Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Top 5 Tuesday

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!

Monday, December 22, 2008

On Chesil Beach

Monday, December 22, 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..

Friday, December 19, 2008

Winter in California

Friday, December 19, 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!"

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!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Turkey Sweet Potato Shepherd's's Good!

Wednesday, December 17, 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)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Top 5 Tuesday

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... Tuesday.

Monday, December 15, 2008

And the Academy award goes to...

Monday, 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.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

On a more domestic note...

Sunday, December 14, 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.

Friday, December 12, 2008

He's looking for more than love.

Friday, December 12, 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?

Top Chef Nuptials

Well ladies, Sam Talbot is officially off the market. I decided that I should include relevant Top Chef news on my blog. Sam will definitely make my Top 5 Top Chefs, whenever I decide to make that a topic for my newly-instituted Top 5 Tuesday. The always sweet, diabetic chef has a place in my heart. And Padma's, by the way. He was never dramatic or ridiculous and he ALWAYS made good food. That's a rarity on my beloved reality show. If I ever need a recipe for sweetbreads, I'm going to turn to Sam.

"I out-palated him!"

How did this happen? So there I was, eagerly anticipating my ON TIME viewing of Top Chef, the very first time I might actually finish a recap within 24 hours of the show airing, and…I went to bed early. What a disappointment. I fear my side career as an aspiring recap writer may come to an end if I can’t improve on my timing. At least my free time today allowed me to have not one, but TWO viewings of the episode, so hopefully I won’t leave any juicy detail unwritten.

I was a big fan of this episode, despite the lame quickfire. I don’t usually enjoy the culinary bee. The chefs are often surprisingly bad at it, although that could just be the pressure of knowing they are on national television.

Oops, I forgot to mention my deep thoughts regarding the opening scenes. First, it is now painfully obvious that one or more of the producers and/or camera men/women have taken a strong liking to Dr. Chase. We are ALWAYS seeing him in a state of undress. I’m pretty sure he’s married, and more committed to his relationship than either Hosea or Leah seem to be to their significant others. Finally, the biggest juicy nugget from the intro was Stefan’s newfound obsession with Jamie. Apparently, he has been bestowing tokens of affection upon her for quite some time now, including a pair of pants that he fashioned out of a Calphalon kitchen towel for her stuffed bunny. Jamie seems pleased by the attention, no matter what she says, but her comments and the time devoted to the scene set up a Stefan-centric episode where we, the audience, are given a very clear indication of how the rest of the chefs feel about him.

On to the bee! If it was a spelling bee, I would so win, by the way. I did find the twist interesting-instead of blindfolds and tiny ramekins of barely identifiable seeds, the chefs would have to go head to head, each tasting a sauce and attempting to identify as many ingredients as they can. There were three rounds, three sauces. First up was a shrimp and lobster bouillabaisse. The chefs were predictably nervous here, and none of them were very aggressive. Hosea, Carla, Stefan, Ariane, Leah, and Radhika moved on to the next round, a thai green curry. Hosea immediately lit up, recognizing what is obviously one of his fave dishes. Stefan gave Leah a knowing smirk, which was annoying, but then he immediately proceeded to list off practically every ingredient in the curry. He knows his stuff.

The final showdown was between Carla, Hosea, and Stefan. The sauce? A Mexican mole. I have actually never had mole myself, but I’ve always been curious about the chocolate element. Are raisins really a part of a traditional mole? If so, I was even MORE impressed with Hosea and his super-palate. Thai, Mexican, AND seafood???? He needs to give Melissa lessons. He dominated, after Stefan suggested tomato paste as an ingredient.

Now for the elimination challenge! It was a bit personal, this time, as the chefs learned they would be cooking for frequent guest judge Gail Simmons’ bridal shower luncheon. They were clued in to the wedding theme as they drew knives labeled “borrowed”, “old”, “new” and “blue.” Ariane claimed that she knew that phrase because she’s married. Radhika began to freak out worrying that Stefan would be on her team, likening such a scenario to being on a team with Satan. I haven’t seen anything terribly devilish yet from him, but he MUST be bad. Fortunately, Radhika landed on a Team Borrowed with Jamie and Ariane. Jamie immediately takes charge, deciding that they would borrow from Radhika’s Indian culture AND use her super secret special spice, vadouvan for a yummy carrot puree. I was actually proud of Radhika for acknowledging her roots in a way that would further her team in the competition, which is different than heavily relying on it.

