Archive for December, 2008

Merry Christmas! (from Coldplay and me :) )

December 24, 2008

Top 5 Tuesday

December 23, 2008

I thought I’d go a different direction for Top 5 Tuesday this week, just in an effort to show to my loyal (2-3) readers that I’m not one-dimensional, and I actually do have interests beyond television, Rachael Ray, and the Twilight saga. Oops, I did it again! Wrote about Twilight in yet another post!

This week’s list is devoted to my favorite childhood picture books. I was fortunate and blessed to grow up with a librarian mother who loves books and a father who loves to read them. From a very young age, I was absolutely surrounded with books, and truth be told, I found them more interesting than any toy or game. I had a trusty Fisher-Price tape player, and my first experiences with Disney movies were the books-on-tape versions-I’m still a little frightened of Sleeping Beauty‘s Maleficent and the terrifying hunter from The Fox and the Hound! Nothing could be better for preparation for reading than being immersed in books, and my parents did a great job by ensuring they were a crucial element in my childhood. I still have many of my favorites, and I’ve often used them in school or even just to reread for a trip down memory lane. I can’t wait for the day I’m able to read them to my own children. Now, with no further adieu, I present my (very respectable and noteworthy) list of favorite picture books.

5. Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmans. Now this particular title is probably on many best-loved children’s books list, so I know it’s not that unique. It’s a really simple, unforgettable story, however. Who can forget the twelve little girls waking up in the night to poor Madeline’s appendicitis? On one of my first visits to New York City, I used my copy of City Secrets to find Bemelman’s Bar at the Carlyle Hotel, where there are murals painted by Bemelmans encircling the dark wooded seats. It brought my memories of reading Madeline back in a flash.

4. Blueberries for Sal, by Robert McCloskey. My mother might be surprised to see this classic on my list, because I don’t think we even owned a copy at home. What I do vividly remember is reading this book at my grandmother’s house. She had an old, faded copy (even when I was little), and I can remember wishing that the blueberries on the pages were really bright blue. I can almost hear the clinking they made in Sal’s pail.

3. A Baby Sister for Frances, by Russell and Lillian Hoban. At some point in the future, I should probably make a Top 5 list of what I’ve learned from Frances. She is an incorrigible badger, with an amazing mother, who is able to gently and subtly teach her the way to be. I had a great tape of a collection of Frances stories, read by Glynis Johns, and we all listened to them over and over. I was thrilled to find a CD version, although I still have my original, well-worn cassette tape. All of the Frances books are wonderful, but this one, which touches upon sibling rivalry and the jealousy felt when a new baby comes along, is both touching and funny. “Things are not very good around here anymore…”

2. Patrick Eats His Dinner, by Geoffrey Hayes. Of all the books read to me as a child, this series stands out more than any others. Patrick Brown is a precocious little bear, always getting into scrapes and attempting to bend his mother’s will. There’s precious little dialogue on each page, but my dad really made it count when he read these stories to me. In this particular one, Patrick is forced to eat peas for dinner, much to his digust, before he is able to eat dessert. He sings a little song to himself as he mashes ketchup, honey, and various other condiments in the peas to hide the taste, and my dad came up with his very own tune. Even now, I can sing “Little green balls of mushy poison, little green balls of mushy poison…” and my dad will smile and remember. If you’ll notice, I had to take a photo of the book, because it is out of print and I wasn’t able to find a single image online. Two of the other Patrick books I own are fetching upwards of $250 from used booksellers, but you won’t ever see me letting them go!

1. Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf. I don’t think my mother would be surprised with my number 1 choice-it was her favorite, I think, to read to me when I was little. Ferdinand is a young bull in Spain, raised by a loving mother, and sadly, eventually destined to bull-fighting. All he really wants to do, however, is sit and smell the flowers. Another book with not much dialogue, it’s really very good for reading to a young child. The black and white pictures of Ferdinand sitting alone in the huge fighting ring, taking in the scent of the flowers bedecking the ladies’ hair, are really wonderful. It is a sweet, special book, one that I would recommend to anyone to page through, young or old.

I’m not sure how frequently I’ll be able to blog during the holiday, but I’m sure that will be true of most of us terribly distracted by our blogs. I’m just going to enjoy taking in all of the things that I love about Christmas, the food, the family, the relaxing… I am trying to develop a list of New Year’s resolutions in my mind-don’t think I’ll write a Top 5 on those! One of the main things I want to work on is reading more-I’m so easily distracted at home, and I would like to set aside some time every day just to read for pleasure. It would be nice if I could write critically and analytically sometimes on my blog about what I’ve read!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

On Chesil Beach

December 23, 2008

I’ve been reading a few pages of On Chesil Beach tonight, a novella by Ian McEwan that I have come to cherish. My beloved sister-in-law recommended it, championing its tragic beauty and insisting that I would certainly appreciate it. I’d read Atonement, so I was familiar with Ian McEwan, and there is nothing nicer than reading something that a family member or friend was impressed or touched by. Not the most uplifting story, in fact, On Chesil Beach is downright depressing. It’s the briefest of stories, essentially describing the first evening spent between a newly married couple and its shocking, sudden end. I almost feel silly writing a brief synopsis, because there really aren’t appropriate words to adequately express the aching poignancy that pervades the novella. It makes my heart hurt. I’m going to include several passages, some that are quite long, but I just couldn’t eliminate any of them.

