Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My BFF



Codeine is my BFF. Patient, loving, faithful codeine; where would I be without you?! You see, without codeine I am most certain I would have hacked up one or both of my lungs--and quite possibly a few vital organs--sometime within the last forty eight hours, as a result of this Taliban-released scourge that has been feasting on my rotting respiratory system like a starving zombie at an all-you-can-eat brain buffet. But codeine knows I have suffered enough from this bane, and BF that it is, it can't bear to see me suffer any longer. Instead, codeine wants me to sleep the sleep of a milked up newborn, to spend 22 of the 24 hours that make up my day in an Amy Winehouse haze, watching mindless daytime television, eating nutritionless comfort foods, while laying prone on the sofa, surrounded by more pill bottles than the illegitimate love child of Michael Jackson and Courtney Love.

Codeine doesn't care that my cottage is a filthy mess, that Ricola wrappers and tissues litter every square inch of the floor like New Year's confetti, that dirty dishes are piled high in the sink. Nor is codeine repulsed by the fact that I have not showered in days, and am beginning to look like a deranged Yeti. Codeine understands that tidiness and personal hygiene come second to sweet, drugged slumber, and that there will be plenty of time for eyebrow tweezing and leg shaving once this pulmonary weapon of mass destruction has been defeated and destroyed.

I hold out hope that that day of defeat will soon come, but until then, I am eternally thankful to my BFF, codeine, for helping me forget about things like time, work deadlines, personal hygiene, diet and nutrition, exercise, and social committments, and allowing me instead to focus on important things like Judge Judy, The Dog Whisperer, I Love Lucy reruns and old Pink Panther cartoons.

Thanks, friend--you're the bestest!


Classic Hot Toddy (PRINT RECIPE CARD)
There are many variations of this hot drink which originated in the 18th century, but it's traditionally made with tea, whiskey or brandy, and honey. If you'd like, you can add a bit of cinnamon or cloves to it, substitute orange for the lemon, or top it off with a small pat of butter. However you enjoy it, it is sure to warm you up on a cold day. Me? I'm hoping it knocks the #$@* out of this pesky cough of mine, once and for all.

1 1/2 ounces whiskey (or brandy, if you prefer)
1 ounce honey
1/3 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice (or a slice of orange)
3 ounces boiling water or hot tea
Cinnamon stick (optional)
Pat of butter (optional)

Pour boiling water or tea into a mug with whiskey or brandy, honey and lemon juice. Enjoy!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Snow Day


The first big snowfall of the season is hammering the Northeast today, but I am happily tucked away inside my tiny red cabin in the woods, with a big pot of homemade turkey chili simmering on the stove, and my most comfortable flannels keeping me cozy. It's been yet another emotional roller coaster of a week (2009 has to be will be better), and so I am grateful that I can be home today, nurturing my soul with small, simple things like cooking, writing, wrapping gifts. Tonight I am going to settle in with one of my all-time favorite movies, The Bishop's Wife, (Cary Grant stars, which alone makes it worth watching in my book) and a good bottle of Cabernet, before climbing under a mountain of down and settling in for what I hope will be ten much-needed hours of sleep. In the meantime--from my kitchen window--I watch the snow pile up on the treehouse just outside.

Only six more months until summer. Fortunately, until it's warm again outside, I have my kitchen sink chili to keep me toasty inside.


Kitchen Sink Turkey Chili (PRINT RECIPE CARD)
There is no right or wrong way to make this chili--if you don't have some of the vegetables I've listed, don't panic. Simply use any other veggies you might have on hand such as chopped green beans, diced potatoes, turnips, butternut squash...whatever!

olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno (seeded and minced)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 - 2 1/4 lbs ground turkey
14.5 oz can diced tomatoes (with jalapeno's, if you prefer)
2 - 15.5 oz can beans (any type: pinto, pink, black, kidney...)
1 carrot, diced
1 sweet potato, diced
handful+ frozen corn
handful+ frozen peas
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
salt + pepper (to taste)
sour cream (optional)

Pour a bit of olive oil to a large pot over medium-high heat, then add onion, peppers, garlic and turkey. Saute until turkey is cooked, then add tomatoes, beans, veggies and spices. Lower heat and cook chili for about 1 hour, or until carrots and potatoes are tender. Spoon into bowls and top with a spoonful of sour cream.

