Monday, January 28, 2008

Good News - Almost

My sister's health problems have been weighing heavy on my mind lately, but things are looking up - sort of. She was having dizzy spells, went for a test and found out she has a brain tumor. Luckily, the tests have come back and it's not cancerous - they have not concluded that the tumor is causing the spells, so there are more tests, because of where it is located, they don't want to move just yet, they think that they can just monitor it for now - if it shows growth over the next few months, then they'll have to do something - radiation or surgery. The more troubling part is that there is significant narrowing of the internal carotid artery that is inside of the brain. For that she must see a vascular surgeon. So, we're not exactly exhaling a sigh of relief - just yet.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Pork Chops and Malbec - lovely together...

It's been a full week and not always in a good way. My sister has been having dizzy spells for the last month or so - she got the results of the tests and not good. I'm not ready to share just yet - we need some more information. Between her, my mom's ongoing illness, kid and job stress, it's been nesting time for me. Tonight I needed comfort food. So I made pork chops with apple stuffing

The stuffing is chopped braeburn apples (or any apples on the tart side), onions, celery, sage, thyme, a clove of garlic and day old french bread cubed (about a 1/4 loaf). Saute the onions and celery until translucent, add the herbs and garlic. Saute for another two to three minutes; add stock if the mixture is becoming dry, then add the bread cubes. When everything is cooked and slightly softened, remove from heat. Stuff chops, then salt and pepper the chops. Sear in a cast iron frying pan on each side until well browned (about five minutes). Splash pan with Calvados, then finish in a 400 degree oven.

I served them with roasted cauliflower (tossed with olive oil, chopped garlic cloves, salt and pepper and roasted at 375 - shave some pecorino over it after it comes out of the oven) and saffron rice and peas. I had an open bottle of Malbec - I was afraid it would be a little too heavy, but it worked really well. is truly comfort food.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Drastic Changes

I was talking with a dear friend of mine this week and she mentioned that she wanted to change things in her life. Home was happy, but in her career, she felt she was coming to an age where, if she didn't make the change to follow her passion, she'd be stuck. Her income is needed, it's not like what she makes is disposable - it's truly a two income family. She has ideas about what she'd like to do, but in this economy and unsure political, financial, world climate it's a tough call. My question is, have you met or have you yourself made this sort of change? What were your experiences? My sister did it, was laid off of a very lucrative middle management job and decided to become a chef - she never regretted doing it, but acknowledges that it has not been easy and she's had to adjust quite a bit to a less lucrative lifestyle at an age when you're getting into that "red zone" of retirement planning. If you have any thoughts to share, I'd love to hear them.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sunday Dinner

I wish I'd taken a picture of it, but we ate too quickly!

Beef Short Ribs Tagine with Blood Oranges and Sweet Potatoes

3-4 lbs beef short ribs
2-3 Sweet Potatoes peeled and cut into chunks
2 Blood Oranges, zest the skin, peel and separate into sections
3 cloves garlic peeled and minced
1 1/2" piece of fresh ginger minced finely
1 red onion halfed and cut into slices along the grain
Chile pepper 1 tsp
Smoked paprika 1 tsp
Ground Coriander 1 tsp
Cinnamon 1/4 tsp
Salt and Pepper to taste

If you have a traditional tagine as I did, the saute portion takes place in a large skillet. I now have an Ikea tagine that is cast iron non stick on the bottom and glazed ceramic on top, so it happens all in one dish. The recipe calls for ghee. If you don't have ghee, melt 1 T. butter and 1 T. olive oil in the bottom of a tagine or a cast iron casserole. Saute the onion, garlic and ginger for a few minutes until onion starts to soften. Add chile, smoked paprika, orange zest and coriander and saute for a couple more minutes. Add sweet potatoes and continue to saute until the potatoes caramelize a bit (the higher sugar content in the potatoes makes this happen more quickly). Remove to a bowl and add a tsp more oil/butter to melt. Add ribs and brown them well in the tagine. I blot out the excess oil with a paper towel and discard. When the ribs are well browned, return the potato onion mixture to the pan and add enough water to barely cover. Bring to a boil and then cover the casserole and lower to a simmer - cook for 1 hour. 1 hour in, add 1 1/2 honey, and peeled orange sections. You can add a 1/2 c. of raisins at this point, too if you'd like more fruit (we don't). keep the the lid off and cook down for another 20 minutes.