The first passage is the one that nestled in my mind immediately, and even when I haven’t picked up the book in a while, I remember it with amazing clarity. It’s such a lovely depiction of innocent first love, that time in the earliest days of a new and exciting romance when you’re not quite sure what the other is thinking. You only know that your mind is completely absorbed and enamored by them, and that you can’t quite reveal all of yourself yet.

…he found Florence waiting for him in the shadow of the pavilion. She knew his hours, and had taken an early train and walked from Henley toward the Stonor Valley, with a one-inch-to-the-mile map in her hand and a couple of oranges in a canvas satchel. For half an hour she had been watching him as he marked out the far boundary. Loving him from a distance, she said when they kissed. This was one of the exquisite moments of their early love, when they went slowly, arm in arm, back up the glorious avenue, walking in the center of the lane to take full possession. Now that it was inevitable, the prospect of her encounter with his mother and the cottage no longer seemed important. The shadows the lime trees cast were so deep they appeared bluish black in the brilliant light, and the heath was thick with fresh grasses and wildflowers. He showed off his knowledge of their country names and even found, by luck, by the roadside, a clump of Chiltern gentians. They picked just one. They saw a yellow jackhammer, a green finch, and then a sparrowhawk flashed by, cutting a narrow angle around a blackthorn tree. She did not know the names even of common birds like these, but she said she was determined to learn. She was exultant from the beauty of her walk and the clever route she had chosen, leaving the Stonor Valley to go along the narrow farm track into lonely Bix Bottom, past the ruined ivy-covered church of St. James, up the wooded slopes to the common at Maidensgrove, where she discovered an immense expanse of wildflowers, then through the beech woods to Pishill Bank, where a little brick-and-flint church and its churchyard were poised so beautifully on the side of the hill. As she described each place-and he knew them all so well-he imagined her there, on her own, walking toward him for hours, stopping only to frown at her map. All for him. What a gift! And he had never seen her so happy, or so pretty. She had tied back her hair with a scrap of black velvet, she wore black jeans and plimsolls, and a white shirt, through a buttonhole of which she had threaded a rakish dandelion. As they walked toward the cottage she kept tugging on his grass-stained arm for another kiss, though of the lightest sort, and for once he happily, or at least calmly, accepted that they would go no further. After she peeled her remaining orange for them to share along the way, her hand was sticky in his. They were innocently thrilled by her clever surprise, and their lives seemed hilarious and free, and the whole weekend lay before them.

The next few passages are small, just little bits that immediately resonated with me during my first reading.

He drew her closer, until their noses were almost touching and their faces went dark. He said, ‘So did you think then it was love at first sight?’ His tone was lighthearted and mocking, but she decided to take him seriously. The anxieties she would face were still far off, though occasionally she wondered what it was she was heading toward. A month ago they had told each other they were in love, and that was both a thrill and afterward, for her, a cause of one night of half waking, of vague dread that she had been impetuous and let go of something important, given something away that was not really hers to give. But it was too interesting, too new, too flattering, too deeply comforting to resist, it was a liberation to be in love and say so, and she could only let herself go deeper.

It is shaming sometimes, how the body will not, or cannot, lie about emotion. Who, for decorum’s sake, has ever slowed his heart, or muted a blush?

When the reader is given the history of Edward, the earnest groom, we learn of the tragic event that befell his mother. The passage describing her accident is a perfect example of the expertise of the writer.

There is a certain kind of confident traveler who likes to open the carriage door just before the train has stopped in order to step out into the platform with a little running skip. Perhaps by leaving the train before its journey has ended, he asserts his independence-he is no passive lump of freight. Perhaps he invigorates a memory of youthfulness, or is simply in such a hurry that every second matters. The train braked, possibly a little harder than usual, and the door swung out from this traveler’s grasp. The heavy metal edge struck Marjorie Mayhew’s forehead with sufficient force to fracture her skull and dislocate in an instant her personality, intelligence, and memory. Her coma lasted just under a week. The traveler, described by eyewitnesses as a distinguished-looking City gent in his sixties, with bowler, rolled umbrella and newspaper, scuttled away from the scene-the young woman, pregnant with twins, sprawled on the ground among a few scattered toys-and disappeared forever into the streets of Wycombe, with all his guilt intact, or so Lionel said he hoped.

“…with all his guilt intact.”-Those words, and that passage, while very well written, cause me to cringe and twist with sadness.

Finally, the last lines of the novella…I’m not going to write the entire last page, because I would hope anyone who reads my post who hasn’t read the book might be tempted to read it. Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t make perfectly clear that the story is about two conflicted characters who each have burdens to bear. In other words, they have issues! Particularly Florence! While that fact hangs over the novella like a thick grey cloud, I want to illuminate the beautifully written passages, which certain apply to life and love, no matter the context.

Even in his sixties, a large, stout man with receding white hair and a pink, healthy face, he kept up the long hikes. His daily walk still took in the avenue of limes, and in good weather he would take a circular route to look at the wildflowers on the common at Maidensgrove or the butterflies in the nature reserve in Bix Bottom, returning through the beech woods to Pishill church, where, he thought, he too would one day be buried. Occasionally, he would come to a forking of the paths deep in a beech wood and idly think that this was where she must have paused to consult her map that morning in August, and he would imagine her vividly, only a few feet and forty years away, intent on finding him. Or he would pause by a view over the Stoner Valley and wonder whether this was where she stopped to eat her orange. At last he could admit to himself that he had never met anyone he loved as much, that he had never found anyone, man or woman, who matched her seriousness. Perhaps if he had stayed with her, he would have been more focused and ambitious about his own life, he might have written those history books. It was not his kind of thing at all, but he knew that the Ennismore Quartet was eminent, and was still a revered feather of the classical music scene. He would never attend the concerts, or buy, or even look at, the boxed sets of Beethoven or Schubert. He did not want to see her photograph and discover what the years had wrought, or hear about the details of her life. He preferred to preserve her as she was in his memories, with the dandelion in her buttonhole and the piece of velvet in her hair, the canvas bag across her shoulder, and the beautiful strong-boned face with its wide and artless smile. When he thought of her, it rather amazed him, that he had let that girl with her violin go. Now, of course, he saw that her self-effacing proposal was quite irrelevant. All she had needed was the certainty of his love, and his reassurance that there was no hurry when a lifetime lay ahead of them. Love and patience-if only he had had them both at once-would surely have seen them both through.

Those words are hard to follow, so I won’t even try..

Winter in California

December 20, 2008

Apparently, it rains for a great deal of the winter here in Northern California, as you can see from my front window. It hasn’t been entirely unpleasant, as I’ve always enjoyed the rain. We’re really beginning to figure out what to expect during the winter. There are some crisp, chilly days, but it hasn’t really gotten frigid outside, and on the days it’s not raining, the sun is bright and cheerful, and temperatures are moderate. I was very surprised when I was in Texas for a wedding two weeks ago, and was thoroughly chilled the entire time I was there. California is just not as seasonal, I suppose. We do have the lovely advantage of red and gold leaves showering down from the trees, but the lawns and citrus remain fresh and green. At least, they have stayed that way so far. We’re not far from the mountains, however, and just last week they were coated with a light smattering of snow. You can just glimpse them here, in the following picture, which I snapped whilst driving. I DID pull over to take it, thank you very much.

It’s really quite beautiful to be able to see snow-covered mountains on your drive home from work. Yes, technically, it’s my drive home from taking my husband to work, but it still counts! I stopped to take the picture barely a block from our house, and I can’t help but feel very blessed to be able to live in such a beautiful place.

I discovered that one of the wonderful advantages of living in California at Christmas-time are the AMAZING Christmas trees! Now, my husband and I are very traditional when it comes to Christmas trees, and we’ve made it a point to buy a REAL, fragrant, green tree every year since we’ve been married, in spite of the ridiculous cost. I was worried about that factor especially this year, so I thought I might have to go with a small, bush of a tree from Home Depot, rather than head out to a local farm. I was all prepared to pick it out, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that the selection of trees at Home Depot was WONDERFUL-huge trees with bright green, springy needles that I could practically smell from the parking lot as I walked up. The best part? The price was beyond reasonable-I paid $25 for a 6’6″ tree, and it is by far the nicest tree we’ve ever had. Apparently, the trees came from Oregon, but I know the California trees must be just as lovely. It is rather sparsely decorated, but I’m rather happy with the way we’ve gradually accumulated ornaments each year, instead of spending lots of money to have a tree with a theme, or a tree covered in ornaments. Yes, that would be our Duke Blue Devil in the center of the tree-he kind of stands out. GO DUKE!

Hope everyone is having fun, and not stressing out, during these last few days before Christmas.

"You don’t win with a deviled egg!"

December 19, 2008

Welcome to the “Christmas in July” edition of Top Chef! It has been glaringly obvious throughout the season that the chefs have been cooking during a long, hot New York summer. It’s not just the perennial sunburned faces that gives it away, but the light clothing and the gloriously sunny days that we’re always witnessing from the balcony of the fancy apartment. Also things like Stefan and Fabio, who are apparently now BFF’s, carving a huge watermelon in the apartment kitchen. I’m hoping that the party for the elimination challenge was a special “Christmas in July” party ALREADY, and not specifically thrown that way for Top Chef’s benefit.

