Thursday, December 29, 2011

Resolving to do Better

Got your resolutions ready for tomorrow night when people ask? They will, you know. It is THE New Year's Eve question, right after --who are you going to kiss?

You have decided not to make any?

Hey, I get it. You're thinking of all the ones you made in the past and didn't keep. All the goals you set but didn't reach...the marathon you were going to run, the book you were going to read every week, the Zen level of organization you were going to achieve...

MAKE YOUR GOAL IMPROVEMENT, NOT PERFECTION. 

But let's talk about this. Even if you didn't achieve all you hoped to in years past, you made a start, an effort, you probably gave it a good try for a while. The problem may have been that the goal was unrealistic or that you didn't get encouragement.

YOUR GOAL IS ONLY IMPROVEMENT

So without beating ourselves up, what are some worthwhile goals that we might set and be successful in coming close to, if not being able to completely mark them off our list?

Most people would like to tackle the Big 3: Fitness, Fix-up, and Finance.

Americans spend about 35 billion dollars a year on weight loss. Anyone you talk to, will talk about getting their homes, closets, and garages organized. Lots of people need to get their finances in order, get out of debt and save.

Think how much your life would improve if you could have more energy, find your car keys, and pay your bills on time. Pretty enticing fantasy, isn't it? Let's take it down a notch. Instead of tackling all those problems at once, let's work on a simpler thing--learning. This January first, resolve to LEARN new strategies for change. Work on improving in these areas, by learning from the experts.  If you are like me and didn't learn financial responsibility or healthy eating habits at home, you are going to need to fill the gap (I call it "mothering myself") with good advice from experts in the areas you hope to succeed in. If you don't have anyone in your real life to mentor you along the way, you can do what I've done and choose from the most successful people around to help you. It is why successful people write books and maintain websites...to share their knowledge.

Here are some people and/or websites to get you started:

Finance: Dave Ramsey

Organization: The Fly Lady

Self Education: Open Culture

Fitness: Fitness Partner
             Fitness.com
             Look Great Naked  (Do you love it?)

Baby step your way to change. Dave Ramsey and Fly Lady both us the "baby step" concept to help you get started. You don't have to feel out of control when shopping or eating. You don't have to lament over the education you didn't get. It doesn't cost you anything to get your house in order.

Change is possible...

Start small...

moving slowly toward a goal is better than standing still in defeat...

IMPROVEMENT IS SUCCESS!

The only real failure is giving up. There is power in momentum, so start moving in the direction you want to go. Where would you be now if you had started last year?

Where can you be a year from now, if you start today? 

Even slightly better is...BETTER.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mr. Suitcase Dishes up Some Fun in Savannah

Every traveler knows that one of the joys of visiting a different city is savoring the local cuisine. The REAL foodies among you may want to take that love of travel and food one step further by enrolling in a cooking class taught by a local chef. While Madame Owner was recently visiting The Food Maven in Savannah, they did just that. It was the highlight of the week.



The Food Maven in her element!
Chef Darin Sehnert teaches at the Mansion on Foryth Park's 700 Cooking School. The Housewife and The Food Maven took his Stewing and Braising class in which that most illustrious dish of all dishes (okay, French beef stew) Boeuf bourguignon, with celery root mashed potatoes, and braised leeks were on the schedule. The chef covered some essential kitchen basics such as proper use of a knife as well as how to select a good one, some culinary definitions, and a little kitchen science. There's a reason you salt the food when cooking instead of at the table! Participation is encouraged and Chef Darin handles the session with a delightful combination of expertise and humor. Since you are more likely to learn and retain more information when you are relaxed and having fun, it is a great teaching combo. Who knew we were all cutting onions wrong all these years?   

Their class was comprised of 8 students and the facilities were posh yet comfortable. You will enjoy this class whether you are a diehard foodie like the Food Maven, a sometimes foodie, like Madame Owner, or just someone who loves food but has no idea how it magically ends up on your plate. You'll want to spend a little time wondering around if you attend. The chocolate brown, orange, and leopard print decor made The Housewife and The Food Maven's mouths water long before they got to the kitchen. 

Chef Darin is amiable and tolerant. He wasn't even put off by My Owner and her friend taking frequent pictures and cracking jokes. They did however refrain from speaking in their Julia Child voices during the class, something they had planned on beforehand. (This dish is practically synonymous with the Grand Dame of cooking) After all the cutting and chopping, while the stew was being made the chef called Madame Housewife over to do the flambe. She held the pan while the chef poured in the brandy and lit it creating a surprising amount of heat and flame. She'd been expecting a small flame within the pan, so it was a bit of a shock, as was the fact that the Food Maven didn't get a photo. Never fear. The Food Maven (and friend extraordinaire) asked Chef Darin if MO could do it again so she could document the moment.  He agreed and the scene was repeated. 

There is something delicious about a man who lets you play with fire in his kitchen!

 Madame Housewife may not try this at home, but if you are so inclined, here's the how-to: About.com-Home Cooking/ How to Flambe.

After the meal was finished, the wine was poured and the posse of "chefs" sat down together to dine. Friendly chatter surrounded the table until the first bit was taken. 

Madame Housewife and the chef
It took a few minutes for everyone to recover from the culinary nirvana they had entered. There is something social about preparing a meal together and at least for a few moments this little band of cuisine minded travelers shared something nearly familial: the ecstasy of creating and enjoying scrumptiously divine dishes. 


grapefruit granita and shortbread cookies
Dessert featured a clean and light grapefruit granita with home made shortbread cookies. The perfect citrusy foil for the heavy meal. 


Traveling to Savannah and want to cook with Chef Darin? Here's the info:


The Mansion Cooking School Programs

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Housewife's Rules for Being a Good Houseguest

Make them happy to see you arrive...
Last week I was relaxing and renewing my spirit in The Food Maven's Haven. I needed it and am better for it. I returned home to a family that was grateful to see me, a clean house, and a husband who couldn't wait to take me to dinner and tell me how much he missed me. (I have got to get away more often.) While I WAS away however I was busy trying to be  a good guest in someone else's home. The next time you get invited to stay with someone there are some rules you need to adhere to. First let's cover the basics of decent behavior:

  • Bring a gift (I took The Food Maven my home-made body cream and home grown Italian seasoning).
  • Keep all of your things in whatever space, no matter how big or small, you have been allotted for your stay. 
  • Whatever you use you should replace, in my case it was a bottle of Jack Daniels.
  • Be flexible. When in Rome...Eat what they eat, drink what they drink, adjust your schedule to theirs.
  • Bring something to do on your own so your gracious host can get a few minutes of privacy to do things they need. No one wants to entertain you constantly. 
  • Help out! Get yourself in the kitchen and help with the dishes. 
  • Leave everything the way you found it, or better. I like to clean my guest room if there is one for the next person. It is one less thing for your host to do. 
  • Bring everything you think you will need unless you've been otherwise informed. 
  • Hand written thank-you-notes are in order within a week of your return home. 
Now those are a good start and can be found in one form or another in any etiquette book, but I have a few things to add:
  • Come prepared to be entertaining and interesting. If your hosts are the serious type brush up on your current events. If their favorite topic is celebrity gossip then scan the latest magazines to catch up on recent celebrity marriages and divorces. Small children? WHY are you staying there? 
  • Do not show up with a list of things you have to eat, drink, or DO while you are there. 
  • Have a favorite drink recipe to share. It doesn't have to be alcohol; you can whip up your best hot cocoa or chai to impress everyone. It allows you to pitch in without destroying the kitchen and taking up room in the fridge with the ingredients for an entire meal.
  • You are not at home. No one wants to see you floss your teeth or clip you toenails in the living room. (If you think no one would do that, you are wrong.)
  • Be flexible (again, I know). If you are set in your ways and demanding then STAY HOME.
  • Be nice to pets. If the dog doesn't like you, you will not be invited back. 
Follow these rules and not only will you be invited back but they'll actually look forward to your return. They may even cry at the airport instead of doing a happy dance. 
...and sad to see you go.




Thursday, December 8, 2011

Books, Travel, and One Really Bad Tattoo

Books and travel are the perfect combination. It takes the proper set of circumstances however to pull it off to its best effect. I often drag along a book which only ends up being used as a prop for discrete people watching if there is too much going on. I've only ever finished one book at the beach (The Life of Pi) because I am so easily distracted by the unusual tattoos people choose to get (I once saw one that said RIP Grandma and Grandpa over an inky version of a really bad Olan Mills photo. It covered the girl's entire back. I doubt her boyfriend thought it was sexy.). I see people reading in airports. I have no idea how they can do that. I'm busy making up secret shady business deals for the men in suits I see, imagining the decor of the homes of well dressed women, and picking out children who could be cast in a remake of The Exorcist. 

 I have a lot of book lists. Some are written on paper, some are in my head, some are tangible ones in stacks here and there around the house. I have books that mean to get to "someday" and  books that I feel obligated to read because they were given to me by someone with an expectation of a future discussion. Then I have books that I will read when the time is right.

This week the time was right for one I'd been holding since 1994.

While I am indulging myself this week at The Food Maven's Haven I am reading one such book, Midnight in the Garden of Good And Evil. What? You've read it? Please don't tell me what happens. I've been steering clear of the movie too lo these many years, so be a dear and don't ruin it for me. I am currently avoiding The Help and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo for exactly the same reason. I do wish they wouldn't make the books I'm trying to get to into movies without consulting me first. I've got a few ideas for some books I have read that NEED to be movie-fied. Another list.

This week has turned out to be the perfect combination of going out and staying in, leaving me plenty of time to indulge my literary habit. Last night Mr. Maven came in after having dinner at The Pink House then it was mentioned in my book this morning. Street names and landmarks seep into your consciousness when you haven't only run across them on jaunts but when they are woven into a story.

It's fun to read The Firm in Memphis, Gone With the Wind in Atlanta, and Confederacy of Dunces or The Pelican Brief in New Orleans. Don't even get me started about Bridget Jone's Diary in London or The Da Vinci Code in Rome.