I serve it with cous-cous or rice and a green vegetable on the side. I also pair it with it a Shiraz as the Shiraz will stand up to the intense flavors of the stew.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

More, More, More

I'm a big fan of your blog - please send me an invitation!

Busy Busy Busy

I've been so busy lately with some travel and stuff to do around the house, I've not been able to post anything. Today, Matt and I went to Ikea so that he could pick out a new dresser/chest. His is best suited for a little kid and he's so big now, his clothes don't fit. I was trying to guide him to the Malm line that looks Danish Modern - it has a wide range of pieces and we can add to them as he gets ready to move out of his room (we've kicked around the idea of refinishing the basement and sectioning off part of it as his bedroom - he is 17, after all and they are pretty subterranean at that age). But, he picked out this:

He loves the color red and smarty pants that he is, saw that there is a black highboy to go along with it - his other favorite color - he wanted his room to be more "colorful". Serves me right....tomorrow is our assembly day. WooHoo. We also picked up a stainless steel backsplash for the kitchen, a stainless shelf and a small side table for our sunroom. We weren't the only ones to decide to shop today. I think half of Philadelphia was in Ikea today - it's the most interesting place to people watch. You see the twentysomethings who are buying for their first apartments/houses. The fortysomethings buying for their kids (I suppose there are thirtysomethings, too, either they look too young or too old to stand out).

Our other purchase was at my other favorite place, the Container Store:

I actually picked up the 40 bottle rack because I belong to a couple of wine clubs and now have more than what I can store in my dining room wine rack. I've always wanted to build a cellar and I have a spot in my basement that will be perfect for it. One of my old colleagues out in the Seattle area has a collector for a while now and publishes a wine newsletter, maybe one day he'll let me contribute, or I can start the East Coast version ;-)

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Czar Dictates: Rational explanations for movie cliches (part 1)

The Czar Dictates: Rational explanations for movie cliches (part 1)

My friend Carl is a world class cynic and his sense of humor is so dry that few get his one liners right off the bat. We worked together a few years ago and immediately hit it off (guess my sense of humor is as dry as his - we'd laugh hysterically at each other's lines while other's would give us a blank stare for 30 seconds until it finally sunk in).

Pearls Before Swine was modeled on us, or so we thought, and no, I'm not Pig (I'm Goat). This strip typifies our relationship:

(my thanks to Stephen Pastis)

One day he'll take over the world....;-)

Tell Me Why I don't like Mondays..........

I can never find my travel mug to take my French Press into the car with me. So, being the inventive girl I am, I poured it into this nifty water bottle that my employer gave to all of us employees at a company rah rah day (I actually do like my job). I figured it was tepid enough and the bottle had these cute little silicon grips on the side. Great - jump into the car, as I'm driving down the street - I grab the bottle go to take a sip and nothing - I'd forgotten the straw that goes inside the lid. No big deal, tried to tip it back and black coffee dribbles down my face. Fearing makeup damage, I unscrewed the top and tried to sip it - the inside lip causes it to GUSH down my chin and then to the front of my LL Bean pea coat....let that be a lesson to you all - pay the three bucks and go to Starbucks, it's worth it.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

My eldest has Asperger's Syndrome. He is 17 years old and most of the time, he's a great kid. When the meds are off or he's nervous or anxious it can be hell. Matt struggles with adolescence. Emotionally, he knows he still feels like a 12 year old - there have been many times Matt has told me he still wishes he were 10 because things were a lot easier then. I often reply, "me, too", but mostly we just try to talk about how getting older can be a good thing. Hormonally, he's definitely 17, but bless his heart, he knows there is a pretty significant gap between what his body wants to do and what his emotional self can handle. Example - he has been friends with a girl at school since they were kids. This girl has started to reach out to Matt, a card here, a phone call there. Boy was that interesting - 2 1/2 hour conversation - I haven't had a 2 1/2 hour conversation with him in his whole LIFE - he is challenged in "expressive speech". I wonder if they want to take the relationship beyond platonic friends; I've asked him, and his response was, "Mom, it would be great, but I'm not ready - my head isn't old enough to date". I thought that was pretty mature for a kid that still won't watch anything beyond Cartoon Network.