This week, we were treated to a jazzy little intro, with Ariane cheerfully making her bed, confidence totally in place, and Eugene carefully studying his notes, absolutely sure he’d be gone if he landed on the bottom again. I knew the producers were up to their old editing tricks, and either Ariane or Eugene would be facing the proverbial music-I hoped Eugene would be able to stay.

We learned, through a typical reality show product placement (the T-Mobile Sidekick this time), that Hosea’s father is sick. He called his sister to check up on the family. He seems genuine, saying that even though it’s hard to be away, that his father knew this was a big opportunity for him. I don’t think he’s selfish. Not sweet Hosea.

The chefs trooped into a Top Chef kitchen bedecked with wreaths, garlands, ribbons, and all sorts of Christmas greenery. A table was laid with all kinds of Christmas food. Padma was there waiting, ever-present mischievous smile on her face, because she knows it’s JULY, not December, ready to spring a HUGE guest judge and rather enjoyable quickfire on the contestants. She informs them about their task first: create a delicious holiday meal using only one pot. I’m thinking, “This is a great challenge! One for the normal, everyday, non-professional folk who watch this show from the comfort of their own couch!” Radhika is thinking “Crap! I use AT LEAST 10 cooking “vessels” to cook curries, chutneys, dal, and various regional Indian cuisines usually!” That’s not exactly what she said, but the 10 vessels part is verbatim. She’s definitely stressed. The rest of the chefs look nonplussed. Until, that is, the guest judge makes her appearance. It’s Martha Stewart, formerly convicted of a white collar crime, traipsing into the Top Chef kitchen all smiley with her brand new book in hand! An American icon, she is, despite a rather tarnished crown. The chefs all look at her with rapt eyes and focused attention. It’s as if Steve Jobs walked into a room full of computer nerds. Or if Mike Krzyzewski stopped by a weekly meeting of high school basketball coaches. Actually, what is probably the most accurate comparable reaction would be what might happen if Robert Pattinson visited a PTA meeting full of Twilight moms. I’ve never seen such reverence from Top Chef contestants, and there have been some very well-respected guest judges. They were borderline ridiculous, nodding emphatically at Martha’s every word. Lest you think I’m being too hard on them, I should say that I can understand the kneejerk celebrity reaction to simply gawk and act nonsensical. It’s what I did, after all, when I ran into the Duke basketball players on campus. And really, they were MINOR compared to some of the stars I’ve sighted.

The chefs got right to work on their one pot wonders, although I had serious doubts at MANY of the final products actually being considered one pot dishes. Ariane made a cauliflower puree, with filet mignon! Sorry, that is NOT a one pot dish! Jamie, on the other hand, immediately started to work on a delicious-sounding potato-kale stew. I forgive her for topping it with a seared scallop, because I know she can make a great stew, and she’s right in her self-assessment. She is innovative and modern, compared to Ariane’s consistent and more familiar dishes. Obviously, Ariane is much better than she led us to believe in the beginning, but that could also be because the rest of the chefs are either making entirely too risky dishes that have failed OR simply haven’t made anything fabulous and unique.

I’m worried about Hosea and his paella, and Dr. Chase’s potato risotto sounds strange. Fabio shared a colorful story about his childhood-apparently he was very bad, and “In order to make me don’t destroy the house, she (his grandma) would make me stir the polenta for hour.”- and had Stefan taste his polenta. They are the “dynamic duo”, now. Personally, they had both better step up, because they have NOT impressed me over the past few episodes.

Martha liked many of the dishes, including Stefan’s celtic goulash. What made it Celtic, I wonder? Hosea’s paella turned out to be great, and Ariane hit a homerun with her creamy, non-buttery puree. No dish was terrible except for Dr. Chase.’s risotto. Eugene’s broth was an issue. Fabio’s polenta was grayish, and Martha couldn’t see the mushrooms. “Martha,my grandma would be so ashamed of you you would not believe it!” It was close, but Martha was most amazed by Ariane’s trickery at eliminating the butter from the puree, and granted her immunity. So Ariane won. Again. I do feel sorry for Jamie, because I think she is much more talented than the majority of the other chefs, and it would be nice if she could finally be officially recognized for that skill. She just needs to learn how to not incorporate butter in cauliflower purees. Then she’ll be A-ok.

Now, all of the chefs were clueless about what the elimination challenge would be, so to help with the confusion, Padma brought in the…what? Is that the Harlem Gospel Choir in the Top Chef kitchen? What are THEY doing here? Oh, it’s so obvious. The chefs will be catering for a holiday party for AMFAR, the American Foundation for AIDS research, full of fundraisers, famous actresses, various advocates, and extremely picky chefs. Thank goodness for the Harlem Gospel Choir. Gosh, those chefs would NEVER have figured out their challenge without them. And they certainly wouldn’t have been inspired to make a dish based on the 12 days of Christmas had it not been for that joyful singing.

