I have several "big" posts brewing in my head, but unfortunately today I also have a BIG headache, so those will have to wait. I do have to give some credit where credit's due, though, and encourage you to browse around my blogroll because there are some fantastic things happening and some wonderful posts to read this week. There are so many great ones, I can't even pick a favorite.
Fall has FINALLY arrived, bringing some very welcome cooler temperatures. To celebrate, we turned off the air conditioner and threw open the windows yesterday. They have stayed open since then. We awoke to a cool, crisp breeze and a very fresh-smelling house this morning. The fresh, clean smell has been replaced by the aroma of BBQ pork, which has been simmering in my slow-cooker all morning. Let's just say dinnertime cannot come soon enough today.
I spent last week substituting for one of our assistant stage managers at the theatre. It was the first time I've worked backstage there since 2001. It's funny how some things in life change so drastically, yet others remain almost exactly the same. Our crew chief, Tony, and I fell right back into our old rhythms. He denied me sugar before the show began, lest I get too hyper and drop one of the eight trays full of glassware that I had to carry back and forth from backstage to the kitchen for washing. (Seriously, who thought it was a good idea to let me play with glasses? Did we learn nothing from the entire set of martini glasses I destroyed during Relative Values my last year of grad school? GAH.) The weekend was fun. I enjoyed the energy backstage and the opportunity to work with my friend Tanya again. The play I worked on was great and the cast was delightful. It was a fun break from the norm.
Dean is playing a game today entitled "See How Many Times I Can Make The Short Lady Who Bore Me Change My Outfit." We are currently on outfit #4, if you count the berry-covered pj's I had to strip off of him earlier. I swear I didn't realize I put THAT much sauce on our pizza...most of it ended up on his t-shirt. There was also an incident involving a sippy cup of (thank God) water that we won't talk about any more. We tried to go for a haircut this morning, but the combination of a cranky, freaked-out toddler and a rude stylist sent us running for the door. (Yes,I was THAT mom. Guess we won't be going back there...)
The coming days are going to hold a lot of outdoor activities, baking, cooking and football. Fall, I sure am glad to see you this year. Took ya long enough.
Thank God for them, right? We had a GREAT drop-off at school today. Dean's been doing the fake cry (ok, and sometimes the real cry) thing for the past week or so at school. Today his teachers were still in their meeting when we arrived, so I went into the room with him. There was a cute little girl and her mom already inside playing. Dean immediately saw that there were puzzles on the table. ZOMG, PUZZLES! "Sugar, look! Puzzles! Puzzles! See da puzzles? Squeeeeee!" (Note to self: Might wanna stop saying "squee" in front of the toddler so much.) He was so happy and distracted that, as soon as his teachers got there, I slipped out unnoticed. I know he has fun all day because he's always smiling when I pick him up, eager to show me his crafts and tell me about the playground, but it helps to leave him with a smile instead of tear-streaked cheeks screaming "Sugaaaaaaaaar, come baaaaack!"
Starting tomorrow evening, I'll be subbing for my friend Cheryl at the theatre. Cheryl's going to a wedding this weekend and the show opens on Sunday, so I will be filling in for Cheryl as the assistant stage manager. I'm SO excited. As much as I love calling shows, I really miss being backstage. The crew is basically the same group I worked with way back in grad school, so the opportunity to work backstage with them again is going to be great fun. I'll be assisting my friend Tanya, who is stage managing this show. We haven't worked together on a production since the summer of 2001. The making money part's not bad either.
Have I told you we have mice? I haven't wanted to share that because I don't want you to think I'm gross, but we have mice. 2 of them. I really think it's because of where we live. There's a huge field across the street and these are definitely field mice. Marcus named them Horace and Archimedes because OF COURSE he did. We tried traps. We tried bait. We tried all sorts of things. Finally, we talked to our neighbor, who's an exterminator and who assured us that everyone in our neighborhood has this problem at one time or another. He gave us some good stuff that won't kill us but will kill the mice. I think it's working--there has not been a sighting in 4 days. Die, rodents, die.
I have to admit, the favor I'm still holding out for is Fall tempuratues. The high today is 95. In late September. This? Is unacceptable. One dear tree in our yard seems to have rebelled, already turning a deep red and shedding its leaves. A day in the 80s would rock right about now. There's just no sense in going apple picking if you've got to wear shorts and a tank top.
Oatmeal cookies are my favorite. Add chocolate chips and you've got near-perfection. I made these yesterday for a picnic the theatre students host each fall called "Meet the Meat." It is intended to introduce the freshmen to the rest of the department. Last year I made a cake and the frosting melted in to an icky, gooey mess, so I decided to go with cookies this year. I'm sure these won't disappoint.
OATMEAL CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
1 cup butter (at room temperature)
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups oats (quick-cooking or rolled...don't use instant!)
2 cups chocolate chips (I use semi-sweet, but milk chocolate are also excellent)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper for easy cleaning. In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar and regular sugar until the mixture is light in color. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then add the milk and vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Gradually mix flour mixture into sugar/butter mixture using low setting on an electric mixer until just incorporated. Stir in oats and chocolate chips by hand. Drop one-inch balls of dough onto baking sheet, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between each cookie (they will spread as they bake). Bake 10-12 minutes until golden brown. Cool on baking sheet about 2 minute before transferring to wire rack to cool completely. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.
NOTES FROM JEN:
If you like coconut, stir some in with the oats and chocolate chips. It'll change your life.
I sometimes use 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1 teaspoon almond extract, just to change up the flavor a bit.
These turn out best when you use whole milk. 2 % or even 1 % will work, but not skim. You need the fat.
If you don't like chocolate chips in your oatmeal cookie, you can certainly use raisins, dried cranberries, or nothing at all! If you go without the chocolate, though, add a dash or two of cinnamon or else they'll be a bit bland.
Marcus and I are going through a breathtakingly mature phase that involves us sitting on our couch eating cookies and watching Autotune the News on Youtube for at least an hour each night after Dean goes to bed. (If you're going to hit that link, be sure you scroll down and watch their "Bed Intruder Song.") We also spend countless hours Facebook stalking people and cruising the net for little useless nuggets of wisdom. Tonight I spent close to 30 minutes searching for a good chicken pot pie recipe, even though neither Marcus nor I even LIKE chicken pot pie. (And you know Dean's views on poultry.)
I visited Cake Wrecks 3 separate times today because the most recent post featured "Dueling Banjos" as background music. Marcus is sitting here playing some game where you build little towns. When we first got married, we would sit on a trivia site, a site whose name escapes me right now, taking pop culture quizzes. In fact, we got so into it that we started writing our own quizzes to submit to the site and they liked them so much that they gave us an award. Could we please be a bit more geeky?
I say all this so that I can ask you to tell me your favorite time-sucking internet sites. You know you have them. You can look over at my blogroll and see where I spend a lot of my time, but you should also know that I've almost always got my Skype window open so I can chat with Shannan and my Tweetdeck is rarely closed.
I spent the weekend in Atlanta helping run some cattle-call-type auditions for the Southeastern Theatre Conference. It was great fun and the rest of the staff was fantastic. The fall auditions are much less crazy than their springtime counterparts, so we were able to work at a fairly relaxed pace. We even got lunch breaks both days, which is often just not possible with 900 auditionees.
One of the highlights of this weekend for me was being able to spend some time with my mentor from college, the woman who informed the 20-year-old me that I was meant to be a stage manager, and who then spent the next two years teaching me how to become one. Our relationship is so different now. I met Cherrie when I was a 17 year old high school junior. I already had my eye on Louisiana Tech as THE PLACE for my college career and she was the director of theatre there. (still is) To say she intimidated me at first is quite the understatement. The first time I met her, she was wearing her Phantom of the Opera show jacket, which donned the monogram "Cherrie: Production Coordinator." She was EXACTLY who I wanted to become: a strong woman who had southern roots, who had worked her way to the top of her game, spent some time in the bright lights of Broadway, then returned to academia. I told her in my scholarship interview that I wanted her job.
Cherrie and I had our ups and downs throughout my college years, mostly because we are both stubborn and because at 22, I was terrified of life, which I'm sure made me uber-annoying to be around a lot of the time. Now, however, I've been where she's been. I did the New York thing. I worked at the top of my game. I have a career as a stage manager. (Turns out she was right--it's EXACTLY what I was meant to be.) Cherrie and I? Are friends on a whole different level now.
We went to dinner on Saturday night, which was an adventure in and of itself. At BlogHer this year, people kept telling me what a great sense of direction I have. No, dears. I lived in NYC for several years and it's a numeric grid--that's the only reason I could find my way. My sense of direction leaves MUCH to be desired. Let's just say, that's something Cherrie and I have in common. She declared that we were going to The Vortex, a well-known Atlanta eatery with fantastic burgers. It was 13 miles from our hotel. I asked, "And are you going to be navigating?" She said yes, and off we went. Before we'd even hit the interstate, Cherrie had stopped navigating, dropping the directions on the FLOOR, and launching into a story. I managed to scoop up the directions and get us to our destination (more or less).
Over dinner, we talked about mutual friends, family, and life in general. We shared stage management stories and talked about or time in NYC and how it was both very different and very much the same. We toasted a friend who has recently passed away. We discussed things that only people who have been in our shoes understand. I don't have anybody else who truly, 100% understands me in the ways she did. It was so nice to have someone to talk to about things like the energy and discipline it takes to do our job in a big city and the heartbreak that comes when you know it's time to leave. We talked about the joy our students bring and how we want to squeal and cry and hug people when they have a "light bulb" moment. (The moment in class when a light bulb practically appears over a student's head because FINALLY they get it!) I needed someone to talk to about these things and I could tell Cherrie did, too. She treated me as an equal. For the first time in our relationship, I wasn't going to her just for advice or guidance. We were two women, cut from the same cloth, relating to each other on a wonderfully deep level. I felt very grown-up and completely comfortable, which surprised and delighted me. She told me I articulated some things she hadn't been able to figure out how to say for years and I knew that when she nodded her head at something I said, it was because she really and truly knew what I meant. We filled a very specific need in each others' lives at that moment, and I hope this newfound facet of our relationship is one we'll be able to nuture for years to come.
My dear friend Mark Leslie has written a book called Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family. In my world, it's one of the most perfect books ever because it does exactly what I strive to do here each week with my Comfort Food Saturday posts: tell a story and share a recipe. The book chronicles the time he spent in Italy with a family, learning about the culture, the language and, naturally, the cuisine. Most of us dream of adventures like this, but Mark made it a reality. He actually got to spend months in the kitchen with a real Italian "Nonna," completely immersed in this incredible culture and surrounded by some of the best food in the world. I am so excited to be able to share an excerpt from Mark's blog and one of the fantastic recipes he learned from Nonna with you all today. Please be sure to visit his site. The top navigation bar has lots to offer, including where you can BUY THE BOOK. (Because believe me, you want to BUY THE BOOK!) Maybe if you're really, really nice, Mark will even autograph it for you.
Here's a wonderful excerpt from the blog, giving you a great idea of Mark's fun writing style and the funny, warm, charming stories he has to share in the book. I'm so proud to be able to share this with all of you and I hope you'll remember to BUY THE BOOK! (The holidays are coming, people.)
You never have to go into the sun to turn red~
With the dog days of summer quickly approaching, the heat has me thinking about the beach and, with it being high travel season in Italy, I am sure Italy’s beaches are packed with the touring throngs.
I spent five days in the small coastal town of Amalfi once and the view from the hotel room over the bay could not have been more stunning.
Before I take any trip, I spend months surfing the web for the most idyllic places to stay and visit…and part of their beauty always involved price—a bargain price. There are bargains out there, if you search long enough.
Once such bargain was the Hotel Aurora. It took me countless e-mails back and forth with the hotel’s booking agent, Andrea, to reserve the rooms I wanted. I would write to her in my elementary Italian and she would respond in a very proper British English—with all of the gracious overtones of exceedingly polite conversation. There was nothing Standard American about her English.
For months we corresponded back on forth trying to insure that the rooms I booked would have terraces overlooking the bay and that they would be right next to each other, since Richard and I were traveling with friends, adjoining terraces were a must. I thanked her for her continued vigilance about contacting me first, before anyone else on the waiting list, should a vacancy open up. We joked about the unending throngs of tourists and I tried to be as charming as I could with my Italian—making sure to use all of the correct feminine word endings. I wanted to be as polite and formal with her as she was in her writing to me. After weeks of touching base and daily emails, by the end, I felt that Andrea and I had developed a relationship…a friendship…as basic as it was. I was excited to meet her and she responded in kind. It is in moments like these that I am quite proud of the fact that I can speak some Italian. And sometimes I catch myself gloating to Richard about how I have charmed another Italian with my fundamental knowledge of their native tongue. He congratulates me, but I can see that, in his mind, he is rolling his eyes at me.
