Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Waaay Behind on Posting

Yikes - how did I ever get soooo far behind on blogging?! Well, no excuses, but I do have some good reasons:

  • Facebook: I started using Facebook several months ago, in anticipation of launching an official business Facebook Page for work. In order to create a business Page, one must first become a personal user. I did that, and WHOA! Turns out, it's pretty addictive. Part of its attraction is that it's just so quick and easy. And, it's really fun to connect with others. So, I think my attention and time quickly moved from Blogging to Facebook.
  • Social Media for Work: My time has also been much taken up with managing Facebook, Twitter and a blog for work, in addition to managing 5 websites, which leaves little time for my personal applications. It's a lot to give adequate attention to all at once. There are some cool tools out there that help people manage multiple profiles, and these come in handy. But still, spending so much time on these for work means less time spent for pleasure.
  • Refining Blog Focus: I've also been toying with refining the focus of my blog. "New Ideas Welcome" was my first foray into blogging, and is primarily a tool for me to learn to use the blogging platform as well as the many convenience and tracking gadgets out there. I'm thinking of keeping this blog but also creating another one, on a more focused theme. We'll see.
So, anyway, that's what's been keeping me busy. No excuses, but now you know where I've been!

Follow up note: 9/7/15...
So, I was away from my blog for a few YEARS! But, I'm discovering I'm not the only one in this boat. Once in awhile, when I just want to see what's out in the blogosphere, I just keep clicking the "Next Blog" button to see what I find. Doing this today showed me many, many blogs with no recent posts. Looks like we're all slackers once in awhile!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fresh Air Fund Visit

Eternity tries on hats during a shopping trip to Tar-jhay
In a not-too-long-ago post, I mentioned that we serve as a host family for the Fresh Air Fund.

Our Fresh Air child, Eternity, was here for a fun-filled week with us, and is now back in Brooklyn. It was her third summer visiting us. While she was here, we:

  • Picnicked (one of her favorite things to do); she LOVES sweet midgets pickles, tomato & mozzarella salad, chunks of bread torn from the Italian bread loaf and slathered with herb cheese spread, and Beach Bunny Cake from my Retro Beach Bash cookbook.

  • Visited just about every waterfall in the Berkshires and surrounding area, including Bash Bish Falls, Mt. Hope Farm, and the Cascades.

  • Shucked corn, roasted marshmallows on rainy nights over candles, and played LOTS of board games.

Here's a slideshow of some of the things we did and places we visited:

It was a fun week, and we enjoyed having Eternity with us. We're looking forward to next year. And, if you have a home in a rural New England area with an available bed in it, hosting a Fresh Air child is a really easy way to help someone in need. Give it a try!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Latest Berkshire Organics Delivery

Here's what we found in our bi-weekly Berkshire Organics delivery (we get the "Berkshire Basket"):

Local - Organic Practices

  • 4 ears Corn - Family Farm, CT
  • 1 bunch Basil - Swartz Family Farm, Amherst, MA
  • 1 bunch Watercress - Swartz Family Farm, Amherst, MA

Certified Organic

  • 1 head Lettuce - Markristo Farm, Hillsdale, NY
  • 3 Pickling Cukes - Warner Farm, Hadley, MA
  • 10 oz Green Beans - Warner Farm, Hadley, MA
  • 2 Onions (Vidalia & Red) - Deep Root, VT
  • 1 Bell Pepper (Red or Yellow) - CA
  • 1 lb Carrots - CA
  • 3 Peaches - SC
  • 2 Nectarines (White) - CA
  • 3 Apricots - CA
  • ½ pint Raspberries - CA
  • 1 Pineapple - Fair Trade
  • 5 Bananas - Fair Trade

This delivery comes on Friday and we leave for the Cape early Saturday am, so this is perfect timing. We'll have wonderful and fresh produce to take to our beach cottage, to counteract all the fried seafood we'll be eating!

Web Site Story

Eric Tenin, of Paris Daily Photo blog fame, recently shared this cleverly humorous video on Facebook. It's a really smart and well-done spoof of the musical, "West Side Story," with a modern day online twist:

Isn't it fabulously funny!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Moroccan Night Recap

Oooh - exciting to get to travel to foreign lands for the night! Our Moroccan Night event was so much fun...here's a quick recap:

  • Table - after scouring the house for exotic table setting items, we ended up going with an animal print undercloth topped with smaller red cloths. Then, we used animal print napkins (found for just a few dollars at Home Goods) in red napkin rings (Dollar Store). From my Real Simple cookbooks, I've learned the lovely simplicity of using multiple clear hurricanes filled with candles and small items - for our table, I used a mix of earth-toned stones (Dollar Store again) under cream candles.

  • Apertif - I couldn't find Anisette (I think I'm going to need to begin making the trip to Nejaimes when I have parties; my usual liquor store seldom knows or has the off-beat things I'm looking for.) Anticipating this from past experience, I looked up substitutions online before going to the store and learned that Sambuca would work, so I used that instead. A bit of the liqueur is poured into the bottom of the glass, a few ice cubes are added, then it's topped with cold water. It's an interesting and light drink to begin the evening and to set the ethnic tone.