Yes, the chefs drew knives to determine which day of Christmas they would have to use to create a dish for the event. It’s an extremely daunting challenge. Everyone is pretty freaked out. I would be too. How the heck do you make 9 ladies dancing into a dish for freaking 300 people? Ariane is THRILLED to sing out six geese a laying. Maybe that is because she has IMMUNITY!

The chefs were obviously in the Christmas spirit when attacking the produce aisles of Whole Foods. They were exceedingly polite to the staff, so much so that it made me wonder if there had been some problem with their behavior before which needed to be addressed. I patted myself on the back for calling that Dr. Chase would try to use frog legs for “10 lords a leaping.” Fabio lamented that once again, he pick the crappy theme. He decides to use crab legs for his dancing ladies.

The prep time is predictably crazy, especially when factoring in the late hour (the chefs were still in the kitchen at 2 am!) and the prodigious amount of smoke arising from Hosea’s pork. Catering challenges are usually very stressful on the show, and understandably so. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to make sure you’ve done absolutely everything in advance that you can, but still making sure that you didn’t cook something too early, so it won’t taste good the next day. I’m not sure what to think about Dr. Chase-he’s determined that Tom and Padma see him thinking out of the box and racing around the kitchen. That is not always a good thing, Dr. Eugene seems very sure about his dish, because he has made it successfully before. Tahitian-style ceviche sounds good to me! Ariane’s deviled eggs, Fabio’s crab cakes, and Hosea’s grilled pork tenderloin with mashed potatoes do indeed seem rather simple, as Dr. Chase notes. We’ll see what Tom thinks.

Tragedy strikes in the morning, as the chefs discover that one of the refrigerators wasn’t closed properly. Hosea and Radhika were the most affected, as their duck and pork is now completely unsafe for serving. They were distraught, of course. However, they have their competitors in their corners, and all of the chefs banded together, scouring the Top Chef stock to find additional protein and doing everything they could to help fix the dishes. It was really very sweet, and even though I occasionally doubt the talent of this crop of chefs, I have to admit that no other season has showcased such generous and considerate qualities in them. I was touched. Christmas spirit was present.

The event was relatively calm, even though I’m sure the chefs were in a constant state of panic, getting 300 plates ready. Natasha Richardson was the host; she is absolutely lovely. Jamie, surprisingly, absolutely bombed. Her scallop was “raw” AND “dry”-how is that possible? It must have been bad. Fabio’s crab cake was greasy. Melissa’s gorgonzola drowned out the flavor of her meat. Hosea was the most popular, with the judges AND the ladies. However, no one was truly wowed, and across the board, the dishes were mediocre.

It became immediately evident at judge’s table that this challenge was a colossal disappointment to Tom. He looked apathetic and slightly sour while speaking with Hosea, Jeff, Radhika, and Stefan, who all made successful dishes, at least according to the crowd’s opinion. While Padma was fairly cheerful with the winning group, she had a steely glare fixed on her face the moment the losing chefs walked in. Eugene, Melissa, and Jamie stumbled through less-than-satisfactory explanations about their less-than-stellar dishes, and then the judges struggled to come to a good decision.

Finally, Tom decided that he needed to let all of the chefs know how he felt about the challenge, including the winners. He had some very justifiable zingers: “You don’t win with a deviled egg! Do the food that got you here!” We were treated to some heretofore uncharacteristic attitude from Leah, and Tom promptly put her in her place. Essentially, he let the chefs know that they needed to relax, be comfortable, and cook what they know. Very generously, he decided that no one would go home-all of our chefs will be fighting it out for at least one more week! Thank goodness-it would’ve been sad to see either Eugene or Jamie go. I’m not Jamie’s number one fan, but she IS a good chef. Prove it to us, Jamie!

Turkey Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie-Hmmmm….it’s Good!

December 18, 2008

Tonight my dinner was so delicious and satisfying that I immediately had the urge to blog about it! Now, certain beloved family members who do not love sweet potatoes might want to skip over this post. I’ll understand 🙂

However, anyone who has any affection for sweet potatoes, comfort food, turkey, or even casseroles would do themselves a favor by making this dish, pronto! The recipe, not surprisingly, is from Rachael Ray. I’ve actually made it once before, with equally good results. Essentially, it’s a basic shepherd’s pie, only made with ground turkey (it’s from a Thanksgiving-themed menu in RR’s newest cookbook) and covered with a layer of mashed sweet potatoes instead of the usual mashed potatoes. The turkey mixture is chock full of vegetables, bright green peas, crisp celery, and grated carrot and onion, and the healthy factor only increases with the creamy sweet potatoes (well, they may be creamy due to the presence of a large pat of butter conveniently mixed in). An unusual, but absolutely perfect element of the dish is a ripe banana mashed with the potatoes. I know it sounds weird, but it REALLY adds to the flavor. The pie is topped with a layer of sharp cheddar and browned for a few moments in the oven.

