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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Link of the Week

Not saying I'll be super diligent about this (because, hey, how diligent am I about anything, really?) but I'm going to try introducing a little series on my blog.

The Link of the Week!

Every Sunday (or if I forget, then sometimes on Mondays) I'll post a link to a cool, fun, interesting, or maybe just crazy website. Today, in honor of the frenzy of baking and cooking we're all about to enter, the site is Tastespotting. This gorgeous site is full of user-submitted food photos, many of which are beautiful enough to grace the cover of Gourmet magazine. Each photo is a link to the recipe, usually on a blog, so there's useful commentary about where the recipe came from and what it's like to make. This time of year, it seems to be heavily weighted towards sweets and desserts, but there are entree recipes as well. It's searchable, and if you're feeling particularly proud of your holiday menu, it looks like it would be extremely easy to upload an image of your own.

Check it out and let me know what you think!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Savor Me Slowly

If you're anything like me, you read so much, and have such a huge stack of books already bought and waiting to be read, that your family is afraid to buy you books for Christmas. The solution my friends and relations have come up with is gift certificates to Amazon, Borders, and B&N, and let me tell you, it works great. If you know ahead of time that's what you're getting, you can start to plan your purchases now--and I'm here today to give you a strong recommendation of a book that should definitely make your list.

Savor Me Slowly
is the third and strongest installment in Gena Showalter’s Alien Huntress series. As riveting as the previous two books were, (and I was a big fan of Awaken Me Darkly) Savor is better. The only thing about it that doesn’t work is the title—there’s no possible way to savor this book slowly. I turned the pages fast enough to end up with paper cuts, but it was worth it.

Mishka Le’Ace is a heroine unlike any you’ve seen before. Half-human, half-machine, she was handcrafted in a laboratory by a group of scientists to be the perfect weapon. She’s spent her entire life as the possession of power-hungry men, used in the cause of destruction and mayhem until the spark of humanity has nearly burned out of her heart. That spark sputters back to life, though, when Le’Ace begins her latest mission: the rescue of AIR operative Jaxon Tremain. Jaxon’s reputation with the other Alien Investigation and Removal agents is that of a reserved gentleman, but captivity and torture have released his long-repressed inner bad boy. It’s his true self that holds such a dangerous attraction for Le’Ace, and that’s a big part of what makes Jaxon fall for her so hard and fast. Jaxon is mouthwatering as a hero; he’s a fighter, but once he commits to Le’Ace, he is unwaveringly loyal—even knowing that the override system implanted in her brain could force her to comply with an order to execute him.

Some of my favorite Alien Huntress characters show up, including my girl, Mia Snow. It’s fascinating to watch Mia and Le’Ace interact, especially since it turns out they have a history. The big standout secondary character in Savor, however, is Jaxon’s best friend and fellow agent, Dallas, who’s trying to come to terms with his own newly-conferred gift of precognition. Dallas has a sharp, irreverent voice that made me wild to meet the woman who can match him. Here’s hoping his book is in the works, continuing Showalter’s fabulous, inventive series.

Savor Me Slowly hits shelves on December 26th, so it's the perfect gift certificate purchase, as well as the perfect escape from the hell of setting your house to rights after the whirlwind of family visits, ripped wrapping paper, and dirty dishes. Add it to your list right now!

Monday, December 3, 2007

House Hunting

Well, kids, it looks like we're moving. Not far, just to the next town over (the one with the Blockbuster!!), where my husband's new office is. He got promoted, which is yay, but moving is a giant p. in the a.

I want to think of it as an adventure, and it will be, but mostly at the moment I have visions of packing tape and broken china dancing in my head. However, the new town is about three times the size of the town we live in now, and there may even be restaurants and bars we'd want to occasionally spend time in, which would be a giant change. I love to cook, but sometimes it's nice to let someone else cook for you, and bring it to the table, and do the dishes after. And for it not to be pizza or Chinese, which are the only ethnic cuisines on the menu in Norwalk. Sigh. I'm having a craving for Thai food, and there's just not a damn thing I can do about it, short of driving an hour to Cleveland.

Luckily, there's plenty to distract myself with. Furniture shopping online, the ongoing hunt for an electrician who will actually call me back (this is how far my expectations have fallen--I'm not even hoping for an actual in-person visit at this point, with the tools and the fixing and the whole thing. No, if I could just get someone to CALL ME BACK, I'd be a happy girl.), and also some grocery shopping.

Later, I plan to watch a Christmas movie while I fold laundry and otherwise putter. Maybe one of the ones Nick can't bear to see every year (or possibly ever again) like the Natalie Wood Miracle on 34th St., or Meet Me in St. Louis, which is technically appropriate for EVERY season, but I like to watch it at Christmas because I once saw, with my own eyes, the red velvet dress Judy Garland wears to the Christmas dance, while visiting a museum with my mother, and we both teared up. For no good reason other than the sheer fun of emoting all over the place. The other candidate for movie watching today is Christmas in Connecticut. Anybody else ever seen that? It's silly, but I love it. Barbara Stanwyck is a city girl who writes a weekly magazine column describing her fictitious life as a married mother of one who cooks like a dream and lives on a beautiful farm in Connecticut. No one knows it's not true, and when the magazine publisher is put on a diet for his health, he rebels by inviting himself to her farm for Christmas, along with a wounded soldier as a publicity stunt, and hijinks ensue. Thinking about it makes me want to watch it, but I believe, in spite of his protestations to the contrary, that Nick actually somewhat enjoys CiC, especially the luminous Ms. Stanwyck, so maybe I'll wait. (It was remade at some point, I've just discovered, with Kris Kristofferson of all people. Why would someone do such a thing?)

Do you have any little-known Christmas favorites you want to recommend? I'm always looking to expand my holiday DVD collection...

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Duck and Cover

What is it about me? Am I a magnet for flying shards of pottery? Glass? Tonight marks the second time a piece of cookware has exploded mid-dinner-preparation, ruining hours of work, and not incidentally, actually wounding my hand. Wah! I'm honestly more upset about the ruined dinner than the shallow cut. I was making a provencal veal stew, which involves tomatoes and garlic and mushrooms and a whole lot of white wine, and I'd spent hours. Ok, fine, not active hours of chopping and stirring and whatnot, there was a lot of, you know, stewing, but still. Significant time was put it, and there were lots of steps, and it smelled really freaking good. But I still ended up having frozen pizza for dinner last night, because when I took the Le Creuset covered casserole out of the oven and attempted to bring it to a boil on the stovetop after I monkeyed around with the sauce, it shattered into an enormous mess.

For a second, I just stood there, dripping with hot veal juice, trying to figure out a way to go back and make it unhappen. Nick came rushing in, asking if I was alright, and I said, "I think it's fine. We can probably salvage at least two portions for dinner, don't you think?" He looked at me a little funny and said, "You want to eat veal stew with shards of ceramic in it?" Oh. Yeah. My only defense is that I was a little in shock (I hadn't even realized I was bleeding yet) and just desperate not to have it all be for nothing.

Nick hugged me, and made me go upstairs and neosporin myself while he wiped up what he could in the kitchen. Most of the casserole pieces were still too hot to touch, so we seized on that happy excuse to procrastinate cleaning. We thawed a pizza and ate it while watching two back to back episodes of House, and I stopped feeling like I might burst into pointless tears over spilled stew.

The lesson here is this. Don't ever, ever assume that a piece of cookware is both stovetop and oven safe, unless it's cast iron. (You'd think I would've learned that when my pyrex container of potatoes au gratin exploded this summer, but no.) And don't assume that everything by Le Creuset IS cast iron, because IT'S NOT. That's actually where I fell down this time. I have several pieces of enameled cast iron, where, you know, the cast iron bit is hidden, so I thought this was more of the same, even though it was only offered in white, instead of the signature Le Creuset red or any of those other crazy, fun colors. Obviously, if I'd taken the time to glance at the tag when Sur la Table delivered it to me this dreadful episode could've been avoided, but I didn't. All I can hope is that I've FINALLY learned this lesson. For real, this time.