Makes about 6 servings.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Donate Life


Two months ago I was giggling in the back of an urban rickshaw with my cousin, Bev, giddy from the effervescence of champagne at the Oyster Bar, the energy of New York City, and just generally happy to feel alive again (I'm back). This Saturday night I was crying with her on the phone, trying to find the words that would ease some of the unbearable pain she is feeling over the loss of her sister, Bernadette, who was snatched away from this world way too early this past Friday. But there simply are no words to describe Bev's loss, to soothe her broken heart, and so I will not even attempt to find any. Instead, I am writing this morning to encourage all of you--if you have not already done so--to sign up today to become an organ and tissue donor. Bev's sister was one, and as a result of that amazing gift, eight families will be receiving a Christmas miracle this year.

Through loss, life.

Friday, December 5, 2008

2009

Here we are in the final month of 2008, and if there was ever a year I was happy to wrap up + send on it's merry way, this would be the one. I am an optimist by nature, but 2008 has challenged even me. In just 27 days a fresh new year will be upon us, and while I am sensible enough to realize that that flip of the page is merely symbolic, I am still looking forward to flipping it.

I don't have a grand plan for the coming new year (well, other than to welcome it with open arms + a full glass of champagne) as I am not one of those people who makes annual proclamations about losing ten pounds or exercising more. Rather than a list of rigid resolutions that will just add more stress to my already stressful life, I'm instead making myself a list of aspirations for 2009--things that I would like to do over the course of the year that will give me joy, add richness to my life, make me a better version of myself. Honestly, if I accomplish half the things I am about to list below, I will consider this little exercise a success.

I am not the sort of person who tells other people how to live their lives; instead, I prefer to follow the credo 'live and let live'. But with the economy, the country--and the world, quite frankly--in the state it's in, I encourage each and every one of you who reads this weblog, to cut yourselves a little slack this coming year. Pay the bills, tend to the family, do what you need to do each and every day to survive, but don't forget to nurture your souls with things that make you happy. Because, (as my best friend Cindy reminded me just this past week) this is the only life you have. So, even if you've lost money in the stock market, or lost your job, or are simply down about the state of the world (or your life) in general, never forget that today might be the only day you will get to watch a sunrise, eat a slice of blueberry pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, try your hand at something new (yoga? karate? oil painting? writing?), give a bear hug to that person you truly love, take a ridiculously long, hot shower, fall asleep on top of flannel sheets (and under a goose down comforter), sit by a roaring fire.

How about we all be a little bit selfish next year, my friends? I don't think there is any shame in carving out time for yourself and doing something good for YOU. And next year, I look forward to inspiring you as I set out on my journey, and hearing all about yours as well. Together, let's make 2009 the year we nurture our souls.

Love and peace to you all,
Suzanne


My goals + aspirations for 2009...

Write more
NYC Museum weekends San Diego Get back to trapeze school Nurture my friendships Hike New Paltz again
Be joyous Spend more time in the country Cultivate a garden Learn to juggle Have more fun Cook more dinners for friends BBQ each and every week Get back to crafting (I haven't forgotten you Crafty Suzanne readers!) Save money Spend more time with my family Take more roadtrips Finally figure out my %#$!!@ camera Cook something exotic I've never cooked before Give up Tylenol PM Live simply Get to New Haven for clam pizza Make homemade marmalade Go mountain biking Plan a trip to Africa in 2011 Rock climb Be more creative Kayak Plan a girlfriends weekend Volunteer Learn to love yoga Floss regularly Get to Maine Drink more water Explore more of NYC Wake up every day grateful for something

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Boxing + Bolognese


I have to be honest with you, dear reader--despite the fact that I spent many years practicing my upper cuts, jabs, and hooks with my trainer, Bob, I was always a bit squeamish about the prospect of watching a ''real" fight, up-close, and in-person. Let's face it--watching a boxing match on television from the comfort of your pillowy sofa, with the remote control in one hand, and a bowl of popcorn in the other, is one thing; listening to the sound of bone-crushing blows delivered just feet away from you is a whole different beast. But when my cousin, Mati, invited me to the (not so) Annual Police vs. Firefighters Charity Tough Man Competition in Yonkers this past Friday night, I suddenly found my lips saying 'yes' before my brain had time to weigh in with a 'no'. And with that tiny utterance, I was going to my first fight.