Matt plays street hockey with the Special Olympics. Hockey and skiing are the two things that can get him outside and active. He loves it. Last weekend, he went with the team to play in a tournament at the Jersey Shore. He got to room with his buddies, hang out and watch movies, all the things that these kids don't always find easy to do. During that weekend, he showed such maturity - he called home to check in, called after his games to tell me how they did (they made the finals!). He called the next day to let me know they took the silver - and he was okay with not winning. When I picked him up on Sunday, he showed me the medals with such pride and we talked in the car about how some of the kids didn't deal well with the loss, and how proud he was that he doesn't do that anymore. That meant more to me than winning a gold medal.

Today, I received a note from one of the parents telling me how responsible and polite he was the entire weekend - that he really was a lovely young man. This is a kid who will probably need assistance his entire life - receiving something like this was just as pleasurable as hearing that he'd be valedictorian of his class. It makes me have hope that making the transition will be more positive that we thought possible.

Here's my young man at Hemingway's house in Key West:

I mentioned that I would update my previous entry with my daughter's dress for the dance - doesn't she look beautiful?:

Friday, January 11, 2008

The QC Report: It's nothing personal. It's just business.

The QC Report: It's nothing personal. It's just business.

Read this blog. Every chance you get. She's a gem.

What a week.....

I was in sales training all week, which translates into sales people throwing slightly poisonous darts at the poor marketing saps (e.g. me) trying to spell our strategy. It was a loooooong week, but somehow I survived - although there was a lot of direct conversations and a little tough love along the way. Now, it's Friday night. My daughter had her 8th grade dance tonight and I'm sitting here typing while she's curled up and sound asleep next to me on the couch. We bought her dress earlier this week and I have to give the girl credit, when she decides to dress up, she has a great sense of style. I'll post pictures of her later. The most interesting part of this story was that she came home from school looking quite sad. It seems the boy who had asked her to the dance (now that means they'll meet at the dance and stand next to each other, it's not the traditional dance date) had a family emergency and had to leave school early. As he picked up his books, he apologized and told her he wouldn't be able to go. My daughter kept a stiff upper lip, but she was sad about it.

After pep talks and a long shower, which always makes everything a little better, she looked beautiful and was ready to go. When it was over, I picked her up and she came out beaming....well after the dance was under way, the young man showed up, family issue under control and found my daughter (who was managing to have a really good time) in time just to dance with her. Nothing like a happy movie ending to make a lousy week seem so much better.

Oh...the Christmas tree storage epilogue:

There is nothing better than duct tape.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

My Idea of Hell on Earth?

Taking down Christmas decorations, even though I went and spent a small fortune at The Container Store (oh, I heart The Container Store) buying organizational tools for putting away Christmas decorations. What I learned today:

1. Those nifty tree boxes? Made for skinny trees that are under five or six years old. (no judging here - I went to "permanent trees" about 10 years ago when I was a road warrior. If I didn't get a tree up Thanksgiving weekend, there wasn't going to be a tree). My tree is 15 years old and as much as I hate it, it looks better than anything I've seen. Problem is, it doesn't fold up to the size of a postage stamp the way the new ones do, so now I have my tree sitting in an open box.

2. I suddenly got very old and creaky somewhere between Thanksgiving and New Years. I had no problem running up and down the steps to put the damn stuff up, but now have a host of aches and pains carrying the stuff back down to the basement. All of this activity is standard operating procedure - I should be a size 2. It wore me out so much that I crashed on the couch at 8PM and am now wide awake (hence the blogging at midnight).

3. Teenagers, even if you bribe them, are slower than dirt. I didn't know it was possible to make taking ornaments off of a tree a day long event. Even when I explained to her that her hourly rate would be dipping well below minimum wage, her speed remained somewhere in the vicinity of reverse.

4. Stopping to organize your pantry - using all of those wonderful containers you just had to buy at TCS is a sign of middle-aged ADD. Stopping again to make lasagna in between basement runs is another sign.

5. A glass of chilled chardonnay when you finally sit down never tasted so good - even if the effect is the same as applying a hammer to the side of your head ;-)

Friday, January 4, 2008

Social Networking

I sit on a couple of group boards where of late we've been grousing about the flood of social networking requests that have been coming into our in boxes. In a single week, I get requests from Facebook, Spoke, Spock, Plaxo, LinkedIn, etc....Most of the of time I wonder, "do I really know all of these people?" or "Didn't I answer a request from this person six times already from all of the other sites? There ought to be a better way. Either you have to indicate how you know the person, or, if you don't know them, you must state why you want to connect. Plaxo and LinkedIn do this to a degree, but it's easy to bypass the qualifiers. I'm not advocating an elitist approach, but there has got to be a better way. I'm as xenophobic/agoraphobic as the next person, but I think maybe picking up the TELEPHONE to actually talk to someone to connect may very well be the next big thing....