Team Blue consisted of Fabio, Leah, and Melissa. Fabio is sure that “of all the theme, it’s the hardest.” Also, “there’s not any freaking blue food!” After a discussion on whether or not figs can be considered blue, they decide to go with a deep sea theme, selecting sea bass, roasted corn, and chard for the menu. I’m wondering what Melissa can really contribute if all she is doing is the chard. Let me tell you, she is flying under the radar, and not in a good way. She is sure to be rooted out soon as one that needs the boot!

Team New looks like a disaster from the start. Danny thinks of pickles when he thinks of new, and somehow has the inside knowledge that Gail likes a lot of pickling. Are pickles new? I’m with you, Carla. I was worried when Eugene suggested sushi. It’s weird, but when the chefs decide to make their own specialties for a team event, pushing them onto other chefs, it usually doesn’t end well.

As for Team Old, Dr. Chase, Stefan, and Hosea decide upon a tomato trio, deciding to focus on heirloom tomatoes and “old world” cuisines: a tomato terrine, gazpacho, and tomato carpaccio with a sorbet. Yummy. Stefan is SURE that Dr. Chase’s sorbet will fail, because of his millions of experiences with catering. He says no. Dr. Chase says yes. Clearly, the whole group of chefs hates him. Hosea immediately has a reaction about Stefan, and I’m proud of Dr. Chase for standing his ground.

Shopping was fairly uneventful, the highlight definitely being Carla’s secret for finding her husband in a grocery store and Fabio’s declaration that “this fish want to go back to the ocean.” Stefan continued to be annoying and condescending, giving Hosea a hard time about the tomatoes for his gazpacho. BACK OFF, buddy! Hootie!

As usual, the prepping gives us ominous clues, like Ariane’s foreshadowing about cooking the lamb being her only job. The surf n’turf sushi roll is risky, for sure. Tom looks dubious. Plus, Eugene used a digital rice cooker that ruined his sushi rice. I do love tomatoes, and Hosea. Team Old is looking strong, despite Stefan’s obnoxiousness. Tom astutely notes that Team Blue’s dish is boring and would likely go unnoticed among the other dishes. He will be in the kitchen during the luncheon (no boys allowed!) and Fabio likens this experience to being a priest in the presence of a pope. He continues to endear himself to me. ☺

Side note: Melissa thinks better with her green hat. Bring your green hat! (Points for anyone who recognizes that little pop culture reference)

During the prep and before the chefs served their food, we were treated to a flashback of all the chefs’ various memories of weddings. Of course, Fabio cooked for his wife’s bridal shower. Ariane hearts marriage. Stefan has been married three times.

The challenge was fascinating! Team Old scored! EVERYONE loved the sorbet, but Stefan’s terrine was pronounced “bland.” This is what happens when you are what my mom would call “bossy boots.” Team New failed miserably. Danny called his yuzo sorbet a “granata”-not a granita. Eugene forgets to explain to the judges how to eat the dish. It’s a disaster. Padma lightly tosses the nori aside. Dana Cowin looks completely confused. Stefan turns out to be right about women not liking to put food together with their fingers.

Team Borrowed was wildly successful, due in no small part to the way that all the chefs banded together to make sure the plates were finished in time. Ariane underestimated how much time she would need for her lamb, so they were behind when it was their turn. Everyone loved Jamie’s puree. Despite her slightly unlikeable personality, I will stick to my theory that she is going to go far. She is a sophisticated chef.

Team Blue did, as Tom predict, underperform, mostly because their dish was boring. See, that’s all I have to say about it. The challenge ended nicely, however, because Gail seemed genuinely touched by the presence of all her friends.

At judge’s table, we learned what the professionals really thought of the dishes. Team Old and Team Borrowed were the obvious winners, but who would Dana Cowin single out as an individual winner? After Jamie had gone on and on for an entire episode about “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” and such, I was sure she would pull out the win, finally. She does deserve it, by the way, even though I really don’t like her. However, she was SNUBBED, which was even more powerful because of her quick aside to Ariane about wanting the win. What she needs as much as a win is a big slice of humble pie. Team Blue made a “sad plate”, and nothing that Team New did turned out well. Despite Daniel’s jolly explanation of why he added mushrooms to Carla’s salad, it wasn’t enough to keep him around. He was sweet, but he’s like the poor man’s Joey. I won’t miss him much.

I should note that despite the distracting cleavage, Padma was a vision of loveliness in this episode. I loved her hair! Also, the picture above is, as you might guess, Team Old's plate from the shower. I am Team Hosea, after all.