  • La Kemia - the appetizer table was so pretty and fun to create. In Moroccan homes, this is served on a round table in the center of the room and everyone gathers around the many small dishes. No utensils are used - it's all finger food. Our coffee table just happens to be round, so it worked out perfectly! Everyone's favorite were the Lamb Kabobs, ala Alaskan Dave. Dave - thank you so much for spice rub recipe - it couldn't have been more perfect! Anyone interested in the spice rub mix, just check out the Comments section on the original Moroccan Night post.

  • Dinner - the cucumber and mint salad was light and refreshing - we used lots of mint from our garden. Warmed flatbread made a nice accompaniment. Then, we had Chicken with Olives...large chunks of potatoes are also cooked with the chicken, along with tomatoes, mushrooms, onions and spices, so it's an entire meal in one pot. We also had a tasty spinach souffle. And, one of our guests, who was smart and DID go to Nejaimes, was able to find a lovely Spanish Montecillo Crianza red wine for us to share - very smooth and delicious.

  • Dessert - I was sadly unable to find Turkish Delight during my shopping, so substitued baklava, and served dates along with it. And, no Moroccan meal would be complete without sweetened Mint Green Tea, which is served in glasses rather than cups. (I happened to mention my search for Turkish Delight at dinner, and one of our guests brought us a box of it the next day as a thank you gift - yum!)

For anyone interested in more photos, here's a slideshow:

We all really enjoyed the exotic fare. We had our tea and dessert as we learned to play Royalty - my uncle won both rounds. Can't wait for the next theme dinner - I'm waiting to be inspired by another culture. Any great ideas?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sauteed Braising Greens

Yum. In our recent Berkshire Organics home delivery basket, we found a bag of what I thought was a mesclun-style salad mix. However, upon reading the newsletter that was included in the delivery, I discovered that it was instead something called a "braising mix."

The newsletter tells me that the braising mix includes: red, green, yellow, and magenta chard; yellow mustard greens; green frills mustard greens; ruby streaks red mustard greens, red bore kale, winter bore kale; and red Russian kale.

This was new to me, and, happily, the newsletter also included a few recipe options. I chose the Sauteed Braising Greens one (courtesy of Markristo Farm in Hillsdale, NY...Hillsdale was the site of our recent photo expedition!), and we voted that it was FAN-tastic! Here's the recipe (I have modified it slightly to toast the pine nuts):

  1. Heat saute pan over medium heat and add 2 T pine nuts; when nicely browned, remove nuts from pan and set aside
  2. Coat pan with 2 T olive oil and add 2 cloves crushed garlic.
  3. On medium-high heat, cook garlic for 2 minutes.
  4. Place 8 oz. braising greens in pan (push down as needed to fit them in) and saute for 2-3 minutes.
  5. Add juice from one lemon, salt, pepper, 2 T raisins, and the toasted pine nuts and saute for 1-2 minutes.
  6. Serve!

Easy, fast AND delicious - an all-around winner.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Berkshire Organics

Oooh, one of the local Tweeters that I follow recently mentioned getting his fresh vegetables from a local delivery service called Berkshire Organics. This was a new name to me, and upon reading the comment, I immediately Googled the company.

Their website provides plenty of info. I don't know how I never heard of them before...they're just down the road at the Burgner's Farm store.

(Note: to find the price list on the site, you need to begin the order form, where you'll see the basket options listed. Another Note: the website also mentions that they have been featured on Martha Stewart!)

From the price list, I learned that I could choose from different "baskets," meaning different types of produce would be included and/or different amounts, depending on which I chose. I could also choose a delivery frequency (I'm going with every other week). On the designated delivery day, my basket will be delivered to my house, and I can leave a cooler out or my door unlocked if I won't be home. They leave the food in one container, and on the next delivery, they'll leave the food in another container and pick up the one from the previous delivery.

Upon perusing the available basket options and prices, I decided to go with the Berkshire Basket, an assortment of seasonal organic fruits and vegetables, just right for two people. Even though this is a pricey option for me, I'm going for it for a few different reasons:

  1. It's DELIVERED....HellO!
  2. I'd like to support local growers whenever I can.
  3. The produce is organic, meaning more sustainable farming methods have been used.
  4. I always mean to get to the farmer's market, but never seem to find the time.
  5. I can subtract this amount from my normal grocery shopping budget and just not buy produce at the regular grocery store.

And, when it is not our growing season, Berkshire Organics has partnered with other organic farmers who will be able to supply them with the produce they need for fulfilling orders. Today's order was delivered while I was at work (yay), and I also received an email alerting me to what would be included in today's delivery. Here's what we get:

  • 1 quart Strawberries - Czajkowski Farm, Hadley, MA
  • 8 oz Braising Greens - Markristo Farm, Hillsdale, NY
  • 1 bunch Scallions - Markristo Farm, Hillsdale, NY
  • 1 head Lettuce (Red, Boston, or Romaine) - Enterprise Farm, Whately, MA
  • 1 pint Cherry Tomatoes - Somerset Organics, GA
  • 1 Cucumber - Somerset Organics, GA
  • 1 bunch Celery - C & B Farm, FL
  • 1 bunch Broccoli - CA
  • 1 head Cauliflower - CA
  • 6 oz Blueberries - Cottle's Farm, NC
  • 2 Nectarines - CA
  • 3 Plums (Red) - CA
  • 4 Apricots
  • 2 Mango (Champagne) - Fair Trade
  • 5 Bananas - Fair Trade

There are other items available as well - eggs, breads, cheeses, etc. I think I'll stick with just the basket for now, and see how it goes. But, isn't this a FABULOUS idea! Hope they can spread the word and get lots of customers so they stay in business a good long time...I like everything about this service.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Last Day of School

Cool motorcycle display inside, with great neon lighting.
Lucky kids - they're now on summer vacation!

