Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Top 5 Tuesday

Tuesday, April 28, 2009
At first, I wasn’t too keen on this choice, books that made me cry, for Top 5 Tuesday. After all, I’ve already documented my intense emotional responses to One True Thing, Gilead, and Les Miserables, all of which would clearly belong on this list. However, as I’m waist-deep in the works of William Wordsworth and various sundry articles about him in my vain quest to write a cohesive paper for tomorrow’s class, I’m not going to spend too much time worrying about that fact, and instead present five wonderful books that are completely and utterly worth revisiting, and certainly all made me cry.

5. War and Remembrance, by Herman Wouk.
I loved every single word of Herman Wouk’s two-part World War II drama, but it was the sequel, Part II, that actually made me cry. Of course, I won’t mention the particular scene which led to my tears-no spoilers here! Suffice to say, both books combined make for a wonderful, riveting story that I highly recommend. Once you’ve finished, you can pick up The Caine Mutiny, a completely different yet equally entertaining tale.

4. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott.
Though it’s been many years since I first thumbed through this book, I’ll never forget it. It’s like a rite of passage for a young girl, determining which March daughter one identifies with the most (Jo), sharing in their joys and tribulations…oh no, Beth’s getting real sick! Better put the book in the freezer!

(*Key scene around 5:40)

3. A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving. This was my first experience reading John Irving, and I’m glad it’s where I started, because even though he’s one of my favorite authors, his particular brand of humor/drama is a bit twisted, and I’m not sure I would have fully appreciated him if I hadn’t started with Owen Meany. Owen is the most unique character I’ve ever read, and his story is indelibly etched on my mind. My husband told me how much he loved the book very early in our dating days, which is what led me to reading it-I must admit, that recommendation made me love him even more.
just a hint, from one of my most favorite passages:
“DON’T BE AFRAID,” Owen told me, “YOU CAN DO ANYTHING YOU WANT TO DO-IF YOU BELIEVE YOU CAN DO IT.” The lenses of his safety goggles were very clean; his eyes were very clear. “I LOVE YOU,” Owen told me, “NOTHING BAD IS GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU-TRUST ME,” he said.

2. Christy, by Catherine Marshall. This is a quintessential teacher’s book. My mom sang its praises for years before I finally picked it up, and it’s one of the few books that she actually kept a copy of for herself. She is the polar opposite from me when it comes to books-instead of hoarding and collecting at an alarming rate, she very carefully selects the ones that she absolutely cannot live without. Needless to say, the tale of city girl Christy Huddleston and her experiences teaching in rural Appalachia is heartwrenching and tear-jerking on more than one occasion.
(*By the way, please ignore the 70's era paperback cover picture, which smacks of cheesy romance and melodrama-this book is GOOD!)

1. Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry.
It’s difficult to put into words exactly how much this book means to me. Its presence was palpable in our house while I was growing up, and I eagerly awaited the day when I would be “ready” to read it. As I’ve mentioned before, my mom has always suggested books according to “readiness”, which she defined not in the terms of age or regarding the appropriateness of content, but according to a level of maturity that would ensure I would appreciate the book properly. Give it its due, so to speak. As usual, I’m glad she made me wait, because this absolute GIFT of a book is unquestionably the most incredible story that I’ve ever read. There wasn’t just one scene that made me cry, but many, and truth be told, it’s the kind of book that one is sad just to finish.

Alright, those are mine. What books made YOU cry?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sun, slugs, and sweet potatoes...

Monday, April 27, 2009

After a gardening-intensive Saturday, my SH and I decided to spend Sunday afternoon exploring the oft-praised Big Basin Redwoods State Park, conveniently located a mere 20 miles from our house. I'm always amazed, and a bit ashamed even, to realize that such splendor exists at such a short distance. A mere ten minutes into our drive, we found ourselves winding upwards through the Santa Cruz mountains, shafts of golden sun barely peeking through the enormous redwoods lining each side of the road. We rolled the windows down, allowing the cool fresh breeze and scent of the forest to permeate the car, admiring the sights of rolling hills, vineyards, and horses grazing and chattering excitedly about how we needed to be doing this kind of thing every weekend.

By the time we arrived at the entrance to the park, we were already smitten, though our experience in the redwood forests hasn't been minimal. I think we were mostly just overwhelmed with excitement about how close this particular vision of forest loveliness was to us. We chose a decently rigorous trail, and spent the next few hours trekking through the forest, stopping often to take pictures and gaze in awe at the tremendous size of the aged trees. Of course, I had to capture a picture of the banana slug-my morbid fascination with appalling-looking creatures rears its ugly head again (Wait, have I not posted about my status as an amateur herpetologist? How could I have neglected it?)

