Tuesday, May 31, 2011

15 Minutes To Live ...

I am participating in #Trust30, an online initiative and 30-day writing challenge that encourages people to look within and trust themselves. As the web site says, this is an opportunity to reflect on what's happening in my life now, and to create direction for my future. Each day for 30 days, a prompt will arrive from an inspiring thought-leader.

Today is Day 1. Today's prompt is from Gwen Bell.

15 Minutes to Live

"We are afraid of truth, afraid of fortune, afraid of death, and afraid of each other. Our age yields no great and perfect persons."
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

You just discovered you have fifteen minutes to live.

1. Set a timer for fifteen minutes.
2. Write the story that has to be written.


This is that story, my story, what I'd want to say.


Almost none of it matters.

I have 15 minutes left of my life and for those who will read this, I'd like you to know that almost none of it matters. I see that now.

The money. The power. The fame.

The lack of money. The lack of power. The absence of fame.

He who dies with the most toys does not win. He dies like all the rest of us.

With one possible difference: He may or may not die alone.

So what I know is this:

Love, truly, is all that matters.

The people whose lives you touch along the way.

The lives of the people that you enhance in some way, by a kind word or deed. An understanding nod. A selfless hug.

It is nice to have a life of comfort, I suppose. But it is more important to share that comfort with others.

Sharing is a form of love. All the good things are a form of love. And at the end of your life, you'll find a lot of comfort in looking back and seeing the reflection of all that goodness.

And if you look back and see things you wish you would not have done, there's still time to say you're sorry. You'll want to spare one of your precious seconds to say you're sorry.

And so to those I slighted along the way, I'm sorry. I'd like to say I did the best I could, but I probably didn't. But that doesn't really matter now. "I'm sorry" will have to suffice. That's all I have to give you. Well, that and my recipe for brownies if I had the time to type it out. But I don't think that I do.

Do you know that 15 minutes is a long time when you take the time to focus on it? That's another lesson: Focus. Don't waste your days. Have a conversation with a friend. Skip "Jerseylicious," for the love of God. Read a book. Think some thoughts. Jot some notes. Drink some wine. Nosh a nosh. Take a walk. Feel the sun. Smell the lilacs. Write a letter. Mail the letter. Hold a baby. Shush a baby. Notice your breath. Sing a song. Fall in love.

Really fall in love.

Time is getting short now. I feel no need to recount what I did with my life. I don't wish to be remembered for the things I wrote and the like. I wish to be remembered for the friend I was, the daughter I was, the aunt I was. Am. And will continue to be. I believe that our souls are on a long, long journey. This was simply one of the stops. I met people I needed to meet, I learned lessons I needed to learn, and one day, I'll be back, in another body with another name, and I'll meet and learn all over again, gathering knowledge, becoming more complete. And one day, when I'm as authentic as I can be, it will be my job to help others along their ways.

Though I hope I've been helping all along.

You've all helped me. I know that. And for that, all there is to say is ...

I love you.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Visitors ...

Just for kicks, I checked the Audience stats for my blogs. For the period of April 29, 2011 – May 28, 2011, I've had views from these top 10 countries. I'm amused to see Iran on both lists. You'd think Ahmadinejad would have better things to do.

Finding My Voice
1. United States
2. Germany
3. Canada
4. Iran
5. China
6. United Kingdom
7. France
8. Brazil
9. Netherlands
10. Slovenia

The Cookie Queen's English
1. United States
2. United Kingdom
3. