Friday, September 21, 2007


Some tidbits to nibble on as you watch a movie, watch a sunset, or watch a game this weekend...

Lodgings cater to foodies who crave authentic experiences: make your own cheese, gather your own honey

Berlin: a café for the chocoholic

Tea salon with seven page dessert menu: when in Paris, find the famous macaroons at Laduree

Thursday, September 20, 2007

How Dumplings Broke My Brain

Friends often snicker at my choice of vocabulary. Seven years of college and seminary have peppered my language with words like, "zeitgeist," "lingua franca," "ontological," and "anamnesis."
But last night, chicken and dumplings broke my brain.
It's been a hectic season. A whirlwind of meetings with florists, out of town visitors, remodeling projects at home, visiting churches, and taste testing three million flavors of wedding cake. All good things. A lot of decisions rapid-fired. Not much down time. I neglected my tender introvert. And that's when dumplings broke my brain.
After Jazzercise, I headed home to boil the chicken I purchased yesterday, wash some dishes, put in laundry, and prepare to make a birthday cake for a co-worker. After some quiet bustling about, the house exploded with noise and activity and and concentration on my juggled tasks began to wane.
Let me explain: I love to cook when it's a deliberately chosen outlet, and I take pride in my cognac-glazed ham, homemade chocolate brownies, bleu cheese deviled eggs, and yeast rolls. Making them, eating them, serving them, it's all a delight and joy. I relish extending hospitality. And rarely do things go wrong. I cook and bake often enough that I almost always avoid beginner's mistakes, and sometimes if something does go wrong it's one item out of a large meal and makes, therefore, little difference. After asparagus-gruyere tart, chicken and dumplings are a no-brainer. Until they broke my brain.
I'd already began to struggle with the dumplings, after realizing that when I paused to get a new bag of flour from the cabinet, I forgot to finish measuring out the flour. No big deal, I added some to the batter and it began to transform into the familiar looking dough.
I'd already developed frustration that my idea to crumble bacon on top hadn't worked, since the only bacon we had was turkey bacon, and, distracted with thoughts of cake and the need to take a shower and the laundry that needed to be switched over, I had put some cooked turkey bacon in the chicken and dumplings instead of waiting to crumble it on top, and anyway, apparently turkey bacon doesn't crumble. Turkey bacon. Bah! I loathe thee.
I'd already decided to double the dumpling dough. We always run short of dumplings, it seems, everyone picks them out like their favorite color of M&M. Plopping the dough into the chicken and broth, I noticed with satisfaction and relief their quick transition as they began to steam. It would be alright.
Distracted with dishes (we don't have a dishwasher) and cleanup and preparation for cake baking, I shook off Angie's inquisitive, "what's that smell?" when she entered the kitchen. A moment later something horrid met me and I went quickly over to the stove top. The smell, whatever it was, was emanating from the nearly done chicken and dumplings. Horrified, I attempted to spoon down below the layer of floating dumplings to make certain nothing on the bottom was sticking.
Sticking like newly laid asphalt.
Sticking like tarpaper to a roof in July.
Sticking like a nice supper to the bottom of a stockpot.
A large layer of black came up from the bottom of Supper. Never had this happened before. I peered closer. The electric burner under the stockpot had an eerie glow reminiscent of Tolkein's Balrog or Dante's Inferno.
As a footnote, I should mention that one of the burners on the stove died this past summer in a loud, bright blaze of glory. It would not turn on low, but only frighteningly hot. Then, one day, it supernovaed into eternity.
Maybe it was just the blacksmith-caliber burner.
Maybe it was the combination of the burner and the extra dumplings soaking up precious broth.
Later, Angie said it's the most mad she's ever seen me. It's also the only time, in sharing the house with her and Emily and the six year old, that I've ever burned anything.
'Maybe we can salvage it,' she said hopefully. Alas, seasoned cooks know better: the entire concoction was polluted with a smell and taste that could only be described by the word "ashtray."
I was starving, and supper had gone the way of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There were still dishes in the sink, the cake to be made, laundry to be done, and Everything Crashed In.
I cried. I yelled at John for not realizing how upset I was as I banged pots and pans in the kitchen. I slammed the cake in the oven. I stomped upstairs to take a shower, now smelling like both Jazzercise and scorched failure. I cried more when I got out of the shower and thought about how I miss my family and how hard it is to have some of my best friends living miles away in Connecticut and Chicago and how I've never had to try to budget so large an event as a wedding and how my chicken and dumplings had burned and Emily had come bouncing through the back door to announce she had come home solely to get dinner, not comprehending the pained look on my flour-streaked face. I came down and yelled at John a little bit more and ended up sniffling about how much I miss home and what it was and will never be again.
Dumplings broke my brain.
I fixed tea, and toast, kicked a violinist and guitar player out of the living room, and settled in to watch an episode of 'Rosemary and Thyme.' Somewhere between the toast and the British mystery sanity quietly began to creep back in. I apologized to John and drank more tea and let two British actresses soothe my spirit. He rubbed my shoulders and I finished my toast and got cereal and apologized again.
The cake turned out beautifully. I knew putting it in the oven that God knows how much we can bear and knew that for the cake not to turn out beautifully would send me to Happydale Asylum.
After 'Rosemary and Thyme,' I promptly fell asleep on the couch, hushed conversation wrapping the room in familiar comfort as friends conversed and I slumbered, finally peaceful.
But the dumplings that broke the camel's back made me second guess myself as I whipped up frosting for the birthday cake this morning. I could tell they were going to test my confidence the way a driver flinches after being in a wreck. And the dumplings that broke my brain also cornered me with a reality I'd been pushing to the side: I needed down time. Bad. I hadn't had a quiet evening in weeks.
So today, I reserved a room at a favorite local bed and breakfast that I had to stay in last December when we weren't able to move into the house yet but I'd already given my landlord notice. I am going to pack my toothbrush and turn off my cellphone and watch the Food Network or crime dramas or just turn the tv off and read or sleep or paint my toenails and I am going to let my brain, and my soul, be healed, and rest. I'm checking myself into emotional rehab for a night, small-town style. And I'm taking any leftover cake with me.
Next week friends are coming over for dinner. Maybe I'll make chicken and dumplings.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Captions from September days

