Sh-t Happens

Sorry to be so graphic, but it’s true.

You’ve all experienced it. You plan and plan and something still goes wrong.

I’ve been watching the Next Food Network Star program on DVR about a week behind and it really hit me that entertaining is a crap shoot. Sometimes things go as planned, and sometimes the universe disconnects your microphone. And I went on the Food Network site to give you a link and found out that my favorite had been eliminated. Shuckey darns.

We can all be Food Stars if we want to be.

The other night we had some people over to celebrate my birthday. It’s part of the ongoing feast that I hope to continue for the next 30 years. I was blessed with gifts of food and drink from friends who contributed from their hearts, and the support of my husband and daughter.

But stuff happens.

After weeks of drought, between 5:00 and 7:00 there were spurts of rain. Why??? Because I planned an outside party. That’s why.

While waiting in the garage for the rain to stop, I tripped over a stack of portable chairs in bags and grabbed the garage door frame, which is lubricated with lithium grease. To get it off, I had to use nail polish remover, ruining my manicure. I had to leave the arriving guests to make repairs.

We had to put all of the tables, linens, flowers, and candles on the patio AFTER the guests had arrived — and the “putting” was done by the guests. The thought fills me with horror — guests aren’t supposed to have to do the work (unless you are a guest at Martha Stewart’s). One guest found my hurricane candles and put them on the tables; another filled the vases with roses. The men pitched in and put up all the tables, and tried valiantly to figure out my plan for the table coverings.

The catered main dish didn’t heat up as quickly as the caterer said it would. So we served more drinks.

Music Man (otherwise know as Saint Tom) dropped the pasta dish in the oven. Thank goodness pasta is indestructible. No real problem.

It’s better to have entertained than not to have tried.

Apparently people were having fun or were well-enough lubricated with beer, sangria and Pimms to be oblivious to the crises happening. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, even the friends who pitched in to make things happen.

