Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Toast to Buoyancy.

Early last December I posted an entry about how I was very much looking forward to ushering 2008 out the door and welcoming 2009 in with a big, friendly bear hug and a nice hot cup of homemade cocoa by the fire. For those who've read this blog for the past few years know, 2008 was no friend of mine, so by December it was like one of those horrible house guests that you live to see pack their bags, wave farewell to as their taillights become smaller and smaller on the horizon. Unfortunately for me I lack Kreskin-like powers, so at that time I had no idea that 2009 would turn out to be an even worse house guest than 2008 -- the kind that comes for a weekend, stays for an entire year, and in between accidentally runs over your beloved cat, Mojo, spills black food coloring on your 6-month new Pottery Barn sofa, watches cage fighting on Spike TV at 3am at full volume, burns down your tool shed, regularly cooks cabbage.

But here we are at the cusp of '10, and despite the fact that I had the worst freaking houseguests two years in a row, the optimist in me can't help but sit here at my desk and wonder, hope, pray that this new decade will be kinder and gentler to us all. Certainly ten years ago none of us were prepared for what we would have to face as a nation, but we made it through with that crazy inner strength we somehow find when we least expect it, plus the love of our friends, family and neighbors. In my own little circle there have been events so horrible that I can't even recount them, but each time someone in the group got knocked down, there were forty hands reaching out to lift them back up. That old nugget, "In prosperity our friends know us; in adversity, we know our friends" has never rung more true than over the past handful of years.

And so, on this last day of 2009, rather than listing my goals and aspirations for myself, I've decided to state my aspiration for us, as a nation + as a planet instead;

It's my greatest hope that in 2010 we find our buoyancy once again.

Main Entry: buoyancy/buoyance

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: lightness in spirit

Synonyms: animation, bounce, cheerfulness, cheeriness, ebullience, effervescence, exuberance, gaiety, good feeling, good humor, happiness, high spirits, jollity, liveliness, pep, spiritedness, sunniness, vim and vigor, zing, zip

Antonyms: blues, depression, heaviness

My wish for you today is that whenever the sun goes dark in your life, you think of that word and it's meaning, and you find hope and joy, light and ebullience.

Peace + Prosperity to you and yours in the new year. Thank you -- as always -- for coming here to read what I occasionally manage to spew out.

With Love,

Thursday, November 19, 2009


I don't know about you guys, but I've had it up to here (insert image of me in your head here, right arm bent, with right hand held horizontally around mid-forehead, scowl on face) with health care. In all my forty-five years, I never imagined that the day would come where I would be using the term health care in my life, more than I use the term dry martini. I just watched the morning news, and in a short half hour I was told:

1. Not to get a mammogram or do self exams
3. That obesity is going to cost us $344 billion by 2018
3. That salt is bad for me
4. That the swine flu fairy did not show up again, so there are still not enough H1N1 vaccines to go around
5. And last but not least, that the über -contentious Health Care Bill is stiiiiiiiillllllll working it's way through our stellar bureaucracy

The media loves this type of stuff, as they seem to exist solely for the purpose of creating mass hysteria among hard-working, already-stressed-out-enough-about-the-economy Americans. "Hey, you guys are freaking out about paying your bills?! How about we add to it by talking endlessly about your potential health problems?!"

So, this morning I decided I would cut through all the clutter and noise, to give you the real deal on the health care news du jour.

Do not get a mammogram until you are 50, or do self-exams.

Let's just nip 1. right in the bud, shall we? Stupid freaking idea.


America, can you please, please, please head over to Target or Walmart -- or Restoration Hardware if you have good taste and cash to burn -- buy yourself a full length mirror, turn on all the lights in your house, remove every stitch of clothing you're wearing, then stand in front of your new mirror, and take a good, long, hard look? I mean, really soak it in. If you do not like what you see, chances are good you will be costing this nation lots and lots of money one day soon, if not already. So, what you need to do after you wipe away your tears, is put your clothes back on, get in your car, and drive to your nearest Weight Watchers meeting. Weight Watchers works. Really. I wouldn't lie to you. So does exercise, so do some of that as well. In fact, forget about driving to the meeting and instead, put some sneakers on and walk there.

I admit it--food without salt sucks. Have you ever tried eating a french fry that had no salt on it? Copy paper has more flavor. But if Joe Average simply stopped stuffing bags of salty snacks and processed foods down his pie hole, bookmarked epicurious, and learned to cook meals at home instead, dollars to donuts he wouldn't be on high blood pressure medication.
Or, obese.

Just sayin'.

