Wednesday, November 28, 2007

All turkeyed out

Okay, it is nearly a week post-Thanksgiving. I think I have had leftover turkey in some form or fashion every day for the past 6 days. It's time for a revolution! Tonight, I will dine on beef. Or veal. Or pork. Or seafood in a delicate garlic cream sauce. But not chicken, because it too closely resembles turkey.

Who knows? I may get the kiddo all swanked up and go OUT.

But no turkey. As God is my witness . . .

And I will never buy a 14-pound turkey AGAIN. EVER.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Flicks.

I got the chance to see two movies that I think I TiVo'ed AGES ago, two movies that have been collecting dust, waiting patiently for me to get around to them.

Sherrybaby, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, was good but depressing. Sherry Swanson has recenlty been released from jail, where she served time for a drug-related robbery. Once she's released, she contacts her brother, Bobby, who has been keeping her child (Alexis) for her while she's been in the clink. The movie then follows Sherry as she tries to stay clean and put her life back together post-prison. Gyllenhaal is AMAZING in this. Really amazing. (I am a fan since The Secretary, but this cements it.) If anyone has any doubts as to whether she can act, this should answer them. The storyline is a downer, though, as nothing seems to go right for Sherry. The tension between her and her brother over the fate of the child, the vestiges of an abusive relationship with her father, her struggles with addiction, her desperate need to be loved - it all adds up to rather morose entertainment. But it is charged with meaning and blessed with good performances, making it worth seeing in my book. FYI - there is LOTS of language and nudity.

I also had the chance to see Stranger Than Fiction, starring Will Ferrell, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, and (again) Maggie Gyllenhaal, and I thought it was a delightful, refreshing movie. The story is about Harold Crick (Ferrell), a rather lonely and way too fastidious IRS agent. Harold lives an unremarkable life, ruled by his wristwatch, until one day, he begins hearing a voice in his head (Emma Thompson). The voice quite accurately narrates everything he is doing and thinking. At first, Harold considers this simply a nuisance. That is, until the voice mentions his "imminent death." (That catches his attention.) Harold immediately begins to try and figure out who the voice is and how he can avoid his sad fate. He goes to Professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), a literature teacher, for help. Together, he and Jules identify that he's in a tragedy written by a reculsive (and nearly suicidal) author. Harold tracks down his author, introduces himself as her main character, and begs for his life.

When this movie came out, I remember hearing (and thinking) that it sounded eerily reminscent of The Truman Show, but I was wrong, wrong. It is quirkier, and I think ultimately better. It's about the creative process - the author creates a character that is so real, and then she is faced with killing this person. And is she really just writing these novels (in which the main character ALWAYS dies) as a way to deal with her own suicidal tendencies? And, were she to save Harold Crick, what would that mean? Her novel (the story) would fall apart, but Harold would live. I saw a brief interview with the director, and he said he thought the movie was about saving lives - how people save each other's lives every day by doing little things that open up their worlds and encourage people to really live.

It was an interesting, entertaining, superbly-cast film, and I encourage you to see it as soon as possible. Performances are wonderful, script is fresh, and the ideology of it all gives your brain something to chew on for a few days. In addition, some of the cleverest lines I've heard in a while. Rated PG13, this would be a great family movie.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Nanny 911


Just finished reading The Nanny Diaries (by Emma Kraus and Nicola McLaughlin) for our Mississippi Moms Book Club. I know, I know, I'm probably one of the last people in the world to read it. And now I know why. I tend not to like books in which characters just bitch and moan about their sad lot in life, but then do nothing to change what's bothering them. And that, my friends, is my problem with this book.

Nanny (and no, we are never told her real name) is a student at NYU. She nannies on the side to pay bills because the money is good and (get this) she's paid off the books. So, no supporting the ol' American government with her money. She gets a job keeping a sweet kid, Grayer, for the X family. (And no, we're never given a real name for them, either.)

What follows is the adventurous tale of her employment with the X family, the establishment of a close relationship with Grayer, the unreasonable expectations of Mrs. X, the indifference/absence of Mr. X, and then the complications that ensue as the X family begins to fall apart. The whole time, Nanny is allowing herself to be taken advantage of by Mr. and Mrs. X. The whole time, she is complaining (loudly) to her friends about her crappy job. She accepts less pay than originally discussed. She works crazy hours. She hates Mrs. X. And yet, she does nothing about it. She doesn't stand up to Mrs. X. She never gives her a piece of her mind. She never looks for another job. From one persepctive, this could mean that she's trying to protect Grayer and her relationship with him. (If she were to confront Mrs. X, she'd surely be fired.) But in another way, Nanny is just one of the many people who enables Mr. and Mrs. X to neglect their child.