The only thing better than curling up at home with a good book, may be curling up away from home with one.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Killing Spiders and Insulting Boyfriends: The Housewife Arrives

I'm currently sitting in the home of my dear friend ( accidentally typed fiend just then, but it isn't true) and fellow blogger, The Food Maven, ready to enjoy the second full day of my week long visit with her. I'm in my pajamas. It is almost noon. I am very happy.  Here's what we've done so far: Annoy her husband by laughing loudly and often (He's working extra hours this week, we don't know why). Annoyed her children by making snarky comments about them and reliving some of their more entertaining childhood moments. Cooked (okay, she cooks I ask questions and wash dishes), had chocolate martinis, had lunch with a blogging friend of hers who tried to explain code to us. (I mean CODE people, really?) We look smarter than we are. I hope. No wait, it should be the other way around...I think.

Last year when I was here the older daughter was dating a boy named Austin. Since I have arrived this time I've met the younger daughter's current boyfriend. The other night after dinner we were in the kitchen and I saw a very big spider crawling across the floor.

I screamed "SPIDER!" because that's what I do at my house and then call for a male member of my household to come and kill it. Yes, I could kill it myself but if I'm going to do that what is the point of being married?

I then saw that younger daughter's boyfriend was on his way out the door and not being able to recall his name but knowing NOT to call him Austin, I did what any genteel Southern woman would do...

I screamed "Hey you! Man, boy person, come BACK there's a spider!" from my perch atop the bar stool where I was now crouched, lest this be one of those arachnids with the power to jump 7 feet and attack at will.

My friend looks at me and says "Oh for crying out loud." and promptly and calmly stepped on it. The crunch under her foot didn't even bother her.

Oh. Well, yes that is another way to handle it.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Eastern Wisdom Meets Western Science

Turmeric, ginger, peppercorns
Western medicine sends us off to the cold/flu aisle at the drugstore for something full of ingredients we can't pronounce when we don't feel well. Eastern tradition tells us we might be better off in the spice aisle at the grocery. 

 Right before my daughter's wedding she came down with a dreadful cold. My friend, and fellow blogger The Food Maven sent me a recipe for a cure. It seems her mother was traveling in Ireland and was in a pub with a cold (her, not the pub). The owner, a man from India, suggested a spoonful of turmeric and honey. Mommy Maven followed the advice and was all better the next day! My daughter got better so I never did make it. Earlier this week I was feeling a bit under the weather myself and decided to try it out, but you know I had to do some research first.

I came across many variations on several websites, they all seem to differ slightly. I liked one posted by blogger Arun Shanbhag, who remembers his grandmother making this for him.

I prefer to cook it on the stove
Here is the link to his blog post: Turmeric Milk: Soothing Elixir, in which he explains the history and science behind this potion. I changed a couple of things. I'm a firm believer in the power of green tea (Read about the health benefits here) so I made power packed infusion (1 family size tea bag to 1/4 C. water) to mix the turmeric in instead of water. I didn't have fresh ginger on hand but I did have some of the dried/candied sort, and I used coconut milk because dairy products are known to increase mucus production, something we are trying to lessen, and have other negative side effects for many. In an update on his site Arun added this comment: "Scientists have demonstrated that when curcumin is ingested along with a peppercorn extract, the ability of our body to absorb and utilize curcumin increases dramatically, up to 2000%. "

I made a cup complete with peppercorns and took it at bedtime. I woke up feeling much better, and yes--energized! So I'm a convert. The dried ingredients premixed would make a great gift for a friend who's suffering from a cold. The fact that it's home made and wasn't concocted by a pharmaceutical company is comforting in its own way. Here's my version but the internet is full of ways to tweak it; find one that you like.

The Housewife's Recipe:

1/4 C of very strong green tea
1/2 ts turmeric
Power it up with peppercorns! Delicious!








1 ts candied ginger
1 ts honey
a few peppercorns, whole
a mug of coconut milk

Dissolve turmeric in hot green tea, add to milk with ginger, honey, and peppercorns and stir over medium heat until hot. Let sit for 5 minutes before drinking.

Cheers to your health!

*Of course if you have a fever or cough that doesn't go away you should see a doctor.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Coconut Cream Pie: A Southern Favorite

Everyone has something that makes it a special holiday for them. For my daughter it simply isn't Thanksgiving without my home made coconut cream pie. While it didn't get served at dinner she did get it later. It made her VERY happy. Her new husband is my newest fan. Well, the pie's newest fan anyway.

I've had a couple of mishaps with this pie. Once I made it to take to a party and it never set up at all and I ended up telling everyone it was my famous coconut cream pudding recipe. You know, in a pie crust. Once I was trying to make it with a house full of company and due to my inability to multi-task (which literally means that NO I cannot listen to your story and cook) I ruined it, cursed it, and threw it in the sink. Remember that scene in Julie and Julia when she has a meltdown in the kitchen floor? Of course in the middle of mine no reporter called and wanted to interview me about my cooking skills.




Watch your temper!
This year, you will be glad to know, went much better. I made a couple of changes that pushed it over the top from good to...well...I mean if I do say so myself...

GREAT.

I'm trying to be humble. This isn't the pie to do that with.

The new secret ingredient? Coconut milk. It has 50% more calcium than milk so I felt almost healthy while I was eating it.