So, there I was, standing on the floor of the old Yonkers Armory--shoulder to shoulder in a packed room with several hundred beer-swilling, blood thirsty cops and firefighters, anxiously waiting for my first fight to begin--when I learned that my cousin, Mark, was in fact, one of the Tough Men. Now, my cousin is a tough Yonkers cop, and I know very well that he can take care of himself, but...boxing? I thought to myself, "does he even know how to box?" A shiver ran down my spine. I made the sign of the cross, and prayed to my Grandmother, "Please Grams, don't let Mark die here in front of me tonight."

When it was finally Marks' turn to fight, I looked up at his face staring down at me from the big screen: 6 feet tall, 195 lbs, 24 years old. 24 years old?!?! Wait...Mark's 36 years old!! "Stop the fight...he's too old for this craziness!!!" Alas, my cries went unheard and the fight went on--all six minutes of it--and despite the fact that his opponent fought dirty, my baby cousin prevailed and took home a Tough Man trophy. All without a drop of his blood being shed, a single bone being crushed.

When I called to check up on Mark the next day, Mati informed me that he was sore, but not so sore that he wasn't in the kitchen making a pot of homemade sauce. As I hung up the phone I was comforted knowing that despite the fact that I come from a tough lot, in the end, what matters to us most is not who wins the fight or takes home the trophy, but who can put on the apron and make the best damn pot of Sunday gravy this side of Little Italy. That's the true sign of a winner in our family.


Sunday Bolognese Sauce (PRINT RECIPE CARD)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
2/3 cup chopped celery
2/3 cup chopped carrot
3/4 pound ground beef chuck
Salt + freshly ground pepper (to taste)
1 cup whole milk
1 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups canned Italian plum tomatoes, chopped (with the juices)

Place the oil, butter and chopped onion in a large pot over medium heat and stir until the onion becomes translucent. Add the celery and carrots, and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the ground beef, a pinch of salt and pepper and stir well until the beef has turned just brown, then add the milk, reduce the heat slightly and simmer, stirring frequently, until the milk has been absorbed. Add the wine and simmer until it evaporates. Finally, stir in the tomatoes, lower the heat and simmer, uncovered for 3 hours, stirring occasionally. Note: If the mixture begins to dry out as it cooks, simply add 1/2 cup of water as necessary (the end sauce should be dry and beefy. not watery!) Season with salt and pepper to taste before serving over cooked pasta + topping with grated Parmesan cheese.

Makes about 4-6 servings (depending on how many rounds you go beforehand, of course)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Life changes, friendships don't


My friend, Rachael, came up from Virginia the weekend before last to visit me for a few days in my tiny, red cottage (you might remember her from my Memorial Day weekend blog, The Wedding Crasher). Rachael and I have only been in each others lives for fourteen years, (we met when I was thirty and she was twenty, in the early dot com boom days) but when I look back at everything that's happened to each of us in that somewhat short time period, it's like a lifetime of experiences--jobs and joblessness, marriages and divorces, moves north and south, break-ups and make-ups, kids and step kids, a bunch of tattoo's, a whole lot of sushi, and more cocktails and mischief than either one of us will ever honestly admit to--you name it, we've been through it together. But last weekend, the vibe was totally different, and perhaps that's because I'm in a completely different place--both physically and mentally--these days.

I used to reside in a village where I would regularly spot an ex-president and a senator, but I now live in a town where I constantly keep my eyes peeled for a bald eagle. Whereas I used to jet off to Miami for cosmopolitan weekends, I am currently content spending an afternoon on Arthur Avenue, digging into a heaping bowl of linguine with clam sauce, followed by an Italian ice, or a thick slice of pistachio cheesecake. In my old kitchen, I would slave for hours, preparing exotic foods from far off destinations, while today I cook simple foods that I love to eat because they're easy, delicious and comforting. And, while my last home was a huge barn converted into a cool loft space, I am patting myself on the back these days that I have somehow squeezed both myself and my business into a tiny 400 square foot cottage in the woods, have managed to cook some pretty decent meals in a kitchen the size of Triscuit cracker.