My daughter is officially done with her Sophomore year and can now be considered a Junior. Woo-hoo! To celebrate, we headed out to Misty Moonlight Diner in Pittsfield. We also happened to celebrate her 8th grade graduation here, so I'm sensing a trend.

Misty is one of those sock hop style diners with the checkerboard floors, formica tables, naugahyde chairs with metal legs, and oldies playing in the background.

They especially rock because they SERVE BREAKFAST ALL DAY! This is tops in my book. They also serve dinner all day. The menu is meant to have something for just about anyone. They even have blue plate specials - meatloaf, roast beef, roast turkey, pot roast Isn't the stuff on a diner table just the best?- served with mashed potatoes and gravy, a roll and a salad.

You can also choose from a variety of appetizers and small plates, like quesadilla, potato skins, buffalo wings, hummus and veggies, etc. Then, of course, a selection of burgers, wraps, hot sandwiches, salads, etc. Really...you can get just about any American style entree you might be hankerin' for here.

We finally settled on...

  • Daughter: HOT buffalo wings with bleu cheese dressing and veggie sticks; they ended up being a little hotter than expected, but she still loved them.
  • Friend: Fried shrimp plate with french fries and coleslaw; it came with both cocktail and tartar sauces. The coleslaw recipe was good - seemed like the sauce had mLove the checkerboard floor and shiny naugahyde.ayo, vingar, sugar, and salt...didn't detect any horseradish, and very thinly shredded and very fresh cabbage.
  • Me: Hot roast beef sandwich with plenty of gravy and fries; I don't buy white bread in stores, but this sandwich MUST be served on soft and gooey white bread. I could have used a little more gravy, because I'm nuts about it. I dunked my fries in my daughter's bleu cheese dressing - mighty tasty.
So, I go off to work tomorrow at 7 am and my daughter stays home to sleep until noon, and then rest afterward. Ah...the life!

Misty Moonlight Diner on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 15, 2009

4,000 Questions - #13: Cash

I won't be getting very far on this little bit of dough.
Here's the background info on the 4,000 Questions posts...

Question #13: How much cash do you normally carry with you?

You know, for someone who works for a financial services company, with a bank office right downstairs, I seldom have any cash on me. And, I've discovered that most of my co-workers are the same way! We're so used to using Debit Cards for everything, or using online banking, that we just don't seem to have cash in our purses or pockets. In fact, I'm always a bit perturbed when I actually DO have to pay with cash, which is a rarity. Even fast food restaurants take Debit Cards now.

The photo at right shows the measly four bucks I found when I just checked my purse to answer this question.

TRIVIA: the term "buck" in reference to a dollar comes from the days when buckskin was used as a form of currency.

How much cash do YOU normally carry with you?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Moroccan Night

Hey, fellow bloggers! First, first let me apologize for my delinquency in posting new content. I realize I am waaaay behind, and will try to get back on track asap; life has just been a bit more than hectic lately.

Anyway, I'm planning an upcoming Moroccan Night and thought that would make a fun and interesting post. This all started when my uncle gave me a cookbook called "Casablanca Cuisine." He also gave me a card game called "Royalty," which I don't know how to play. So, I thought it might be nice to invite him to come to a Moroccan-themed dinner party, at which he teaches the guests to play Royalty! Sounds like a plan, right?

So, I'm currently looking around the house for Casablanca-style table setting stuff. I think I might be able to use a large old curtain I saved that had blocks of color - purple, fuschia, yellow - along with little tiny mirrors, for the table cover. I also have clear glass hurricanes, which I can fill with purple and gold candles, along with pistachios, to create a "look" for the center of the table.

As our background music, I think I'll purchase the soundtrack to "Casablanca."

And, here's our menu (from the cookbook):

  • Apertifs: according to the cookbook, we should serve Anisette before dinner - an anise flavored liqueur served over ice, with just a bit of water added
  • Appetizers: La Kemia, which consists of many little plates, containing things like pistachios, spicy sausages, a variety of olives, pickled green peppers, and garbanzos in cumin sauce
  • Salad: Cucumbers and Mint (fresh from our garden)
  • Main Course: Chicken with Olives, Cous Cous, and sauteed vegetables
  • Dessert: Turkish Delight, Figs, and Mint Tea

In addition to us, our Guest List will include:

  • My uncle (quite a character; over 6 feet tall, and with a white goatee; he was a hippie when I first knew him, and he now plays "Uncle Sam" in local parades, and holds Peace Vigils on Pittsfield's Park Square)
  • Doris (My uncle's housemate; a former librarian for the New York City library, and quite a personality; she asks the most interesting and random questions)
  • Ann (our neighbor from across the street; her dad was Norman Rockwell's studio assistant for so many years, and she is fun and full of so many great stories)
  • Ruby (our neighbor from next door; her husband died suddenly last summer, and I think she'd enjoy the evening out.
  • Syma (my good friend from Albany, who is always open to new ideas and new people)

So, that's the plan. Any suggestions from readers, to help make the night more memorable?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Books for Vacation

Beach reading!!
Well, we've got our books all ready for this summer's Cape Cod vacation - books are priority number one when it comes to vacation planning. Here's what's on the list this year:
  • "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou - I've wanted to read this story of Maya's childhood for several years, and happened upon it recently at Barnes & Noble.
  • "The Outermost House" by Henry Beston - Beston wrote this story about his year of life on the Outer Cape, and what he experienced each season. I started it last summer and am about 3/4 of the way finished, so will hopefully be able to complete it this year.
  • "In the Footsteps of Thoreau" by Stuard Derrick - another book started last summer, it maps out the trail Thoreau took as he walked all of Cape Cod. It is broken down into walks that can be done in less than a day, and includes directions and anecdotes, along with quotes from Thoreau. I'm hoping to complete Walk #8: The Outermost Walk this year - it's approximately four hours long, and will take me out onto Nauset Spit and past the location where The Outermost House sat before it was washed out to sea during a violent winter storm.
  • "Cape Cod" by Henry Thoreau - we found this last summer at the lovely Ebb Tide Restaurant Gift Shop. I'm about 1/3 of the way through this first-hand account of Thoreau's walk along the Cape, including many illustrations of his hand-drawn maps.
  • "Most Loved Treats" by Jean Pare - no vacation reading list would be complete without at least ONE cookbook! This one is all about special cakes, desserts, and other treats. Some of them are bound to be good for Christmas baking and neighbor gifts.
  • "Essential Guide to Cake Decorating" by Alex Barker - just one more cookbook...I couldn't resist it, and it was on sale. It has detailed instructions and photos that teach about fondant, which I've never worked with, along with other useful decorating techiques.

Ooh...so exciting to think about relaxing on the beach, under the umbrella, or inside the cozy cottage, lazily reading books all day. Pure heaven!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Cell Phone Photo to Twitpic

Airstream Sovereign spotted at a red light today!Most of my Tech Tip posts are written so I can remember how I did something the next time I try to do it again!

I just had success with photographing this Airstream trailer trundling along the street in front of me, using my cell phone camera and uploading the photo to Twitpic. From Twitpic, the photo can also automatically post to my Twitter feed. Here's how it works:

  1. First, of course, you need a Twitter account, which automatically gives you a Twitpic account; then you can just go to Twitpic.com and log in to it using your Twitter username and password.
  2. In Twitpic, click on Settings, where you'll see your Twitpic mobile upload email address.
  3. In your cell phone, create a new contact named Twitpic.
  4. Next, scroll until you can see the email address box for the contact; key in the email address listed on your Twitpic Settings page, and Save the contact.
  5. You are now ready to send a photo, so...take a photo with your cell phone. Then, select the photo and click on Send Photo. Key Twitpic into the To field, and use the Subject line to write in a description of the photo. Press Send.

That's all there is to it! Your photo will post to Twitpic, and also to your Twitterfeed, and you'll feel all techie!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

iPod Songs: Wabash Cannonball

The story behind the song(s)...

By now, you've probably read my growing up story. My father called us gypsies, and we stopped our home on wheels just about anywhere at all (but usually in rural areas) as we wandered around the US. The modern term for what we did is "boondocking," but for us it was just everyday life - no modern conveniences, and water was lugged from nearby rivers and streams. Nowadays there are lots of books and online guides with tips for successful boondocking, but we somehow managed to get along without those. In fact, I think we could have written a few of them!

In the confined space of our gypsy wagon, and with 9 children, 2 parents, and several pets, there's wasn't room for toys or games, so we created our fun in different ways. We hiked just about anywhere you could hike. We played with things we found in nature. And, in the evenings after supper, we sometimes sang songs around an outdoor campfire.

My father played the guitar, the fire crackled, the stars shone in the dark night sky over Death Valley or a California beach, and we sang these songs. The Wabash Cannonball is one of my favorites, although I like all of the ones on this playlist. Listening to them on my iPod takes me back to those campfires so long ago, and our times out in the boondocks.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Canning - Victoria Sauce

In the manner of Alaskan Dave Down Under, I thought I'd document the making of my annual batch of Victoria Sauce (a fabulous rhubarb chutney that's great on ham or pork).

To do this, I highly recommend a canning pot, which, in addition to the large pot, also has a handy metal rack for holding, lowering, and lifting the jars and lids in and out of the water baths. I'm doing without, however, because we gave our pot away a few years ago, and I'm just using a large stockpot.

One thing you'll DEFINITELY want, though, is a Ball Canning Utensil Set, in addition to jars and fresh lids. The Utensil Set has a handy gripper for raising and lowering jars, a magnetic lid grabber, and a wide-mouthed funnel, which keeps your jars clean (this assures an effective seal).