On our way home, we happened upon an absolutely beautiful lookout, which led to several trails. It was breathtaking, and I know it's simply one of many, many similar spots all along these Northern California roads. As we looked out over the mountains, I saw a lone woman, perched peacefully on the side of the hill with a book in hand, and I couldn't help but feel unbelievably lucky, once more, that such perfect, untouched places exist.

To top off our amazing day, we stopped for dinner at The Counter, my FAVORITE hamburger joint (here in California, that is-it's no Kincaid's!). The concept of the restaurant is custom building your hamburger-when you arrive you're handed a neat check-off list attached to a clipboard with a huge variety of cheeses, toppings, and even bread choices. Despite my desire to "mix it up a bit," I inevitably order a well-done burger topped with blue cheese, bacon, and grilled onions. What can I say? In the words of Frances, that wise sage of a badger, "I always know what I'm getting, and I'm always pleased." Perhaps even better than the burgers is the side dish that I always insist upon, the "fifty-fifty", half fragile, spicy shoestring onion rings and half thinly sliced sweet potato fries. DELICIOUS!

After having undone all that good, cardiovascular effort on our hike with our huge, dripping-with-goodness burgers, we drove slowly home and crashed on the couch with some good television. It was a GREAT Sunday. I loved every minute.

Clearly, I need to hone my gardening skills.

I have mentioned on numerous occasions the sheer brilliance of the incredibly fertile, rich California soil. Most probably, you could march out to even the tiniest patch of green earth somewhere around here, toss a handful of seeds of any sort in the air, and return perhaps only days later to find an abundance of leafy, flowery, or simply green growth. I wouldn't be surprised in the least if a stray watermelon seed in the summer, sucked dry of its deliciously pink juice and carelessly, casually tossed aside onto the well-meaning grounds of a city park, would miraculously produce a huge, zebra-striped melon, in due time. Such a situation would not be shocking to me, at all.

We planted the lavender ourselves, but had no idea it would be accompanied by such beautiful roses, WHICH, by the way, have the purest, most intensely rose scent that I've ever smelled.

What you see are the darling beginnings of MY apricots, beloved favorite fruit of Katie W, who eagerly awaits each summer so that she can sink her teeth into the delicate, peach-colored flesh of an apricot. Yes, I do enjoy occasionally referring to myself in the third person.

While I know you might think that possessing a citrus tree couldn't possible get better, it DOES! Observe the most lovely and delicate white lemon blossoms, hanging with an unspeakable fragility to the tree. I seem to recall my beloved Anne of Green Gables speaking wistfully of Prince Edward Island brides wearing orange blossoms in their hair-one can see why it would be so appealing. The scent is absolutely intoxicating. Unfortunately, bees feel a similar passion for these trees, and veritably swarm them the moment the blossoms arrive. From a biological perspective, I know that's a good thing.

Thus, I have no real explanation for the intensely delightful surprise we encountered as we witnessed the arrival of many blooms, blossoms, buds, and fruits, springing forth from the carefully tended bushes and branches lovingly planted by the previous owner of our home. The (few) months that the house spent languishing on the market seemed to have had no effect on the general well-being of the garden, nor has my lack of gardening expertise and stubbornly non-green thumb caused it to suffer. Granted, I have been blessed with the assistance of my extremely knowledgeable mother-in-law and HER green thumb-were it not for her admonition, I might not have known to furnish a bed of potential iris bulbs with rich, nutrient-enhanced soil. Still, the hardiness of the flora and fauna in our yard has truly impressed me, and I will endeavor to ensure that every spring is just as fruitful.

Yes, this is the iris I managed to save! Is is not lovely?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Let the wild rumpus start!

Thursday, April 23, 2009
Yes, it's time for another round of "movies I'm dying to see!" So far, I'm 1 for 5 on my previous lists, but to be fair, three of the movies that I mentioned have yet to be released. State of Play proved to be very satisfying: full of intrigue, obligatory twists and turns, and relevant subject matter (the death of the newspaper, private military contractors, etc.) The jury is out on this next bunch, but spring/summer movies are looking up!

500 Days of Summer. I heart Zooey Deschanel. And I'm proud of Joseph Gordon-Levitt for branching out.

Away We Go. Yet another example of a movie that I'm involuntarily sucked into because of the gratuitous use of soulful and inspiring music. Even without the song, however, I would be interested in John Krasinski's ventures into independent film. After watching this preview five times, I still find myself smiling at the stroller scene.

Where the Wild Things Are. When I heard a movie was being made about this quintessential classic, I just felt...not sure. It's such a tiny little treasure of a book, how can someone imagine it into something greater? After watching the trailer, however, I think I might have changed my mind. I'm impressed, Spike Jonze.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. DYING to see this! I have made a plan to reread the entire series, and by my watch, I should probably get started! Even though I'm a rather rapid reader, I don't have much time left! Dear Dumbledore! Katie Bell suspended! Evil Draco Malfoy! And Snape...oh, Snape.