I think Rachael was somewhat surprised at this "New Suzanne", as are many of my friends who know me as the Suzanne who "wrote a book", "does a regular TV spot", "is always jetting off somewhere." But the fact of the matter is, I am happy and relieved to be living more simply these days. I feel like this change was a necessary change for me, and it has gotten me to a healthier place mentally, physically, spiritually and, especially, creatively.

I believe that when you listen to, and follow that little voice inside of you, it will lead you down the right path. For me, that path is the seed of a new book, which I have started writing since I started on this life-changing journey I am currently on. My creative challenge this winter is to take the story that is currently swirling around like confetti inside my head, and turn it into something that people will actually want to read. No small task, but so far this tiny cottage--and the universe--has not let me down.

And when I need a little extra energy to get me through a hard day of writing this winter, there is always a trip to Arthur Avenue for pistachio cheesecake--or a phone call to Rachael--to help fuel the fire.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Scenes from my Autumn: Greenwich Village Halloween Parade

For those of you who missed the nation's largest Halloween celebration, I thought I would share some of my photo's from this past Friday.
























Thursday, October 23, 2008

Beautified


I invested a bit of money in myself this week. After living a close to monastic existence here in my tiny cottage for the past two months, I decided it was time to do a bit of sprucing up for my baby cousins nuptials tomorrow, lest I frighten the wedding revelers with my recent unkempt state.

Spending time at my hair salon is one of my favorite indulgences; what's not to love about being fussed over by an army of hip, young stylists + catching up on gossip with my impossibly chic French hairdresser, Jiji? Um...nothing!, which is why I savor every fluffy, and frivolous second I'm there. What sweet relief to talk about scrunchies vs. barrettes, celebrity train wrecks, and growing out bangs, rather than politics and the economy for a change. One fun hour later, my roots no longer divulging my natural color (or age) I was off to the spa to get my skin thoroughly cleaned. Now, you'd think that by forty-four years old, I'd have skin cleaning 101 nailed, but truth be told, I was beginning to feel like there was not one clear pore left on my entire face. So, for the next hour, I did my best to relax in a dimly lit room, while a spa technician steamed, scrubbed, and squeezed an entire summer's worth of gunk from my skin; I swear I lost two pounds from my face yesterday.

And finally, there was the bikini wax. Somehow--after spending all of my adult life perfectly happy going...errr, ummm...au natural--I got talked dared bullied into getting one by my good friend, Cindy. Cindy couldn't believe it when I told her I had never experienced the joys of waxing, so one warm afternoon, she handed me two Advil, spun me around, marched me right out of her store, and pointed me in the direction of the nail salon directly across the street, where I stuttered 'bikini wax' to the person at the register, and suddenly found myself in more contorted positions than a Cirque du Soleil acrobat. The pain--and humiliation--of those 30 minutes was so great that I cursed Cindy for months, and swore to myself that I would never put myself through that anguish again. And yet, there I was again, just the other day--in a cold sweat--bracing myself for the first rip, the horror of being asked to "flip over" and worst of all--the tweezers.

But by some miracle I survived my second bikini wax, and when I arrived home, I poured myself a very large glass of red wine as a reward. Then, realizing the wedding was only two days away, I poured out the wine, brushed my teeth, broke out the Crest White Strips, and worked on getting my teeth back to a shade that could be called white.

Beauty I was reminded, is utterly exhausting; I can't wait to get back to work.

Monday, October 20, 2008

I'm Back


I was leisurely heading up Park Avenue - slash - risking my life in the back of an uninsured pedicab this past Friday night, when it suddenly dawned on me--I'm happy. And it wasn't just the giddy side-effects of the two glasses of champagne I enjoyed at The Oyster Bar with my cousin, Bev, or the fact that our final destination was a bachelorette party at Tao, that had me euphoric. Instead, I had this overwhelming realization at 7:45 pm, right smack dab in the center of Manhattan, with taxi's, and limo's, and crazy New York drivers speeding by just inches away from our feeble cycle rickshaw, that after months of emotional and physical wear and tear, after slogging through each day exhausted beyond words, I was--am--finally and happily, feeling comfortable in my own skin again. All I could do at that moment was close my eyes, smile inwardly, and send up a silent prayer of thanks to the heavens, and to my grandmother, who I know is looking out for me from above, each and every second of the day.