Here's the canning process I use:

  1. WASH and rinse jars, and set out to dry on a clean dishtowel, while you bring your large pot of sterilizing water to a boil.

  2. STERILIZE jars and lids by submerging in simmering water that fully covers them. Be sure jars are not touching to avoid breakage, and leave in water for 15 minutes.

  3. COOL jars and lids by using tongs and lid grabber to pull jars and lids out of water. Set them out to dry on the towel.

  4. COOK the item you're canning while your jars sterilize. In my case, I'm making Rhubarb Victoria Sauce chutney. I love the sweet-sour scent that fills the kitchen when making chutney.

  5. FILL jars, just to bottom of jar threads - the filled jars need a bit of air room at the top. Use the wide-mouth funnel when filling jars, which prevents spills on the jar top edge - very important! Wipe all jar top edges to remove any spills, just to be on the safe side.

  6. LIDS and bands are then screwed on firmly, but not extra tight.

  7. BOIL covered jars for 30 minutes.

  8. COOL jars by using tongs, pulling jars out of water, and setting them on towel. After about 1/2 hour, check to make sure lids are slightly indented for a complete seal. If you find any that have not done this, set them back into the boiling water again. That should do the trick. Label jars with pretty labels available in the grocery or craft store. My favorites are some that I bought a few years ago, made by Susan Branch - so pretty!

PS - I swear by the Ball Blue Book, which is full of detailed canning instructions, plus lots of great recipes.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

4,000 Questions - #12: Values

Here's the background info on the 4,000 Questions posts...

Question #12: What is the one family value you believe in the most?

Growing up, it was a given that individual differences were acceptable and "normal." We were living a rather unusual life ourselves, so not only was this value spoken and implied to us as kids, but we also lived it every day.

We learned that everyone should be able to make choices that suit their own lives and personalities, and that there is no right or wrong way to live, as long as you're not breaking the law or otherwise infringing on others.

It's obvious that this value has been embraced by my family. Anyone stopping by for a visit during a holiday celebration will find such a mix of characters and lifestyles, and every one is "right" for that person.

I try to continue to live this value, and am so glad I learned it as a child. I hope I'm effectively passing it on to my daughter.

What is the one family value YOU believe in the most?.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Photo Expedition - Route 22

On Mother's Day, my daughter lets me choose the locale, and we head out on a photo expedition. This means taking a camera along, with plenty of charged batteries, and seeking out beautiful photo opportunities and taking hundreds of shots. It's fun, creative, and helps us look at things a little more closely and with an eye toward framing a great shot.

This year, we decided to head south down scenic Route 22 just over the border in New York. Here's what we found as we meandered along

(NOTE: I can't figure out how to slow down this slide show. If it's running too fast, just hover over it until the control buttons appear, then click Pause. You'll be able to continue playing it when you're ready, or use the arrows to view one photo at a time.):

We had a lovely meal (late lunch, early dinner) at the quaint and cozy Hillsdale Crossroads Diner. It was pleasant inside, with friendly servers, interesting old farm implements hanging from the ceiling, and the requisite aluminum diner backsplash. They serve breakfast all day (hallelujah!), so I had my favorite corned beef hash and poached eggs. My daughter had the special - popcorn shrimp and fries.

Crossroads Diner on Urbanspoon

After that, we turned around and headed home again...still finding many great shots along the way. And, we still made it home with plenty of time to spare for uploading photos and creating slideshows!

PS - If you head out on one of these rural road trips, be sure to gas up the car ahead of time, pack water bottles and snacks, and bring cash! It can often be quite some time before you can get these items. We ended up needing cash to pay for our meal, as the restaurant didn't take cards, so went to the nearby gas station ATM. It only could dispense ONE $20 bill!

Alphabet of Daily Life - K

K is for the Kitchen...

This is the heartbeat of our home, where just about EVERYthing happens. When we first moved into our house, the kitchen needed our immediate attention. We had to get rid of the faux flagstone floor, the pink countertops, and the pink, black and cream striped wallpaper scattered with pink flowers. I also did my first tile install, including use of a wet-saw, by putting in a tile backsplash over the counters.


Obviously, all of the cooking takes place in the kitchen. After a long day at work, it's nice to just pour a glass of wine, put a good CD into the under-cabinet player, and set to cooking.

I have a beloved cookbook collection (they MUST have pictures...after all, how would someone know how the end result should look without a photo?). And, the cookbooks are used to plan out menus, both for our weekly repasts as well as for parties and holidays. We try to eat something new as often as possible. It's also not at all unusual for us to serve a completely new dish that we've never tried before to guests. So far, everyone's lived.


Yup, love to can (but not fruits and vegetables). I make chutneys or preserves. My all-time favorite is Victoria Sauce which is a rhubarb chutney; we use it on ham and pork, and also give it out (very parsimoniously) as gifts. I used to have a fabulous old canning set, but gave it to Goodwill in the midst of our moving-into-our-new-house frenzy. So, I now use a large stockpot. It does the same job, but without quite the same degree of convenience.