Almost.

I also used only half the egg yolks called for, doubled the  butter, and added vanilla to the whipped cream for the top. Here  is the recipe:

Mmm...toasty.
Ingredients:
1/2 C sugar
4 TB corn starch
1/4 ts. salt
2 1/2 cups scalded COCONUT milk.
2 egg yolks
1 ts. vanilla
1 1/2 C flaked coconut

For the whipped cream:
1 1/2 C heavy cream
2 ts confectioners sugar
1ts vanilla

In the top of a double boiler mix: sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Stir in scalded milk and mix until smooth. Cook over med. heat until mixture thickens. Beat egg yolks and add 4 TB of hot mixture to yolks. (Tempering) Whisk until blended. Add egg mixture to milk mixture. Cook and stir over hot water till smooth and thick. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla, coconut, and butter. Pour into a pie crust and chill.

Whip cream with sugar and vanilla and smooth on top of pie

Top with toasted coconut.

Chill. You and the pie. You deserve it.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Little Thanksgiving Green

My effort to "green up" this holiday was met with a couple of views and guess what? There's a generation gap. I could have completely done away with dressing and no one under 70 would care. The lighter, healthier fare was a hit. Pharmaceutical companies should be worried if my table occupants are any indication. Now let me make it clear I've been doing this slowly over several years. You can't jump right from everyone's traditional favorites to a table featuring bowls full of the color green. Change one thing each year or just add a salad to the table. This year I only made enough dressing to prevent a mutiny (But I mean, honestly...where are they going to go?), I added a warm spinach salad with walnuts and dried cherries, green beans with mushrooms and pearl onions instead of the iconic casserole, multi-grain rolls instead of white. My sweet daughter arrived with a delicious cucumber salad.

"Hey I contributed to your green theme and I didn't even know that's what you were doing!"

I kept the  theme going on the table with a centerpiece of recycled wine, beer, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar bottles. I went over this with you in Recycling Glass: Bottler Cutting 101, remember? So after slaving away in the kitchen all day Wednesday I was cutting glass at 8:00 at night. It's hit or miss so you go through a lot of bottles, but they are just going to get thrown out anyway. If you aren't a drinker anyone who works at a restaurant can hook you up with all you want. I'll get back to this project in a couple of days. Let's talk food!

Turkey: After years of making silly foil tents and opening the oven every hour to baste and then ending up with a dry bird about half the time, I was ready to be converted. A friend shared her recipe with me and last year I stuffed the turkey with apples, onion, celery, rosemary, and thyme like I always do, and poured a cup of good red wine over it with salt and pepper. I wrapped it in heavy duty aluminum foil (make sure there are NO holes or gaps) and cooked it at 500* for 2 hours then turned it down to 200* until I was ready to take it out to put in the side items. This gives it time to REST which is a MUST if you want juicy and delicious. If you want to go all Griswold and have a dusty dry carcass explode when you carve it then by all means cut it right away.


They are going to call you The Turkey Whisperer.





A fun way to serve sweet potatoes, make a sweet potato bar!

The toppings on the sweet potato bar included: raisins, butter, a vanilla/cinnamon seasoning, graham cracker crumbs, coconut, and of course, MARSHMALLOWS.







After dinner included throwing the football around outside and getting some fresh air. And watching Mr. Snarky hurdle the neighbor's chain link fence. It was probably the most entertaining thing of all.



Happy leftover eating, shopping, and decorating! Don't forget tomorrow is SMALL BUSINESS SATURDAY.  Shop and eat locally; Best Buy, Walmart, and Target along with McDonalds, Taco Bell and Burger King are doing just fine.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Countdown to Thankfulness

Here we are. A couple of days to go to the biggest day of the year for cooks. If you've been keeping up with The Food Maven you know that this is her FAVORITE holiday. Check out her blog for all the cooking tips and witty remarks about the day. This isn't a holiday that my family expects to be creative. What they (and by this I mean my kids) want is to have and do exactly the same thing we had and did last year, and the year before...and the year before that...

Here's how it went down last year: Thanksgiving Epilogue

Can you keep a secret? Slowly over time I'm working on changing our menu from the heavy old fashioned version to a lighter, healthier one. The turkey is a good start, it's those fat laden side items that weigh us down. Last year I introduced a butternut squash soup to the menu. It was delicious and fun, since I served it in a pumpkin, but no one could wrap their brains around soup as part of the meal. I'll skip that this time which will also mean that I can get away with a whole set of bowls not having to be washed (by hand) at the end of the day. I added salad and it wasn't rejected entirely. This year's variations include a lighter version of green beans, sweet potatoes as a healthier option than white and a warm spinach salad with cranberries and walnuts. Recipes are forthcoming, but I'm a little busy at the moment!

Does your family drink tea, sweet or not, with your meal? Every time I make tea I throw in a couple of green tea bags. They are getting those antioxidents painlessly. They'll never know unless you tell them. 

I never buy anything for the table but instead as with most of my decorating I just use what I have. This year everything I'm using is recycled and getting a second use. The table cloth is a roll of upholstery fabric a friend had left over, wine and beer bottles I've used to practice glass cutting will be used in a center piece and remember all those candles from my daughter's wedding? You'll be seeing those again.