My laughter is back, as is my sense of humor. When I catch sight of myself in the mirror, I no longer look like I am auditioning as an extra for a George A. Romero film. And, while most women would choose to commit Hari Kari over their scale revealing a five pound increase, after losing twenty-two pounds this past year, I am relieved that I can now pinch an inch; I am healthy once again.

This tiny cottage by the river has done me good, as have the people I've chosen to include in my circle. We all have the ability to make our own life choices in this world, and sometimes we have to make difficult ones in order to get to a better place for ourselves. But in the end, I firmly believe that through suffering and pain, comes strength and power.

This past Friday night, on a $20 white-knuckled pedicab ride through the streets of Gotham, I suddenly woke up out of my Snow White stupor, and remembered what it felt like to be me. But not just ordinary, old me, but rather a stronger, more powerful version of my old self; a new, and improved Suzanne Brown. And, in that Hollywood-scripted moment, I welcomed this fiercer Suzanne into my life, with a big hug, an open heart, and the promise of a bright future.

I am back.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Us, Gift Wrapped


I can't seem to find sleep tonight. My mind has been dancing with memories, and as a result, I've spent the past hour and a half tossing around my bed, unable to settle down. So, here I am, at 11pm--with a glass of wine, and my laptop--hoping to empty my head of these images that have been buzzing around my brain, like flies at a summer picnic.

As I mentioned in my last posting, my parents celebrated their golden anniversary last week, so yesterday, our family and friends gathered to toast this milestone at an anniversary brunch. My folks--like most parents--have pretty much everything they need in this world; they've lived long enough to have accumulated plenty of "stuff", and they've worked hard enough to have traveled around the world and back again. So, when it came time to choose the right gift for them, my brothers and I definitely had our work cut out for us. We immediately crossed anything that needed to be giftwrapped off our list, as the three of us are 100% in agreement that the best things in life are definitely not things. That left us with travel. But when you have parents who have traveled everywhere together for the past fifty years--from Maine to Morocco--well, the pickin's get sort of slim (not to mention our wallets). And then--after thirty-three emails and several very businesslike conference calls--it suddenly dawned on us that the best gift we could give our parents was...us.

So, yesterday, we gifted our parents with us for an entire week. And we even threw in their grandkids, as well. And, hopefully my aunt and uncle and a few cousins will join in, too, so it can really feel like old times. You see, as kids we spent our summers down the Jersey Shore. It was a big, family event, and those special summers hold more memories than I can ever list here (so many in fact, that I had to write a book about it!). There was the boardwalk and the fireworks, early morning crabbing excursions and fishing for bluefish. There were trips to the mini golf, and to the Dairy Queen, kite flying and frisbee throwing. We showered outdoors, and slept in sandy beds, and each and every second of it was happy and joyous and carefree.

It is our hope that we can once again experience that sweet and carefree summer feeling with three generations of our family; to remember the times we shared together years ago with my parents, and to pass those memories (and create new ones) with not only my nieces, and my nephews, but to the big, extended family we now have--wives, husbands, girlfriends, boyfriends, kids of significant others, "undefinables" (you name it/we've got it).

Next August is ten months away, and already I am sleepless with anticipation. I can't wait to catch blue crabs with my father, to make crab salad with my mother.

It's after midnight, and sleep still eludes me. But that's fine, for tonight I have the delicious memories of summers past, and the dream of a beautiful summer to come to carry me into morning. Well, those, and the can of lump crabmeat I'm about to open, and stuff into the last of summer's ripe, red tomatoes.

Sweet anticipation is about to get a little bit sweeter....