Are we sure about this?

Yesterday, Summit Entertainment issued a press release officially confirming one David Slade (NOT David Spade!) as the director for Eclipse, the third film in the Twilight series and also, incidentally, my favorite of the four books. I'm not sure about all the director-switching shenanigans, but apparently it's largely due to Summit's frantic movie-shooting pace-Eclipse has a June 2010 release date, pushed up partially because of the whole "Cullen family can't age" thing but mostly, I'm imagining, because no one wants it to be pitted against Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I, which is due for release in November 2010. Because of all the post-production responsibilities, Chris Weitz, director of the currently-shooting New Moon, wasn't a viable option for helming the third movie. Now, we don't really know much yet about the direction Weitz has taken in New Moon, but he looks to be something of a traditional guy, a "by-the-books" sort, and he has boatloads of experience, particularly with special effects. Most fans feel confident that the movie is in the right hands.

But what about this David Slade (NOT Spade!) character? His most well known films, thus far, are Hard Candy, a slightly disturbing-wait, scratch that-VERY disturbing-sounding but well-received drama starring a pre-Juno Ellen Page, and 30 Days of Night, a film adaptation of a graphic novel about, yes, bloodthirsty, savage vampires decimating an entire town in the land of the midnight sun. As I've mentioned on numerous occasions, I'm something of a fan of the decently scary horror film, so I'd actually seen 30 Days of Night. Once I heard about David Slade nabbing the plum spot of director of Eclipse, I decided to watch it again, because it's been on my Netflix Instant Queue. I seemed to remember it being dark, somewhat grainy, and fast-moving, with not a memorable amount of gore (mostly because blood just isn't as shocking when it appears as rivers of black on icy snow banks at night).

Um, it was MUCH worse than I remembered. In terms of scary and bloody, I mean.

I would say I'm alarmed, but perhaps it will be visually dynamic to have a more terrifying army of newborn vampires rapidly approaching Forks than what a less-experienced-in-terrifying-vampire films-director could produce. Just keep in mind, David Slade, your Eclipse vampires should look a whole lot more like Josh Hartnett and a whole lot less like the freakish, animalistic, strange-language-spewing characters in the town of Barrow, Alaska. No horrific, medieval, blood and gore-encrusted sets of teeth, either! Speed, agility, and inhuman strength are perfectly acceptable traits, though. And perhaps you can re-enlist Ben Foster as Riley?

Who am I kidding? I'd be on board with practically any grand special effect so long as the heartwrenchingly sweet, perfectly romantic moments in the third book are preserved.

Might we be able to sign up Josh Hartnett for a future role as Garrett the Patriot?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Top 5 Tuesday

Tuesday, April 21, 2009
While I had a legitimate excuse for last week's paltry effort at a decent Top 5 list, I fear I have no such excuse for what I shall put forth tonight. I've spent the majority of the day at or near my computer, working on a family project and sending a variety of important e-mails and yet, the day just slipped right by without even the glimmer of a great idea for my list. I blame the heat. The freakish, ninety-degree plus heat wave that is remarkably reminiscent of a Texas spring. I fear my time in California has made me thin-skinned and intolerant of any extreme weather!

As the only thing I am motivated to do on this sweltering evening is to gaze upon my television, admiring the endearingly hilarious behavior of Dr. Walter Bishop, I thought it might be a grand idea for a substitute, b-team version of a top 5 list to simply present a few images of the five actors that I'd see in anything. It's possible that I might have stolen this very idea from EW, but I don't feel too badly about it.

Now, as this is a last minute list, I'm not going to qualify or elaborate upon my choices. It's not exactly the same as a list of favorites, but something close.

5. Rachel McAdams

4. Ryan Gosling

3. Benicio del Toro

2. Kate Winslet

1. Russell Crowe

Next week, I'm hoping that I won't have to take frequent breaks from my Top 5 writing to stick my head in the freezer in a vain effort to cool down. It should be better.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Food Art

Monday, April 20, 2009

I've been quite the braggart about our crop of citrus, probably to the point of annoyance. I know the rest of the world is not so lucky as I, with my fresh-squeezed orange juice, bowlfuls of lemons, and sunny yellow grapefruits so large, it's a wonder how the tree doesn't bow humbly under their weight. I have not mentioned, however, the deterrent to gathering a plethora of fruit. Because it's not exactly a breezy, proverbial walk in the park!

Witness the literal thorn in my side to citrus-picking:

Yes, each citrus tree branch is studded with these deathly, painfully long spines. One might innocently reach a gentle hand up in the tree to pluck an orange only to be RUTHLESSLY stabbed by a cruel citrus thorn! While I am sure the biological adaptation has been quite useful to the citrus tree itself, which might mean I should be grateful that so many oranges, lemons, and grapefruits hang safely in the tree, ready for my consumption, I am still not pleased by the presence of those terrible spikes.