Martha Stewart is descending upon the chefs next week! Should be good!

"They don't give out black belts for things that are stupid."

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.....I was howling with laughter watching this last night. Thought it would be nice of me to spread the Christmas joy.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

World Tour

Thursday, December 11, 2008



Forks, WA

Yes, there is more where that came from!

In honor of the announcement of a new director for New Moon, I decided to treat myself to another Twilight post. Or two.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Top 5 Tuesday

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Various blogs around the blogosphere have pithy little weekly routines, such as Wordless Wednesday-blog posts consisting only of a striking single photo-or my personal favorite, Not Me Monday. I have decided to create my own weekly routine, and I searched the dusty corners of my creative and intelligent mind to come up with an extremely interesting and catchy title: Top 5 Tuesday! Yes, I know you're all impressed. I have decided to select a Top 5 from a variety of topics to liven up my Tuesdays. Heaven forbid a Tuesday arise where I cannot think of an appropriate Top 5.

For my first Top 5 Tuesday, I have decided to tackle an extremely difficult challenge: my Top 5 Coldplay songs. Now, I cannot write enough about this heaven-sent English band and all their gloriousness. I know I'm not the only hardcore fan around, and there are certainly lots of bands out there that are in a constant state of emulating Coldplay (Keane, anyone? Snow Patrol?), and I like them too. But no band, or individual singer, has ever touched my heart and soul the way Coldplay has. I KNOW that sounds cheesy and slightly ridiculous, but that's just the way it is. Coldplay is like my own personal Jasper Hale-any time I'm feeling stressed or anxious, or world-weary, I can rely on the music to overwhelm me with a peaceful calm. I could continue with my praises, admiring them for poignant lyrics and grandiose crescendos, but I should proceed with my list. You should know that I am a devoted, faithful fan-not the type to show disappointment or chagrin when an album doesn't please me. That just wouldn't happen. I'm like this with every bit of pop culture that I fully embrace-you could tell me Season 6 of 24 was terrible and you stopped watching and I would continue to profess my adoration of Jack Bauer. Okay, here I go!

5. Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love. This was a difficult decision. I was torn between Lovers in Japan and Viva la Vida, and I felt compelled to acknowledge the most recent album, because it is undoubtedly the best, start to finish, of all their albums. I think I had to choose Lovers because I had the strongest emotional reaction to it, as compared with Viva la Vida. I love the beginning lines of the song, "Lovers, keep on the road you're on...", and paired with the piano solo, the song is literally to die for. I listened to it quite a bit in a rather difficult time period of my life, which always attributes to the affection one feels for a song. Seeing Coldplay in concert this summer, on the Viva la Vida tour, was absolutely incredible. For this song, millions of tiny pieces of red and white confetti were poured from the sky (yes, it was a ceiling, but it FELT like the sky) onto the adoring fans. It was AMAZING! One of the BEST nights of my life! The sweet and soft Reign of Love at the end is such a nice touch, too.

4. Clocks. This inclusion is rather self-explanatory. How anyone could make a Top 5 list of Coldplay songs and not include Clocks is beyond me. It's a revolutionary song, and one of their most unique contributions to the music world.

3. The Scientist. Now, my attachment to this song is stronger than perhaps the entire repertoire. I have a vivid memory of listening to it, one that actually turned out to be very significant in my life. I won't go into all the details here, but give a brief outline. My incredible, amazing, prize of a husband and I started our relationship in that terrible long-distance dating phase. Suffice to say, it was absolutely dreadful. I missed him ALL the time, and was trying my best to be rational and understanding-it was so difficult, when all I wanted to do was profess my love for him. Anyway, I listened to this song (on my Discman!) on the NJ Transit on my way back to the airport after my first visit, and tears were streaming down my face, landing on the crusty floor of the train. "Nobody said it was easy..." Just a few months later, we were together, in the same place, but I'll never forget the angsty pain of those few months, when Coldplay provided such an outlet for my emotions.

2. Fix You. That's right, it's my number 2! This song is one of Coldplay's finest accomplishments, truly an incredible song that has the ability to make you cry while your heart is swelling so full you think it might burst. Off an album that any non-devoted fan might profess to be mediocre, Fix You is just, well, listen to it!

Really, I have no words. I could have just written "2. Fix You." and that's it. That's how amazing this song is.