Now let's get cooking!


Friday, November 18, 2011

Here's the Deal on Black Friday


Let's mark something off our to do list.                     

Save the economy. 

There. Doesn't that feel better?  My Sunday paper was packed with ads. My neighbor has up Christmas lights. News reports are filled with stories of consumer spending and frankly some of them make it sound as if dragging us out of a sluggish economy is dependent on whether or not we flit from store to store the day after Thanksgiving lining up for whatever deals corporate America sways us with.

Enough.

Now don't get me wrong. I like pretty clothes, and a beautiful home as much as the next girl, but I had hoped that the absolute economic terror of 2008 would have changed us more than this. Does the person you are shopping for really need the thing you are buying?  How many of us really NEED anything at this point?

And what about that little thing we do, ladies? One for you one for me...

What does it say about our culture that every year we hear reports of fights breaking out over someone who cut in line, or people being injured in the rush to get--what?--more stuff. So with our stomachs full (something ALONE much of the world envies) we are willing hurt each other over cheap electronics and plastic toys.  This isn't a day that brings out the best in us.

I know this from experience. 

Several years ago my daughter and I were caught up in the madness of lots of really good deals. This was pre-recession and we were up early standing out in the cold in a long line. The store had gold bracelets for a ridiculously low price and I wanted to get one for my niece. At last the doors opened and we were whisked along a river of humanity to the jewelry counter. I heard the woman in front of me say "Can I get two?"

Now up until this moment I did not want this bracelet. I don't even like gold.  But when the sales girl handed over TWO of the coveted items, something greedy in me took over. Do you know that feeling? The one where you are out of control and don't even resemble the person you want to be? I was next.

"Can I get two?"

She handed them over.

The LAST two. An older African American woman behind me approached the counter to be told that they were out. She politely turned to me and asked if she could look at mine to see what they looked like. That's when I missed my chance to do the right thing. Do you know THAT feeling? The one where you could have made things right, but didn't?

My daughter and I shopped for several people on our list, but in the next few minutes that piece of jewelry became an unbearable weight in my hand and I went in search of the woman who should have gotten it. She had obviously left the store. Even after checking out I looked for her in the parking lot. At this point I was going to give her the bracelet I had now paid for, as a gift. She was gone.

Can you guess what happened to the bracelets? My niece got hers and I hope she liked it. Mine? I could never wear it. It's been in a drawer for ten years. Every once in a while I come across it while looking for something and remember the disappointment on that woman's face. Something I could have so easily prevented, or reversed.

It's far too easy to let advertising, our out of control (I mean, really? Still?) consumer habits, and the hype of the Super Bowl of shopping get the better of us. So while plotting your Black Friday attack strategy, which is likely to include defending your space in line, elbow and all, take a moment to remember what's important and who you are. They aren't selling integrity as a door buster and if you aren't careful you may lose yours, if only for a moment.

That's too long. Trust me.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Soup: A Defensive Option

It's that time of year again. Out come the sweaters, hand sanitizer, and tissues. It's soup season. Here's a recipe from the archives that is always a hit and is great for your family to help fight off all those nasty colds that are likely to come their way. The stress of the holidays coupled with exams on the horizon are an immune system double whammy. At my house, soup is another line of defense.  There is something therapeutic mentally and physically about holding a hot bowl of steamy goodness. 

Here is the basic recipe for one of my faves from my local paper. Date: Valentine's Day 2001

You can see how much mileage this recipe has gotten.

Yes, that's right. I'm too lazy to rewrite this recipe for you.




Sometimes I replace the diced tomatoes with fire roasted ones which gives it a completely different flavor. 



Now I know what you are thinking (that you aren't married to Popeye and your kids are not going to eat this) but make them try it once. After that I'm going to offer you a solution. 'Cause I'm all helpful like that.


The recipe calls for portobello  mushroom stuffed tortellini but I've used a variety including chicken and prosciutto or cheese, which these are. 



 Tortellini happily swimming in chicken stock (I made my own) and the other ingredients. And your grandmother was right, by the way, home made chicken stock is better for you than anything you can get from a can. Read more about the health benefits of chicken stock here.




Forget Nazi, people are going to think you are a soup goddess.


          Ladling it up!  Tell me this doesn't look delicious...

                                 You know it does.


So you tried it the first time according to the recipe and your crew nearly mutinied. I'd say make'em walk the plank but you could just leave the spinach out. YOU can still have  it with the spinach. I add the green stuff to mine after I put in the bowl and top with parmesan cheese.


 This is another soup perfect for taking care of a family that may be feeling a bit under the weather. The chicken stock, garlic, egg, and spinach are bound to cure whatever ails you and the tortellini will make even soup hating men believe that yes, Virginia...soup is a meal!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Eating and Shopping in New Orleans

My suitcase is still in charge of storytelling.