Last week, as I carefully stood under my orange tree, my picker in hand, on a mission to retrieve many oranges without injury, I opted to create a lovely design on my lawn with the crop of the week. Food art, if you will.

On another occasion, while waiting at the Seattle airport, my lovely sister and I attempted to recreate a scene from Twilight, not at all embarrassed by our impressive, encyclopedic knowledge of the books and movie. Incidentally, "food art", was most certainly not correctly quoted, which is what caused us to break into laughter in the first place. She is a MUCH better actor than I am, which is quite obvious-it's all I can do to keep a straight face.

Food Art? from Katie W on Vimeo.

Didn't she do a great job catching the apple? Ah, my sister, the funniest and most beautiful girl I know...

Off to pick a few oranges! My gloves are on!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

French-Style Yogurt Cake with Lemon

Sunday, April 19, 2009

I have determined that writing about food successfully is something like shopping for groceries on an empty stomach-you'll always end up buying more than you need, or splurging on something excessively delicious and expensive, like dark chocolate-covered pistachio toffee. If you shop after you've eaten, you'll probably stick to the items on your list, maybe even forgetting a few of them just because they don't seem that appetizing anyway. The same applies to writing about food-if I've just put away an entire mess of garlicky greens (in this case, broccoli rabe), tossed with orecchiette and sprinkled generously with ricotta salata, I'm going to struggle to compose an adequate entry about the very dish I've just enjoyed. I'm simply too full!

However, as I'm swilling my new favorite drink of a boiling hot evening, ice cold Fresca mixed with freshly-squeezed orange juice, I feel that tonight is the perfect night for writing about the heavenly french-style yogurt cake with lemon that I made for our Easter festivities last weekend. I had the most wonderful opportunity to meet Molly Wizenberg, aka Orangette, and the recipe's fabulous creator, in person yesterday at a book signing in San Francisco, so it seems only right, and fitting, that I should preserve that fond memory by writing about the cake.

I've made a similar cake once before, courtesy of Ina Garten, but I have to admit to preferring Molly's version. I took her advice (from her book's version of the recipe), using my own Meyer lemons in place of conventional lemons, and the results were nothing short of fantastic, despite the fact that I had to improvise with my springform pans, as I don't even own cake pans! On a side note, how did I not realize this?? What kind of home cook am I??

The icing was startlingly sweet, almost akin to a more subdued version of Pez candy, but it melded with the cake perfectly, creating a shiny topping that crackled in a most satisfying way when I sliced into it for serving, revealing a creamy white, thick cake that was lightly studded with hints of lemon zest. It was the Meyer lemons, I think, with their spicy whiff of orange, that contributed to the extreme taste of the icing, but truth be told, I can't complain. I took more than one dip into the mixing bowl to "test" the flavor.

It was a tremendous success at our Easter lunch, but the best part was being able to sneak afternoon slices while I worked on my reading for the week. Life is good. Especially when you're eating this cake, as dappled sunlight sweeps into your living room, while immersed in the world of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood.

*Molly Wizenberg was positively lovely, by the way. I am thrilled to have been able to meet her, and I can only hope that A Homemade Life is the first of many culinary offerings!

Friday, April 17, 2009

I heart Bones (wait, have I said that before?)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Ok, so this wasn't a funny scene (though you do get a hint of the witty banter in those last few lines), but it was SO good, just the same. The writers have done a fabulous job of slowly, surely developing Brennan's emotional side, while Booth continues to have a quiet, almost protective restraint. I absolutely adore the show, despite the gratuitous gore that has permeated the past few episodes (WAY worse than any episode of CSI!) and the occasionally ridiculous side plots involving the other characters. While I was definitely one of those viewers desperate to get Jim and Pam together on The Office, I don't think I quite want to see that with Booth and Bones. They're perfect just the way they are.

Charred Tomato Soup with Pesto and Prosciutto Stromboli

I've settled into a routine as of late where I find myself neatly storing away the recipes I've made, sure that I'll write about them soon or planning to use them for one of those days when I just don't feel inspired to write anything interesting. My past few posts, however, have been falling for short of the interesting category, which tells me I should have been posting about a few of my delicious dinners!

One of my very first posts was about this soup, and if I do say so myself, I think I described it in quite the appetizing way. Consisting of roasted tomatoes and onions, pureed and made rich with cream, and served with a salty, spicy stromboli, only slightly oozing with cheese, it makes a wonderful meal, especially on a colder evening. Not to mention that it qualifies as a full meal, according to my SH, who is never quite satisfied with a bowl of soup unless something substantial accompanies it.