On a cold, wintry evening, this dish was exactly what we needed. It’s warm, comforting, and has the added bonus of not leaving you with that loathed too-full feeling. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s an easy weeknight dinner-grating the vegetables is time-consuming. If you have a decent hour or so of free time, though, this is an excellent dinner! Now, my pictures really don’t do it justice, but it’s not exactly photogenic food, as you can imagine. Notice my Christmas dish towel-one of my favorite things to do in various holiday seasons is take advantage of Target and all its perfection and buy holiday dish towels. Once you’ve torn your eyes away from the mess of the kitchen, you might also be able to spy my adorable vintage-y kitchen timer, a very appropriate birthday gift from my sister-in-law.

Before I copy the recipe, I could not help but include my first introduction to shepherd’s pie.

Yes, it was Rachel’s attempt at cooking a Thanksgiving dessert, which I have watched and laughed at literally hundreds of times, that first piqued my curiosity in shepherd’s pie. You gotta take a bite with all the layers!

Here’s the recipe:
(I made a few comments)

2 tablespoons EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil, as if anyone doesn’t know what that means)
2 pounds ground turkey (or chopped leftover turkey)
salt and pepper
2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
2 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 onion, peeled
2 carrots, peeled
4 celery stalks from the heart, chopped
4 tablespoons (half stick) butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups turkey or chicken stock
a few dashes Worcestershire sauce
1 (10-ounce) box frozen peas
1 very ripe banana, sliced
a few dashes hot sauce
2 cups shredded sharp yellow cheddar cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
2. In a deep ovenproof skillet or a Dutch oven, heat the EVOO over high heat. Add the turkey and break it up with a wooden spoon; season with salt and pepper and the poultry seasoning.
3. Place the sweet potatoes in a pot with water to cover. Cover the pot, bring to a boil, then salt the water and cook the potatoes for 15 minutes, or until tender.
4. Grate the onion and carrots directly into the skillet with the turkey. (I actually chopped just half an onion, because my box grater has yet to turn up and I’ve just been using a Microplane-way too tedious, and small, for an onion!) Add the celery, stir, and cook for 5 minutes. While the vegetables are cooking, heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a small pot over medium heat. Add the flour to the melted butter and whisk for 1 minute, then whisk in the stock and season with salt, pepper, and Worcestershire. Cook for a few minutes, until thickened then add to the turkey mixture. Stir in the peas into the turkey mixture and turn off the heat.
5. Drain the potatoes and return the hot pot to the heat. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and melt over medium heat. Add the banana and potatoes to the pot and season with salt, pepper, and hot sauce. Mash the potatoes and banana to combine, and adjust the seasoning. (I saved on dishes by melted the butter directly into the potatoes, then adding the banana)
6. Spoon the potatoes onto the meat, and cover the potatoes with the cheese. Bake uncovered for 5 minutes to melt the cheese.

(from Rachael Ray’s Big Orange Book)

Top 5 Tuesday

December 16, 2008

Yes! It’s my second Top 5 Tuesday! I’ve been eagerly anticipating it, as I came up with my second topic almost immediately after composing my first entry last week. Which means I’ve been tapping my feet and twiddling my thumbs for a whole week, waiting for today. Yes, in case anyone is wondering, I am semi-retired and don’t currently have a job. Thus, I have time for contemplating my Top 5 Tuesday ideas.

I’ve decided to make this week all about my favorite television characters. I’ll admit my shameless devotion to a select few favorite television shows! I should mention that these characters are my favorite, but not necessarily the ones who could be nominated for Golden Globes or Emmys for their performances. I would have to make another list for that-House, Don Draper, etc. Now, upon reading my list, you’ll notice that all five are male characters. They do beat out my favorite female characters, I have to say. I could always have another Top 5 Tuesday devoted to the women, I suppose. I haven’t forgotten you, Pam Beesley!

5. Coach Eric Taylor, Friday Night Lights. On a show that is inexcusably overlooked, Coach Taylor radiates dignity, subdued passion, and a quiet strength that is remarkable. I’m quite attached to the show itself because it reminds me so much of home, and while I love the action sequences and the nostalgia-inducing football games, what is equally special about the show is the way that Eric Taylor portrays the struggle and joys of being coach, husband, and father. It is CRIMINAL that he has not been recognized for his work.

4. Jim Halpert, The Office. Jim, Jim, Jim. As if I could ever create a list of favorite television characters and not include you! From season to season, the audience has been treated to the “slow burn” and development of television’s sweetest romance, witnessing Jim’s disappointment, courage, and commitment, and cheering from our couches when he finally proposed. Not only is he tv’s best boyfriend, he is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to pranking Dwight or guiding Michael in the right direction. Sweet, funny, and insightful, Jim is a huge part of what makes The Office great.