I finished the novel almost as mad at Nanny as I was at the Xes. Kraus and McLaughlin seem determined to inspire sympathy for the Nanny character (and the book jacket lets us know that both of them have put in their time as professional nannies), but I left feeling very little for her. Grayer, however, was a different story. In my opinion, he was the only truly likable character, caught up in a world he had no control over and desperate for love and attention from his own parents.

I give it 2 1/1 stars out of 5.

Ah, to be Patricia Wells . . .

Based on the recommendation of a blogger whose posts I've been reading for a while, I picked up a copy of At Home in Provence, a cookbook by Patricia Wells. Wells is very well-known, with an enviable life spent writing cookibooks, eating French food, and enjoying what sounds like an idyllic farm in the heart of Provence. If you watch Food Network, you've seen her pop in and out of some of your favorite shows. (I particularly remember her guesting on Barefoot Contessa, where she made a delish light lunch.)

Anyway, she writes a mouth-watering preamble to every recipe and provides wine suggestions for main dishes. It's one of the few cookbooks worth actually READING straight through, rather than picking and choosing only the recipes that sound good. Below is the first recipe I've tried from the book.

Turnip and Cumin Puree

2 T. unsalted butter
12 oz. turnips, peeled and cubed
salt to taste
pinch of sugar
1 c. chicken stock
1/2 t. cumin seeds

Heat butter until sizzling in large skillet. Add cubed turnips and salt lightly. Add sugar and saute, tossing, until turnips are lightly browned all over (about 7 minutes). Cover with chicken stock and cook over low heat until almost all liquid has evaporated (about 30 minutes). Transfer to food mill or food processor and puree. Season to taste with cumin.

Ok, I freely admit that I've never been a big turnip eater. It just was never a vegetable that I regularly bought. BUT they were for sale and looking lovely at the farmer's market, so following Janet Fletcher's advice, I bought what looked good and fresh and looked for a recipe later. And you know what? These things are GOOD. Of course, after simmering and browning in butter and chicken stock, almost any veggie can be pretty darn tasty. And the cumin adds a wonderfully smoky note that gives the dish a bit of depth. Wells suggested serving with roast duck, but since I don't often have time these days to both make a new veggie side dish PLUS roast a duck, we served these with boneless pork chops and steamed green veggies.

Based on this recipe's success, I plan on making more dishes from this book as soon as I can!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Too much stuff!

I helped my mother clean out her closet this week, and I came to the trite realization that we all have too much stuff in our lives. So much stuff that we can hardly enjoy the life we have. (Or, as Wordsworth much more eloquently put it, "The world is too much with us.") In one closet alone, we bagged up nearly 8 kitchen garbage bags of things to toss, and two HUGE garden/leaf bags of clothing to give away.

I was so inspired (and appalled) that I came home and went through MY closet. Three bags of "give" clothes later (and a big pile of "maybe" clothes that I can't yet fit into after the pregnancy), I feel purer. And as I look at the piles of stuff everywhere, I wonder how on earth I accumulated all of this. My only comfort is knowing that there ARE people out there who are even worse than me about accumulating things. (Have you seen "Clean House" lately? Eeek!) At the very least, I do tend to purge my belongings once in a while.

And, hey, it's not just me. People have so much junk lying around that we event have a "Clean Out Your Closet Week" (the third week in March, by the way) and a "Clean Off Your Desk Day" (in January).

Consider this blog a call to action to go through your junk and sort it into "garbage," "give," and "keep" piles. I swear, you'll feel lighter.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Motorcycle Mama.

Until about a week ago, I had never ridden a motorcycle. And I'd always wanted to. I have a friend who's got a Harley, and I finally mustered up the courage to ask him to let me tag along for a ride.

We puttered all around downtown Jackson. It was terrifying, but absolutely thrilling!! I admit that I wouldn't let him drive much over 35 mph (I know, I know, I'm a total wuss.), but I have a child, people! I didn't want the little booger to grow up motherless.

I guess I just have a really cautious personality. When hubby and I watch game shows on TV, I'm always the one screaming, "Take the $64,000 and go!" while he's the one urging contestants to go for the million dollar prize.

The pavement was alrmingly close, and it was whizzing by at what felt like a pretty fast pace. It certainly makes you realize the fragility of all your own soft little parts, and of life itself.