Charred Tomato Soup with Pesto and Prosciutto Stromboli, from 365: No Repeats, by Rachael Ray

6 ripe plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
1 small red onion, cut into chunks
2 tablespoons EVOO, plus some for drizzling
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tube refrigerated pizza dough, such as Pillsbury brand
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour or cornmeal
1/2 cup store-bought pesto (the good stuff they sell in the refrigerated case in tubs)
12 slices prosciutto di Parma
4 slices Provolone, deli sliced
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 tablespoons dried Italian seasoning blend
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 quart chicken stock or broth
1 cup heavy cream
20 fresh basil leaves, shredded or torn

1. Preheat the broiler to high.
2. Arrange the plum tomato halves, skin side down, with the onions on a rimmed cookie sheet. Drizzle EVOO on the vegetables and season with salt and pepper. Broil for about 4 minutes, flip, and continue to broil for 3 minutes, or until the tomatoes and onions are slightly charred. Lower the oven setting to 400.
3. Dust your hands and the dough lightly with flour or cornmeal and unroll the dough out onto a work surface. Stretch out the dough, gently spreading its rectangle shape. Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces: Working across the dough, cut it in half and cut each half in half again. Cover each piece of dough with 2 tablespoons of the pesto. (*The pizza dough is a bit unwieldy, but it doesn't matter if it all seems a bit messy-it will still turn out great, even if it's not pretty!)
4. Fold 3 slices of the prosciutto and 1 slice of the Provolone to fit each pesto-covered piece of dough, then roll each piece on an angle from corner to corner, making a long roll that is thicker in the middle and thinner on each end (*I opted to use half a slice of cheese and only 1 piece of proscuitto per roll the first time I made this dish because I was running low on groceries, and it turned out quite tasty, so don't feel obligated to load the stromboli down with all of that meat and cheese). Brush the rolls with EVOO, then mix the sesame seeds, dried Italian seasoning, and 1/2 teaspoon of the red pepper flakes in a small cup. Sprinkle and pat the mixture onto the strombolis, place in the oven, and bake until evenly golden, 12 to 14 minutes.
5. Place the tomatoes and onions in a blender or food processor and puree until somewhat smooth.
6. Preheat a soup pot over medium-high heat, add the 2 tablespoons EVOO (twice around the pan), and add the garlic and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes. Saute the garlic for a minute, then add the pureed veggies and the chicken stock. When the soup comes to a bubble, stir in the heavy cream, then season with salt and pepper. Simmer the soup for 8 to 10 minutes.
7. When ready to serve, turn off the soup and stir in the basil. Adjust the salt and pepper. Serve the soup alongside the pesto and prosciutto stromboli, dipping them into the soup as you eat them.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Buyer's remorse...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

is something I do NOT have! Yes, after many fruitless searches and failed attempts at obtaining BETTER Coldplay tickets at that accursed site known as Live Nation, I finally emerged victorious. In my possession are the BEST tickets to a Coldplay concert that I have ever had (and this will be my fifth time!). My loving husband, who has generously supported my excessive ticket buying-I know no cost when it comes to Coldplay!!!-suggested that I wait a few months after the tickets went on sale to see if any seats had been released, as a common ploy of these venues is to hold seats in order to get the most money out of them. Lo and behold, almost two months after I purchased lawn seats, the only seats I could get, I clicked right through to the premium seats. My palms were sweating and my fingers shaking as I raced through the purchasing process, with a ticking clock, LITERALLY, flashing at the top of the screen, warning me that my precious tickets would be released if I could not finish my purchase in 3.5 minutes! (Well, actually, it was 10 minutes, but it sounds much more exciting to say 3.5.) I felt like the Jack Bauer of ticket buying! I do not regret one anxious moment, or one penny, as I know it will all be worth it.

A treat for me, AND you, my favorite song from Viva la Vida:

I've got goosebumps! All I need is to hear the merest strains of that song, and I can't believe I'm so lucky as to be able to go hear it live, once more!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Top 5 Tuesday

Tuesday, April 14, 2009
I had the best intentions today, planning to use my time at home most productively, blogging, finishing ALL my laundry, reading for class. However, those plans were stymied by a lengthier-than-planned trip to Office Depot, a visit to the post office (that's just never quick, no matter what post office you're in across this vast country), and the need to purchase all of my proteins for the next week of cooking (obviously, I've been watching old episodes of Top Chef lately, otherwise I would have just said that I had to buy beef, turkey, and chicken).

Thus, this week's Top 5 will be brief-I was just now struck with the inspiration for it, as I've been reading Sense and Sensibility for the past few days. I'm always impressed when a film adaptation is an excellent representation of a book, not in small part because it's a rare occurrence. It's a real pleasure for an avid reader to be able to see a beloved novel come to life.