3. Tim Riggins, Friday Night Lights. Now, some would say that Tim Riggins is not worthy of a Top 5 list. He’s kind of a mess, can barely complete a homework assignment, and is probably in the earliest stages of alcoholism. Even though he’s smart enough to know he should avoid his deadbeat brother’s often illegal get-rich-quick schemes, he never fails to be there as a willing accomplice. Despite all of this, however, Riggins has the biggest heart of any of my Top 5. He jokes with the nervous freshman football star, taking him under his wing and convincing him not to break up with his “gal.” He gives his unwavering support to second string quarterback Matt Saracen, being a quiet leader without much fanfare. He helps brother Billy drown his sorrows, full well knowing Billy isn’t really together enough to be much of a provider for them. He stands between his girlfriend and her guilt-crazed father, not to humiliate him but to gently remind him that now isn’t the time to drive her further away. And, most importantly, he will go to the ends of the earth to protect, help, and save his crippled, idealistic best friend. Clearly, I could write an essay purely based on the merits of Tim Riggins! Oh, I should also mention that he is NOT AT ALL hard on the eyes. As you can see.

I’m sorry! I couldn’t help it! I just HAD to include that last one-it is a PERFECT representation of Tim Riggins!

2. Seeley Booth, Bones. Now, Bones is one of my favorite shows, largely due to Seeley Booth. He brings an emotional, human element to his partner, Dr. Temperance Brennan, who struggles to separate knowledge and science from real human connections. They have a strong chemistry, right up there with Jim and Pam, and I can only hope that the show’s writers and producers won’t “jump the shark” and give up the tension for some tawdry Grey’s Anatomy-like scenes. Booth is great not only for his strength as a talented FBI agent, but for the lightness he adds to the show. He always wears crazy belts and socks, mocks the forensics team that helps him solve cases, and enjoys turning on his rogueish charm when debating human nature with Brennan. He’s a great dancer, and his Hallowen costumes are absolute winners. I love him.

1. Jack Bauer, 24. Was there any doubt? This isn’t the first time Jack has been mentioned on my blog, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. From reading my list and noting my romantically-inclined leanings towards books and television, you might wonder why I’m so fond of someone who is so clearly an action hero. Well, a quote from A Few Good Men comes to mind. During the trial, Demi Moore’s attorney character is asked why she is defending the accused Marines, or why she likes them so much (I can’t quite remember the context of the question) and she says this: “Because they stand on a wall and say, ‘Nothing’s going to hurt you tonight…not on my watch.’ ” That is why I love Jack Bauer. He relentlessly pursues justice and truth, no matter the cost. And he does it, flawlessly. Seriously, no one even comes close-he could face a room of 50 armed men and I have no doubt he’d escape them. He has continued to careen about Los Angeles in a stolen SUV despite having stopped breathing for a few minutes, used a bomb meant to kill him to escape a locked room, ripped the ear off a terrorist that was holding him hostage, and fought off a heroin addiction that he developed on an undercover job. All in a day’s work. A modern-day superhero…

Hmmm…next Tuesday.

And the Academy award goes to…

December 15, 2008

One of the benefits of my Macbook, especially for an entertainment junkie like myself, is being able to watch high quality trailers for upcoming films on Apple’s movie site. I just caught the trailer for Che, and I was extremely impressed. I have only the most basic history textbook knowledge of the revolutionary, mainly an awareness of his involvement in the Cuban revolution and his expertise on guerilla warfare, and I found myself captivated by the trailer for the upcoming biopic. Benicio del Toro, one of the finest actors of this generation, portrays Guevera. I have never failed to be impressed by his work, and I consider Traffic to be one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, despite its somber, depressing subject matter. Incidentally, Che, which will be released to two parts (it’s over four hours long!) was directed by Steven Soderburgh, who directed Traffic. Clearly actor and director have a positive, solid working relationship, which is always a good sign for a film that must have been very ambitious. I did a little more research on it, and it turns out that del Toro and Soderburgh have been working on the film for years. It’s refreshing to see actors tackling a historical figure, especially one as polarizing, and taking the role very seriously, wanting to portray a life as accurately as possible. I’m very much looking forward to seeing it. I’ve heard that it will be released in LA and New York in its entirety this week, in order for it to be considered for the Academy Awards. I don’t know how one could neglect Benicio del Toro in awards season-he is truly amazing.

On a more domestic note…

December 15, 2008

I’ve obviously been spending far too much time on various entertainment websites and rereading the Twilight saga-I’ve cooked several blog-worthy meals, and I haven’t even written about them! I know that I decided a few months back that I should just write about whatever pleases me, but the original purpose, after all, was to write about my meals and my reading.