MY MOM'S CRAB SALAD STUFFED TOMATOES
(from my book, Summer: A User's Guide)
6 large ripe tomatoes (avocado halves can be used as well)
3 cups crabmeat
1 1/2 cups diced celery
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
5 tablespoons mayonnaise (or more, to taste)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Lettuce leaves

Cut the top off of each tomato, then carefully scoop out the center, leaving a thick shell.
In a mixing bowl, combine crabmeat, celery, salt, pepper, lemon juice and mayonnaise. Fill tomatoes with crab salad. Place stuffed tomatoes on a bed of lettuce before serving.

Makes 6 servings.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Politics + Happy Marriages


Everywhere I turn as of late, conversations seem to be focused on the formidable financial woes this country is now facing. Those troubles, combined with the contentious political race for the White House, have made it somewhat difficult to have a peaceful + civilized meal with a diverse group of friends, without it turning into a passionate, heated debate, where I actually ponder over my molten lava cake, whether I might need to drop my dessert fork to break up a middle-aged suburban melee. I--having been through enough this year already--am doing my very best to stay neutral, peaceful + calm, as there is no use wringing my hands over "stuff" that is out of my control. Instead, I am trying to focus on the joyous things that are going on in the world--and especially in my life--and am pleased to report that there are still plenty of happy and positive things to celebrate.

With nearly half of all marriages ending in divorce, and the average union lasting only seven years, it's refreshing when you catch wind of a marriage that somehow beats those grim odds. Today, my parents--Barbara and John--have been married for fifty years. That number actually makes my jaw drop, as I can barely find it in myself to spend fifty minutes with someone, much less fifty years, but somehow these two people have made it work, and oh, how I wish I knew the secret of their success.

It would be so easy if there was an illustrated manual on how to make a marriage last, but alas, one does not exist. Instead, I like to believe that the secret to my parents long union is simply...tolerance. My theory is that both realize that neither of them are perfect--that they have different opinions, and tastes, and ideologies, and they respect those differences without tension, hostility, or judgment. What I've witnessed over my forty-four years is two people learning to live, and let live; I can come up with no other secret sauce to this statistic-defying, long, healthy marriage.

In my ideal world, we would all follow this peaceful path of tolerance, where opinions could be spoken freely, without worry, and where molten lava cake could be leisurely consumed without the fear of fisticuffs breaking out over after-dinner espresso. But for now, I'll simply have to settle for my parents--not my dining companions--for inspiration.

Upcoming Halloween TV Spot: A Ghostly Gala


My very favorite holiday--Halloween--is right around the corner, and to celebrate, I'll be spending the next three weeks posting ideas for my upcoming spot on the News Channel 8 (WTNH) Good Morning Connecticut Weekend show. This time around, I'll be offering crafts, party ideas and recipes for A Ghostly Gala, guaranteed to spook even the most unflappable Halloween revelers. Earlybird Nutmeggers can tune in on Sunday, October 19th at 7:23 am to watch me live; sleepyheads can tune in later that day to catch it online. And as always, all my crafts, recipes and ideas will be posted on my Crafty Suzanne web log.

Happy Hauntings!
Ghoulzanne

Thursday, September 25, 2008

An Award for Summer!


I'm happy to report that my book, Summer: A User's Guide, received an iParenting Media (A Disney Internet Group) Award for 2008! Break out the champagne + noisemakers! (well, maybe just the champagne...)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Autumn Arrives

Today is the first full day of Autumn, and here in the Empire State, the sun is shining, the sky is bright blue, and there is just the right amount of bite in the air; fall has not disappointed us, thus far. I am happy to report that New York State apples are in the supermarkets (I grabbed a bag of Cortlands, but am eagerly awaiting the first crunchy Macouns), and pumpkins are aplenty. I've already aired out my fall sweaters, have stowed my tank tops away until 2009.

I'm nesting here, in my tiny, red cottage; I've been cooking hearty meals, and sleeping a lot more hours than I have in some time. As a result, I feel healthier, and I look healthier, too. This morning I threw together an African Lamb Stew, and it has been simmering on the stove for hours, filling my cozy little home with exotic fragrances, and memories of Botswana. For those of you who haven't read my Spice+Life Blog, I posted this recipe last year, and it's one of my favorites. Perfect for a chilly, Autumn evening, like tonight.