The handy counter height table and chairs we added to the "empty" side of the room make great homework and other writing or creative work space. My daughter will often do her homework here while I'm cooking.


For some reason, during holidays, EVERYONE ends up in the kitchen. I'm cooking away, usually handing out cooking tasks to others, and everyone mills about or sits at the table, chatting and sniffing the good scents. We're wondering if our recent living room remodel will entice everyone to move into that room or if they'll still stay in the kitchen?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Hilarious "Diary" About the Gym

Note: I did not write this! Someone emailed this funny story to me, and it made me laugh. And, I had just published the Elliptical Trainer Tips post, so this was especially timely. I tried to find an author's name somewhere, but didn't spot one...so, if you are the author, my apologies for not crediting you - please let me know.

Our business photographer happens to go to the same gym I do - Planet Fitness - and we recently commiserated about trying to build up our stamina as well as our muscles. Here's the funny email he sent to a group of us who are all painfully trying to get in shape...


Dear Diary,
For my birthday this year, my Husband (the dear) purchased a week of personal training at the local health club for me. Although I am still in great shape since being a high school football cheerleader 43 years ago, I decided it would be a good idea to go ahead and give it a try. I called the club and made my reservations with a personal trainer named Christo, who identified himself as a 26-year-old aerobics instructor and model for athletic clothing and swim wear. My husband seemed pleased with my enthusiasm to get started! The club encouraged me to keep a diary to chart my progress.

Started my day at 6:00 a.m. Tough to get out of bed, but found it was well worth it when I arrived at the health club to find Christo waiting for me. He is something of a Greek god - with blond hair, dancing eyes and a dazzling white smile. Woo Hoo!! Christo gave me a tour and showed me the machines. I enjoyed watching the skillful way in which he conducted his aerobics class after my workout today. Very inspiring! Christo was encouraging as I did my sit-ups, although my gut was already aching from holding it in the whole time he was around. This is going to be a FANTASTIC week-!!

I drank a whole pot of coffee, but I finally made it out the door. Christo made me lie on my back and push a heavy iron bar into the air then he put weights on it! My legs were a little wobbly on the treadmill, but I made the full mile. His rewarding smile made it all worthwhile. I feel GREAT-!! It's a whole new life for me.

The only way I can brush my teeth is by laying the toothbrush on the counter and moving my mouth back and forth over it. I believe I have a hernia in both pectorals. Driving was OK as long as I didn't try to steer or stop. I parked on top of a GEO in the club parking lot. Christo was impatient with me, insisting that my screams bothered other club members. His voice is a little too perky for that early in the morning and when he scolds, he gets this nasally whine that is VERY annoying. My chest hurt when I got on the treadmill, so Christo put me on the stair monster. Why the heck would anyone invent a machine to simulate an activity rendered obsolete by elevators? Christo told me it would help me get in shape and enjoy life. He said some other crap too.

Christo was waiting for me with his vampire-like teeth exposed as his thin, cruel lips were pulled back in a full snarl. I couldn't help being a half an hour late - it took me that long to tie my shoes. He took me to work out with dumbbells. When he was not looking, I ran and hid in the restroom. He sent some skinny broad to find me.Then, as punishment, he put me on the rowing machine -- which I sank.

I hate that crazy Christo more than any human being has ever hated any other human being in the history of the world. Stupid, skinny, anemic, anorexic little aerobic instructor. If there was a part of my body I could move without unbearable pain, I would beat him with it. Christo wanted me to work on my triceps. I don't have any triceps! And if you don't want dents in the floor, don't hand me the darn barbells or anything that weighs more than a sandwich.The treadmill flung me off and I landed on a health and nutrition teacher. Why couldn't it have been someone softer, like the drama coach or the choir director?

Satan left a message on my answering machine in his grating, shrilly voice wondering why I did not show up today. Just hearing his voice made me want to smash the machine with my planner; however, I lacked the strength to even use the TV remote and ended up catching eleven straight hours of the Weather Channel.

I'm having the Church van pick me up for services today so I can go and thank GOD that this week is over. I will also pray that next year my husband will choose a gift for me that is fun -- like a root canal or a hysterectomy. I still say if God had wanted me to bend over, he would have sprinkled the floor with diamonds!!!

Elliptical Trainer Tips

I've been trying to make the switch from the treadmill to an elliptical trainer (the machine with foot pedals and moving hand grips) because I understand that it provides a better lower body workout. However, on the treadmill, I can easily do 3 miles at a Level 15/Random, but could only do 5 minutes or less at Level 1/Random on the elliptical. So, I asked others for advice. They all looked at me like I was nuts when I said I could only manage 5 minutes.