Swine Flu / H1N1
If you're going to name an epidemic--the next hot disease--then for Christ's Sake, come up with something sexier than The Swine Flu/H1N1. Throughout history, there have been some really great names for pandemics: there was the mysterious Black Death (aka, the bubonic plague), and the Seussical-sounding Spotted Fever. Even the Spanish Flu was nicknamed "La Grippe" which made is sound less like a scourge, more like your charming neighborhood bistro. Let's face it--the name Swine Flu is just not sexy, and H1N1 sounds like something a computer programmer in the back office at Microsoft came up with. I went on to to see if there were any other names relating to swine that might make this a more marketable pandemic. I crossed hog, oinker, pig, and porker off my list (although Porker Flu might tie in nicely with the whole obesity issue) and so far I have come up with:
Boar Flu
Beast Flu
Brute Flu
Peccary Flu

Personally, I think Beast Flu has a nice ring to it, so I'm going to lobby for that one.

But I digress.

There's a flu going around. One goes around every year and (shocker!) people do die from it. If you've not gotten a shot yet--NEWSFLASH!--there are not enough vaccines to go around, so chances are pretty damn good that you're on your own.
  • Carry some Purell with you and wash your hands whenever you can, and then wash them some more. Pretend you're a brain surgeon operating on your own brain -- that's how clean you'll want 'em.
  • Watch what you touch when you are out in public, and do your best to keep your filthy, germ-infested hands away from your face. If you have to pick touch your nose (who doesn't?!), use a tissue.
  • Wear a light scarf around your neck, and when you're on the subway, or in some public place where some fool is hacking up a lung right next to you, wrap it around your nose and mouth to avoid catching their scourge.
  • Don't make-out with complete strangers. (just keeping you on your toes to see if you're still paying attention)

The Health Care Bill
Sorry, suddenly I am feeling too sick to go on....

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sundays + Naked Chickens

I can't help myself from acting like a psychotic turrets patient each time I see that Perdue Chicken commercial for "Roasterphobia" on TV; the instant I see Tom Perdue telling that roaster-averse Mom that the correct way to cook up a chicken for her poultry-lovin' family is in a plastic bag--well--the profanities just come spewing off my tongue.

Let me say right now that there are some things in this world that I'm perfectly fine cutting corners on. Dishwashers were made for a reason. Fresh herbs from the market? So much easier than tilling soil, getting your nails dirty, slugs. Store-bought hummus? Yes, yes, more yes.

But I ask you people--have we become either so collectively lazy or dumb as a nation that we can't roast a freaking chicken in the oven without it being sealed up in it's own little sodium phosphate-filled chicken body bag? I mean--think about it--it's a chicken, and it's an oven; how bloody hard can it be to pull off? It's not like you're being asked to get Republicans and Democrats to agree on the Healthcare bill, or find Osama Bin Laden.

When I was young (way back when), there was something called Home Economics in school. Just like there were shop classes that taught us woodworking, metalworking, printing, and the somewhat puzzling "plastics" ("Here son, cook this bright yellow piece of plastic in that oven over there until it reaches ten million degrees, then bend it into a napkin holder to take home. But don't get burned while doing it, despite the fact that everything around you is as hot as Satan's lair!"), this course taught us practical skills to help us in life. In Home Ec. we learned to sew, craft and, of course, cook. I loved Home Ec. I remember making cheese blintzes, and baking chocolate chip cookies from scratch, not a log. We made homemade butter during one class, and cinnamon bread during another. Not once did we cook anything in a plastic bag (honestly, I'm not quite certain if plastic bags were even invented then, as all I seem to recall were the paper variety, and those either came as shopping bags, grocery bags, or plain, brown lunch-bags)

My Mom makes a handful of things really, really well. She makes a great pork tenderloin cooked with sauerkraut and potatoes. A classic pot roast. And a wonderful matzoh ball soup. But I have always loved her roast chicken the most. It reminds me of our Sunday dinners growing up, where we would head home after 9:00 mass, have buttered hard rolls for breakfast, read the funnies, watch Abbott and Costello reruns, then sit down for a big midday dinner with real mashed potatoes, and homemade gravy. Afterward, we would head outside to play, because, let's face it, there was nothing fun to do inside.

We've become nation of lazy asses. Home Ec. is sadly longer taught to our children, which is why chickens are now packaged in plastic bags, mashed potatoes are found in the frozen food section rather than the produce aisle, and gravy comes in a jar. And then we wonder why kids only eat junk food.

Tonight I am roasting a big, 8 lb. chicken in the oven. I cleaned it out, rinsed it off, patted it dry, then rubbed it with real butter inside and out, and stuffed some butter under the skin, too. When all was said and done, an entire glorious stick of butter was stuffed into and around that beautiful bird (get over it; it's butter, it's natural and if you use it in moderation it will not kill you). Then I put two whole heads of garlic and an entire lemon inside of the cavity, as well as some fresh sage, thyme and rosemary. These were herbs I happened to have in the fridge, and I didn't fret about how much I had because I don't cook that way; I use what I have on hand and am happy with that. And finally, I salted and peppered that plump bird before I placed it in a roasting pan, covered it with a lid, and stuffed it into a pre-heated 350 degree oven. Maybe I will baste it every 30 minutes or so to keep it moist, or I might forget all about it because I am drinking a good bottle of red wine tonight. Whatever...there's butter all over that bird, so it's going to be fine; it's not rocket science folks.