AFRICAN LAMB STEW
From SPICE + LIFE, January 15, 2008


There are some meals in life that for whatever the reason--taste, setting, company, two too many glasses of Cabernet--that you remember forever. I have several meals that stand out over the years that I feel are worthy of taking up precious space in my ever-dwindling supply of brain cells, and I am happy to share them with you today.

-A lobster roll, at Red's Eats in Wiscasset, Maine. So good, I gobbled it down in three bites, then went back for another.

-A plain, brown paper bag filled with briny, juicy, indescribably delicious, fried whole-belly clams, on Martha's Vineyard.

-Ropa Vieja at Puerta Sagua's in South Beach, Miami.

-My grandmothers matzoh ball soup.

-The mixed green salad with a farmers egg, at Blue Hill Restaurant in Pocantico Hills.

-Linguini with manilla clams, made by Juan, at the Fish Market in San Diego.

-Ravioli Alfredo at Luna's, on Mulberry Street in Little Italy.

-A bowl of hot chicken broth that Jerry brought me after three days of not eating because of a bout of food poisoning.

-A 3-lb, perfectly grilled lobster, at Charlie's Crab in Hilton Head.

-My first fish taco, at Fred's in San Diego (and then another a few days later at Taco Loco in Laguna Beach, after a morning of surfing lessons).

-Grilled hotdogs, at Rumrunners, on the beach at Hilton Head.

-Lamb stew, at Savuti Camp, Botswana.

As I look over my list, I'm amused at how diverse it is; clearly I'm not swayed by ethnicity or pricetag! Instead, I like to think (outside of the food poisoning, and my grandmothers Perfect 10 matzoh ball soup), that these meals were special not just because they tasted good, but because they were part of a road trip, an adventure, a departure from the everyday blah, blah, blah baked chicken. Certainly I've had my share of lamb stew in my lifetime (thank you, St. Patrick), but when I enjoyed it under a starlit sky in Botswana, sitting around a candlelit table, with Arlene, a bakers dozen of strangers, and safari guides, with elephants trumpeting at the waterhole just feet away, and plenty of good wine being poured freely and generously, it suddenly became the best lamb stew of my life.

And so, I encourage you to take a day this weekend, or the next, to get in your car and just drive. Drive to a town you've never been to, but always wanted to explore. Or, head into the nearest city, and take a chance on a restaurant that might open your mind, and your palate. For if there is one thing I've learned on my culinary journey, it's that you don't have to travel the globe for a wonderful meal; sometimes, the taste of a salty hotdog on a hot August afternoon, can remain in your memory for a lifetime.

African Lamb (or beef) Stew (PRINT RECIPE CARD)
2 lbs. boneless shoulder of lamb, cut into 2-inch chunks (or, feel free to substitute stewing beef)
2-4 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon hot paprika
16 oz can chopped tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest (no pith)
1 cinnamon stick, or 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup dried apricots
Salt + pepper (to taste)
1/2 toasted (in a dry skillet) pine nuts (optional)

Place a bit of olive oil in a large skillet or wok over high heat, and cook meat in batches until browned on all sides (add more olive oil as needed). Place meat in a stock pot, then saute onion and garlic in the skillet or wok until tender. Add onions and garlic to stockpot along with chicken stock, cumin, paprika, tomatoes, orange zest, and cinnamon, and cook over medium-low heat for approximately 2 hours. Add apricots, and continue to cook until beef it fork-tender (about another 1/2 - 1 hour). Season with salt and pepper, if needed. When ready to serve, spoon over white rice, couscous, or mealie meal (cooked white cornmeal), and top with toasted pine nuts.

Serves 4.

PS. This is even better the next day, so if you have the time, make the stew one day ahead, then reheat

PS.PS.
This is a photo I keep on my desk of my sister-in-law, Arlene, and me in Africa. We had just enjoyed a few sundowners out in the bush (Sundowners are the safari equivalent of happy hour, except there's usually not a chance of getting eaten by a lion at your neighborhood pub). I don't recall what has Arlene laughing so hard in this picture, but I tend to think it has something to do with the absurdity of having a wild elephant meandering by directly behind us as we posed.

Suzanne Brown 1.15.07

Friday, September 19, 2008

Loss

If I could pick one word to sum up 2008 thus far, it would be loss. Loss surrounds me. Certainly we can all agree that the economy is suffering from it, but I am talking about personal loss here--the loss of life, and the loss of love.