Being a problem-solver, I decided to figure this thing out. I've managed to move up to 10 whole minutes, using these tips:

  1. Keep your feet near the front of the pedal, rather than the back. People who can do it will tell you to keep your feet toward the back, to achieve better results. Don't do it! The further back you put your feet, the further you have to reach for the hand grips and the more uncomfortable the workout. Save it for when you're a pro.
  2. Do use your heels to push the pedals down, rather than your toes. This will give you a better back-of-the-leg workout, and will save the front of your thighs from screaming after only a few minutes.
  3. Don't bother using headphones to watch one of the gym TV shows. First, since the headphone jack is powered by your workout, power stops if you stop or slow down too much. Once power stops, you have to turn the jack back on and re-select your channel, volume, etc. Second, you'll get into a much better groove if you listen to your own iPod or listen to the gym music - it helps you get into a nice stride that makes the workout feel less painful.
  4. Use your arms to power the hand grips back and forth, rather than letting your legs do all the work. This not only gives you an arm workout, but also lightens the burden on your legs.
  5. Keep your speed up to at least 2.5. If you go slower than this, it's really tough on your upper thighs. Slower is actually harder.
  6. Don't go backwards at first. People will tell you that this gives you better results. However, if you are unable to do it for more than 5 minutes, it's not much of a workout. Instead, stick with going forward until your muscles have become used to the movements.

Following these tips will hopefully help other newbies avoid the "jelly legs" that I was getting by doing all the wrong things myself!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Sanguine Sangria

We have a new favorite thank-God-it's-Friday-it's-been-one-helluva-week place...it's a Mexican restaurant called Xicohtencatl and is pronounced she-ko-ten-cat.

It's in Gt. Barrington, which is a bit of a drive for us, but a pleasant one, especially in spring when everything is fresh and green and the tourists have not yet descended.

The decor is bright and excitingly ethnic with lots of color everywhere, and the Mexican music in the background adds to the light and festive mood. The outside seating is delightful - either on the the porch or down on the stone patio. We sat inside when it was still chilly in March, but were thrilled to be able to sit out on the porch this time, watching the setting sun. The porch ceiling above our heads was painted fuschia and orange, while the walls and porch posts are bright yellow.

On both of our visits, I've ordered the red sangria. Let me tell you how it tastes. For anyone who's seen the movie "The Big Night," you'll recall that Italian restaurant owners Primo and Secondo decided to hold a final dinner party with their dearest friends, and made one of their mother's very special recipes. The guests sat around the table, quietly savoring the delectable food...the best they'd ever tasted. Finally, one of the guests, Pascal (a jealous competitor), solemnly arose, walked slowly around the table toward chef Primo, took Primo's face in his hands and said in a husky voice, "God damn it, I should kill you! This is so f***ing good I should kill you!"

Yeah, the sangria tastes like that.

Xicohtencatl Mexican Restaurants on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Baby Animals at Hancock Shaker Village

We've been to Hancock Shaker Village (HSV) many times...sometimes just to tour or show to friends who are visiting, and sometimes for a business meeting or special event. But, we've somehow never made it during Baby Animal time. So, today was the day to rectify this sad situation.

We couldn't believe how packed the parking lot was when we pulled in...we kept our eyes peeled for a car pulling out, and found a spot amidst many New York plates. The fantastic weather seemed to have brought everyone out in droves - 85 degrees under a beautiful blue and sunny Berkshire sky.

At the entrance, we met the very pleasant Laura Wolf, Director of Marketing, who helped us find our way to the Behind the Scenes tour in progress (my daughter brought along two of her friends).

I think this post will be different than some of my past ones, because we have 186 photos!!! So, I think I'll put lots of photos with some words, instead of the other way around. To get an expanded view of anything, just click on a photo.

Here, my daughter learns how to milk a real cow (as opposed to the fake one she "milked" when she was younger, in the Shaker Discovery Room)! The very funny and knowledgeable Bill Mangiardi skillfully oversees the whole operation...he named this cow Luna because she was born under a lunar eclipse. All the girls tried it, and even I was able to get the milk to squirt out. Imagine having the job of milking the cows before modern milk machines came about?

The girls have handfulls of a corn and molasses mixture that Bill gave them to feed to the sheep. Feeling little sheep lips nibbling against your palm is quite a sensation - pleasant, actually. And, not to worry - no teeth, no biting - just gentle nuzzling. These sheep had recently been shorn. You can see an adorable little lamb on the right - they don't eat the grain mixture yet...too little. We also got to hold a soft lamb...it was like holding a baby. (For all mom readers... afterwards, all hands were cleaned and sanitized with supplies handily provided by fellow tour guide Todd Burdick.)

The charming Rachel shows us Ash, the baby ox she has been raising and training (love her jaunty cap!). The calf is named Ash after the type of wood used frequently at HSV, and it's partner is named Stone, for the stone used in the round barn. The ox begins its training at birth, and the trainer herself feeds the calf from a bottle. The bond between the two must be quite close for a successful working relationship. If I remember correctly, Ash is about 500 lbs. here, but will grow to be about 2,500 lbs!

My daughter and her friends say Rachel is a schoolmate - quite impressive animal husbandry skills for one so young.

The girls hold the softest sweetest baby chick, while Bill is holding it's mother...a Peking Duck, which was also beautiful and very soft. The mom was a gorgeous downy yellow color with a long slick orange bill...right out of a Beatrix Potter book. The chick wasn't the least bit worried, and actually seemed to nod off to sleep in the girl's hands. A little bit later, we saw LOTS of adorable chicks in the Discovery Room incubator.

Peeking into one of the many sliding doors in the chicken house for eggs. Sadly, there were none in any of them at the moment. Bill told us that if we found one, we could reach in and take it home. He told us that they are quite tasty and have a much more yellow yolk than a store-bought egg.