What's your worst kitchen disaster?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Situation Normal

Or what passes for normal around here. I managed not to gain any weight over Thanksgiving, by dint of obsessively exercising every single day, no matter how desperately I wanted to be having tea and scones with clotted cream instead. Hot damn, what is it about cream that makes it so delicious, no matter what you do with it? Boil it into a thick sauce for chicken (which is what I did for dinner tonight), or clot it up with sugar and spread it with jam on scones, I love it. You know what Julia Child always said: "If you're afraid of butter, use cream."

ANYway, normal. Sort of. What's really happening is the big ramp up to Christmas, which for me, begins the instant the sun goes down on Thanksgiving. I have a strict moratorium on Christmas pre-Turkey Day; I'm as annoyed as anyone when Santa shows up at the Walgreens just after Halloween. But once we get through Thanksgiving, it's all about Rudolph and Frosty.

My parents and younger sister are coming up to Ohio this year, which is nice for us, since we've been traveling almost nonstop for months. Our dog, Hunter, is especially pleased. He's already envisioning the spillage opportunities on the proposed dinner we're thinking about for Christmas Eve. A traditional English feast! Standing rib roast, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, something green I haven't decided on yet (and really only for color diversity), and our favorite sticky toffee pudding for desert. We first had sticky toffee pudding on our honeymoon, at Rule, the oldest restaurant in London. It changed my life. Who knew that pureed dates mixed with a strange British concoction called Lyle's Golden Syrup made such a delicious dish? But it does.

And ok, if I keep thinking about this sort of thing, I won't be making it through the rest of the holidays with the same stellar numbers I managed on Thanksgiving.

I'm going to be exercising for at least an hour a day for the rest of my life, but it'll be worth it. Anybody got any good green side dish recipes to suggest?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Off Again

Well, a rolling stone gathers no moss, right? I never totally understood that expression, by the way. Moss is bad, is what it's saying? Or is it more like, slow down, gather ye moss while ye may, to cushion your hard, stony sides for the trek down the hill?

At any rate, I'M not getting any moss on me this month, because Nick and I are off again. This time to Virginia, to visit family for Thanksgiving. Every year, Nick's whole extended family gathers at The Homestead, a lovely, old-fashioned resort in the Appalachian mountains.This gathering is not optional. It's a command performance. So we go, and the good thing about it is that The Homestead is about two hours from where I grew up. So my family will come up, probably the day after Thanksgiving, and we'll go for a hike and a picnic, and I'll get to see them.

It's funny how traditions change over the years. You have to be adaptable, because life changes; obviously I wasn't going to be spending every single Thanksgiving making Broccoli Rice Casserole (whose name totally leaves out the most important ingredient: Cheez Whiz) with my little sister and cranberry bread with my mother.

In fact, it's been years since we had that kind of holiday, at home at my parents' house in Virginia. For a while, we went to my dad's sister's farm in Illinois, where we celebrated with approximately 30 midwesterners and had many casseroles much more disgusting than our old favorite with the Cheez Whiz. And now there's Nick's family to consider, and our new tradition, which involves no home-cooked dishes of any kind, casserole or not. The food at The Homestead is wonderful, and very much in the southern tradition, but the pumpkin pie is out of a can. My mother never uses canned pumpkin. And the turkey is oven roasted; my daddy used to smoke our turkey on the grill. And I find I really miss the Broccoli Rice Casserole--not so much eating it, but making it with my sister. It makes me think about how influential the childhood years can be, that twenty-some years and many new traditions later, I still identify Thanksgiving most strongly with those elements from the holidays of my earliest childhood.

What are some of your favorite Thanksgiving memories? And are they all tied up with food, the way mine seem to be?

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Magic Flute

I'm back from New York, all in one piece. Die Zauberflote was amazing--Julie Taymor's production rocked the world, and every single performer was a knockout. I have a serious crush on for the Met.

She drew inspiration from multiple traditions, including kabuki, puppetry (is that bear not fabulous?), Commedia dell'Arte, Freemason symbolism, and a generous dash of slapstick. I don't usually love comic opera, being the type of person who prefers the big melodramatic death aria sung at top volume by a woman supposedly dying of tuberculosis, but I might have to make an exception for Mozart. The Magic Flute is phenomenal, a completely nonsensical fairy tale with loads of standout arias beyond the most famous Queen of the Night coloratura. She was wonderful in this production, though, extremely menacing, in a gorgeous way, and her high notes and control were perfection.

It's hard to describe the thrill of hearing someone execute a fiendishly difficult piece of music like that live and in person, at least for an opera geek like me. I had chills and heart palpitations. That's her in the red, there, hitting the high G, or whatever the hell it is. Could you die?

Anyway, we had a blast. Drank lots of cocktails, since that's what we can't get in Norwalk (unless we make them ourselves, and I will say, it's forced me to learn to make a damn good manhattan), ate lots of good stuff, including cheap Thai food (yay!), and I got to see my best New York friends, the people I miss the most, Meg and John.

Meg and I actually went to the same college, but didn't become close until we both moved to Manhattan after graduation. She was one of my bridesmaids. She's a big foodie, loves opera as much as I do (I know, what a freak!) and has one of the wickedest senses of humor I've ever been involved with.

John is also hysterically funny (are we sensing a common theme? I MUST be entertained) and smart. We met at work, both editors at the same publisher, although he acquired mostly sci fi/fantasy. He left a little before I did, to work for DC Comics, and now has lots of interesting inside information that he meanly refuses to share on things like the new Batman movie.

I have friends in my new town, and we get along great. We go out, have fun together, even have a few things in common. But they're not what Anne of Green Gables would call "kindred spirits". You know? When something happens to me, good or bad, John and Meg are the ones I call. I love my friends, and I miss them a lot.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Manhattan Bound!

I'm not even packed yet, but I was scolded into added some links to my newborn blog, so I thought I'd hop on and do a little happy dance post, because I'm going to NY! I know you're sick of hearing about it already.

Tough cookies! I'll be back on Monday, to tell you if the giant Christmas tree is already up in front of Lincoln Center. And to regale you with stories of what I've eaten, drunk, seen, and heard.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

For the last time (I hope)

I'm switching blog addresses. The "improvements" to the iLife software I've been using have slowed everything down to quagmire-speed, and in some cases, have caused computers to crash. Since that seems unlikely to tempt anyone to keep up with my blog, I've decided to try the new Blogger. It seems to be as essentially idiot-proof as it was before, so hopefully I'll be able to limp along with this for a while. God, I hate technology.

I know, I know, it's what makes our modern world go 'round. And I'm the first to admit that when my laptop gets jostled or banged too hard, I get heart palpitations. What can I say? I'm whiny, as well as inconsistent. But I have good points too! Really.

Anyway, don't mind me, I'm just giddy because last week I was offered literary representation by a dream of an agent, Deidre Knight, and it's all still so new and exciting! Plus, it seems my friends get wonderful news on their writing projects almost daily, and it's very energizing. At the moment, it's energizing me to write this blog, and later I hope the energizing will extend to finishing reading the Gena Showalter manuscript I promised to review for Fresh Fiction, and packing for our visit to New York this weekend. Yay! I don't think either of those things constitutes much of a chore. I don't want to give away any of Gena's secrets before the book actually comes out, but I will say that anyone who likes unique, kickass heroines and tortured, sexy heroes running around in a fascinating imaginary world will looooove Savor Me Slowly. The title is a misnomer, by the way. The book is impossible to savor slowly. I'm ripping through it so fast, the pages are smoking a little bit.

That's all for now; writing about the book makes me want to go read it.

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