And that's my point. Cooking should not be a challenge, it should be a joy. It's sharing, and caring, and loving, and celebrating, but more than anything, it's about making memories. Memories made slowly and happily with your own two hands--and hopefully your children or loved ones--and not ever, ever in a plastic bag.

PS. My blog on mashed potatoes is here. Make 'em.

From help with

As a general rule, calculate a cooking time of 20 minutes per pound of meat plus an additional 10 - 20 minutes at a temperature of 350ºF (176ºC). Therefore, a 5 lb chicken will need to be roasting in the oven for at least 1h 50 mins. A 5 lb bird will serve between 4 - 5 people.

Some people prefer set the oven temperature to 450ºF (230ºC) and roast the bird at this high temperature for the first 10 - 15 minutes or the last 10 - 15 minutes. The rest of the time the chicken should be roasted at 350ºF (176ºC). The surge of heat will result in a really crispy and brown skin and deliciously succulent meat.

2½ - 3 lbs - 1 - 1¾ hrs
3½ - 4 lbs - 1½ - 1¾ hrs
4½ - 5 lbs - 1½ - 2 hrs
5 - 6 lbs - 1¾ - 2½ hrs

If you find that the chicken is browning too quickly during cooking, then loosely cover the breast of the bird with a large piece of aluminum foil until it is done. Covering the breast of the chicken will also keep the meat from drying out.


If you do not possess a meat thermometer, then you can check that the meat has been properly cooked in two ways:
  • The drumstick should move about freely when wiggled.
  • The juices of the chicken run clear upon inserting a skewer into the leg

Saturday, October 24, 2009

I may be cranky, but I still believe in mermaids.

I've been a bit of a bitch bellyacher lately for a plethora of reasons, both large and small.

In the large column, I handed Uncle Sam a big pile 'o cash in quarterly taxes early this month, which I would have rather spent on a pair of rockin' boots, a new fall wardrobe, and an amazing meal out, but instead sadly went towards 1. our health care-savvy government coming up short on H1N1 vaccines, 2. the frightfully uninspired NASA taking my hard-earned money and using it to bomb the moon (Umm...WTF??! I'm sorry, but is there anyone else out there who's wondering if Bart Simpson is running NASA these days?) to the tune of 79 million clams, and finally, 3. the brilliant bureaucrats that we voted into office deciding that my blood, sweat and tears should be invested in the total redesign of the penny. Yes, our government decided--in the middle of a war and a recession--that we should spend 70 million dollars to redesign the penny.


In the small column, my Mac inexplicably started acting like my great grandmother by completely shutting down and becoming befuddled and disoriented right in the middle of the day, with no regard for anything or anyone other than it's own sweet, little, oblivious nappy-nap-nap time. And so I sucked it up, tapped the bank account a week after sending Uncle Sam his fun money, headed to the Apple store, and bought myself a new $2,000 iMac that no longer hacks up phlegm, but rather coo's like a pink little baby killer high-tech machine. I know I should be excited about a NEW MAC!!, but so far, perhaps due to the fact that I don't have those rockin' boots I've been Jonesin' for, or anything closely resembling a new fall wardrobe, I am acting like a cruel, resentful mother that takes her stretch marks and wide hips out on her innocent child. But I am optimistic that in time I will learn to love; baby steps.

And then there were the tires. Bald tires + rain + wet leaves = R.I.P. Suzanne. Like gossamer--or the balloon boy--another $650 went floating away.

So, needless to say, sour mood I've been in. The Pickle Guys could market me and retire nicely. I even went to my cherished yoga class with Pat, the rockstar today, and amazingly that didn't snap me out of my funk. I sourpussed my way through, looking at the clock the entire time, counting the minutes until I could get my pinched lips to a glass of red wine.

But something changed this afternoon.

I was checking the news online and came across this...

And then I watched this...

And after that the pity party finally stopped. I became completely humbled, got down on bended knee and thanked God for all my blessings. I am sure there are nitpicky things you are currently griping about as well--the seemingly endless barrage of John Corzine vs. Chris Christie ads on TV? Nick Swisher's batting average? Your annoying co-worker/client/neighbor/husband/friend/wife/screaming kids/whomever...?

Now watch that video again and let me know if any of that stuff that is currently irking you really matters......

I'll wait.

I never set out to become a writer, but at 40 I somehow became one, and today I want to thank the Universe for giving me the ability to sit here at this computer, to distill my experiences, and to share them with you, my readers.

Today, I am no longer a sourpuss, but rather a grateful being. And surprisingly, I've also learned to believe in the magic of mermaids.

I hope you believe in them today as well.


PS. Go Yankees.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


It is it me, or has this been one nutty day?