I believe in the nobility of entertaining people and I take great, great pride that people are willing to give me two or three hours of their busy lives.
~~~ John Lasseter

I turned on the oven tonight to heat up the leftover Pork Normandy and it smelled like oven cleaner.

All of the oven racks were on the bottom of the oven — a reminder that I slept through the cleanup of the party. Truly, I am married to a saint, and the smell quickly was replaced by the amazing aroma of the Calvados sauce.

I am blessed that people were not only willing to come to my party, but were willing to help.  There’s room in my heart for a few more parties.

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Writing Workshop: My Drink(s) of Choice

Mama Kat asked me today, “How did your love affair with Coffee begin?” That’s a really good question, but ironically, a funny thing happened on the way to being sixty. I forget when I drank my first coffee, but I still remember that I pretty much can’t live without it now.

My husband is partly to blame for my addiction to coffee. We’ve become connoisseurs of the different Starbucks blends — venti, dark, and black is my order. He prefers decaf and I live for the kick of caffeine. We shop carefully for whole beans, always on the lookout for a sale. When we travel, he scouts out the Starbucks locations on his smart phone or maps them out on his computer before we leave. We plan our driving breaks around the visits to Starbucks, knowing they will have good coffee, won’t sneer because we bring in our own reusable mugs, and we can depend on clean bathrooms.

At the Sissinghurst Castle Farmhouse bed and breakfast in England where we stayed during the summer of 2011, we were always served coffee in a sprightly little press pot, so I decided to buy one for Christmas. I searched and searched for a coffee press large enough to satisfy our coffee habit. I wanted to make two fresh mugs for each of us, with one being decaf and the other caf. I hoped the freshly pressed coffee would satisfy our coffee hunger and that we wouldn’t just continue to drink the dregs of the big coffeemaker pot out of habit. That hasn’t worked out so well, as we are still using our big Gevalia coffeemaker and are each still sacrificing for the other — to caf or not to caf is an important question in our thirty-year marriage.

The second part of Mama Kat’s prompt is easier to remember. She continued the question by providing an alternative — “Or Diet Coke or Tea or whatever your beverage of choice might be.” My true beverage of choice is the nectar of the gods, a good wine. I blame it all on moving to California in 1974 and discovering wineries, and my love for wine has progressed from the Boone’s Farm Apple Wine, Mateus, and Lancers of our college days to the fine wines from around the world to which we have access (and can better afford) today.

One of our most recent trips to a winery was in southeast England, where some amazing wine is made. Our host at Sissinghurst Castle Farmhouse is also the CEO of Chapel Downs Winery, and I blogged about our visit here.

The bookends of my day are a strong jolt of joe in the morning and slow sips of liquid terroir in the evening. What’s not to love?

I’m linked up to Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop today. Please stop by and spread some comment love around to my friends.

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Writers’ Workshop: Guilty Pleasures and Hero(ines)

I have guilty secret from my past that I’d really love to reinstate in all its splendor.

Image via


My love of ice skaters and ice shows was probably formulated while watching the 1960 Olympics. Broadcast from Squaw Valley, California, I got to see Carol Heiss win the gold medal for the United States. Although the 1956 Olympics were also broadcast on television, I was too young to remember it, but watching the beauty of Heiss’s freestyle on youtube brings back those warm fuzzy memories.

Growing up, we had two local ice arenas where we could see touring ice show companies. Since we were not rollin’ in the dough, it must have been hard for my parents to come up with five admissions to the ice shows. I know my mother was as enamored of the flashy costumes and choreography as I was; I’m not so sure about the men in our family. Every winter we would create a frozen spot in our backyard and create a skating rink, and when I was a teenager, my girlfriends and I would go skating at the arena in big bad Dayton. Trust me when I say that skating was combined with a lot of boy watching and flirting.

By that time, I was worshipping Peggy Fleming, who won the 1968 Olympic gold in women’s ice skating. Her win was poignant, as she had lost her coach, along with the rest of the American figure skating team, in a plane crash in 1961. After strong American showings in 1952, 1956, and 1960, the devastating loss to the American figure skating program was reflected on the medal platform at the 1964 Olympics. There were no American women in the top three, and David Allen came in third among the men.

The ethereal Peggy Fleming was impossibly beautiful on the ice. I know this video still looks weird, but it’s an old film that has been digitalized —  it’s worth watching to see Fleming’s medal-winning performance.

Between 1960 and 1976, only Fleming won ice skating gold for the United States until Dorothy Hamill charmed both the judges and the audience in Innsbruck, Austria.

Needless to say, I had my hair cut in the Hamill wedge.

Image via

For those of you who grew up in the age of the Nancy Kerrigan versus Tonya Harding debacle or the flinty perfection of Michelle Kwan, it’s probably hard to imagine the innocence of these early ice skating queens. They were charming, polite, ladylike, and for a little girl from a small town, it almost seemed attainable to become a figure skating star if I practiced my jumps in the back yard enough times. I knew nothing, of course, of the pressures of the elite-class skating world.