I won't say a lot about the details of my choices, mostly because it's 10:30 and I'm only a few minutes away from a warm and comfortable bed.

5. Anne of Green Gables (including the Sequel). The only reason that this particular movie is so low on my list is because of the MANY, excessive liberties taken with the plot in the sequel. I allow them, simply because my Anne, the one literary character to which I feel the most close, was so well cast and developed throughout the two miniseries. Gilbert Blythe was pretty perfect, too.

4. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring. An incredible, breathtaking production that re-introduced us to the mythical creatures of Middle Earth.

3. Gone with the Wind. Vivian Leigh and Clark Gable were pitch perfect as the dramatic, fiery lovers whose relationship sustains multiple marriages, financial loss, and a civil war only to fall apart over the tragic death of a child. Not that their relationship is even the most memorable aspect of the incredible epic. The grand Southern plantation parties, burning of Atlanta, sweet Melanie...all gold. Oscar gold.

2. Lonesome Dove. Yes, I'm perfectly aware that this was actually a television miniseries, but it's still one of the best movies ever made. It couldn't have been easy to adapt the Pulitzer Prize-winning tome, but the final result was stupendous. I still get choked up every time I hear Call say those words, "Hell of a vision." It's Tommy Lee Jones' best role. Seriously.

1. Sense and Sensibility. This is the only movie on the list that I actually saw BEFORE reading the book, a practice I usually abhor. It took reading the book for me to truly appreciate the film. Emma Thompson adapted the screenplay, and her love and respect for the novel is evident in every word on screen. Even after watching the movie hundreds of times, I'm still brought to tears in the final scenes. In a good way.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

In honor of Easter...

Sunday, April 12, 2009
I present to you not one, but TWO images of the Faberge eggs that I was lucky enough to glimpse and study last week at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.

The Danish Palaces Egg, presented to the wife of Alexander III, Maria Feodorovna. Maria was Danish, and the surprise inside of the egg (I think they all contained surprises) was a 10-panel triptych with images of her favorite spots in Denmark and Russia. Of course I appreciated the egg's lovely, delicate nature, but it was memorable all the more because of the familiar names-I've been to the Amaliensborg Palace! My better half is half-Danish, and I take any opportunity to learn more about my mother-in-law's heritage.

The Blue Serpent Clock Egg, presented in 1887 to the same tsar, Alexander III. It was eventually passed down to Prince Rainier III of Monaco, and he gave it to his wife, Grace Kelly. She loved the egg and kept it on her desk. After her death, the Prince couldn't bear to see her things, and sealed off her chambers, where the egg languished in dust for years. Amazing what one can learn from an audio tour!

As I am rather culturally inept, I was completely unaware of the stunning beauty of the Legion of Honor. It is a truly magnificent museum, worth visiting just to admire the European facade and view from the grassy knoll near the entry. It certainly won't be the last trip I make!

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Homemade Life

Friday, April 10, 2009

As is my usual routine when there is a new book I desperately want, I picked up Molly Wizenberg's (a.k.a. Orangette) book within days of its release. I could go further into my strange neurosis about how I worry every time that I go to a restaurant that my favorite dish will have run out that night, or how I rush to a movie theater much, much earlier than necessary in order to procure the PERFECT seat (in my defense, does ANYONE like sitting in the front row, or being separated from their movie companions?), or how I have an irrational fear that enough printings weren't ordered of that very book I desired...but that is not what any of you need or wish to read about. I know I'm crazy!

Anyway, I eagerly anticipated Molly's book, and boy, it did not disappoint. Lilting, lovely prose, accompanied by delightful and heavenly-sounding recipes that were carefully plucked from a the life of a woman who appreciates that the memories that one cherishes can be evoked and revisited with a comforting pot of soup or a dark chocolate-coated coconut macaroon. I drank up every word, wishing that each chapter were longer, or that Molly's entire blog were in book form, or even that I might ever have the luxury of sitting down with her, chatting about food in France, life and love.

I have to include just a *few* excerpts-I hope they entice you to run right out and buy the book, or at the very least, add Orangette to your daily reads. Even if you're not a foodie, I can't imagine how you couldn't be swept right up into Molly's world. I'm going to be making her banana bread and French-style yogurt cake this weekend for Easter desserts.

from "La Boule Miche"
Each morning after that, while my mother was getting dressed, my father and I would walk around the block to the bakery. It was always the same order for me: a pain au chocolat and a chocolat chaud. I'd perch myself atop one of the black mushroom caps, kicking my feet against its stem, and lean over the counter to sip the hot chocolate form its white ceramic cup. Sometimes, for an afternoon snack, he bought me one of the small, oblong breads-pain passion, they called them-from a basket by the register. Later in the day, if I got hungry before dinner, I would stuff a little square of chocolate, the kind they give you in cafes when you order coffee, into its doughy center. My father beamed.