First, it's snowing in New York in OCTOBER (which, come to think of it isn't really so odd since it did snow here back in July), and then some stupid kid in a balloon has the entire planet glued to their television sets, wondering if he's going to fall from the heavens right before their very eyes.

For those who are still shaking their heads at that one, the Village Voice did a hilarious piece on the "Balloon Boy"

What a day.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Gourmet Magazine 1940-2009

Last week I received some very bad news about a dear old friend, and since that moment I've been unable to eat, pry myself from bed for neither work nor social obligation, or perform any rudimentary grooming ritual short of an occasional tooth brushing, lest I set a new world record for halitosis.

Gourmet Magazine--after 70 years--is closing.

Excuse me for a moment while I sob uncontrollably.

First my beloved Starbucks Iced Coffee's were wrested from me, now Gourmet Magazine is being snatched away my from my ask-for-so-little life as well. What's next? Will I wake up tomorrow morning to learn that they've stopped breeding French Bulldogs? That prohibition is back? That my yogi (-slash-rockstar), Pat, has packed up and moved to Tibet? That red hair dye causes cancer?

I'm beginning to feel like Rodney Dangerfield.

For those of you reading this who didn't subscribe to Gourmet for the last twenty freaking years--who didn't anxiously wait for the mailman to deliver each months issue like a six year old listening from bed for the jingle of Santa's sleigh on December 24th; who didn't let it sit on your counter for a few days, salivating over the beauty of the cover, building up a literary thirst, before finally opening it up and drinking in all it's delicious nectar--all I can say is, good for you. Good for you, you brilliant person for not spending twenty years of your life falling head over heels in love with the writing, the recipes, the photography, only to learn on a chilly October day that...

it's folding.

Because there were not enough advertising dollars.

Yes, the nation's oldest food magazine--a magazine that made it through the Great Depression, World War II, and the ups and downs of the last seventy, finicky, fussy years--is closing because it's not clogged up with ridiculous advertisements that no one reads anyway.

Well, screw advertising dollars, and screw you Starbucks Condé Nast for taking away Gourmet and leaving us with that insipid Bon Apetit, and snorefest that is Food and Wine. If I want to read a magazine that is all ads, I will pick up a copy of Vogue. No, Starbucks Condé Nast--I wanted a sophisticated magazine that didn't appeal to the masses like that doltish idiotic unremarkable Rachael Ray, but instead carried me away to truly interesting destinations, and introduced me to the people who live there, and the foods they enjoy, both simple and exotic. I wanted a magazine that unlike network television with it's seemingly endless stream of mindless reality shows, understood that some of America is still sophisticated, still wonders where they can find great Kogi BBQ on the streets of L.A., still wants to know how to throw together kimchi quesadillas like they've been making them their entire life, still wants to impress dinner guests with a triple orgasmic chocolate dessert made from scratch with their own two hands instead of carried home in a plain, white cardboard box. But you, Condé Nasty--like Starbucks--sadly don't care about your faithful customer, but rather look only at that freaking bottom line. And unfortunately, because this is the United States and you are a big corporation, the bottom line means that that beautiful photography I savored each and every month like I was eating my last meal on earth at the French Laundry, and Thomas Keller himself was spoon feeding it to me, will now be replaced with ads for Prego Spaghetti Sauce, and Progresso Soups.



More Sad.

Shame on you for not rising above your spreadsheets, for not seeing the value of your rich history, for choosing mediocrity over magnificence.

I am down, but not beaten. Tomorrow I will drag myself out of this bed, and I will shower. I will shave my Yeti legs, wash my tangled knot of hair, and gargle for ten minutes with an industrial strength mouthwash. And when I resemble a human again, I will head into the kitchen with a big thick stack from my collection of Gourmet magazines, and I will begin to cook a wonderful lunch for myself. Since there are still a few decent tomatoes left at the farmers market, I think I will make a big pot of Roasted Tomato Soup with Parmesan Wafers to start off, followed by sublime Chicken Crepes with Asparagus and Mushrooms, which may take more time than a 30 minute meal, but are well worth the extra effort. And finally, since this will be a good, old-fashioned meal, what better way to end it, than with an old-fashioned dessert--chocolate brownies.

Of course it goes without saying that I will savor every slice, every dice, every chop, every stir, every taste, every sip, every slurp, every bite, every moment of my afternoon in the kitchen. For that is what cooking is all about. It's not about a mad rush to get a meal finished in 30 minutes, or 15 minutes, or less. If you cook like that, you get to the destination my friends, but you never truly enjoy the journey.

And that is what I will miss most when my beloved magazine closes next month.

Thanks for a wonderful journey, Gourmet. The trip was great, but the scenery was even better.

Double Chocolate Mocha Brownies

Gourmet | December 2002

Active time: 10 min Start to finish: 45 min

Yield: Makes 32 brownies
Active Time: 10 min
Total Time: 45 min

1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
5 oz unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon instant-espresso powder or instant-coffee granules
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a 15- by 10- by 1-inch baking pan with foil, allowing 2 inches of foil to hang over ends of pan, and grease foil well (except overhang) with 1 tablespoon butter.