Somehow, as an adult, I stopped going to ice shows. They were expensive and my kids weren’t really into either the skating or the pageantry. Unlike me and my mom, they weren’t transfixed by the television presentations of the Olympic ice skating events every four years, and they didn’t care who was going to emerge as the reining champions. I will have to admit that now both my daughter and I love Johnny Weir, but that’s because he’s so talented while also being so fabulously out there. He’s coming out of “retirement” to compete again in the 2014 Olympics!

Right now, Disney on Ice is in town and I want to go. I need a beard — a little girl who I can pretend to be taking to see the skating Disney princesses. Miss H___, are you available?

For my grownup friends, I wouldn’t mind going to Peggy Fleming’s winery some time (just in case she was available for an autograph for a fan.)

This post is linked up to Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop. Stop by and give some comment love to other friends.

Paperwhites in a Punch Bowl

Paperwhites. The sign of spring. Who doesn’t want dirt in her punch bowl? It can be washed out and sterilized, after all. When I read  this at the Reluctant Entertainer, I pulled out my dear deceased neighbor’s lead crystal punchbowl and I planted paperwhites in it.

My neighbor is definitely turning over in her grave while her beloved house and garden is dying a slow death because it has been ignored and abandoned by her children and then her mortgage company for almost four years.

The local police tell me that since the house is probably uninhabitable at this point and occupies a large, valuable suburban lot, one day I will come home from school and find it demolished. I’m determined to keep her legacy alive through her treasured belongings and I’ve worked to save them from the bulldozer.

The neighbors and many of my friends have harvested perennials out of her award-winning garden. She had well over 100 varieties of hosta in her backyard. They are living a new life in new gardens and she would have loved that.

My brother and I have two sets of her formal dishes (that NO ONE bought at the sales, so we got permission from her children to take them). I don’t ever need to use paper plates. Combined with my other sets of dishes, I have enough bread and butter plates to serve well over a hundred people for appetizers, and they go into the dishwasher and will be used for many events over my lifetime. This is my concept of living green and then living green again.

Many of her silver platters (that no one bought at multiple estate and garage sales) were purchased by my friend and are proudly displayed throughout her house in their polished glory.

My darling Oksana, who survived a concentration camp along with both her parents and her baby sister, is remembered in my house. The bulbs sprouting new growth in her punchbowl tell us that life goes on — we who survive carry the stories of those who have gone before us.

When I come home this spring, and her house is gone because the economy is picking up and the lender has decided to sell the property, I’ll welcome the new neighbors and tell them about who came before them. And I’m likely to give them something to remember her by.

Saturday Linky Love: Julia Child’s Kitchen — Quelle dommage

I just read that the Smithsonian is dismantling Julia Child’s kitchen and putting it in a larger exhibit where it will be “in context” with other food exhibits.

Image via Richard Strauss/Smithsonian

Image via Richard Strauss/Smithsonian

OMG. I was just thinking about planning a spring break trip to Washington, D.C. in order to put my secret stick of butter in Julia’s kitchen. It’s a good thing I read David Lebovitz’s posts on my Facebook page!

Image via

They say it will be open again “sometime” because the Child kitchen has become a “go-to” exhibit and has attracted visitors far beyond the Smithsonian’s expectations. I was ready to make my pilgrimage, and I’m really disappointed.

I’ve been a Julia disciple for many years, but she really came into focus for me after reading her books and seeing the movie made of Julie Powell’s book. I blogged about my copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking here, made a recipe from the cookbook and blogged about it here, and commented on the book and the movie on my previous blog. I’ve excerpted my comments for you here.

Having recently finished reading My Year in France by Julia Child and viewing Julie and Julia, I can’t help recalling the scenes in both the book and the movie where Child gathers in a group of people and creates a family wherever she lives. She lost her mother early, her relationship with her own father and stepmother was strained and it appears that she was disappointed to remain childless, but she made up for this sadness in her life by being a catalyst who drew disparate people together.

Not surprisingly, her lasting friendships appear to have revolved around food and travel. The Valentine’s Day scene in Julie and Julia in Paul and Julia’s French dining room is poignant and felt very meaningful to me as it triggered memories of the wonderful meals I have shared with family and friends in 2009. Even when I went to the movie web site and watched the trailer, I was reminded of incredible meals from the movie and from my own life.

After reading both books and bookending the books with viewings of the movie, I heartily recommend that you do all three. The movie is good enough to stand on its own, but your enjoyment and understanding of the characters involved will be deepened by reading the books.

When I wrote this post in 2009, I had not yet been to France. This summer, we will go back to Paris for a return trip. I’m going to do some more research about Julia’s life in France and perhaps will be able to perform this year’s visit to the Julia shrines in France rather than the United States. Let me know if you have any good ideas!

6 Days of Christmas 2011: More Easy Decorating

If you’ve been reading my blog for any period of time, you know that darling husband and I are struggling with a plethora of “things” in our house, and that includes Christmas things. We also have lots of extra furniture that has been handed down over the years or furniture that we have replaced with something better or more appropriately sized for our small empty nester house. It was surprising, therefore, when we both agreed that we needed something exactly right for our vestibule where we set up our bar for parties.