Once I finally descended upon my new, very-own kitchen, I felt inspired to cook all new recipes for a while. In spite of my vast cookbook library being safely tucked away in storage for the past few months, I have managed to accumulate something like 8 or 10 additional cookbooks. I’m pretty sure I have a dangerous cookbook buying addiction, by the way. A few of my favorites (from this new mini-collection): Simply Organic-a beautiful cookbook with very simple recipes, organized by season, which is perfect for the bounty of produce in California; Cooking Light Annual Recipes 2008-I’ve grown attached to Cooking Light, and I made a delicious Frozen Peanut Butter Pie this summer, courtesy of this cookbook; and my most recent acquisition, Rachael Ray’s Big Orange Book. Granted, that last one is a given-I always pre-order new Rachael Ray releases.

Several of the meals that I’ve found in these books have turned out to be delicious, and definitely worth repeating. From Simply Organic, there was the heavenly salmon salad with raspberry vinaigrette. It literally could not have been an easier dish-I simply pan-fried two salmon fillets, made the vinaigrette with fresh raspberries while the fish cooked, and quickly rinsed arugula for the salad base. The fillets sit atop the salad, dressing drizzled on top. My husband was still hungry when he finished his portion, but that could be easily remedied with a larger piece of salmon or perhaps a small side dish.

One of the first substantial meals I made in the new house was Buffalo Chicken Chili Mac. Rachael Ray loves twists on macaroni and cheese, so she often creates cutesy little recipe titles like this. I know it’s not the most creative. Anyway, the recipe is a fairly straightforward chicken chili, spiced up with the usual buffalo ingredients: hot sauce, blue cheese, carrots, and celery. I came to my love of buffalo wings rather late in life, and I don’t know what took me so long. I can’t even really think of a flavor combination that I love more than the happy marriage of hot sauce and blue cheese. When I lived in Austin, my husband and I refused to watch a movie anywhere but the wonderful Alamo Drafthouse, where you can eat and drink while enjoying your movie. Without fail, I ordered the buffalo blue cheese burger, which came smothered in hot sauce and coated in delicate crumbles of blue cheese. Yes, every movie I watched for two years I watched at the Drafthouse, and every time I ordered the same burger.

I digress…the buffalo chicken chili mac is actually a healthy and flavorful weeknight dinner. The recipe calls for whole wheat elbow macaroni, which is tossed with a saute of finely chopped chicken breast, celery, carrots, diced tomatoes, and hot sauce. The mixture is poured into a casserole dish, sprinkled with a combination of pepper jack cheese and blue cheese, and placed under the broiler for just a few minutes, allowing the cheeses to become golden brown and delicious. Yes, that might be my fifth use of the word “delicious” thus far…that just happens a lot when you’re fortunate enough to find great recipes! My husband and I both enjoyed the dish tremendously, and it lasted for several meals, which is especially great in these troubled financial times.

Yet another success was Bacon-Wrapped Salmon with Mashed Potatoes and Broccoli, another offering from Rachael Ray. My mother-in-law likens salmon to candy, and I have to agree with her-it’s got such a distinctive, heavenly flavor, and you don’t have to do a thing extra to make that flavor stand out. Of course, adding bacon to anything only increases the delicious factor, and that wasn’t any different for this dish. It was exceedingly easy-I started with the potatoes, because I knew they would take a while to be just right for mashing, and the salmon and broccoli went into the oven at just the same time. The recipe called for two interesting additions: cream steeped with thyme and lemon peel for the mashed potatoes and maple syrup melted with soy sauce to baste the salmon. After I heated the pot with the cream, I tossed the broccoli with garlic, red pepper flakes, and olive oil. It took approximately two minutes to wrap each filet in bacon (one slice per filet), and the fish and broccoli roasted for 20 minutes. By that time, my potatoes (a lovely mix of red, yukon, and purple baby potatoes that I purchased at Trader Joe’s) were done. The final product was very tasty, and it looked rather fancy, if I do say so myself.

You’ll have to excuse my food photography. I’m no Smitten Kitchen. Thankfully, my husband has considerable skill when it comes to great pictures, so I’ll hopefully be able to employ him more frequently in the future. I neglected to take a photo of the salmon salad, but I was able to find a good representation online. I’m really enjoying seeking out new recipes, though it’s probably a bit too ambitious to try to go all new. Beans and rice will be back soon, I’m sure.

He’s looking for more than love.

December 13, 2008

No, I do NOT have a problem with confessing my absolute attachment to The Bachelor. I KNOW the premise is lame, I KNOW that none of the couples work out, I KNOW it’s just an excuse for women to act absolutely ridiculous. Doesn’t change that it’s quite possibly the most entertaining show out there. I double over in laughter at least ten times per episode, and there is hardly anything more satisfying than predicting the crazy behavior of each woman on the show. If you’re not convinced, read this, otherwise known as the BEST BLOG EVER. You’ll be a Bachelor viewer for life, I promise.

I should note that I’m having flashes of Brad “I’m Here to Find My Wife” Novak after I watched this preview. Geez, Jason! Have you at least researched the track record for this show?