BUT I wouldn't trade it for ANYTHING. What a rush! (PLUS, don't I look like a badass in the helmet?! Don't I?!)

Nutty pumpkiny goodness.

Finally got around to trying out one of the best-looking recipes in this month's issue of Cooking Light! I LOVE this magazine, and I've been a subscriber for years. We thought this bread was VERY tasty. Only one caveat - I used a clear glass loaf pan, and both loaves stuck a little to the bottom (not the sides) of the pan. If I made this again with the same pan, I might flour and grease the bottom of it. Just an FYI.

Pecan-Topped Pumpkin Bread

Ingredients

3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour (about 15 ounces)
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup egg substitute (I did not have this; I just added another egg.)
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
2 large eggs
2/3 cup water
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
Cooking spray
1/3 cup chopped pecans (I added more pecans. I put some in the batter and the rest on the top of the loaf.)

Preparation
Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 6 ingredients (through allspice) in a bowl.

Place sugar, egg substitute, oil, buttermilk, and eggs in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until well blended. Add 2/3 cup water and pumpkin, beating at low speed until blended.

Add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture, beating at low speed just until combined. Spoon batter into 2 (9 x 5-inch) loaf pans coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle pecans evenly over batter. Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool 10 minutes in pans on a wire rack; remove from pans. Cool completely on wire rack.

Yield
2 (generous) loaves; 12 servings per loaf (serving size: 1 slice)

Nutritional Information
CALORIES 198(30% from fat); FAT 6.6g (sat 0.7g,mono 3.6g,poly 1.9g); PROTEIN 3.4g; CHOLESTEROL 18mg; CALCIUM 53mg; SODIUM 287mg; FIBER 1.2g; IRON 1.4mg; CARBOHYDRATE 32.3g

Margaret Patterson, Milton, Florida , Cooking Light, NOVEMBER 2007

Mad for Miseltoe!

The legendary Miseltoe Marketplace has opened in Jackson once again! If you are not aware, Miseltoe Marketplace is a HUGE temporary shopping extravaganza set up in the MS Trademart each year by the Jackson Junior League. The event raises TONS of money for a good cause each year. (This year, it's the soon-to-be-built Mississippi Children's Museum). The event draws about 35,000 shoppers each year from throughout the Southeast, and it is prime picking for Christmas presents and unique items.

I attended the event's preview gala last night, and it was a glorious event! Food by Bravo!/Mangia Bene Catering and Crazy Cat Bakers was divine. Open bars were plentiful. Music was toe-tapping, not a sad rehash of tired Christmas music. And, once again, the League outdid itself with the decorations. I was also very impressed with the merchandise on offer this year. My picks:

Cowboy Country Amaretto Pecan Honey Butter. Oh. My. God. Sold just inside the far left wing of the market. You will SMELL the delicious samples they are offering. I saw people walking out of there with veritable CRATES of this stuff. It is amazing slathered over a hot biscuit, and it tastes like the holidays should - rich, indulgent, and like something special. The two guys selling it (don't know if they are REALLY country boys, or if it is just an act) are a HOOT. $10 a jar, $15 for two jars. My husband very much appreciated this purchase.

Savannah Bee Company Honey. I know, I know. It's two honey posts in a row. BUT the stuff is amazing. They have several varieties, which they allow you to taste at the booth, and I never realized how complex honey could be. Some varieties taste more herbal, some like butter, some are citrusy, others have an almost wine-like warmth. The booth is definitely worth checking out, and the jars of honey are something like $12.

I Just Have to Have It! Nearly everything in this booth was worth buying. Prices were reasonable, and the homewares and jewelry items were FAB. U. LOUS. I bought some CUTE bracelets, but I also came pretty close to buying some more jewelry as well as some fun holiday entertaining serve-ware. (I may very well be going back to this booth. If you beat me there, DO NOT buy the last set of 4 miniature Christmas tree ornaments!! I will come and find you!)

Bottom line - if you are looking for it, it is probably at Miseltoe Marketplace. While the market is usually crowded, buying a ticket to one of the special events, where food is served and free music is available, will probably ensure that you have better access to the merchandise and ease of movement. And, hey, it's for a good cause. The Junior League's last big charity project? The Blair E. Batson Children's Hospital. Yep, the ladies raised enough money to build a hospital. So when they plan something, you better either join in or get the heck out of their way.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Music for . . . children?