At my local Korean resale shop, I found the perfect piece that we could both agree on. It’s not very old, but it has an antique slash Asian feel that both blends with our oak trim and contrasts with our French antiques. It’s the right size for our tiny foyer and holds a lot of bar stuff behind its doors.

When I look at this photo, it reminds me why it’s hard to get rid of “things” in my house. Starting from the bottom:

  • The Chinese silk runner was brought back from China by my niece, Vanderbilt Wife. How could I possibly get rid of that?
  • The silver tray is part of the silver tea service that I inherited from my grandmother. No question there.
  • The crystal ice bucket belonged to my beloved mother-in-law. Nope.
  • The Ralph Lauren champagne glasses were also given to us by my husband’s mother. We broke one the first time they were used, and I only pull them out for very special and small parties. They don’t take up very much room, so… no again.
  • The silver creamer came from the estate sale of my next door neighbor. No one wanted her silver, so I scooped it up. I’m not giving that up.

  • The wine charms were hand-made by my friend and me. We went to the bead store and picked up symbols for all of our friends and made personalized charms. You can see my saxophone and my husband’s bass guitar are among the mementos appearing on our wine charms. I’m not giving up those either.

  • The wine candelabra was a gift from my nephew’s girlfriend last year. I decided that it was scary to have open candles on the bar, so I went to Hobby Lobby and bought ruby shades for them. I’m not giving the candelabra up either.

  •  I saved the Rock Star Red bottle just because it was funny; the wine was a gift from my sister-in-law in Seattle and was fabulous.

My goal for 2012 is to learn how to style and photograph better for my blog. I tried to use some fancier settings with this post, but generally don’t see much difference than what I usually do. What I DO see, however, is that my rug is bunched up and my runner is still wrinkled even though I ironed it. And what’s with the bush on my mirror? It looked better in my head.

The point of today’s post is that it’s not difficult to create a beautiful Christmas tradition (and all-year round) with the stuff you already have. In my case, the memories that go with this stuff are more important than my need to simplify my life. Actually, once I got this all together, it was easy to set up the tableau and I’m pretty excited to start hosting some parties!

Where were we last year at this time? Remodeling. My living and dining room are packed with Christmas boxes right now, but come tomorrow, my rooms will be decorated and ready to use. Unlike last year, when we set off for Seattle with nothing decorated and everything a remodeling mess, we will have a lovely Christmas right here in our home.

An Ode to the Camisole

I have discovered the beauty of the camisole. Perhaps to some of you, that’s old news, but I am a latecomer to this particular fashion trend. It’s probably on its way out now; that’s usually the case when I finally latch onto something even remotely trendy.

I’m a teacher. I must not display the contents of my shelf in public, especially as the aforementioned shelf is beginning to get that old-lady, finely wrinkled skin look. Yuck. Yet many of the cute shirts I buy have a “deep V” to elongate my short torso, per my instructions from Clinton and Stacey. Deep V equals cleavage display. It was a conundrum until my breakthrough discovery.

The longer camisoles that are currently popular allowed the miracle of the camisole to continue in another way. Not only does this handy little stretch garment cover up inappropriate display of the girls, it also manages to bridge the gap between my shirts and that awkward bump of fat that I still have twenty-five years after my second Cesarean section. Even in a relatively slim trouser or jean, the camisole helps to hide that nasty line of demarcation. I could kick myself for spending hours and hours searching for the right-fitting trousers when all I needed was a six-dollar camisole on sale at Lane Bryant.

Photo via

So, my friends, if you haven’t gotten on this particular bandwagon, run to the store to buy some of these fashion lifesavers. The horizontal lace-trimmed ones provide more girl-coverage, but the V-neck lace camisoles are pretty nice, too. Surprisingly, for a person who is on the flip side of youth and sometimes gets those awkward flashes of heat, the added layer of the camisole doesn’t seem to make me hotter.

Or maybe knowing that I have that little sexy thang on under my staid teacher shirt makes me hot after all. Either way, it’s still a miracle.

P.S. Thanks for hanging in there with me. It’s been a dry spot for writing, but I’ve returned from my spring vacation full of new ideas that hopefully will transfer into something worth reading!

P.P.S. Don’t tell anyone that I bought eight new camisoles. It seems a little obsessive, but I couldn’t resist all those pretty colors.

Things I Love: The Small Blessings in Life

This Valentine’s Day, I’m finding myself thinking of the things I love that aren’t quite so obvious as my beloved husband and my own dear adult kids.

I love these kids. No, they aren’t my grandchildren; they’re the children of my dear friends. Even on a very bad day, they can beguile me out of my crabbiness.

And then there’s other spiffiness, like the new hand dryers we got at school in the student bathrooms. Last fall, the bathrooms were all remodeled and made accessible, but “somebody” bought stupid cheap hand dryers that didn’t do their job. As we have been having very cold, snowy weather this winter, it was discouraging to leave the bathroom with wet hands. On Monday when we returned to work, it was a thrill — albeit cheap — to watch my skin crawl as these powerful dryers did their work.

So, on this Valentine’s Day, I admit to being in love with these kids and dry hands. It could be worse…