Melt remaining 11 tablespoons butter with unsweetened chocolate in a large metal bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth. Remove bowl from heat and whisk in sugar, espresso powder, vanilla, and salt (mixture will be grainy), then add eggs 1 at a time, whisking after each addition until batter is smooth.

Toss together flour and chocolate chips in another bowl and add to batter, stirring until just combined.

Spread batter evenly in baking pan and bake in middle of oven until top is firm and edges just begin to pull away from sides of pan, about 20 minutes (do not overbake).

Cool in pan on a rack 5 minutes, then carefully lift brownies from pan by grasping both ends of foil and transfer to rack to cool 10 minutes more. Cut into 32 squares and lift brownies off foil with a spatula.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


It's everywhere.

Sh*t, that is.

It's been a banner week as it became frighteningly apparent sometime around Tuesday that the septic tank out back has not been emptied in quite some time. As a result, the pipes have been -- literally -- full of sh*t. Yes, sh*t backed up into the bathtub, sh*t backed up into the sinks, sh*t pretty much backed up everywhere. And it ain't pretty, my friends. Nope, not at all. It's been like an episode of Dirty Jobs around here, except without the gallows humor of that hottie, Mike Rowe to make me laugh about it. Or, at least a hefty paycheck to ease my misery.

But this morning, Joe, the septic man came to the rescue. I have to confess that I've not had any experience with men who deal with sh*t for a living, but this sh*t man was a very kind and sympathetic sh*t man, who laughed when I said "You sure have a sh*t job" even though I am sure Joe had heard that one about a thousand times before. Within minutes of arriving, Joe dragged his big, industrial septic sucker (I believe it was the ACME SH*TSUCKER 1000 Model) over to the incredibly stinky hole in the earth--the hole that I could not get within ten feet of without gagging, but that he somehow stuck his entire head into--and proceeded to suck every last drop of muck and sh*t out within minutes, like his truck was sucking up a thick and frosty Starbucks Frappuccino on a hot August day.

When there was nothing left to suck, Joe asked me to run inside and flush the toilet, and once I did, I quickly raced back out to see if the problem was solved. The two of us stood perched over the side of the filthy hole in the ground (me covering my nose and mouth, lest I hurl over Joe's boots), eagerly waiting for water to flow in, but....


I looked at Joe and Joe looked at me, and even though I knew the answer to the question, I asked it anyway...

"Is that bad?"

"Ummmmm....Yes", my sh*t guy answered.

He left to go get his friend.
His friend with the snake.
The electric snake.

Twenty minutes later, he was back with Pete, the Snake Guy. Joe introduced us, and I gave Pete a nod, rather than reaching for his hand, because--quite simply--Pete was filthy. I said hello to Pete, secretly disappointed that he had such an ordinary name, that he didn't have a nickname like Stinky Pete, or Brownie, or Muddy.

Pete and Joe got down on their knees and they both stuck their heads in the tank.
Pete shook his head, signaling things in the tank looked bleak. Then he said he was going in.
Going. In. The. Tank.

I asked him if he was out of his mind, and he told me he was so used to it, that he could eat in there. That he had eaten in there.

I asked Pete if he was married, and he said no. I just nodded.

He jumped in, rooted around, then climbed back out and decided to snake it.

That didn't work.

Then they went into the basement & tried snaking it from there.

No go.

Finally, after plenty of hammering, grunting, and swearing, they removed a cap--THE CAP--and a floodgate of sh*t emptied into the basement. If on a scale from 1-10 the stench from the septic tank was a 9, then this was most certainly a 45.

But that wasn't the worst part. The worst part was that when THE CAP came off, and a floodgate of sh*t came spewing out, as if from the mouth of a possessed demon, it not only completely covered Dirty Pete in sewage, but it went in his mouth as well.
His. Mouth.

I swear I can't make this stuff up.

Clog cleared, basement filled with sh*t water, Joe and Pete were finally on their merry way. As they pulled out of the driveway, and I was waving goodbye to my new friends, I caught sight of Pete in the passengers seat. Still covered in filth, there he was hungrily digging into a big, sloppy chicken parmigiana wedge. I couldn't believe my eyes; would you believe that crazy old coot dribbled some sauce on his tee shirt and actually bothered to use a napkin to dab it off?!?

No Sh*t.

Monday, September 21, 2009


A Big, Loving Family + Opo Squash

I saw my family yesterday. My cousin and his wife christened their son, Logan, and so the entire family turned out to share in the celebration. I come from a rather colorful lot, as you can probably imagine by now; our family tree is made up a hodgepodge of eccentrics, eclectics, and at times, even the slightly insane, and as a result our family gatherings tend to be loud and colorful, with a "I wonder what will happen next?" type of spirit. Yesterday, for instance, within the course of just a few hours, my cousin, Kevin, saved a woman's life (Heimlich), I got to smell my grandmother once again, and I came home with a squash the size of a baseball bat.

