pic. Maybe it'll be even prettier...

Okay, maybe not, but it tasted great! I love the recipe. Andy liked it too, although he felt it needed potatoes. If I made it again, the only change I would make would be forming it into manageably sized patties so it could be browned and flipped more easily.

The chutney was really tasty--sweet and tangy and very easy to make. I just diced some onion, sauteed it in olive oil, added pureed garlic, a tablespoon of double strength tomato paste, then a can of good quality diced tomatoes, about a tablespoon of sugar and balsamic vinegar. Then I simmered it for half an hour or so, until it thickened a little.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

My Boobs Look Amazing and I'm Bringing Home a Swede

Haha! I thought my racy title would grab your attention, you suckers.

I had my mammolammojammogram today at St. Mary's and then stopped at Willow Lawn Kroger for some brussels sprouts and swede (or rutabaga) to roast for my din dins. On the way home I called my Andy and told him I'd just had my boobs squeezed and was headed home with some brussels sprouts and a swede. Fortunately, he thought this was hilarious, which is why I love him.