The air has cooled. Even though the next few days are spiraling upward in temperatures, much like the price of oil per barrel, the nights are cool, and I am able, once again, to sleep with quilts on my bed and autumn leaves in my dreams. If it were Mary Poppins, the sign would be the wind shifting the weathervane. Plans turn to when we'll visit the orchard, what we'll be for Halloween, and whether we'll host a Guy Fawkes party this year. (It's a British tradition based on the Guy - ha, haha - who tried to blow up Parliament. They held bonfires in remembrance and burned effigies. Our gala will be strictly BYOE. Bring your own effigy.)
I am seriously considering dressing up as the wheel from The Price Is Right for Halloween this year. I've always wanted to spin that wheel.
Last weekend one of my housemates' parents traveled down for a visit. We warmed soup and bread, grilled chicken and sausage, and ate in the backyard at a table set with a bright, vintage quilt top I purchased at a tag sale this summer and half a dozen candles flickering in the middle. It was just cool enough outside to warrant my wearing my wool Mongolian slippers under the dinner table. Hordes of neighborhood cats were fascinating with our activities, and we shooed them away only to play spectator to their gymnastics in overhanging trees. We cleared the table, prepared a place for a campfire in the yard, and set out smore supplies while John and Angie's Dad hunted down an axe to chop firewood with, hunted down a rope to lasso around a dead tree branch to add to the firewood, and, in the course of five minutes, mysteriously constructed a swing for Aaron from a tree. I brought out my party lanterns - like white Christmas lights, only with colorful paper and plastic globes around them - and strung them
from the corner of our white tool shed/garage. Later college students, friends and family were crouched near the warmth of the flames, strumming guitars, catching marshmallows on fire, and checking the score of the UK/U of L game. (UK won against a ranked team for the first time in thirty years. Meanwhile Notre Dame is 0-3. Will the Cubs win the World Series?) A guy with
a huge neck brace came and drank vanilla almond tea by the fire. He fractured his C1 vertabrae
in a recent car accident and was hopped up on painkillers but happy to be enjoying normal activities. I fell asleep smelling like woodsmoke and woke up the next morning content with
the arrival of fall but eyes bleary from the smoke and ash. I washed the campfire out of my hair and got gussied up to visit an Episcopal church. I'll tell you what, the Episcopalians know how to do liturgy. John smiled kindly when I kept elbowing him and whispering the history of various parts of the service in his ear. We joined the congregants for a potluck afterwards, tasted a few strange casseroles, and enjoyed the company of an English professor, a retired teacher, and a girl who just went into business for herself selling rare Ducati motorcycle parts. A departure from our usual habit of worship - a sparse country church overflowing with gusto and a leaning outhouse. I wish I could go to both. As it is, my country church is still home. But I like visiting the Episcopalians.
I read an article today about the rise of the Cupcake Store, and how cities around the country are popping up with cupcake bakeries. Maybe I'll open a bakery. That sounds tiring. But sugary. And fun.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