I never thought I would smell my grandmother again--after all, she died over a year ago--but after Kevin dislodged a wedge of bread from a young woman's esophagus, lunch was served, and the festivities were over, we stopped by my childhood home. This is the home where my grandmother lived, where we all lived at one point or another, but which now belongs to my cousin Mark, and his wife, Mati. I had not been there in a few years, so it was bittersweet to be in the place that was so much my grandmother. Every Easter dinner was celebrated in that home; I cannot step foot into the yard without thinking of our annual egg hunts, or into her dining room without remembering the ham, kielbasi, pierogi, the horseradish and hot mustard, the paska bread. But it was not just seeing the house, and touching the familiar banisters and doorknobs, but it was smelling it that really got to me. Mati asked me as I walked up the stairs to the attic "Do you smell her?" and oh my God, I did; she was everywhere.

My heart ached.

Later we went out into the garden--the garden where my grandmother had her tomato plants and peppers and cucumbers each and every year--and I saw that the tradition had been passed down. For everywhere my eye fell, there were melons, and pumpkins, and squash, and eggplant, and tomatoes. My niece Maureen plucked a warm cherry tomato off the vine and popped it into her mouth as we rummaged through the tangle of vines for the last of summer's bounty. My heart lightened, because I knew my grandmother was still with us. She was there in her house and her yard, and her garden. And she was there with us as we stood barefoot in the warm sun on a beautiful September afternoon, playing baseball with a preposterously large Opo Squash, laughing like children at both the lunacy, and joy of the moment.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Good Day.

Let me share with you the details of my morning...

I slept ten glorious, much-needed hours last night. Autumn has arrived a bit early here in the Northeast, and so the down comforter is back on the bed (what is it about sleeping beneath the weight of a thick comforter, with the window slightly cracked, that makes us sleep like just-changed, Pablumed-up babies?) The sun sets so early now that I can barely keep my eyes open past eight. Last night I crawled into bed at nine, and when I finally rolled over and willed my eyes open out of a dreamy sleep, it was not at the ungodly 5am wake up time I've been suffering through lately, but a much more civilized 7am; a time when the sun actually lights up the sky! Upon becoming vertical, I threw on a comfy sweater and my beloved flip flops, and proceeded to drink not one, but two!! Illy Cappuccino's. F#@k you Starbucks for snatching my precious Iced Coffee's from the shelves of every supermarket in America; there's a new iced coffee drink in town and it's JUST AS GOOD as yours. God bless you, Illy, and your delicious, 100 calorie caffeinated drink. And once again--for good measure--F#@k you Starbucks. I will never buy another one of your products ever again. Ever. I mean it. Really I do.

Next, I went to yoga class with the best yoga instructor on the planet, Pat. Please don't ask me Pat's last name, or where Pat teaches, because I am selfish and want her all to myself. Just trust me when I tell you that Pat is wonderful and if Pat was your Yogi, you would want her all to yourself, too. Going to Pat's yoga class is like going to church, except it's better (I can say that because I'm Catholic and spent a gigantic slice of my life in church and Catholic school) Today it was so spiritual that I actually started to cry--that's how moving and beautiful it is. Pat is a rock star.

When I got home from an hour and a half with Rock Star-slash-Yogi, Pat, I decided to take the kayak out for a little cruise. It's 65 degrees, and abundantly sunny in New York today--perfect early fall weather--and so I spent and hour paddling around the lake with a lone swan, and some hovering dragonflies as my only company. I could not ask for a better way to spend an hour.

Today at the beginning of our yoga class, Pat asked each of us to send a request up before we got started. She does this each time she teaches, and my requests vary. Sometimes I send out a prayer for my family (God knows they need it) while other times I pray for happiness, or strength. Today I sent a request up into the heavens for creative energy. I've not been feeling particularly focused from a creative standpoint lately and quite simply, I need to finish writing the book that is in my head. I feel so close, but there have many distractions.

But today I feel like I've been handed a gift. I feel focused.

I need more days like today.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Look Who's Back.

Regular readers (are any of you left out there, or did you abandon me long ago for greener blog pastures?) are probably wondering where I disappeared to this past year. As I wrote in my last posting, after a supremely unpleasant 2008, I set out on a mission to make the most of my 2009. If you live in the Northeast, then you are fully aware that Mother Nature--the cruel, spiteful bitch that she is--snatched summer away from our eager, outstretched hands. I'm not quite certain who she was pissed at, but whoever it is and whatever you did, please do not do it again, otherwise I'm afraid you'll be forced to deal with me, and I make Mother Nature look like the Dalai Lama on laughing gas when I'm in a pissy mood. But despite the sanity-smashing, garden-ending, vacation-ruining rains and unseasonably cold temperatures we had to contend with here in Frown Town, I did manage--by sheer will--to enjoy the season, and spread my wings quite often.