Things I Love: An Ode to Flip-Flops

In my inner movie, my memories of France will be forever punctuated by a very special sound. The roar of motorbikes as they sped between lanes of traffic? The tinkle of glasses and silverware floating out of upper-floor open windows in the sultry July summer? The sound of street and subway musicians pouring their souls out on their instruments? Yes, to all of those. But the sound I will most remember is the flap, flap, flap of my trusty flip-flops as I trudged up and down the Metro staircases and sauntered along hallways in museums. You could almost call it a comfort sound, like the lullaby your mother sings or the feeling you get when hearing a favorite hymn.

And comfortable it was. At the last minute before we left on the trip, I decided to purchase a pair of bejeweled thick-soled flip-flops to use as an antidote to the sturdy shoes I planned to wear during days of sightseeing. As it turned out, that last-minute decision was a life saver.

I wore the flip-flops at Versailles after we got drenched in the rain outside the Petit Trianon.

I wore the flip-flops in the evenings on the cruise ship after my feet and ankles swelled from all the salt in those delectable sauces.

I even wore them the last day in Paris, when that tender place between my toes was broken in and the soft foam sole was all that I could handle after twelve days of sightseeing.

I didn’t take any photos of people’s feet in Paris, but if I had, you would see thousands of flip-flops. All sizes, shapes, and styles, and they weren’t all on tacky American feet. The French wear flip-flops, too, but they are likely to be trendy Havaianas.

NRB gave me “that look” when I suggested we bring home Paris flip-flops as souvenirs, but really, isn’t a good flip-flop the ultimate in thoughtful gift-giving?

Losing It: Week 7

I’m going out on a limb here and say that I don’t think most of us lost much weight this week. I’m not ashamed of my week, however. It was one of the best food weeks of my life. And, to prove my point about how difficult it is for me to lose weight, I didn’t lose or gain any weight. I’m exactly the same today as I was last Friday, even after a week of celebrating. Perhaps I celebrated more carefully because I’m more aware of what I put in my mouth because I know I’m going to be held publicly accountable.

Let’s get real. I enjoyed every minute of it, and I didn’t think much about the consequences.

First of all, we went to a friend’s 60th birthday party on Saturday night. She is from England originally,  so her daughter ordered her favorite Indian food from a local restaurant, Himalayan. It’s hard to find a pretty photo of lamb curry because it just kind of looks like red stew, but here’s a recipe for it if you want to try it at home. For those not quite as adventurous in your cooking, go to Trader Joe’s, buy a bottle of curry sauce and put it in with the lamb.

We had a lot of fun at the party, what with the sixties costumes and the love beads and the dancing — it was really hard to imagine that we would be getting up at the crack of dawn on Sunday morning to go to church. But we did; we had inspirational music,  my husband’s brass ensemble played well, and then it was time for another restaurant.

You would never know from the outside that the food at Retro Bistro is so amazing. It’s in a strip mall in a Chicago suburb.

We had the special prix fixe Easter menu which included lamb chops. I have had other items on their regular menu; the crab and shrimp cakes are to die for. This time, instead of dessert, I topped my Easter meal off with escargot in a puff pastry hat. This photo isn’t exactly what I had at the restaurant; Retro Bistro had dishes with little depressions in them for the escargot to lay in the lovely butter and garlic. I got this picture from a blogger that I ran across and will follow from now on. Great recipes! Thanks, Thibeault’s Table.

After two days of eating and having too much fun, I came back to the house, camped out in my chair, and watched three movies on cable! It was a luxury knowing that I did not have to go to work on Easter Monday.

On Monday night, we had Book Club where were served Italian beef and a chopped salad from Buono (the restaurant formerly known as Buono Beef). It was also very good and hit the spot after all the rich food of the last two days. I found this photo of a classic Chicago Italian beef sandwich at Amazing, another blogger who reviewed various Chicago purveyors of Italian beef. Buono didn’t win his taste testing, but it sure was good when we ate it Monday night!

We discussed Winterdance, by Gary Paulsen, which I will review on another post. Good food, good conversation, good friends. What else do you need in life?

And then, unbelievably, we went out AGAIN (and on a school night) on Wednesday night. I drove into Chicago at rush hour in the rain (90 minutes) and met up with my sister-in-law who is in for a convention. We had a family dinner with our daughter and other friends from Washington state and Washington, D.C. at Carnavale.

I have been wanting to go to this restaurant, which specializes in Nuevo Latino cuisine, for quite a while, but was afraid we would be clearly suburbanites coming into the big, bad city for a thrill and treated poorly.  That was not the case at all; we had fabulous service and the atmosphere was very welcoming for a mixed group of ages.

We had a cheese flight, with five good size cheese servings, and a ceviche flight of five seafood offerings. They were both outstanding and unique.

Then we shared a lamb chop on polenta special, Mama Mendez’ Arroz Con Mariscos with Sofrito rice, shrimp, mussels, clams, squid, chorizo, peas, chicken, lobster broth, and the daily fish special. All were fabulous! Yelp’s reviews of this restaurant are not all positive, but our experience was excellent.

I didn’t title this  “Things I Love” originally, but after reading this hymn to restaurants, the post probably doesn’t belong in the “Losing It” category either. If you’re in Chicago, try these places out. You won’t be disappointed.

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