I had dinner with my parents at a small cafe in town a few nights ago--they came to visit me in my tiny, riverside cottage, to make sure I was safe and happy here, that I had a sturdy lock on my door, and food in my cupboards and fridge--and we had a long conversation about how much lighter our family became in 2008. We lost three close family members this past year--my grandmother at 97, my Uncle Cy at 92, and my cousin, Scott, who passed away at the too-young age of 57--and everyone in my family is still feeling somewhat heavyhearted as a result.

But it is not just my family that has suddenly become lighter, for it seems that everywhere I turn, someone is telling me about their own loss. Twice this past month I have gone into the sauna at my gym, and both times--within five minutes--two separate women have told me that they had lost a child. One woman lost her son, who was 42, and the other, her daughter, who was 26. I wish I was--through words--able to convey to you, reader, how it feels to be naked in a tiny, 105 degree room, and have a complete stranger be completely open and vulnerable to you, to confide in you their sadness and their grief. I can't however, because there are no words that will adequately describe how touching, how intimate those five minute interactions were. But I can tell you that I will remember both of those moments for my remaining days.

My friend, Marlene, lost her brother this year. He died of the same, horrible disease that my cousin Scott did. And sadly, just as young. My sweet hairdresser lost her brother in a boating accident over the summer. He was only 26. And then, there was old Henry, who I wrote about this past Monday. My dear friends, Michele and Steve are in mourning right now, and rightfully so; lest you think you mourn less over an animal than a human, you are terribly wrong; Henry was a part of their family, and they lament his loss.

Around me, relationships end as well. Friends who were together, are now not. My own relationship has been redefined, and I am now living alone for the first time in many, many years. The loss of love is exquisitely painful.

I feel as though sadness is at every juncture, yet somehow I don't feel profoundly sad. Instead, I wake up each day, grateful for all the gifts I have been given. I don't question the greater plan for me, or those around me; there is no luxury of time in my life to wallow in self-pity, or to be consumed by grief. As human beings, we have the ability to choose between living each day to it's fullest, in a positive and healthy way, or remaining stagnant, becoming bitter.

I choose the former.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Rest in Peace Henry


My good friend, Henry, passed away quietly yesterday, with my brave friend, Michele (and Cortez + Kelly, pictured above with Henry) by his side. It seems that Henry had a less than ideal start in life, but was later adopted by my dear friends Michele and Steve, and immediately forgot about his troubles and went about his days breathing in good, fresh, country air, chasing chipmunks, and doing his best to be well-behaved + not bite people who he didn't quite trust. I was fortunately one of the people this big lug trusted, and I loved spending time with him, watching him race out the back door in search of adventures. Even when he developed quite a large tumor on his back leg, it never held old Henry back, or stopped him from scaring squirrels and strangers; this was a dog that lived life with gusto and made the most of each second of it. I remember this past July 4th when I was staying over the house, and the fireworks were spooking the pups. Big, tough Henry seemed to be spooked the most, so much so, that he wrapped his entire body around my head as I slept--it was as if I was wearing a hat made out of Henry.

I will miss my dear friend, but I know he is in doggie heaven today, chasing squirrels (and finally catching them!) and biting whoever the heck he pleases without being scolded, wondering what he did wrong.

Rest in peace you big, old lug. I will miss your beautiful face, your wonderful spirit. I hope I can enjoy my life 1/10th as much as you enjoyed yours.

Suzanne




HOMEMADE DOG BISCUITS (from Crafty Suzanne 11.21.07)
I used whimsical hand-shaped cookie cutters instead of the classic bone shape, so your favorite mutt can finally—and without punishment—take a bite out of the hand that feeds him.

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup wheat germ
4 beef bouillon cubes, crushed
1/2 teaspoon yeast
1 egg
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cut hot water

Mix together dry ingredients in a large bowl, then add egg, oil and water. Mix with your hands to form a dough. On a floured surface, roll out the dough to approximately 1/2 inch thickness, then cut shapes out with a cookie cutter. Place cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake in a 275 degree oven for about 2 hours (until dry and hard). Makes about 10-15 bones.