I've learned to finally love yoga simply by finding the right Yogi to guide me (who knew an instructor was supposed to look at their students, rather than adoringly at themselves in the mirror?!). As a result, I am now not only limber, but am coordinated for the first time in 45 years; I actually have a sense of balance, which I've never had. I find that remarkable. I'm more peaceful, as well, and mindful of what I put up into the Universe. And the best part is, my arms are ripped. Not freakish Zombie-arms like Madonna's, but good ripped.

I also splurged on a kayak this year. When I spontaneously decided to purchase one, I didn't buy the most expensive kayak on the market because that seemed foolish, nor did I spend weeks and weeks doing exhaustive, head-achy research. Instead, I went to the L.L.Bean website, read the positive reviews of the Manatee, and two weeks later I was paddling away (more great shoulder work). Seriously, it was the best indulgent investment I ever made, for when I am on the water, there is nothing but me and my thoughts. And peace. And the way I look at it, more peace in my life can't possibly be a bad thing.

I traveled this year, too. I made it down to Key West for my 45th birthday and from what I remember, had a great time. In early July, I went to Niagara for the first time in my life, and watched the fireworks above the falls on our nations birthday. And, I even found myself in a place this summer that I never imagined I would love: South Dakota. Beautiful beyond words.

True to my promise, I've grilled endlessly; my favorites from this summer are grilled scallops served over over warm homemade ratatouille, and grilled goat-cheese stuffed figs, wrapped in prosciutto. Delicious. I can't rule out grilled pineapple topped with homemade vanilla ice cream either. Perfect on a summer night.

This autumn, I am back to writing. The rest has done me good, but I feel the need to stretch not only my physical muscles, but my creative muscles once again.

I've healed, and I'm both healthy and happy. Now it's time to focus again on nourishing my creative soul.

It's nice to be back.


scenes from my summer

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

One Year Later

I was parked in my Jeep the other day, browsing through my iPhone photos, when I suddenly realized that I just happened to be sitting in my car, wearing a black dress, in exactly the same month and location that I had snapped a photo of myself last year.

So of course I had to take a photo this year to compare.

The hair is of course longer. Other than that, I'm wondering if I look any older!?

Ack, whatever. I'm happy...that's all that matters.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Appreciating snow in July (among other things)

* Yonkers, NY July 8, 2009

You may have noticed that I've not been blogging as much lately as I have in the past. This is not due to anything other than I've simply been spending more time thinking about life, rather than writing about it. I also decided this year, that with free time being such a rare commodity, I would rather write when something feels relevant to me, rather than just blathering on and on about nothing. That all being said, summer has finally arrived in New York (well, except for that little snowstorm the other morning in Yonkers*) and I'm happy to report that the roof has been down on the Jeep for three straight days in a row now, and nary a drop of water has ruined my ride. It's days like these--bird chirping mornings, low-humidity days, roofless rides, barbecue evenings--that make me happy to be. That's it...just happy to be.

Recently, a friend of mine relayed to me a little ditty he remembered his father saying to his mother throughout his childhood: "Give them less and they'll appreciate more." I'm sure come Christmastime and birthdays those were not exactly the words my friend and his siblings wanted to hear, but as he got older he began to understand exactly what his dad meant, as did I when he repeated it to me. The amazing Peggy Noonan penned a great column in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks back on Sarah Palin, and in that article she wrote about what she labeled the "self-esteem generation". That brand really resonated with me, for I myself have noticed that the generations that came after the Baby Boomers seem to believe that they are entitled to not only 'things', but their way, as well. Ms. Noonan wrote in that article: "For 30 years the self-esteem movement told the young they're perfect in every way. It's yielding something new in history: an entire generation with no proper sense of inadequacy." Brilliantly put.

I was raised in a household where we had chores, and when we were old enough to get jobs, got them. If we were 'fresh', or misbehaved, that most certainly resulted in a spanking, a mouth full of soap, or our room, without dinner. We donned skippy sneakers from Woolworth's until they had holes in the soles, and wore stiff dungarees from Klein's, which were passed on as hand-me-downs when they were outgrown. We ate what was on our plates, and liked it. On our birthdays, and on holidays we got gifts of course, but they were by no means extravagant, and most times, not brand names. When I made my First Holy Communion, I received a small, simple gold cross necklace; we were never allowed to be show-offy.