Browsing is heavenly. Whether it's in a store, picking up candles, sniffing them, putting them down, skimming the back of a bookcover, or online, imagining how a discount lamp would look on your end table, browsing evokes leisure. Relaxation. A free moment amid the hustle and bustle. Especially when done with friends who share similar taste. Exclamations of glee, discussions on the shade of green bestowing a kitchen towel, and your satisfaction with a charcoal grill.
Now is the season to browse. Before Santa glares at you over Halloween candy at Wal-Mart, where the year is one big shopping season. While shelves are still stocked, traffic is still reasonable, and customers still smile back at you. When cashiers aren't too frazzled yet, parking lots aren't too crowded, and your arms aren't too sore from lugging bags around a mall.
I relish finding sales that feature items I know family and friends will love. I sock them away, like a squirrel stows nuts, then pull out my year's treasure trove to see who I still need to purchase for and who has already won the lottery of my months-long scavenger hunt.
So, I share with you a sale. A perfect time to sneak up on your shopping and score a sale. To surprise yourself with how little you have left to do later.
At the right of my blog, I have a few links. One of them connects to my Mary Kay website. Browse. Explore. Request a catalog, samples, or order online. Beat the rush.
All September purchases totalling $50 or more get this: half off a Satin Hands set. All September purchases totalling $100 or more get a free Satin Hands set, a $30 value. But we love to browse with friends. So if a friend of yours joins you in this online browsing and purchases something, you get an extra customer appreciation gift, to keep and savor or tuck into someone's stocking later on. Bring three friends with you who take advantage of the early season shopping moment and you get an additional free Satin Hands set.
Gift wrapping is complimentary upon request. Guys, if you're over your head just reading this blog, then name the amount you wish to spend and I'll create a custom gift basket full of our favorite products for your loved one with a few extra goodies tucked inside.
So pamper yourself by browsing now instead of rushing later. Try a new shade of lipstick. Grab a few Satin Lips sets for your girlfriends. Give yourself the gift of a restful holiday season this year.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Trail Mix

A grab bag of peanuts, M&M's, pretzels, and Chex cereal. Pick out your favorites. Leave the rest.
Browse past to preview an independent film that just won the People's Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival. The unspoken story? The man behind it is both "Latin America's Brad Pitt" and a bona fide Christian, turning down role after role in Hollywood to follow not fame but faithfulness.
Letting my medicine-soaked mind wander, I thought a funny novel to pen would be "coffeehouse cuisine," communicating the kinds of discussions that reign on soft, secondhand couchs over foamy espresso. Brain trails like, "marry, date or dump: Luther, Bonhoeffer, and Wesley." (for the record, I would marry Bonhoeffer, date Luther, and dump Wesley - his relationship track record is appalling. And Bonhoeffer was one of the cuter theologians of significance.) Or, "what would Maxwell books have been like in Middle Earth?" answer: "21 Irrefutable Ways to Lead Your Orcs," "The 17 Indispensable Rules to Relocating A Community of Elves," "The 10 Most Important Eras in Your Age," and, "The Vital Rules of Team Building: How to Make Elves and Dwarves Get Along." Similar coffee house discussion? "The Emerging Ent Movement: Ancient Worship in Authentic Forests," and, "Vintage Elf Hymns: How to Get Your Church Beyond Last Century's Rohan Trends." Of course, there would inevitably be controversial titles, too, like "Gandalf Is Not Great: Why Wizardry Poisons Everything," and, "The Sauron Delusion."
On to more distressing rants, that, while they may take place in a coffeeshop, are less likely to evoke laughter and giggles. A DISTURBING headline today:
"Latino evangelicals may ditch GOP over immigration reform"
This is disturbing because I spent quite a while writing to my Republican senators asking that they negotiate the recently defeated immigration reform compromise. I got nice form letters in reply for several days - form letters under the heading "immigration," I'm sure, because most of the letters were reassuring me that the senators were doing everything possible to stamp out "amnesty." Only one seemed carefully weighed and nuanced, and even that one voted against the immigration reform bill. Ok people, let's think about this:
Bush got 68% of the church-going Latino vote in 2000.
The U.S. economy would collapse in on itself if millions of people who work here and spend here were sent to Mexico.
Border security around the ENTIRE country needs to be enhanced and improved. Remember all those headlines about who were coming across the Canadian border?
Many other countries in the world do not operate like the U.S. does. For instance, you have two hungry children. Can you afford to take a day off work, go to a government bureaucracy, fill out paperwork, slip your national officials bribes to file the paperwork, and then wait six months to see if you're one of the quota of immigrants America officially admits every year?
These words were NOT penned for citizens only: "we hold these truths to be self-evident....that all men were created, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Those tenets were not only for citizens - citizens? At that time, the "citizens" of this country were actually "citizens" of England! Those were principles that Anglo and Hispanic alike were created equal and deserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I am disgusted. If anyone is afraid of criminals coming over into the U.S., then we should also flush out the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. If we want a way to actually enforce justice in the migrant community, the best way is to create a way for immigrants to become legal without penalizing them. That way, when a Hispanic woman is raped, she can come to the authorities and report it without fearing that she will be deported and separated from her children.
The whole issue makes me consider registering as an Independent. Why? Well, for one thing, the principle behind the whole mess is this: "well, if you're born in America, you have a right to prosperity. If you're born in Mexico, that's not our fault, you should stay there until the right paperwork is stamped. Take your suffering elsewhere, we're trying to watch Survivor. We like to watch people try to survive for entertainment....." Yes. The problem exactly.
For the record: if I were struggling to feed my children and knew that a hundred miles away lie the solution to their hungry tummies, I would risk it. Whether there was a border there or not. If they went hungry on one side of it or were properly fed on the other side, I would tunnel, sneak, or crawl to get them what they needed to survive. I believe most mothers would. Immigrants are not bumper stickers. They are moms and dads. And if I had a church that could offer sanctuary, I would keep the doors open. Survivor, indeed.