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Before & After

One of my guests on New Year's Eve is an incredibly gifted painter and interior design person. Over the last few years he's helped me slowly convert my house from the poster child of 70's bad taste to something livable. I've lived in my house for about 12 years and each year I've taken on a project to revamp a room or an area of the house. I wish I had taken pictures of the place when I first moved in (I'm sure I have, but they may have gone with the ex) to see just how bad it was - just try to imagine this: each room a different shade of foil wallpaper or horrid color scheme:

Foyer - Silver and white foil paper - white faux marble tile
Living Room/Dining Room - white walls with with bright orange splashes of paint and a bright orange shag rug - City of Mirrors on each wall and sparkly popcorn ceilings
Kitchen - Black walnut cabinets, lime green counters and hardware, silver, white, lemon and lime trellis foil paper
Family Room - Black walnut paneling, black and white shag rug, full wall brick fireplace
Sun Room - Beige T-11 siding for paneling, cracked beige concrete floor, dark brown structural beams, gorgeous cherry tongue and groove ceiling (yeah- what gives with that??)
Powder Room (our personal favorite) - Red, white and blue plaid wallpaper - not tartan, but squiggly, designed on acid plaid. On the walls, the door and the ceiling. Blood red sink and medicine cabinet frame. We called it the behavior modification room. When my son would play in the basement, he would run up two flights of stairs just to avoid the powder room.

The upstairs was even worse, but I won't frighten any more small children with the descriptions of those rooms. When I first stepped into the house, I turned around immediately to leave, but the ex pulled me in claiming it was such a great deal that "we could fix it up" - great idea, but we, uh, divorced six months later. Still, it's been fun and a challenge to turn the house into something that I am proud of. There are plenty of projects left - landscaping, a patio, etc., but I look forward to them all. I want to take a minute to show pictures of the wonderful work that Gary (of Mather & Smith Designs - serving the NY/NJ/PA/DE/VA area) does:
Before - we at least covered the black walnut paneling:


During – Gary devised a method to cover the paneling with custom wall paper that he painted and then tore and placed on the wall to look like stone – he also decided to lighten everything up by paining the brick and all of the paneling. Taking down the ceiling would have been a nightmare – it went up in the 70’s so I would have to have a specialist take it down, so we decided to paint it a complementary color to the walls. Here are the progress shots:

Look at the difference in the ceiling!

And now, the final version – at Christmas – still have a few odds and ends, but what an improvement!

This is one of the other rooms Gary did for me – the old sun room that was in such bad shape we only used it for storage. I had two of the sliders removed – replaced the other four, added a fireplace for heat and laid laminate flooring. The ceiling and the stained glass window were original, everything else was a redo. From eyesore, to everyone’s favorite room in the house:

Think it’s time to put the Christmas stuff away….;-)

BTW - he also turned the behavior modification room into a beautiful Tuscan powder room - for a while, it was the nicest room in the house!

If you're interested in finding out more, visit their site here:

I'm not big on endorsing, but Gary's worth it. He's reliable, he's talented as hell and you'd have an end product that you would love for years

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year!

New Year's Eve was spent in my favorite fashion - at home with some close friends, a nice dinner and my family around me. My sister and I made a wonderful dinner - roast pork stuffed with an apple raisin stuffing, potato fennel gratin (yes Virginia, I AM going back to Weight Watchers) and apple cider greens. The dining room looked lovely:

The wine flowed and everyone was happy:

We were very happy this New Year's - my mom has been so sick for the last couple of years with a stroke, complications from diabetes and dialysis - this was the first holiday in a long time where she was well enough to enjoy the holidays.

Malbec can make you feel soooo mellow (You can see one of my upcoming projects - to rid my dining room of the last vestiges of bad 70's decorating).

Afterward, we all relaxed, watched the ball drop and caught up on a favorite movie (an old college tradition resurrected):

An All American New Years ......;-)

Even the kitties were sleepy on New Year's Day:

Happy New Year Everyone!