Every summer my dad planted a salad garden in the backyard: tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, cucumbers. There was a long rope clothesline on a pulley back there too, where we would would hang our sheets and tshirts and jeans up by wooden clothespins to dry in the summer sun. My brothers and my dad mowed that backyard lawn with an old, rotary push mower each and every week under the hot sun. I'm sure my dad thought it was good exercise. All over the property carnations, and black-eyed Susan's, and daisies, and roses, and lilacs, and lilies of the valley, and mint, and wild garlic grew. On summer nights we would make buttered toast, then rub the fresh garlic across the warm slices of bread. We'd eat our garlic toasts, then run barefoot across the lawn, chasing the fireflies that floated up in the humid night air. Perhaps we'd play hide and seek for awhile with our friends, or beg our mom for three quarters if the Good Humor truck happen to jingle by (more times than not, that plea would fall on deaf ears). At 9pm or so, my mother would call us in for bed. I can't remember showering very much, or worrying about ticks, or mosquito bites, or UV rays. We didn't have computers back then, of course; we had one TV that got channels 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 13, but we rarely turned it on because we were mostly outside playing, building forts, finding bugs, swimming, exploring the neighborhood, being kids. Our parents didn't fuss over us; if we skinned our knees, well, we skinned our knees and that was that. No babying.

It was all very simple when we were growing up; we had a home, and food on the table, and clothes on our backs, and we went to school, and church, and in that regard, our lives were probably not very different from the "self-esteem generation" that Ms. Noonan wrote about a few weeks back. Except, of course, that my parents unwittingly had the same "give them less, they'll appreciate more" philosophy as my friends father did. And, as a result, I grew up inherently humble and self sufficient--two of the greatest gifts my parents could have ever bestowed upon me, but that I didn't appreciate until just lately (I guess that old nugget 'with age comes wisdom' is dead-on after all.)

We need to teach our children--and perhaps remind ourselves--that humility is an admirable trait, not a shameful one; that as we go through life, we should not feel entitled to things, but rather grateful for things. Things like chirpy bird mornings, roofless rides, barbecue evenings, garlic toasts, and I guess yes, even the occasionally snowy July morning. Just as long as it's melted the next day, of course. Even I have my limits.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I can dream, can't I?

The kitchen of my dreams. Conveniently located in the house of my dreams. Welcome to Clingstone.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

An Open Letter to Starbucks.

Dear Starbucks.

This sucks.

As does this.

This, too.

And, if I drank this every morning, I would weigh 380 lbs, have rotting teeth, and would be in need of a heart transplant in a few short years.

Why? Why? Why Starbucks? Why and how did you get it into your collective, over-Frappuccino-ed heads, that it would be a good idea to replace the one coffee beverage an adult might actually want to drink in the morning -- the only one you offered that was made from three simple ingredients: coffee, milk + sugar; the one beverage that was lowfat, light, and refreshing, with just the right amount of caffeine, and with no cream in it, so my teeth didn't feel like they were coated with paste after drinking it; the one beverage that didn't remind me of Yoohoo, or Bosco, or the Nestle's Quik Shakes I drank as a kid; the one iced coffee on the market that was simple, sophisticated, and peerless--

and remove it from every shelf in America.


Starbucks, I've heard recently that you have been closing stores, and laying off employees. Surely, the economy being in the miserable state it's in has something to do with your downturn, but I can't help but wonder if part of your downfall is due to the fact that you are also completely out of touch with your consumer. What you beanheads don't understand is, that if I want to get fat, I will go to McDonalds. If I want Guarana & Ginseng, I will go to Mrs. Greens. I come to you for coffee. Simple, good coffee. Not coffee that is 800 calories with whipped cream and chocolate syrup piled on so high that I need a special lid to contain it, and 2-inch wide straw to suck it up with.

America is getting fatter and fatter and you are not helping us by making your drinks bigger and bigger, loading them up with more and more 'stuff'. I am not 16 years old, and I do not want to drink dessert for breakfast. Nor, do I want to travel out of my way each day, to stand in line for ten minutes with a bunch of people who are equally unhappy about having to drive out of their way/stand in line, for an iced coffee that is good or bad, depending on the mood, experience, or level of hangover, of the heavily pierced barista behind the bar. Sorry Starbucks suits, but I want a consistent experience.

I had that -- of course -- before you inexplicably removed the aforementioned perfect, peerless Iced Coffee Italian Roast, from every supermarket, every Target, every Starbucks, every online resource in America, just in time for summer.

Yesterday -- after wasting more gas trying yet another out-of-the-way supermarket, and leaving both empty-handed + utterly frustrated -- I came to the sad conclusion that I will never again taste my favorite morning beverage. And so I did what I always do when things look hopeless -- I came up with a solution.

This morning I am going out to buy myself an espresso maker (not from you, of course) so I can replicate the recipe at home. And, once I do, I will be posting that recipe here for all the other spurned Iced Coffee lovers out there who are equally tired of Corporate America just not getting it. And I will happily drink it every morning, for what I am certain will cost me small change, instead of the $2.00 per can I was laying out each day. That will save me approximately $700 per year -- money that will go towards something good for me, not you.

So, in conclusion, thank you for the $700 this year, and the $7,000 over the next 10 years in savings. And, for challenging me this week in the kitchen + today on my weblog.

Have a nice day, and don't forget to get your cholesterol checked regularly -- that Grande Frappuccino you sell in your stores has a whopping 65 mg. of it!

Suzanne Brown