from "The Best of All Possible Worlds"
We loved the foreignness in each other, the mispronounciations and bridged gaps. The first time I spent the night in his narrow bed under the eaves of his parents' house, he woke up early and went out for enormous croissants from the bakery around the corner. We sat sleepily next to the kitchen window, drinking hot chocolate from cafe au lait bowls. I invited him to my host family's house for the infamous bouchon-fueled sleepover, and the next morning, we ate oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies for breakfast on my bedroom floor. He invited his friends to join us for a homemade dinner of raclette-buttery cow's milk cheese from Savoie, melted and poured over boiled potatoes, pearl onions, and lacy sheets of ham-and I invited my friends to meet us at Le Beliere, a tiny bistro with lots of smoke and a piano in the corner. It was there that, after a carafe of cheap red and a bowl of mussels in broth, he introduced me to tarte Tatin.

from "The Change Thing"
Soup is a perfect lunch food. It's filling, but unlike a salami sandwich with provolone and sauteed peppers (which would be my second choice), it never makes you want to unbutton your pants or sleep for the rest of the day. My favorite take on the theme is a tomato soup with slices of sweet fennel, fennel seeds, and a few sprigs from our thyme plant on the side stoop. When I was fifteen, I wrote a poem about wanting to immerse myself in a vat of marshmallow fluff, but today I'd much rather take a warm soak in gently simmering tomato soup, preferably with an eye pillow. I'd be happy, in fact, to do it every day. I doubt it would ever get old.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Perhaps Tom can be a guest judge?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Thanks to my beloved friend Andrea, I have learned a bit more about the upcoming Top Chef Masters, set to premiere on Bravo in June! When I first heard about the competition, I wasn't entirely sold-the initial synopsis sounded as if a few well-established restaurant chefs would be chosen, not necessarily anyone particularly famous, to compete, and there will be no Padma, and infinitely WORSE, no Tom! As it turns out, the show is actually more along the lines of something Tom would actually have to compete in himself-contestants include Rick Bayless, Hubert Keller, and Michael Chiarello! The format will essentially be the same, so it should definitely be entertaining to watch the former, often pretentious judges sweating it out themselves. At the very least, it will tide me over until the next, regular edition of Top Chef!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Top 5 Tuesday

Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Yet again, in my heightened state of un-productivity, I have come up with a most mundane top 5 list, that only a frugal, practical mind OR home cook might appreciate. Yes, it's my top 5 pantry items that I can't live without. My creativity this week obviously knows no bounds. All I had to do, once I determined that my mind was a desolate spot this week, a veritable desert of ideas, was peek into my cabinet (which, incidentally, USED to be my dresser-a post on that later) and quickly identify the five items that I always must have on hand, for those evenings that we simply can't order pizza for the fifth time or are too mentally exhausted to be willing to face the evening crowds at the grocery store. I must say, it's fairly rare that I allow such situations to happen. I have to give myself credit-I have consistently worked on building up my repertoire of emergency, no-groceries on hand recipes, and they entirely depend on this list. I'm going to include a few of those recipes, by the way, so really, you can't fault me too much for my lack of originality and interesting content this week. My list might actually HELP you, in the future!

*I should note that my definition of a pantry item is something non-perishable, that I might stock up on and not have to refresh for the next six weeks/months AND/OR something that can be frozen indefinitely. Yes, I admit. It's a loose definition.

5. Tuna.
Before I decided to be a kind, loving wife, overcoming my intense aversion to mayonnaise enough to keep it in my fridge so that I might regularly mix it with freshly chopped celery, red onion, and tuna, thus making my SH's lunches somewhat more interesting, I always kept canned tuna on hand for a version of tuna and tomato pasta. I know, it may sound weird, but it's actually remarkably tasty! My lovely, immensely talented, and incredible chef of a sister-in-law introduced me to a similar recipe a few years ago, and I've simply adapted it, a la Rachael Ray, to fit what I usually have available. You can add lots of things to make it tasty, like chopped capers or a can of olives.

4. Frozen Spinach/Broccoli.
There's a huge host of recipes that can be tweaked, improved upon, or even invented with a handy bag of frozen greens. I always make sure to keep frozen spinach, in particular, on hand, for the days when I don't have a decently healthy side dish or have nothing left to work with for dinner but a half pound of pasta, clove of garlic, and a chopped tomato. The broccoli is a necessity for accompanying salsa shrimp and brown rice, which you can find here.

3. Diced/Crushed Tomatoes, variety of combinations. Not only is a decent can of tomatoes a grand addition to a pound of hot pasta, and finely chopped, sauteed garlic, it can also be used to make such dishes as the tuna and tomato pasta above. Diced tomatoes mixed with green chiles is an even better, and more essential, fixture in my pantry. With just a few other items, I can use it to make Taco Soup, a delicious, cost-efficient, practical meal that lasts several days. I stretch it even more by making rice on the second day and topping it with just a few spoonfuls of soup.