We arrived at the Hotel Aurora hot, tired, and exhausted from the harrowing journey by private car from Salerno to Amalfi. If you have ever heard of traffic on the Amalfi Coast being terrifying—it is no joke. The narrow, cliff-side roads twist with breakneck angles, while being packed with motorized vehicles of all sizes—cars, motorcycles, small Italian three-wheeled utility trucks (envision an enclosed motorized wheelbarrow), and enormous tour buses. At times, traffic stops so people can pull their side-view mirrors in against the sides of the car or bus—there is that little clearance. There are literally only inches, and sometimes less than inches, between the passing lanes of traffic.
We approached the hotel counter, pleased to have survived the drive, and I very proudly said to the balding, middle-aged man behind the counter, “Buona sera, il mio nome è Mark Leslie e ho una prenotazione. Anche, è Andrea qui? Lei vorrei conoscere.” (“Good evening, my name is Mark Leslie and I have a reservation. Also, is Andrea here? I would like to meet her.”)
The man behind the desk looked oddly at me. I thought, “OK, my Italian isn’t perfect but he should be able to get the gist of what I said. I mean I know I am close.” Here my arrogance, much like my gloating to Richard, started to take over.
“È possibile? È Andrea qui?” I asked.
Again the man looked at me plainly before smiling and saying, “Sono Andrea.” (“I am Andrea.”)
Ugh! Andrea was a man! I am such a fool. For months I had been charming, practically flirting, with the woman “Andrea.” I knew my attempted Italian would endear her to me—and get me the rooms I wanted. That is what gloating and arrogance gets me—every time—my foot in my mouth! I completely forgot that in Italian the feminine name is “Andria” (“Ahn-dree-ah”) and the masculine name is “Andrea” (“ahn-dray-ah”). I was looking at his Italian name the whole time and thinking it was the feminine “Andrea” for the masculine “Andre.”
I turned three shades of red. For months I had been calling the man behind the counter “her”—I knew our rooms were going to be the broom closets in the basement.
Luckily, Andrea is accustomed to silly American tourists slaughtering his name and language and took pity on me. We were given the terraced rooms with adjoining balconies as promised—with the most wonderful views of the bay.
Our five days there were glorious and Andrea was the most gracious concierge the entire time. One morning on our way to breakfast on the bougainvillea-covered loge, I stopped and apologized to Andrea for the entire feminine/masculine mistake. He was forgiving, though despite my attempts at making him laugh it off, he never did crack a smile.
I hope to return to the Hotel Amalfi again and, this time, Andrea will know that I remember “him.”
Ciao e a presto~
And now, a delicious recipe! This particular recipe is featured in Mark's "Italian Pantry" section on the blog. The Italian Pantry is great because it not only provides you with fantastic, authentic Italian recipes, but also with a shopping list for each recipe in the book. That's service, I tell you!
Frittata con Zucchine e Cipolla
Zucchini, like most squash, has a high water content. When shopping for this dish, choose small- to medium-sized ones rather than large zucchini, because the larger they grow, the more water and less flavor they have.
2 tablespoons sunflower oil (extra virgin olive oil may be substituted)
1 small-medium onion, finely minced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
3/4 cup water, divided
3 medium zucchini (about 3/4 pound), sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Heat the oil in a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion and garlic. Cook for one minute, stirring constantly. Add 1/4 cup of the water and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until the water has almost evaporated. Add another 1/4 cup water and cook an additional 2 to 3 minutes until the water has, once again, almost evaporated. Stir in the zucchini rounds, salt, pepper and remaining 1/4 cup water. Lower the heat, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini is soft, 10 to 12 minutes.
Meanwhile, beat the eggs in a medium bowl and stir in the Parmigiano-Reggiano.
When the zucchini is soft but still retains its shape, remove the cover, return the heat to medium and cook until the excess moisture has evaporated, 4 to 6 minutes. Stir in the beaten egg mixture, making sure the zucchini and onions are evenly distributed. Cook until the bottom of the frittata starts to lightly brown and the top begins to set up, 4 to 6 minutes.
With a spatula, loosen the edges of the frittata from the sides of the pan and with a quick firm shake, flip the frittata over in one whole piece.* Cook the second side 2 to 3 minutes until the bottom is lightly browned.
Invert the finished frittata (or if inverting seems scary, you can slide the frittata) onto a serving plate, cut into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 8 as an appetizer, or 4 as an entree.
*Note: If flipping the frittata seems daunting, place a dinner plate over the frittata and turn the pan over, inverting the frittata onto the plate. Slide the frittata back into the pan and finish cooking the second side. A third way to finish the second side of the frittata is to place it under a broiler. Preheat the broiler and when the bottom of the frittata is lightly browned and the top is still loose, place the pan under the broiler until the top is set and browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Nonna flipped hers effortlessly. I still tend to put mine under a broiler.