1. Yellow. Was this a surprise at all? Despite putting out 4 incredible albums, full of beautiful songs, the very best, the trademark of the band, is found in this song. I am proud to say that I have seen Coldplay on three separate tours, and the experience of seeing Yellow in concert has been breathtaking each time. For my first concert (2003), the entire room went black, only to roar to life with yellow lights as the song began. In Madison Square Garden in 2005, yellow balloons burst towards the audience with a gentle ferocity as the chorus began to swell. At the HP Pavilion in 2008, the lights were more subtle, but the golden beams that swept the venue revealed a trembling mass of true fans, singing every word. One of the best nights of my life. Seriously.

Now, I know this is technically cheating, especially since it's my first Top 5, but I decided that I HAD to have honorable mentions. This task was just too difficult, and I feel that I won't do justice to my love for Coldplay if I don't have a well-rounded sample of what I feel to be the best songs. Thus, I will include my honorable mentions. And it's my blog. So really, I can do whatever I want.

6. Glass of Water. Yes, this song is from the recently released EP, Prospekt's March. It is, in one word, AMAZING. If it weren't for my faithfulness to the original, full albums, this song would have made my top 5.

7. Warning Sign. Some of the most beautiful lyrics, from all the albums. I feel that it speaks to the regret of having not pursued something or someone that you know you should have. "You were an island, and I passed you were an island to discover..."

8. Viva la Vida. Truly a unique and incredible song. I am glad that Coldplay collaborated with Brian Eno. Plus, the iTunes ads were awesome!

9. Strawberry Swing. I was surprised they actually played this song during the 2008 tour, and pleasantly so. It is truly a sweet, precious ballad.

10. Violet Hill. Yes, there is a trend here. Though I have to reiterate my intense appreciation of Coldplay and ALL their music, in my mind, their most recent offering is their best. From start to finish.

Looking forward to next Tuesday!

**By the way, Gwynyth Paltrow is CRAZY, yes, CRAZY, if she selfishly decides to leave this behind!

Friday, December 5, 2008

"The scariest thing about failing is failing."

Friday, December 5, 2008

I’m noticing a trend with the weekly Top Chef New York opening scenes-one or two chefs are shown engaging in some sort of morning ritual (Dr. Chase working out, in this case) and then we’re given another shot of Ariane attempting to convince herself that things will get better. So far, I’ve assumed that the producers are pulling their usual editing tricks to constantly make us believe that Ariane will be going home at the end of the episode. They’ve fooled me every time!

Things quickly became emotional as Alex read a letter from Richard. Everyone cried. Team Rainbow is dead. Well, with the exception of Jamie and her rainbow bracelet and her arrogant profession that she is the strongest one of Team Rainbow. We shall see.

It was tough to decide what quote I would use as a heading for this post. Melissa said so many crazy things. I think it’s not at all impossible that she spends her down time at the house rolling joints and trying to figure out where she’ll next be able to show off those crazy Elaine-like dance moves. Case in point-as the chefs headed out for the quickfire challenge, you could hear Melissa say “Let’s roll like a doughnut down the hill.” Am I right?

The chefs were greeted in the kitchen by Padma and Rocco di Spirito. Now, Rocco has faced some opposition in the culinary world, but he continues to show up as a judge on the show, and all the chefs fawn over him and he usually takes every possible opportunity to spout off little criticisms in the hopes that his fifteen minutes of fame might be extended. Fabio immediately points out that Rocco is not really Italian. It’s hilarious to hear that declaration coming from him. Rocco mistakenly refers to Padma as Podma, and the two of them tell the chefs that they will be creating a breakfast amuse-bouche. Podma (sorry, Padma) makes it very clear to the chefs that an amuse-bouche (literally translated: amuse the mouth) is an “elegant mouthful”, one bite! Not a sprawling plateful! One bite! Can you tell that chefs of the past have had problems with this concept?

Rocco gives the chefs a huge advantage by actually telling them what he loves: bacon. Seriously, if you want to do well in this show, USE BACON. BACON IS THE KEY!

I’m wasn’t sure what to think as the chefs go about crafting their itsy bites. Jamie is not a breakfast person. Apparently she grew up eating Chef Boyardee for breakfast. Daniel surpasses Jamie in weirdness-he used to have his bowl o’ corn flakes accompanied with zucchini flowers. Dr. Chase admits he is “thinking too much”, and decides to make several components for his dish. Dude, LEARN YOUR LESSON. Stefan uses a nifty eggshell slicing tool and creates huevos rancheros, served inside of the egg. Too many people make French toast for my taste.