Taco Soup
(adapted from my Aunt Janet's recipe)

1 pound ground beef (I always buy ground sirloin. I WAS raised on a ranch!)
2 cans Rotel (diced tomatoes and green chile-Rotel is the best)
1 package (or can) frozen corn
1 can pinto beans with jalepenos (I can't find this particular combination here in California, so I purchased pinto beans and a 4 oz can of jalepenos, and used only 1/3 of the can)
grated cheese (I prefer Colby Jack)
tortilla chips

1. Brown the ground beef in a decently-sized pot and season with salt and pepper.
2. Add the tomatoes, green chiles, corn, and beans. Fill the empty tomato can with water TWICE and add to the pot.
3. Keep the heat setting to low, and simmer for an hour.
4. Crush tortilla chips and place in the bottom of a soup bowl. Spoon the soup into the bowl, and top with grated cheese.

*The amounts in this recipe can be easily modified. Also, there is really no need to simmer for a full hour, if you're pressed for time. It just allows the flavors to meld together better.

2. Diced Green Chile. Yes, green chile deserves its own spot in my line-up. Not only do I readily use the petite cans for soup and salsa, I can also toss them into scrambled eggs, beans, basic ground beef, hamburgers...the list goes on and on. A MUST in my house.

1. An assortment of canned beans (black beans, kidney, pinto, cannellini).
I know that the best beans are the ones rinsed, soaked, and cooked for hours, just like my dad makes, with a bit of bacon and maybe a few chiles. In the interest of time and money, however, I rely upon canned beans most often, though I do plan to branch out and try some of the fancy varieties, like Rancho Gordo, at some point. My sweet husband introduced me to the most comforting and simple of dinners, his version of "beans and rice." It's one of our standby meals, and despite its simplicity, quite delicious.

Katie's Beans and Rice

1 can beans (preferably black or pinto)
1 can chopped/diced green chiles
Cooked white rice
Sour cream

1. Heat the beans and green chiles in a medium-sized pot over medium-low heat. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Serve the beans over hot cooked rice. Top with sour cream and salsa, and mix in thoroughly.

Yes, it's not really a recipe, I know. Anybody could have quickly thrown it together!

Unfortunately, I didn't cook anything based off my top 5 pantry items tonight, so I have a whole kitchen to clean before bed...

Monday, April 6, 2009

I missed one!

Monday, April 6, 2009

While I mentally recover from the gratuitous and shocking events that occurred on House this evening, I shall correct my earlier post about the upcoming movies that I'm eagerly anticipating. I've no idea how I forgot to include State of Play, a remake of a successful British miniseries. I actually have the British version, which stars young star James McAvoy, but I decided to hold out as soon as I discovered the all-star cast in the American movie: Russell Crowe, Helen Mirren, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams...hmmmm! Despite questionable behavior in his personal life, Russell Crowe makes fabulous movies, and is there anyone that doesn't adore Rachel McAdams? Love her! Having chiseled-jaw Ben Affleck and highly esteemed, "looks great at 60" Helen Mirren doesn't hurt. Fortunately, I don't have long to wait-this comes out in a few days!

Okay, writing this frivolous little movie post has not exactly helped-I'll have to dwell a bit longer on Hugh Laurie's impressive acting and how, ONCE AGAIN, I was completely swept up in the ending of the episode because of a very well-timed, appropriate song. Am I really that easy to manipulate?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Just an average afternoon around here...

Sunday, April 5, 2009

I still can't get used to the fact that all kinds of fruits and vegetables grow gloriously around me here in California, in my very own backyard! I know I say things like that all the time, and my loyal few are MORE than fed up with the California adoration, but SERIOUSLY people! I plucked some oranges from my tree this afternoon, which is positively laden with heavy golden-tangerine globes, and decided to make a pitcher of juice, seeing as how I had no inspiration for orange-infused recipes for the week. I'm sitting at my kitchen table this very minute, imbibing a slightly tart, perfectly sweet glass of juice, and thinking of how very lucky and blessed I am.

I cannot WAIT for the day that my apricots reach fruition! I will be filling my blog with proud pictures, apricot-infused recipes, and the adventures sure to ensue from making apricot jam! For now, though, I'm content to seize my sturdy, steady oranges, even if I do nothing more than admire them before slicing them up for a lunch time snack.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

My memories aren't for sale!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Remember this? Beloved childhood treasure of a book, off one of my earlier Top 5 lists?

It's worth a cool $1,452.86 $1,504.08 on Amazon right now.

You better believe I'm keeping it!