Copyright 2010 by Mark Leslie
From Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family by Mark Leslie
Dean got big boy bedding yesterday. BIG SURPRISE: It's Buzz and Woody bedding.
He LOVES his new bedding. He keeps saying, "Buzz and Woody blanket! Buzz and Woody pillow! Look! Sheets!"
This change in bedding, of course, makes people ask if we've moved Dean to a toddler bed yet. The answer is no, we haven't. There are a lot of reasons why we haven't made the switch, the most obvious being that he's just not quite ready for something he can escape from so easily. He still needs to be contained at night, lest he roam the house while the rest of us slumber. I'm waiting on a new side rail for his bed, then we'll talk about making the switch. We'll be penning him in putting a baby gate in his doorway and another at the top of the stairs (you know, in case he figures out how to break down the one in the doorway) for maximum containment purposes. And, ok, who am I kidding? I'm not ready for a big boy bed yet. It was hard enough when he started sleeping on a pillow a couple of weeks ago, then he goes and gets a sheet set and comforter that's all matchy-matchy. Add in the fact that he can speak in sentences, follow directions, sing the alphabet and quote most of his bedtime books and you've got one mommy who's trying to hold on to every single drop of baby that's left. (However, potty training? Would be good.)
He's 32 months old and is SUCH a little boy. He was sickly this weekend and so I got to hold him a lot. He slept with me at my parents' house and I ended up rocking him like a baby one night. It's hard to believe this boy with a full set of teeth and a thick head of shaggy hair is the same little baby I rocked for countless hours just two short years ago. Bottles seem so far in our past that I barely remember how to assemble a Dr. Brown and seems like decades since he's used a binky.
All week I've been struggling for material to write about, feeling strange about saying something very ordinary when my friends are sending kids to kindergarten and selling houses and such. Then I took a step back and remembered there's something extraordinary in front of me every minute of every day.
Mommy just needs a few more drops of baby, Pumpkin, then you can have your big boy bed. I promise.
My computer cord died about a week ago, just as we were returning from vacation. I tried to use Marcus's as much as I could, but it doesn't really fit into my laptop, so I had to constantly jiggle it to keep a charge. Marcus's cord also died, so we ordered new ones. One of them fit his computer, the other fit neither. He finally just spent the money and bought a universal one at Best Buy, so now I'm back!
Dean and I spent the weekend at my mom and dad's. (Marcus had to work.) I went to a football game with my dad (it didn't end well, so we'll glaze right on over that part), we grilled a lot, Dean spent all day Saturday playing with his Grammy, and we enjoyed the nicest weather we've had in a looooong time. The high on Saturday was 84. It was PERFECT tailgating weather. Dean's allergies were bothering him, so we didn't get much sleep. He also barfed all over me last night. It was pretty gnarly.
Today we returned home and brought my mom with us to spend the week. Our plans inlcude shopping, visiting Whole Foods for lunch and moving Dean into a toddler bed. (finally) Marcus and I have to catch up on Big Brother and I need to get ready for a work trip to Atlanta this weekend.
I promise to write a post with some actual substance soon!
At the Martha Stewart Bloggers' Night Out, I enjoyed the most refreshing beverage I've ever tasted. Here's a picture of me drinking it: I was kind of overwhelmed at the party, mostly due to the vast number of people milling around the small space, so I didn't manage to catch the name or recipe of this delectible drink. I knew it was honeydew and I thought I remembered the word "agua," but otherwise, it was lost. Imagine my delight when the front page of my local newspaper featured this very recipe this week!
This drink can be made with honeydew or cantaloupe. It's what I like to call a "mocktail," or a cocktail without the booze. You can bet this will be on the table next time we have friends over for dinner.
HONEYDEW AGUA FRESCA
14 cups cubed melon (honeydew or cantaloupe, or a mixture of both)
1/3 cup superfine sugar
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
4 cups water
2 cups fresh raspberries (for garnish)
In food processor or blender, puree 14cups of cubed melon (in batches, obviously!) until smooth. Pour through a strainer into a large pitcher. You should end up with about 4 cups of melon juice.
In a small bowl, combine sugar and lime juice. Stir until sugar dissolves. Add lime mixture and 4 cups water to melon juice and mix well. Adjust sweetness with more sugar if desired. Mixture can be refrigerated for up ot two days. To serve, add lots of ice and fresh raspberries for garnish.