When you visit a city frequently you can fall into a rut of eating at the same places. Often you want to make sure that anyone traveling with you has a great experience and as a seasoned traveler acting as a guide you want to avoid disappointing them. On Madame Owner's recent trip to New Orleans something new was discovered. MO's new son-in-law was keen to have a delicious brunch someplace in The Quarter before starting out for the drive home. It isn't hard to find a great restaurant offering up delicious fare including everything from bananas foster to eggs benedict on a lazy Sunday morning. Goldilocks would have been proud as they roamed from place to place.

"This one's TOO expensive."

"This one's TOO crowded."

Then in the shadow of the Louisiana Supreme Court they happened upon a little place with outdoor seating in the alley and an interesting menu.

"This one's JUST right."

The Somethin' Else Cafe is located at 620 Conti and the has outdoor seating in the adjacent alley. The weather was just warm enough to sit there and discuss which palm tree on the grounds of the courthouse is most iconic.  Madame had been hoping for endless mimosas as part of the brunch scenario but wasn't disappointed at all with her second choice, a bloody mary. The vegetable garnishes were arranged in a clever fleur di lis. The service was a bit slow, which isn't a big deal if you are lounging around hoping to soak up a few extra moments of Cajun ambiance before leaving town. The waitress was friendly however, and the menu was worth studying in depth. MO's daughter and her new husband ordered the Somethin' Else French Toast and MO and Mr. MO ordered the Crab Cake NOLA. This restaurant gets points for creativity and new twists on old standards.

The French toast actually tasted like a banana bread and looked like muffins. It was topped with a praline sauce, and was amazing. The "crab cakes" were scoops of lump crab meat seasoned to perfection and grilled between a biscuit, then topped with a fried egg and surrounded by a warm creamy sauce. MO ordered the egg on top of hers scrambled instead. All the food was uniquely delicious.  It's a bit pricey and they would have liked to have seen the waitress more often, but the food was worth the wait. The  consensus  was that the mary was the best one ever. Every item gets this writer's praise for original and fun presentation!


While researching this post I ran across several reviews of this restaurant and they are extreme on both ends. Lots of folks raved about it and just as many seemed to have had a really bad experience. I will admit that the food is s-l-o-w to arrive but I am easily swayed to love something that was better than I had hoped for, which it absolutely was.

Last weekend Madame Owner, her husband, daughter, and new son-in-law headed to New Orleans for the wedding of a cousin. MO's family has been to NOLA a lot over the years but this was the first time they hadn't taken the train.

A highway is less interesting than a train track running through the old parts of quaint, small southern towns. It is in this case, however, quicker. On this trip time was of the essence.


Dinner at Acme Oyster House always means standing in a line out front.  Might as well take some pictures while you're there, right?

MO and her daughter ordered something called an Alligator Martini. It was awful. At least MO thought so. It was green and had a strange flavor.

MO checked the list of ingredients.

Sierra Mist.

That explains it.

"Excuse me, Ma'am, can I get some water?"

It was pretty chilly but that didn't stop mother and daughter from window shopping after dinner.

"Ooooh, look at that dress."

"What street are we on?"

"We have to come back here tomorrow.

"Think we can find it? Wait. Where are we?"

This is what the men hear, but what MO and her daughter know is that their style homing instinct will lead them right where they want to go.

They still won't know what street they are on.

Except for Jackie's

This is one store that is a MUST whenever they are in town. Jackie's on Jackson Square, located a few steps from Cafe Du Mond on St. Anne Street, it is a trendy boutique full of chic and unusual items.  Some of MO's daughter's favorite pieces of clothing EVER have come from this shop.They always have a wide assortment of new and quirky pieces of clothing and accessories. MO needed a new purse and finally settled on a brown number, with gold details. Her daughter tried on several dresses but ended up with the two that were on display in the window.

Here she is wearing one of them at the wedding they attended. The ribbon is actually one she took out of her Converse tennis shoe to make an impromptu belt.

Style not only means taste, but the ability to be creative in a pinch. The dress itself has no waistline, and has layers of pretty eyelet detail in the back. The bright tomato red is a stunner.

The Quarter is full of shops running the gamut from high end, to trendy and inexpensive. You can find something that you will bring home and actually wear, unlike the naughty t-shirt that you thought was clever after your second hurricane. Trust me. Buy yourself something nice instead. You'll be glad you did.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Why Would Anyone Want to Be a Parent? The Next Generation



I wrote this original post 6 years ago, y'all! This is still one of my favorite pictures of us ever. I kind of feel like it sums up the universal mother/daughter relationship. Plus it makes me laugh because it looks like I'm in charge which I assure you I was not on that day.

Fast forward to today. There's a house and a new baby and the job that is a perfect fit for her life. And let's not forget her charming and fantastic husband who is everything I hoped he'd be when I stood there with my hands on my hips though I'm pretty sure what I was saying here was "Why didn't you eat breakfast? Of course you feel sick!"

What is it with this pose and the women in our family? 


Okay, let's talk parenting. 

You pee on a stick and it turns blue. Wow. What a less than grand beginning for a relationship that is going to be magical, messy, and maddening.  Today my daughter turns 26  32 and I'm trying to imagine what it is that makes people want to have children.