In the end, Rocco is torn between Leah and Jamie. Jamie’s breakfast actually sounded better-a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich with balsamic syrup and fresh basil. However, it was two bites. That is an important distinction. Leah’s bacon, quail egg, and cheese sandwich was a perfectly-sized amuse-bouche. And she certainly wasn’t afraid to point that out. I have to admit, while her comment was slightly catty, I have to give her credit for defending her dish. They aren’t there, after all, to make friends. Jamie’s dish was clearly not a true amuse-bouche (I don’t care what Rocco says), and Leah deserved to win the challenge. While I certainly admire Jamie’s talent, she has shown an edgy, defensive side of her nature over the past two episodes that leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth. Leah has a bit more humility, and I like her. So does Rocco-he pronounced her the winner of the challenge and presented her with a copy of his newest cookbook.

For the elimination challenge, we were treated to a speech by Padma about how important it is to “raise your profile” because the more people know you, the more they’ll come to your restaurant. The best way to do this, obviously, is to appear on the Today Show and give a 2 ½ minute presentation teaching a possibly inexperienced home cook how to make something. This is definitely going to be a challenge. Especially for Fabio-he knows how hard it will be to explain a dish in perfect English. Plus, Carla probably told him that “They will cut you,” if he does a bad job.

For this edition of shopping at Whole Foods, we were treated to a tuna-slicing competition between Hosea, Eugene, and Fabio. They all decided that they should slice their own tuna, behind the counter. I was worried about Eugene deciding to do sushi for a demo, but it is his specialty. Cooking what you cook best is usually a good bet.

Lots of juicy tidbits during the prep time! Jamie is apparently a television star, having performed a demo cooking lesson on live television before. I’m beginning to think she might have been slightly over-qualified for this kind of reality show, although hearing her worries about cooking her duck egg in the allotted time was at least a medium-sized red flag. Huge alarm bells went off as Alex’s sureproof plan to make a rose-infused crème brulee began to crumble. I was worried as I watched Ariane chop up a HUGE watermelon, but Tom seemed pleased with her, giving the camera a winning smile. Dr. Chase wasn’t worried about his Middle Eastern dish, because he has done a fair amount of television-we know, on House!

The chefs all performed the demo in the Top Chef kitchen with Tom, Padma, Gail, and Rocco. Several weren’t able to complete them in the given time. A few were terrified. Jamie’s egg was not cooked. Daniel smoked up the whole studio. Carla had a “nervous energy.” Melissa’s mountains of habanero peppers completely turned off the judges. Seriously, you need to use gloves when you handle them. What was she thinking? As we could easily have predicted, Alex’s crème brulee failed miserably.

On the winning side, Fabio was a huge success, a “dream guest” for a talk show. Ariane gave a perfect presentation, and Dr. Chase’s shrimp rolls were delicious. Thus, these were the three that were woken up, by Tom, at not even the crack of dawn to head over to 30 Rock where they would hopefully run into Jack Donaghy on their way to the Today Show. The hosts of the show would be tasting the dishes and choosing a favorite on live television. Of course, Bravo woke up the rest of the chefs and dragged them into the living room to watch the show together, awaiting the results.

I wanted to yell at Dr. Chase for saying the Today Show hosts have unsophisticated palates, but it is probably true, and I couldn’t help feeling a bit bad for him when Kathie Lee Gifford rudely spit his food out. It was bad, really bad. Ariane’s clean, fresh salad impressed the ladies, and she managed to pull out a win.

Judge’s table was intense. The bottom three, Alex, Melissa, and Jamie, trooped in to face the music. I noticed they were all wearing capris-is that a chef thing? Tom didn’t appreciate Alex’s defense, the ol’ “no one else was going to make a dessert so I thought I’d try it” thing, telling him that “The point of this competition is to win.” Melissa was a disaster, spouting off lines fed to her by Leah and saying that she loves spicy food. Rocco hates Jamie, and habeneros. He seems frightened by both. Despite his insistence that undercooked egg is a major problem, Alex was sent home.

Now that we’re getting a feel for the chefs and their personalities, the season is improving. I haven’t ever seen such obvious division among groups of chefs before, however, so I have a feeling there will be some fireworks. There is also love, or at least “sexual chemistry”, between Hosea and Leah.

Next week I’ll be writing my recap from the comfort of my own home! No more scrambling to watch the episode and seeking out various wireless hotspots…I can’t wait! I included a photo of Ariane's winning dish, because it did look delicious and I would order it if I ever happened upon her restaurant in New Jersey. It was a Jersey beefsteak tomato salad with watermelon and feta cheese.