Lots of little (and big) piggies! The girls actually held one of the
little oinkers, and we discovered that the hair on their bodies is quite bristly to the touch. The sows were covered with a pretty tannish color hair; they weigh about 250 pounds!

Tip: if you ever take part in a pig-catching contest, here is the key to winning...grab the pig by the hind leg. If you grab around the middle like most people do, the pig will wriggle out like a sausage, but if you grab the hind leg, it can't get away, yet it won't hurt it.

The girls help each other try on the Shaker girl outfits in the Discovery Room. It's nice that there are so many sizes available, so all ages can have a go at this. Love the pretty wooden hangers with string hooks, that hang on wooden pegs...just like the Shakers would have used. Their immediate impression was wondering how Shaker girls could work, or even live, in these clothes, because they were hot and the long sleeves were confining.

The girls thought that the Shaker boy clothes looked much more fun to wear, and liked trying on various tunics, vests and hat styles. They wondered if men wore pants under the knee-length tunics, as there weren't any pants in sight. The girls think they didn't. I think they probably did!

Todd teaches one of the girls to use the foot pedal on the hand lathe (Todd - my apologies if I'm giving this cool tool the wrong name!). It is a replica of a Shaker original...the user sits on the seat, puts the item to be shaped under the clamp, presses a foot pedal, and the item is clamped in tight. Then, a pretty hand planer (even the most mundande and utilitarian Shaker tool is pretty) is pulled across the item until it is the desired shape. Todd has worked at HSV for 25 years or more, and has lots of knowledge to share about the Shakers. We all agreed that if we lived here, we would hope that the woodworking house was our assigned task...it just smells so good, and has a cozy well-worn feel.

Naturally, every visit to HSV includes a tour of the famous round stone barn. No matter how many times you've seen it, it is always a marvel of clever design and simplistic beauty. It's round to make it easy for oxen to pull a hay cart in, someone unloads the hay into the aerated center, and the oxen then continue on around the perimeter and go out the door they came in. This avoids the difficult task of trying to get them to back up.

In the past, we've also toured the Brick Dwelling (where the Shakers cooked, dined, and slept) and other buildings in the village. Everything is beautiful and orderly...a Virgo's dream. All in all, a totally fabulous day - so Berkshire. And, the idyllic weather was just the icing on the cake. Thanks for a great tour, HSV staff!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

4,000 Questions - #11: Under the Bed

Here's the background info on the 4,000 Questions posts...

Question #11: What do you have under your bed right now?

All kinds of framed items! First, there is a VERY large painting...it doesn't "go" with my decor but I can't part with it...it was painted by my father when he was young and attending the Cleveland Institute of Art, and he gave it to my Grandmother as a gift. She hung it over the electric organ in her celery green living room (the same organ on which I taught myself to play simplified versions of Swan Lake and Dvorczak's New World Symphony), with a tall stylized red glass vase next to it.

Then there are about 6 other framed certificates and awards. When I was first changing careers, buying a house, and otherwise learning to make it on my own, I read a tip that suggested putting items in a personal room that offered positive reinforcement. So, I framed various certificates and awards and hung them in the family room. After having them up for many years, they took effect. I finally removed them several months ago...they just feel a bit pretentious to me now. I didn't know what else to do with them, so I just piled them under the bed, along with the painting.

What's under YOUR bed?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

iPod Songs: One Love

The story behind the song...

Every time "One Love" pops up on my iPod, I am immediately transported back to Washington, DC. Here's what I'm seeing in my mind:

It's the day before Obama's historic Inauguration, and we're walking along the National Mall, near the Smithsonian Castle. It's very chilly but intermittently sunny, and as we stroll, we're marveling at the endless rows of port-a-pottys. There are thousands of bundled up people around us, who have traveled here from all over America, and even from other countries.

We've just finished a delicious snack inside the warm and bustling Castle, after triumphantly finding our way to the Mall on the crowded Metro. After eating, we feel refreshed and begin scoping out where we hope we'll stand during the big event (we didn't end up standing there - see the Inauguration posts to find out why).

At regular intervals along the Mall, we see crazy big trucks with massive TV screens, which we hear others call "Jumbotrons." Next to each screen is a tall crane, dangling sets of 16 huge speakers all connected to each other.

On the Jumbotrons and speakers we see and hear the special event that had taken place at the Lincoln Memorial the day before...speeches, songs, etc. Soon, someone appeared on the screen (I learned later that it was an entertainer named will.i.am.) singing a Bob Marley song that went like this:
One love. One heart.
Let's get together and feel alright.

When this song began, people all around us started singing, and if they didn't know the words, they started dancing together. We hugged, and tried to learn the words. It was such a beautiful moment of group happiness...I can't remember another time in my life when I've been in a similar situation - thousands of people all happy at the exact same moment and sharing that feeling with everyone around them. I know it sounds corny, but the moment made me cry because it was so beautiful.

So, when "One Love" pops up on my iPod, back I go to Washington, with a smile of happiness on my lips. As my daughter and her friends say, "Good times."


LinkWithin Related Stories Widget for Blogs