 Really. Think about it. It's going to tie you down, cost you a small fortune, and drive you crazy. You'll spend sleepless nights imaging the worst scenarios possible when they are late. (We always went with  "dead in a ditch") You will spend hours awake in the dark, first listening for them to cry, and later for the key in the lock and a sneaky foot on a squeaky step. When they've wrought all this damage, they leave. And this is AFTER you've risked your life for them.

Not in labor. I mean teaching them to drive.

So what makes us do it?

I know what makes the unplanned ones, silly. I mean the on purpose ones.


There is something built in that makes us want to care for and nurture our offspring. There is also something a bit selfish going on as Shelby tells us in Steel Magnolias (the font of wisdom--right after the Bible-- for all Southern women) when she announces her pregnancy to her mother:

"And when it's all said and done there will be a little piece of immortality with Jackson's good looks and my sense of style, I hope."



I think she hits it on the head at the end:

Hope.



We hope the world will somehow hold itself together at least long enough for our children to grow up. We hope they'll be part of the solutions and not the problems. We hope they'll be better than us. We hope they'll be braver, more confident, smarter, and not make all the mistakes we made. We hope that they won't sit silently by while injustice rules the day. We hope they'll stand up for what's right.

I think something in us hopes they will change the world. 

Happy Birthday, Baby! You make the world a little better place every day.







Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Teacher of a Lifetime Award

The Grande Dame and Clark Gable as Caesar.
In the midst of her teaching, an announcement would come on and she would haul back with the drama of any major league pitcher, aim carefully, and hurl her eraser at the intercom. That felt covered box always had random chalk outlines that showed how often she hit her target. Then she would rant; about being interrupted while trying to teach us, the bureaucracy that education had become, and how precious her time with us was.

My high school Latin teacher, Ms. Aste was in a class by herself. She loved teaching, she loved the subject matter, she loved exposing us to new ideas, and many of us suspected (though we wouldn't have voiced it at the time) that she loved us.  We knew this you see, because she respected us and while she hoped to impart Latin vocabulary and grammar to us (a nearly hopeless endeavor, in my case) her main goal was to teach us to think for ourselves.

When irritated by all the things that kept her from teaching the way she wanted, that she found idiotic, or pointless she would sigh and say, "Some day I'm going to start a school..."

I would have loved to have seen that school.

She assumed the best of us, and that little eraser number was a brilliant way of demonstrating that if there was a struggle in the classroom, an "us against them" it was never going to be her against us or vice versa but all of us against a time wasting, thought stifling system and administration that was going to keep her from teaching and us from learning. 

Genius.

In the spring of Senior year, having made it through 3 years with her and twice a day as a junior when I had her for Latin and then Etymology/Mythology, the last 6 weeks she taught us Greek. She framed it as a reward...a subversive one. The text you see, was the Greek New Testament. The day she handed them out she have strict instructions.

"Now y'all can't go out of this room and blab what we are doing in here. Some idiot (we assumed, of course, that she meant a parent) will complain and ruin it for us."

No one ever did. We kept the secret and only now in retrospect do I realize what a brilliant way of handling teenagers that was. Suddenly we craved Greek!  A masterful stroke.

She wanted us to ask questions, of everyone including her if we thought she was wrong. One day while she was dealing with some bureaucratic nonsense that had her frustrated  she looked up and asked a question.

Now, we all heard "How many of y'all are Jews? Raise your hand"

We looked around bewildered. There was a long pause...finally a hand went up. She looked at him, a bit confused.

"You aren't a junior!"

"Oh, I though you said Jews."

A strange look came across her face. 

She threw her reading glasses on the desk.

"And why, may I ask, if that is what you thought I wanted to know, did you not ask me WHY I would be asking such a thing?"

She scanned the room looking at the rest of us.

"And what about y'all?" She was clearly angry.

"You were all just going to sit there and let me ask something like that without questioning me as to why the hell anyone would want to know that? THINK! Haven't I taught you anything?"

We got quite the lecture about questioning everything and everyone and not acquiescing so easily to authority.

Beyond the subjects that our report cards indicated we were taking from her, she was teaching about ancient history, classic movies, classic literature, plays, local history and regaling us with stories from her childhood and of her travels. If someone made a joke about opera, she was bringing her albums and making us listen to them. She arranged for us to usher at the local theatre so we could be exposed to live stage productions. So the first time I went to Rome a couple of years ago, I thought of her often and resolved to go and see her. I contacted some other former students who I thought would be interested but our hectic modern lives intervened and we failed to follow through.

So this past spring when I returned to Italy and stood on the streets of Pompeii I knew when I returned home this time, making that visit would be at the top of my list. I wanted to say thank you and I was curious as to what she would think of the controversies in education swirling about these days. I thought I had a pretty good idea since she used to threaten to disown us as students if any of us ever became teachers. We didn't understand why she would say that and when we asked she would say something cryptic about it not being about teaching anymore. She saw, it seems to me now, the writing on the blackboard.

Which reminds me, I need to make a call...

Do you have a favorite teacher? Maybe more than one?