When I learned I was pregnant with Clay, I became very interested in children's media. I went on Amazon and ebay to track down alot of the books I read as a child, and I've also been lucky enough to discover some new artists and musicians for the little booger to enjoy. Two of my most treasured discoveries have been the music of Elizabeth Mitchell, who has recorded versions of many classic children's folk songs, and Renee and Jeremy, who recently put out a CD of low-key children's songs.

I love Mitchell's You Are My Little Bird (Clay especially likes "Who's My Pretty Baby?" "Little Bird, Little Bird" and "Little Liza Jane.") and You Are My Flower (We both LOVE "John the Rabbit," "Little Sack of Sugar," and "Freight Train."). We also have You Are My Sunshine, but it's our least favorite Mitchell CD so far. (We bought this one because my grandfather used to sing "Crawdad Hole" to me when I was little, and I was thrilled to have a recording of it.)

Renee and Jeremy released It's a Big World in April, and I found them quite by accident on MySpace. We have sooooo enjoyed this CD; Clay likes almost every song. The lullabies are very sweet and simple, and they are easy to learn. Now that I know them by heart, I often use them myself to sing little bit to sleep. I highly recommend this CD.

I think all the music referenced above is just as enjoyable for adults as it is for children. I have really loved listening to the CDs. You can buy all of these albums on Amazon. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Fall. YUM.

Bought a great book this week - Fresh from the Farmers' Market, by Janet Fletcher. It's a cookbook that focuses on fresh, local produce. The recipes are divided seasonally for easy, chronological access. Here's one we made this week:

Apple and Dried Cherry Crisp

1/2 c. pitted dried cherries
2 pounds apples (we used a mix of different varities for more depth of flavor)
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. flour
3 T. brown sugar
1/4 t. ground cinnamon
pinch salt
6 T. butter, in small pieces
1/3 c. old-fashioned rolled oats (I doubled this ingredient; I like LOTS of topping!)
1/2 c. chopped walnuts

Put cherries in a small bowl with just enough water to cover. Let stand 1 hour, then drain.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Quarter, core, and peel the apples. Cut each quarter crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. In a large bowl, combine apple slices and 2 T. granulated sugar. Toss to coat.

Combine flour, remaining 2 T. granulated sugar, borwn sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Mix on low until well blended. Add butter pieces, and mix until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add oatmeal and walnuts and mix until mixture forms clumps.

Layer apples in a 10-inch baking pan, sprinkling cherries evenly between layers. (Make sure no cherries are exposed, or they will burn.) Cover with topping, pressing lightly into an even layer. Bake until topping is browned and filling is bubbly, about 55 minutes.

This recipe was an absolute no-brainer, and we were delighted with the results. It makes a great dessert, and the leftovers are pretty darn good for breakfast, too. (What? It's fruit and oatmeal, isn't it? I'm practically being a SAINT, eating it for breakfast.)

I think Fletcher's point is well-made. It wasn't that the recipe was some revolutionary thing. It's that we went to the farmer's market that day, bought a variety of the freshest seasonal apples we could find, and then didn't screw them up with a crazy, complicated recipe.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Not kidnapped.

No, I have not been kidnapped. BUT I have been busy. Very, very busy. You see, I had a baby. And having a baby, and then caring for said baby, tends to eat up alot of your free time.

However, I have made some decisions to perhaps get some of that time back, and so now here I am again. Let's hope never to disappear again.

Recent thoughts -

I recently had the chance to read Why business people speak like idiots: the bullfighter's guide. WOW. This is one of the most entertaining books about business writing/speaking that I've ever read. The authors do a great job of taking their own advice, writing in fresh, funny, tight prose throughout. And they make excellent points that seem like common sense, but are amazingly overlooked in the business world.

Even cooler, the authors have their own site - http://www.fightthebull.com/, where you can download FREE bullfighter's software. This software can be run on your own writing samples (in Microsoft Word), much like readability statistics programs, to attain the "amount of bull" in your own writing. What a hoot! I am loving it.

Secondly, and I know this is old news, I went to see the latest Harry Potter movie. Nice stuff! AND I happened to hear JK Rowling's latest revelation - that Dumbledore is gay. Although I don't think it is Earth-shaking, I DO think it is a perfectly normal reflection of the world we live in. After all, today's kids are bound to meet gay people in their real lives. It is only natural that they should show up in popular media now and then. And I really liked how it wasn't made much of (or even directly expressed) in the book. It is not WHO he is; it's just something about him. You know? Why can't we all see it like that?

Doing lots of cooking and reading lately. More to come . . .