Monday, December 17, 2007

Why We Live Here: Reason # 114


I was sitting up in my work loft this afternoon, when I noticed some movement outside the living room window on the floor below. Sure enough, about a dozen white tailed deer were rummaging for a meal in the frozen snow. Of course, being the sucker animal-lover that I am—and never knowing who might be helping pull Santa's sleigh this coming Monday night—I tossed my foraging friends out an armload of apples, and a handful of carrots to help get them through this unpleasant December freeze. Hey, if a few measly apples helps to get Daniel Craig under my tree on Christmas Day, it's a small, small price to pay.

A Study in Contrasts



It's 7:22 a.m. in New York, and I swear I just saw an Emperor penguin waddling down our driveway. Well, I might be wrong about that (or, not), but it's certainly cold enough that if there was an Emperor penguin marching across our front yard, he'd certainly feel right at home here. It's 21 degrees outside, with the real feel temperature at 5 (for those of you in sunny California, or balmy Miami, yes, that means 5 degrees). Our driveway looks like the Olympic bobsledding course, our cars are entombed in thick, unyielding ice, and the wind is howling through the trees at a branch snapping and lip chapping 30 miles per hour. And winter's not even officially here yet!

But inside our home, it's a whole different story. The woodstove has been cranking for two hours now, so the house is delightfully warm. And we toasted thick slices of homemade raisin bread for breakfast, so there is a soft, sweet, yeasty smell throughout the house that would make any mouth water. And, of course the Christmas tree is lit, so there is a lovely glow being cast across the entire downstairs space. I'm still in pajama's + slippers (and there is a very good chance I will remain in this state until dinnertime), on my second cup of Awake tea, and happy beyond belief that the only place I need to be today is here, working on my book, stopping only to heat up some soup for lunch, and perhaps to toss a herring or two to the penguin out front.

CINNAMON RAISIN BREAD
This is a basic (but still really good) cinnamon raisin bread recipe. If you are looking to bring it up a notch, use sherried raisins for the filling. To make sherried raisins, combine equal parts raisins and sherry in a saucepan, bring to a boil, remove from heat and allow to sit for 5 minutes, then drain.

1 cup whole milk
1/3 cup shortening
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup warm water
2 pkgs. yeast
2 cups flour
2 tsp. salt
2 cups seedless raisins (I like to use a mixture of dark and golden, or sherried raisins)
1/3 cup sugar
4 1/2 to 5 cups flour
2 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Scald milk in a saucepan, set aside and allow to cool to lukewarm temperature.

In a mixing bowl cream shortening and 3/4 cup sugar.

In a separate large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water, then mix in milk and creamed sugar mixture. Add 2 cups of flour, beat until well combined. Cover dough , place in a warm spot, and allow to rise (around 40 minutes, or until light and bubbly).

Add salt and raisins to the dough and combine. Stir in enough of the remaining flour to the dough to form a soft ball of dough that comes away from the sides of the bowl, then knead with your hands until the dough becomes smooth and elastic.

Place dough in large bowl, oil lightly, then cover with a cloth and let rise until it doubles in size (around 40 minutes).

Combine 1/3 cups sugar and cinnamon in small bowl and set aside.

When dough is ready, punch down in the center, then remove from bowl and roll into two rectangles, approximately 20 inches long x 8 inches wide. Sprinkle each with sugar and cinnamon mixture.

Roll both rectangles of dough (from the narrow end) like a jelly roll, then pinch the ends together to seal. Place each into a 9 inch loaf pan, then cover with a cloth and allow to rise once again, until double in size (about 40 minutes).

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. When ready, bake loaves for about 40 minutes, or until light golden brown. Allow to cool on a wire rack before slicing.

PS. Try this toasted with my homemade apple butter.

Friday, December 14, 2007

4 Months to 44


Holy Smokes!...I somehow just realized that in four short months I will be forty-four years old. 44 YEARS! I don't know about you, kind and patient reader, but I find that unbelievable. I certainly don't feel forty-four, and hopefully I don't look that age either (if I do, please do me the favor of keeping it to yourself), but the cold, hard, sobering truth is, I've suddenly become (gasp) middle-aged.

Where did the time go?

Gone are the days of missing the last train home from New York City and wandering the streets of Gotham until sunrise (it sounds romantic and Audrey Hepburne-esque, I know, but trust me, when it's 36 degrees outside, it's not). Behind me are the crazy nights of drinking ten too many tequila shots with my chums, then hopping the fence to the community pool to go skinnydipping. Long past are the madcap road trips, the midnight junkets to the supermarket for snacks, the late night visits to Big Joe's & Sons Tattoo parlor, the fun and crazy antics. I know it sounds like a cliche, but time really does pass too fast.

I think if I could instill one thing in my beloved nieces and nephews, it's to embrace youth with a big, open-armed hug. I want them to take hold of the springtime of their lives and love it, and spoil it, and indulge it, and not squander one millisecond of it. Because that is how I have lived my past forty-three, and three quarter years; welcoming any and all craziness into my life, with open arms.

I have four more months until I turn forty-four, and although I may have given up tequila shots for pinot grigio, late night munchies for early-to-bed, and tattoo's for...well, maybe I haven't given up tattoo's just yet...I still have a few tricks up my sleeve. Because if there's one thing I've learned in my 43 years and 8 months of living (and from watching my ninety-seven year old grandmother still beat her pals at poker) it's that fun, and spontaneity, and adventure are timeless. And that an occasional skinnydip on a sultry moonlit night can make you feel like you're twenty-two all over again.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Got Wood?


Being practically the number one fan of down time, I can't help but be a bit curious as to what the other citizens of planet earth do when they get a free afternoon to indulge themselves: a workweek-erasing trip to a day spa? a rejuvenating six mile run around the reservoir? a tranquilizing hour or so settled in on the sofa with a glass of wine and stack of juicy gossip magazines? Ahhh...I've certainly done all of those things over the course of my lifetime when handed a clean afternoon on a silver platter, but sweet, gentle fall has finally yielded to mean spirited winter in the Northeast, and so more and more of my precious free time is spent dealing with Mother Nature, as opposed to mothering myself. Take last Friday for instance: Jerry was out of town on business, and my clients were uncharacteristically quiet. That unique combination—the perfect storm of idle time, so to speak—would normally result in a welcome afternoon of delightful pampering. But snow was in the forecast for our weekend, two cords of wood were piled like modern art in the backyard, and a shiny new wood stove in our living room was itching to get busy. And so, instead of getting my pores steamed clean on a free Friday, I rolled up my sleeves and began stacking wood. Now, I doubt there are many of you out there who fully appreciate what it is like to stack two cords of wood on your own, but suffice it to say that it is not the sexiest of chores; when you're done your nails look like you dug your way out of a grave, your hands are two aching, gnarled claws, and your back feels as though you fell from a two-story rooftop (I'm understating it all, of course.)

But after a week of pretty much nonstop griping about aching muscles, starting fires, and lugging wood, the fruits of my labors are finally paying off. The first big snowstorm of the year is expected (oh, wait...I just peeked out the window; make that arrived), I have no place to go except perhaps down to the kitchen to get myself a tasty snack, and the house is so warm, and toasty, and delightfully Christmas-ey, that I can't possibly imagine any place more cozy. It seems like I'm going to get my free, lazy day, after all.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Stress + Split Pea


When you're trying to write a new book, you tend to spend a good part of the day on the Perez Hilton website, catching up on who is in detox this week, what hijinx Britney has gotten into, rather than focusing your thoughts and energy on the empty Word manuscript minimized waaaaayy down in the corner of your screen. Well, that's the case for me, at least; I ask you faithful reader, who can write a new book with juicy celebrity gossip just a mouse click away!?!! I exaggerate, of course, but I am definitely not feeling the love when it comes to writing these days. First off, I'm woefully ill-prepared for the impending holiday season (how in the world does December come around so quickly?...it was JUST January!). And I'm confident in a way that only a Type A daughter can be, that my mother finished her shopping in May, and meanwhile, I have not taxed a single gift-buying brain cell. I also find myself at the frenetic nexus of deadlined projects, outdated web logs, and sleep-sapping TV spots, all while trying to be the perfect "Welcome Home, Dear...here's your scotch and soda" housewife, rather than the head-spinning, Linda Blair-esque possessed demon I feel like (ok, so maybe that part is a bit of a fabrication--Jerry drinks wine, not scotch--but I'm trying to make a point here).

And so today I made an agreement with myself to stop stressing over stress. For the next month, I am going to write, but not to the point that I don't get out of my pajama's, brush my teeth, or shower; it took me three years to do the first book, so the second one can wait a bit. And I am going to cook nice dinners for my equally harried hubby, but they'll be simple, comfort foods that are easy to throw together, and make for good leftovers (there is a pot of hearty vegetable split pea soup simmering on the stove as I type, and no, not because I mentioned Linda Blair in paragraph one). As for the Christmas shopping, 2007 might mean gift certificates for everyone I know to their favorite restaurant or shop, as there is no shame in giving people what they actually like, as opposed to what you hope they'll like. I wish I could promise that I won't stay up late to get a few special crafts done between now and 12/25, but the Type A in me knows all too well that some things are simply impossible to change.

SUZANNE'S SPLIT PEA SOUP
I love this recipe because it's ridiculously easy, incredibly satisfying, and loaded with good, healthy stuff.

1 49 oz can chicken stock (one of those large, grocery bag-stressing cans)
1 large yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 16-oz bag split peas
16 0z. diced ham (4 cups, or two of those little bags)
4-6 yellow or red potatoes, diced (don't bother peeling)
2-3 large carrots, sliced into 1/4"-1/2" 'coins'
Salt + Pepper (if needed)

Place chicken stock, onion and garlic in a stockpot. Add an additional 8 cups of water to the mixture and cook uncovered over medium-low heat for about 3o minutes. Add potatoes and carrots, and continue cooking until the peas are soft and mushy, soup is thick and creamy (another 30 - 60 minutes). If the soup becomes too thick, just add a bit more water or stock. Season with salt and pepper if desired (the ham is salty, so taste it first), and serve soup in big bowls, with crusty bread on the side.

This makes a big pot that will easily serve six.

PS. If you don't eat ham, you can still enjoy this soup. Just use all chicken or vegetable stock instead of chicken stock and water, and add a handful or two of chopped celery to the brew; you won't miss the meat at all.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Snow Globe Morning


We woke up to a classic first signs of winter morning today; a light and powdery dusting of the white stuff, coating grass, trees and walkways. Of course it melted faster than it landed, but for an hour at least, it was like waking up inside of a gigantic, magical, Sugar Plum Fairy-esque snow globe.

I know I've been quiet as of late, but only because I have been crazy-busy preparing for my upcoming TV spot, Homemade for the Holidays, on the News Channel 8 (WTNH) Good Morning Connecticut Weekend show which is only a few days away. If you want to get a sneak peak at some of the crafts I will be showcasing, visit www.craftysuzanne.blogspot.com. Or, Nutmeggers can tune in on Saturday, December 8th at 7:40 am. to watch me live.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Halloween Eve

It's no secret to anyone who has visited our home, that Halloween is my absolute favorite holiday; it's been filled with ghosts, goblins, ghouls and gore for the past three weeks in anticipation of October 31st. What I like about Allhallows Eve is that it's not about cooking, or gift giving, or card-sending, or any other obligation, other than just having fun, and it allows even the most buttoned up of the group to act a little crazy (or, at least put away a few Milky Way bars). For the past week, Jerry and I have been holding our own little Horrorfest, watching a plethora of horror flicks, both good and not so good, staying up past our bedtime to squeeze another in. All tallied, we've watched ten horror movies since late last week, and I think we have room to squeeze three more in the next 24 hours to make it an odd thirteen.

If you—like us—live so far off the beaten path, that even the most intrepid trick-or-treaters forgo your candy bowl, don't let that stop you from having your own bloody good time this Wednesday night. Instead, grab the Twizzlers, pop the popcorn, and head to the sofa for a frightfully delightful movie night.

SUZANNE'S 25 SCARIEST MOVIE PICKS (in no particular order)
  1. Psycho (1960)
  2. Dawn of the Dead (2004 Remake)
  3. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
  4. Halloween (1978)
  5. The Omen (1976)
  6. High Tension (2003)
  7. Jaws (1975)
  8. Exorcist (1973)
  9. Red Dragon (2002)
  10. Frailty (2001)
  11. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
  12. Rosemary's Baby (1968)
  13. Alien (1979)
  14. The Shining (1980)
  15. When a Stranger Calls (1979)
  16. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
  17. Seven (1995)
  18. The Fog (1980)
  19. Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
  20. The Ring (2002)
  21. The Birds (1963)
  22. Friday the 13th (1980)
  23. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
  24. The Thing (1982 Remake)
  25. Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Sunshine for Megan


I just finished embroidering Megan's name. I chose to use cotton thread in warm, fire colors to match not only Megan's red hair, but her fiery spirit as well. And since she radiated such warmth, I added a few swirling rays of sunshine around her name. I like to think that Megan would have liked the simplicity of this little piece of artwork, and I'm grateful that I had the opportunity to honor her.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Megan M. McClung (4/14/72 – 12/6/06)


"It is not length of life, but depth of life." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

My swatch from The Mother's Day Project arrived today in a simple, white envelope postmarked Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Inside was an instructional letter, and a light piece of cream-colored cotton fabric with the name Megan M. McClung heatstamped in black, directly in the center. I didn't quite know how I would feel when I learned the moniker of the woman whose name I would be stitching, but my first reaction upon reading it was "ahhh...she has a good name." I instantly liked the the way it rolled off of my tongue. I liked the fact that her initials were MMM, which, as a graphic designer, I could imagine turning into a beautiful logo. I wondered what the M. in the middle stood for: Mary? Margaret? Marie? And, of course, I wondered who Megan M. McClung was, the life she lived. And so, fifteen minutes ago, I typed her name into Google.

Major Megan M. McClung was the first female officer killed in Iraq. She was a public affairs officer who was escorting Oliver North and a FOX News crew through Ramadi just moments before a roadside bomb took her life. She was 34 years old. But I don't want to dwell on the death of Megan M. McClung, but rather, her life, as Megan seems like someone I would have enjoyed being friends with, had our paths ever crossed. A—unlike myself!—natural redhead, Megan was a spirited soul. Described by those who knew her as having a steel-like constitution, (despite the fact that she weighed in around 100 pounds soaking wet) she was a triathlete who competed in grueling Ironman competitions—running, swimming and bicycling—around the world. Even while in Iraq, this freckled firebrand would run along the Tigris at nightfall, and help organize marathons.

Megan grew up in one of my favorite parts of California—Orange County—but later moved to the state of Washington, where her parents live today. One of the things that has struck me most about Megan is not her accomplishments in school (she received her masters’ degree in criminal justice from Boston University), or her triathalons (six!), or in her military career (she was a hard-working and well-respected), but in her accomplishments as a human being. I've spent the past three hours reading through page after page of posts, letters, articles and blogs written by Megan's friends, family, and colleagues, and I am touched at how in only 34 years, this beautiful, inspiring, and incredibly courageous young woman was able to touch so many lives. And I am thankful that today, she touched mine as well.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Mother's Day Project


Funny how life works. I wrote a life list less than an hour ago about wanting to make a difference in the world, and the next thing I know, I stumbled across a link for The Mother's Day Project and immediately signed up.

Here's how it works: Participants who sign up are sent a swatch of fabric with the name of a woman soldier who lost her life in Iraq heat-stamped on it. The volunteer then embroiders over the letters of the name with embroidery floss or thread. The completed names are then returned to become part of a fabric collage and embroidered tote bag. The tote bag is then circulated among the volunteer stitchers who are asked to use the bag in the course of their daily lives for a week before sending it on to another stitcher.

I encourage all of my readers to sign up today to embroider a name. I realize that the small gesture of volunteering for this project is not going to change the world at large, but sometimes it's ok to to think smaller, and to be grateful for changes within.

When life hands you lemons, plant a lemon grove


For reasons I don't need to get into, this October has been a particularly difficult month for me personally. Having walked on this green Earth for over four decades, I am enlightened enough to know that there is an ebb and flow to life that we mere mortals can't control, and sometimes we just have to hang on and ride that wave of unhappiness to shore, and hope and pray there's not a tsunami coming right behind it.

In 2001 I lost my big, muckety-muck job in Gotham, and at that moment in time, I couldn't imagine a worse fate; single, unemployed (in a post 9-11 New York, no less), and in my 3o's! I cried for days, ate a lot of comfort foods, then woke up one sunny, bird-chirping morning, and decided the pity party was over. So, I grabbed a sheet of paper and a pen, and I made a life list. Of course I could have written down a hundred things that I wanted out of life—to look like Angelina Jolie, for Bill Gates to hand me a blank check, to fit into my jeans from high school—but I kept it tight and realistic. I knew that I didn't want to go back to the 7am - 7pm rigors of working for a corporation, so at the top of the list was that I wanted to be my own boss. I felt unchallenged creatively at that time, so another goal was to spend more of my free time cooking, and crafting, and becoming a more artistic being. And, since I always wanted to write a book, that went on there as well (I ignored the fact that I had never written a short story, much less a book). The next day I hung up my proverbial 'shingle' and started Suzanne Brown Design, which has—despite the many highs and lows that go along with owning your own business—provided me with a wonderful, freedom-filled life. Naturally, being my own boss allowed me more hours in the day (I was no longer falling asleep on the sofa at 8pm in my work clothes) to begin exploring photography, and cooking, and crafting, which in turn started me writing, and the next thing I knew, I was writing a book. Oh, and I somehow realized that my best friend would make a pretty good husband (I was right), so I got married, too. So you see, it was that singular event of losing my job, and being thrown into uncertainty, and—at times—despair, that I was able to craft a brand new life for myself.

After three supremely crummy weeks (which culminated today by running over a chipmunk!) I decided it was time to make a new life list. I wanted to put down in writing what my goals for the next five years are, for if there is one thing that 2001 taught me, it's only when you stop dwelling on the ebbs, and start focusing focus on the flows, that a truly wonderful life presents itself.

SUZANNE'S LIFE LIST
1. To write a second book.
2. To get back to Africa.
3. To get a regular TV slot/program.
4. To build a new home with a great kitchen and enough closets.
5. To take a vacation with my entire family, like we did when we were kids.
6. To somehow—and I'm not sure how, but I want to figure it out—make a difference in this world.
7. To never run over a chipmunk—or any other living creature, for that matter—again.
7. And to someday fit into my skinny jeans from high school. : )

What's on your life list? Let me know!

Monday, October 15, 2007

In a blaze of glory




New Yorkers should run as fast as their legs will carry them to The Great Jack-O-Lantern Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson. Jerry and I checked it out last night and were blown away. With over 4,000 cleverly carved pumpkins on display, this is a must-see for the young, old, and in-betweens.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Not ready for my closeup

People often ask me what's it like to be on television, and if I get nervous beforehand, to which I always answer with a definitive "no." Not because I wouldn't normally be anxious in such a forum, but because I am so off-the-charts stressed and harried in the hours, minutes, seconds leading up to my spot, that there is no luxury of time to even contemplate being nervous. I always say that there is no dignity in OB-GYN visits, post 9-11 air travel, or, being on TV; for me, all three of those are events equally humbling. Take for instance my show this past Saturday on Good Morning Connecticut. I started working on the crafts and recipes three weeks ago, finishing them up in a marathon sushi and sake-fueled pumpkin carving cram session late Friday evening. Six hours later--at 4:30 am--the alarm went off, and we arose, feeling the effects of that last bottle of sake, wishing we could tuck back under the comforter and sleep in like normal Saturday morning-loving Americans. Instead, we showered, dressed, and blearily packed up the Mini Cooper in the cold, dark October morning (remember that Indian Summer I was crowing about recently? Yeah, well, it's officially over), and hit the road for our 1-hour trip to the station. Except we somehow forgot that it's actually 1.5 hours to the station, and so we arrived at 7:05 for a 7:40 slot. It goes without saying that I was a bit deranged at this point, as the car had to be unloaded, and my table set up and ready in under a half hour, all in tippy-toe, quiet-as-a-Ninja silence, as the newscasters were reporting just feet away (yes, everything takes place in one, big studio: a pager, cell-phone, platform shoe, and sneeze-free zone). Jerry has become a pro at helping me set up, and he did the lionshare of the schlepping from car to studio, while I frantically got my crafts and foods in order, hoping that there would be time left to apply lipstick + blusher before the "3...2...1...Go" came from the camera man. Alas, there was not a second to spare to check my makeup, so I simply mopped my sweaty brow, prayed there was no leftover seaweed salad stuck in my tooth from dinner, smiled broadly, and went on with the show.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Gettin' crafty with it


I've been up to my ears in glycerin, dried apple heads and meringue this week--and not in a good way. In preparation for my TV spot tomorrow morning on Good Morning Connecticut, I've been making soaps, crafting kitchen witches, piping out meringue ghosts, rubbing graves. As is the case with all my appearances, the week leading up to it has not been without it's issues. Three day migraine. Projects so stressful I feel ill just remembering their names. A call from my mother this morning informing me that my father fell and broke his nose (6 stitches) while running to direct traffic at a funeral (don't ask). And now, at 9:48pm, despite the fact that we must be up at 4:30am tomorrow for my segment, we are carving pumpkins. Actually, Jerry is carving them, and I am toasting Jamaican jerk-flavored pumpkin seeds in the oven because....you know, that's a good question: Why AM I toasting pumpkin seeds at 10:00pm?

It's clearly time to hit the hay, but earlybirds or insomniacs in the Nutmeg State can catch my show tomorrow morning at 7:40am on WTNH, News Channel 8. Everyone else across the country (or smart Nutmeggers who prefer to sleep in on Saturday mornings), can visit my new website at http://craftysuzanne.blogspot.com for recipes and crafts.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Love in a Bowl


It's hard to be in beautiful southern California and not wonder every two minutes or so why I voluntarily choose to live in New York and not here. Life seems easier, lighter, less complicated in this region, and, no, not just because I'm on vacation. There is something about the combination of abundant sunshine, low humidity, and fresh ocean air that instanty lifts ones spirits; in fact, I will go so far to say that short of one grumpy cab driver in Coronado who needed a day at the beach, or a girlfriend, every person I've ever met who resides here is pretty much in a positive state of mind all the time. Unless Prozac-enriched water is flowing through the taps, the only explanation I can come up with for this collective reverie is that good weather equates to good moods.

One person who is always in a good mood, despite having what seems to be the most stressful job in all of San Diego, is Juan, who runs the Oyster Bar at the Fish Market on Harbor Drive. Plopped right on the bay, with amazing views, the freshest seafood, an unpretentious attitude, and lines stretching out the door, this restaurant is one of mine and Jerry's all-time favorites. We love hunkering down at the Oyster Bar, where over glasses of cold white wine, and thick wedges of warm sourdough bread, we sit back in awe as Juan arabesques and pirouettes his way through the kitchen, turning out hundreds of meals with ease, grace, and love. I hesitated using the word love for a millisecond there, since so few people, short of mothers, grandma's, and the occasional avuncular chef in the back kitchen of your neighborhood trattoria truly cook with love, but Juan does; I can see it in his face, I can taste it in his food. He listens when you tell him where your culinary tastes lie, and somehow--like he's been cooking for you your whole life--he translates that small soundbite, that minute-long interaction, into the most incredible, tastebud-pleasing, filled-with-love meal you've had in a good, long time. For me this week, it's been a linguini with manilla clams that is so delightful, I've ordered it five nights in a row.

I am heading back home to New York tomorrow, and inspired by Juan, I am going to prepare a big bowl of linguini with clams on Sunday. I will cook the clams in butter, wine, brandy and sherry, then add capers, tomatoes, garlic and fresh herbs. After ten minutes, I will pour it over just-tender linguini, then top it with a handful of parmesan cheese, before finally placing it on the dining room table with so much love, that even that crabby Coronado Island cabby would sigh with happiness.

LINGUINI WITH CLAMS (makes one serving)
PRINT RECIPE

Cook 1/4 lb. of linguini + set aside.


Melt 1/2 stick unsalted butter in a saute pan (I know, it's a lot of butter, feel free to use slightly less if you're watching your waistline +/or cholesterol). Add 3 cloves minced garlic, a few tablespoons chopped scallions, and 2 dozen littleneck or manilla clams. Cook on high for two minutes, then add a splash of brandy, a splash of cooking sherry, and a big splash of dry, white wine. Throw in 2 tablespoons rinsed capers, and a handful of seeded +chopped plum tomatoes (optional), then cover pan and cook on medium-high heat for around 5 minutes, or until clams open. Pour clams over linguini, top with a bit of parmesan cheese, and enjoy!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A Day at the Zoo


It's 8:00 pm on Coronado Island, California, and I am already sacked out in bed. Jerry is here on business, and I'm here doing my best to capture 1/100th of the magic that is the San Diego Zoo. If you are making your life list this weekend, don't forget to add this destination to it. At the very top. The tippy, tippy top. Numero Uno.

Having walked what feels like 3,000 miles today, I am fading fast, so please accept these pictures I took earlier today in lieu of a coherent blog. I'm sure I will be more clever tomorrow. Well, at least we can hope.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The New Me


Did you ever have one of those days where you just feel completely "off"? A day where no matter what you pick out of your closet, it feels tight, or doesn't look quite as good as you remember it looking. A day where no amount of sugar or coffee fully wakes you up, where your normally clear head feels thick, and doughy. Don't even think about stepping on the scale on one of those days--no good can come of it. Inexplicable weight gain is the hallmark of O.O.T.D. And forget about your hair looking good; best to wear a cap or babushka until the day finally ends.

I've had O.O.T.D. this past week. It started with the full moon and the resulting insomnia / under eye bags, then the inexplicable five pounds that my enemy, the scale, gleefully flashed at me at 6:00 a.m., souring my day before it even got started. It followed me into my bedroom, where I experienced what can only be described as extremely critical closet anxiety. Then into the bathroom, where no amount of gel, spray, wax, or mousse was going to help my anemic locks. And, a pimple!

Of course it would have been nice to tuck back into bed with a bag of salty potato chips, and a stack of gossip magazines, hoping to avoid the inevitable personal catastrophes that those kinds of days seem to dish out so readily: spinach in tooth, bird poop on navy blazer, wad of gum on shoe, or the classic pantyhose run. But I've never been a quitter, and I wasn't going to start now. So I decided to fight back by doing something that day would never expect me to do: I headed to the hair salon to get a fresh, new look (I am sure that day expected me to be sitting around in my pajamas, feeling sorry for myself...HA!!). Three hours later, I emerged from the salon with a new hairstyle for fall, with my pants somehow feeling looser around the waistline, and with a bouncy spring in my step. And I swear--that for a fleeting second--as I turned the corner of the alleyway outside the salon, I caught a glimpse of a supremely glum looking that day sitting alone on the stoop, elbow deep into a jumbo bag of Lay's potato chips, proving to me yet again, that looking good is indeed the best revenge.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Grave Rubber


We're experiencing an early Indian Summer here in New York, with temperatures in the steamy 80's, and nary a breeze to be found. So while it looks like fall (the trees are turning orange), and sounds like fall (the acorns are falling), it actually feels more like mid-July. Of course you won't hear any complaints from me; I'm taking advantage of this Al Gore-esque heatwave by spending as much time as possible outside in the fresh air. Yesterday, inspired by the blue skies, chippering song birds, and warm, golden September sunlight, I did what every red-blooded American does when they have a free afternoon: I headed to the local graveyard. O.K., so maybe not every American chooses to spend their idle time with the dead, but I've always been intrigued by graveyards; to me they are outdoor museums where we can get a glimpse into the past and learn more about the history of both a community and an era. And it’s especially interesting to find a family plot, where you can trace the lives and losses of several generations, or, to discover a — whether intentionally or unintentionally — humorous epitaph.

So, yesterday I grabbed my butcher paper, charcoal, scissors, tape, and spray fixative, and made a beeline to the old Quaker cemetery near our home. I spent some time reading the inscriptions, and then rubbed several graves (that's rubbed, not robbed!), from the early 1800's, making sure I thanked the departed soul who's tombstone I was preserving along the way, as the last thing I need on a beautiful Indian Summer day, is an angry spirit on my case.

HOW TO RUB GRAVESTONES
You'll need a roll of butcher paper, black chalk or charcoal, masking tape, and spray fixative (all available at crafts stores). And if you don't want to leave there looking like a coal miner, it's a good idea to bring along some wet naps, or, at the very least, paper towels. Make sure rubbings are permitted in the cemetery you are visiting; in some historic cemeteries, where headstones are very fragile, stone rubbing is banned.

Use common sense when choosing a headstone; do not attempt to rub any stone that is flaking, splitting, or unstable.

To get started, cut a length of butcher paper slightly longer than the area you will be rubbing, then gently secure it to the face of the stone with tape. Using the broadest part of your charcoal, rub across the face of the stone using long, sweeping strokes. When your rubbing is complete, spray the front of the paper with spray fixative (available at craft stores) to prevent smudging.

And before you leave, make sure you clean up any paper, tape, wetnaps...well, you get the idea.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Ghouls, Ghosts & Graveyards

I just signed on to do a special Halloween segment called Ghouls, Ghosts & Graveyards, on the News Channel 8 (WTNH) Good Morning Connecticut Weekend show. Tune in on Saturday, October 13th at 7:40 am. for some ghoulishly good recipes + crafts!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Bittersweet


Today is the first day of Autumn: a bittersweet day if ever there was one. I've been busy for the past two weeks with work and travel, but wanted to pop my head out as summer comes to a close to say thank you to all you Summerologists out there who purchased my book, who turned out for my signings, listened to me on the radio, watched me on TV. And special thanks to those who took time out to write, to let me know how much you love Summer (the season and the book!), and for your favorite memories, recipes, and, especially, jump rope rhymes.

I will be here all fall and winter (hopefully working on a second book...stay tuned!), so feel free to drop me a line to let me know how you spend the other three seasons. And for you diehard summer-lovers who are feeling a little bittersweet today, like me, never forget that summer is not only a season, but a state of mind as well.

With love,
Suzanne
(suzanne@summerologist.com)

Friday, September 7, 2007

Pandamonium


Inspired by my past few logs on finding—or, even better, creating—free time, yesterday I took my own advice and scheduled a personal day; a day off that was free of computers, and work, and (sorry if any of you are reading this), clients. Having just returned from a relaxing vacation, I could not in good conscience justify a spa day, and, having gained five pounds eating hotdogs and drinking margaritas for a week, I opted to not spend my free 24 hours as a lady who lunches. Instead, I crazily decided to spend my clean slate of a day traveling 1700 miles up and down the eastern seaboard to visit a panda. Not just any panda mind you, but Mei Lan, the heartstring-tugging, so-cute-your head-might-explode panda that was born exactly one year ago yesterday at the Atlanta Zoo, and who I have watched on the PandaCam—obsessively, like a parent watching every breath, step, milestone of their first born—for exactly 366 days. And so, determined to set a ‘free time’ example for my faithful readers (and selfishly wanting to see Mei Lan in the flesh—or, is that fur?) before she grew up too much, I booked a flight to Georgia. My adventure—as I had sketched out in my head for days—was to play out as follows:

-Wake up at 5:30am, clear out the sleep cobwebs with a cold and refreshing Starbucks Iced Coffee.
-Shower, get dressed, and head to the airport for an 8:05am flight.
-Arrive in Atlanta at 10:00am completely refreshed, having taken a peaceful two-hour nap en route.
-Take a quick cab ride from airport to zoo to spend several hours gazing lovingly at Mei Lan’s adorableness, snapping perfect National Geographic quality photo, upon photo.
-Tear myself away in the early afternoon for a quick visit to the Georgia Aquarium. Then, after spending quality time with jellyfish, starfish, and, well…every other fish, ocean mammal, crustacean and sea urchin imaginable, head back to the zoo for a special panda birthday event with like-minded panda enthusiasts, followed by a late flight back home, where I would plop into bed, joyously exhausted from the days activities.

Now, I am old enough, seasoned enough, and have traveled enough to know that even the most well thought-out, most carefully charted plans more times than not, do not fall into place as hoped. So, it comes as no surprise that the bullet points of my day turned out somewhat differently than what I had choreographed in my mind...

-Woke up at 5:30am, and did in fact clear out the sleep cobwebs with a cold and refreshing Starbucks Iced Coffee.
-Did get showered and dressed, and made it to the airport in time (so far so good!)
-Arrived in Atlanta with a splitting headache from the blowhard that pontificated for two hours at top volume in the seat behind me. Then, made a beeline to the ladies room in an attempt to remove the multiple pink stains that my crumbled Clinique blusher left on the front of my clean, white jeans. (note: soap + water + blusher = large, pink stain).
-Took 80mph ride from airport to zoo from psychotic, lane-weaving cabbie. Exited taxi in need of a warm ginger ale, Pepcid and Valium. Wondered what I was thinking taking a trip to Atlanta.
-Waited in line, wilting in 90 degree Georgia heat with fidgety, shrieking children, and impatient parents for two hours until we were finally allowed to shuffle like slaughterhouse cattle into the panda viewing area.
-But then, just as I had almost given up hope on my Dream Day, there she was—MEI LAN!—in all her cuddly, fluff ball glory. I snapped one, two, three photos of her, and then...............my camera flashed F-U-L-L.
-Freaked out. Didn't think it was possible to be more stressed. Or, sweaty.
-Was corralled out of panda viewing area within two minutes, my mouth still agape at inexplicable camera malfunction. Reminded of the time my mother stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon—her lifelong dream that she waited years to experience—only to discover her camera was broken.
-Depressed that I have officially turned into my mother.
-After equal parts cursing and praying, amazingly figure out how to store additional photos on my camera disk, but first must heartbreakingly delete photos I've already snapped.
-Wiped tears from eyes, got back on line.
-30 minutes later, was back in panda viewing area only to get yelled at for taking too long by the one mean person in all of Georgia.
-Tell mean person from Georgia a thing or two.
-Looked at watch, horrified to learn that I was more than two hours behind schedule. Raced to street to catch bus to Aquarium, only to see bus pulling away.
-Wait 40 minutes in baking sun for new bus. Skin looked and felt like it was coated in Crisco. Couldn't call taxi because my cell phone battery light was flashing red, despite the fact that I had charged it overnight.
-Bus finally arrived, and twenty minutes later I am at the Aquarium, which immediately lifts my ragged spirits (How could it not? The Georgia Aquarium is awe-inspiring), but am so utterly exhausted, I decide to end my day there and catch an early flight home.
-Am forced to change flight via pay phone, which I have not used since 1989. Took 25 minutes to figure out how to use credit card instead of quarters.
-No cabs available outside of aquarium. Remember that mad, speed demon driver from morning drive gave me his business card. Shocking even myself, I dialed his number.
-Sat in back seat of Taxi from Hell with eyes tightly closed, hands folded in prayer, mind alternating between making bargains with God, and vows that next day off will be spent getting facial and massage.
-2 hour delay on flight home; headed to nearest airport bar.

Now you would think that at that point I would be in a somewhat sour mood—and at moments, yes, I surely was. But when I boarded the plane back to New York with frazzled, world-weary business travelers, all of them still working on their proposals, and presentations, I realized how blessed I actually am. Because my day was not about getting to a meeting on time, or worrying about a client, or worse...a boss. Instead my day—despite planes, stains, and pains—was simply about me doing something special for me. Sure, I could have gone to the spa in town, or to lunch with a friend, or shopping at the mall, but instead I opted to spend my free day doing something completely crazy like visiting a panda. It's adventures like those that not only make for good storytelling, but for a colorful, happy life as well.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

It's a dogs life.

Another day, another hot dog--that pretty much sums up my culinary life this past week of vacation. I'm sure to those who know me well, this daily ritual may seem a tad odd, especially when there are low-country delicacies like just-caught tilapia, local wahoo, fresh oysters, cheesy shrimp and grits, and lump crabcakes waiting to be dug into at every turn. So, what is about these salty, South Carolina hot dogs and me? Why does the rest of the world look forward to dining on fine china when on vacation, and I look forward to paper plates? I've been wondering that myself, and have thus spent the past five days swishing theories around my head: Am I the reincarnated soul of Nathan Handwerker? Might I be suffering from some sort of strange, nitrate deficiency? Do I need to retain water? What I've concluded is that it's not any of those things driving me to the beach bar at noon each day for my RDA of mustard-topped franks. Instead, what I have settled upon, is that hot dogs are as low-key a break from my normal diet--short of living on water and Saltines--that I could find. Sort of like a vacation for my foodie tendencies; a sabbatical, so to speak, from sauces and seasonings.

Of course I am aware that this is probably not what my doctor would recommend to get my cholesterol under control, and yes, I realize that the majority of the food pyramid groups are sorely missing from this diet, and yes, yes, yes, I do remember that I spent seven years as a strict vegetarian, frowning on such behavior. But what I've also concluded (some may label this a rationization, of course) is that that is what vacations are for: to allow yourself--for a few days, or a week, or whatever amount of time you are lucky enough to carve out--to take a break from the routine, to indulge your id, to be a little naughty. For some that may mean throwing Atkins out the window and digging into a big bowl of homemade fettuccini, followed by a thick slice of cheesecake (one fork, of course) for dessert, while for others it may mean living it up with a cold glass of Veuve Cliquot, a few dozen bluepoint oysters, some sweet, lump crabcakes. For me, here on a lazy, low country vacation, it can only mean one thing: giving in to a salty, grilled hot dog each day at noon, and savoring each id-indulging bite.


LUMP CRAB CRABCAKES
For those who prefer china and crystal over paper and plastic, one of my favorite recipes. From my book, SUMMER: A User's Guide.
1 egg
½ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped chives
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1.5 pounds lump crabmeat
¼ cup plain bread crumbs
Salt and Pepper to taste
Lemon slices (optional).
Remoulade sauce or tartar sauce (optional)

In a large bowl, gently whisk together the egg, mayonnaise, parsley, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Gently mix in crab and bread crumbs. Cover the mixture and refrigerate for approximately 1 hour.

Preheat over to 350 degrees Remove the crab mixture from the refrigerator and using your hands, shape into twelve cakes. Place crab cakes on cookie sheet and bake in oven for eight minutes, then set oven to broil and place crab cakes under broiler for 2-3 minutes, or until golden-brown. When done, remove from the broiler and serve with a squeeze of lemon and a dollop of remoulade or tartar sauce, if you prefer. Makes 6 servings.

Beach Joy



Yesterday I witnessed a man, standing waist-deep in the Atlantic, yodeling his heart out. A full-throttle, Ricola-style yodel for all to hear. I have no explanation for this somewhat odd behavior, and it didn't seem appropriate at the time to wade out into the ocean to find one out; I chose instead to believe that this man was simply filled with such beach joy, that he couldn't contain the yodeler within.

Beach joy is one of those things that is hard to describe, but if you've ever seen a child running full-speed towards the ocean, then you sort of get an idea of what I mean. I think the best way to explain it is a feeling of complete freedom. When you have beach joy, your day-to-day baggage and worries and insecurities fall away, replaced with a desire to run, arms open, embracing all that is good in the world.

So, it comes as a surprise to me when I see people on the beach, who rather than experiencing beach joy, opt instead to do things like check email on their Blackberries, call in for their messages, chatter away on their cell phones. Now far be it from me to tell anyone how to spend their free time, but it seems to me that free time was designed to be spent, well, being free. We forget that sometimes. As a society, we tend to think that it's irresponsible to carve time out for ourselves, to get off the grid, to stop physically and mentally working. We're afraid of not being there, day after day like Atlas, holding our world aloft.

I've spent the past five days slowly putting down my globe, forgetting about bills, and deadlines and chores, and allowing beach joy to calm my busy brain, and not surprisingly, the Earth has not stopped spinning on its axis. Of course, it goes without saying that I will return home next week to lift that globe back up, but the next time I start getting stressed about a traffic jam, or a slow teller at the check-out line, the sweet memory of an elderly man yodeling in the warm, Atlantic surf, will hopefully put everything back into perspective.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Case of the Missing Blogger





No, I was not dragged under water in a spiraling death roll, torn to pieces by a starved alligator. But I do know now that maintaining a web log is not as simple as I originally anticipated. Honestly, writing a book was easier than writing a journal (money being the age-old motivator that it is). I have spent the last month tethered to my computer, working on a variety of hair-pulling, sleep-depriving, wrinkle-inducing projects that make me question why in the world I've stayed in the design field for almost a quarter century, followed by several recuperative days spent laying prostrate on the sofa, with an ice pack on my head, watching Judge Judy, and eating starchy, pale-colored comfort foods. I ask you: who can think about clever antecdotes to write about under such circumstances?!?

I am now--thankfully--taking a much needed vacation in South Carolina where I have spent the past three days learning to feel human again. I've done nothing more ambitious than watch the alligators do laps around the lagoon out back, feed Wheat Thins to the chicken turtles in the aforementioned lagoon, eat a hotdog at the tiki bar, find 6 sharks teeth (3 of which I somehow lost), stand motionless in the pool (too exhausted to swim), stare for a good, solid hour at an anhinga drying it's wings in the sun after a morning of catching fish (to be clear here, it was the anhinga catching the fish, not me), and watch with faith in mankind amazement as two young men carried a horseshoe crab, paramedic-style, back to the ocean on top of a surfboard.

Today we are planning to ride our bikes along the beach, the highlight being--of course--another hot dog, washed down with a frozen margarita. It's amazing how in this crazy, 24-7, work, work, work, "you must succeed, or else!" world that we live in, that sometimes all it takes is a hotdog with mustard to make one feel happy, content and alive.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

I wish I was creative enough to make this stuff up...

As you may recall, loyal reader, last week, while en route to a morning show appearance in Connecticut, and after cooking and prepping for close to 6 hours for my segment, I made it approximately 1.6 miles from home before a flat tire sidelined me, and squelched my chances of making it to West Hartford on time. You might also remember that the very nice people at NBC30 offered me a 'make up' segment, which is slated for tomorrow. And so today--just like last week (in fact, eerily like last week)--I spent the morning shopping for groceries, and prepping the ingredients. Done with my days work, I headed down to the kitchen a few moments ago to finalize and cook the recipes I will be showcasing, only to discover that the oven (brace yourself, dear reader) is not lighting. It should come as no surprise--given the circumstances of last week--that this discovery did not sit very well with me, so I quickly made my way to the refrigerator and poured myself a very large glass of white wine, then, undeterred, headed outside to the grill to improvise my way through the cooking stage. Alas, it did not take long for me to realize that we are (I have to interject here that I can barely type these words without feeling ill), out of propane as well.

So here I am with a tray of bacon-wrapped scallops, and shrimp lollipops, and cheesy breadsticks, and sausage balls to cook, with no heat source that is stronger than your average household flashlight (and most likely--given my luck these days--ours is out of batteries). But suddenly I realized, that after an entire week of struggling with new copy and ideas for a potential new book, that the best and most creative storyline, is taking place right here in my own madcap life.


BACON-WRAPPED SCALLOPS (or whatever else sounds good wrapped in bacon)
This is a no-brainer recipe. Cut slices of bacon in half vertically, then wrap them around sea scallops, or shelled jumbo shrimp, or dried apricots or pitted dates. Secure each with a toothpick, then bake in a baking pan (with sides so the bacon grease doesn't spill onto the bottom of your oven--which I have learned from experience) until the bacon is golden brown.
Enjoy!

PS. Thank you Cindy for listening to my 10 minute rant, and for generously offering me your oven. Hope the corn turned out ok.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Redhead Meets Red Tail



Last Friday--Friday, 13th, to be exact--I came face to face with a bird. But not just any bird; a really, really big bird. And not the typical sing-songing feathered friend you normally see flying above, or splashing around your backyard birdbath, but a bird of prey with thick talons, and a penchant for flesh.

Now, I don't know what goes on across the rest of the country, but it should come as no surprise to anyone who lives just outside of Manhattan, that the discovery of a fearless, eighteen-inch tall red-tailed hawk staring you down just outside your front door is, to say the least, somewhat shocking. My first reaction of course was to slam the door closed, but after a few moments I gathered my courage--and my camera--and cautiously opened it back up, revealing myself to the visitor who remained perched on the ledge, just inches away. We took a moment to size each other up for potential danger, and when none seemed imminent, we both relaxed. I spent the next 15 minutes in slack-jawed awe, snapping photos, my mind racing to come up with a reason for this seemingly mystical visit. Was this bird a harbinger? Was his visit an augury...or (acck!) an omen?

Whatever the reason for our Friday, 13th rendezvous, the sentimentalist in me likes to believe that that beautiful hawk appreciated our encounter as much as I did. But who knows? Perhaps he was simply sizing me up and wishing to the stars that I weighed one hundred and twenty pounds less; I'm sure it's not everyday that a potential meal presents itself so easily.

PS. From to Native American lore...
Be ever alert for a red tail flying near, for the Red Tailed Hawk will soar beside the Two-Legged whose own gift of vision is exceptionally acute. Yay! Mystery solved!!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Welcome!

What a week it's been. And it's only Thursday! If I was one of those superstitious types who believes that bad news comes in three's, I would definitely be arching an eyebrow right about now... maybe cancelling appointments, stocking provisions, battening down the hatches.

Yesterday--the day I had to head into the city for a long-awaited meeting with with my publisher to discuss a second book--Biblical proportions of rain fell, flooding roads and railways. The power went out in Chappaqua as I was getting dressed for my meeting, a tornado touched down in Long Island, draining all the water from a swimming pool, and making short work of trees and powerlines, and an underground steam pipe blew up near Grand Central Station, right around punch-out time, sending bricks, gravel and 9-11-esque plumes of smoke rocketing towards the heavens, tainting the air with asbestos-filled dust, injuring dozens of rush-hour commuters, and sadly, taking the life of a New Jersey woman.

Now I am rational enough to know that these disasters have nothing to do with me. Surely, there is no mystical force at play, warning me about writing a second book. The very idea is silly...ridiculous!!!

And yet...

Today I had an early TV appearance scheduled for the NBC 30 Morning Show in West Hartford, CT. My 4-minute spot was to highlight some of the easy appetizers from my book, Summer: A User's Guide. I decided to showcase only those recipes that required less than four ingredients to prepare and required minimal kitchen work (because let's face it, who wants to be bent over a stove when it's 90 degrees outside?)

Anyhoo...I whipped up the recipes last night, which included parmesan-cheddar breadsticks, Boursin-stuffed cherry tomatoes, bacon-wrapped dates, sausage balls, mango & goat cheese quesadillas, and sundried tomato spread on homemade pita crisps, then, at 7:40 this morning, I packed up the Jeep with all my goodies, tools and props, and hit the road. By--let's call it--7:47, I realized I was totally screwed. Well, that is, my front tire was totally screwed, as a three inch carpenters screw was embedded deep in the tread, resulting in the picture-perfect flat tire. A few phone calls later: one to my husband, one to the incredibly sympathetic producer at NBC (who was nice enough to reschedule me for next Friday, the 27th--don't forget to watch!), and finally to AAA (that's Triple A, not AA). Realizing there was nothing else left to do but wait for the nice man in the tow truck to arrive, I plopped myself by the side of the road, and dug into a delicious NBC 30 feast. It was there on that curb, somewhere around my third breadstick and sixth sausage ball, that two things struck me. First, that I was getting my new, white, Roberto Cavalli jeans dirty, and secondly--and more importantly--that I had somehow, in Magoo-like fashion, unintentionally averted what could have been two very, very bad situations. I crossed the road to Grand Central Station at 3pm, not 5pm, when the steam pipe blew. And my tire went flat as a pancake on idyllic Route 133, and not while I was sandwiched between two tractor trailers on I-684.

And so, barring a meteor hitting our house tomorrow, or a swarm of locusts filling the skies, I feel the Gods are telling me to take a leap of faith. To set out to conquer all obstacles. And--since the Gods are smarter than we often give them credit for--to add more cracked black pepper to my cheesy breadsticks moving forward.


CHEESY BREADSTICKS

Dip thin strips of refrigerated breadstick dough into a mixture of ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, 1/3 cup of either Gruyere or Cheddar cheese. If you'd like, sprinkle with some chopped fresh rosemary, or add a few twists from a pepper mill. Twists sticks, then place on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake in a 350-degree oven until golden-brown (approximately 10-15 minutes).