Friday, November 4, 2011

How To Read a Book

Every once in a while I come across something that I've missed somehow and wonder how I got along this far without it. Recently on The Professor and The Housewife's FB page a professor of communications wanted us to help him promote his idea of having the classic, How To Read a Book be required reading for all incoming freshmen. I scratched my head because I'd never heard of it, though I did recognize the cover so I must have seen it around. Our own professor and co-blogger sang the highest praises for this work as well, so off went my order to Amazon.

 After my first trip to Italy I read an article by Thomas Sowell in which he placed The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire at the top of a list of books that had profoundly influenced his thinking. After putting it off for years I picked up a copy and thus began my love affair with Edward Gibbon. I'm fairly sure he might have been my soul mate. Well, him or Thomas Jefferson. (Do men just become intensely interesting when they've been dead a couple of centuries? Or is it like the quote from Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society about men in real life never being as interesting as the men in books? Does that happen to real men when all that is left of them is books?)

Where was I?

Oh, yes...Gibbon's masterpiece was something I regretted not reading sooner. Which brings me back to this book.

I've just finished How To Read a Book  and can indeed recommend that it should be required reading for all incoming freshmen. It could also be used as a tool to weed out those who shouldn't really be in college, during the admissions process. To quote my son while he was complaining about some less than serious classmates who are annoying to him: "It's frustrating because the people who have no business being there haven't figured it out and quit yet. They are just there wasting everyone's time." (We do persist in this idea that everyone should go to college, don't we? But that's a topic for another day.)

Here is a sample of  chapter titles:
  • Determining An Author's Message
  • Criticizing a Book Fairly
  • Reading and the Growth of the Mind
 In Part Three the you will learn how to read different kinds of books. The authors include tips on getting the most out of practical books, imaginative literature, stories/plays/poems, history, math/science, philosophy, and social science. 

Here are some of  my favorite quotes from this valuable classic:

"The art of reading, in short, includes all of the same skills that are involved in the art of unaided discovery; keenness of observation, readily available memory, range of imagination, and, of course, an intellect trained in analysis and reflection." (p.14)

"Reading, like unaided discovery, is learning from an absent teacher." (p. 16)

"What is important is that there is an intellectual etiquette to be observed. Without it, conversation is bickering rather than profitable communication. We are assuming here, of course, that the conversation is about a serious matter on which men can agree or disagree. Then it becomes important that they conduct themselves well. Otherwise there is no profit in the enterprise. The profit in good conversation is something learned." (from Criticizing a Book Fairly, p. 138)

"Imaginative literature primarily pleases rather than teaches. It is much easier to be pleased than to be taught, but much harder to know why one is pleased. Beauty is harder to analyze than truth." (from How to Read Imaginative Literature. p. 204)

There are a couple of topics that are a bit dated, like How to Read an Encyclopedia. But other than that it is an absolute gem. You can't make the universities require it, but you can personally give it to your student. Here's the link.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Feathers in Her Hair and a Dress Cut Down to There...


I've heard from some of you that you wanted me to get on to the tutorial on the hair ornaments I made for my daughter's hair and my own for the wedding.

We were in a local bridal shop trying on dresses when she spied a comb with feathers that she fell in love with.

Price: $112.00

Seriously?

Doesn't $7.50 sound better? Yeah. I thought so too. That's what I ended up making our copy for.

The trick for getting the price that low is waiting until your local craft store has the items you need on sale. (Unless she's eloping you'll have plenty of time to wait out full price.) I hate full price.


I should say that I already had some thin jewelry wire, hot glue gun, and  the piece of vintage jewelry I used for mine.

I'm going to show you two versions. The one I made for her, and the one I wore.

Here's what you'll need.

  • comb/ hair clip
  • a piece of jewelry, rhinestones, or flowers, beads, etc. (make it your own!).
  •  jewelry wire/ wire cutters/ hot glue gun
  •  feathers

For the bride's version I attached the feathers to the comb by twisting the rhinestones (which were on wire) and wire into the top bar of the comb. I shaped the stones into a sort of wave. You could easily purchase an inexpensive glittery hair ornament from an accessory store like Charming Charlie's or Icing and just add the feathers. I added the "wave" I had made on top of the feathers, using wire to attach it. I pulled some of the stones up and away from the feathers for a slightly 3D effect. Then I trimmed the excess wire and quills, tweaked it a bit and Voila! A fairly close replica of the one the bride wanted.

So of course, given my penchant for feathers you had to know I was going to want one as well. The trick was to make it look very different that the bride's so I went with black over sized dramatic feathers and a piece of vintage jewelry, a clip on earring. Instead of a comb I used a hair clip.


My work in progress...
Wedding Central


I didn't want to break this vintage earring so I actually clipped it onto the hair clip and added glue to hold it in place. I glued the short feathers in place, then attached the more wild ones.

Me: Baby, do you think this is too dramatic?

Bride: You are the mother of the bride! If there's ever a time to be dramatic, this is it!

A bathroom, a bird in my hair. It seems very Hitchcock.
Okay, not like I needed a lot of convincing.

When I see this picture I wonder if I'm not channeling Tippi Hedren. I did get lots of compliments on it though, so I'm sure it won't be the last time I wear it.

Yeah, that's right. You can call me Lola...

Coming up soon: What to do with those leftover feathers.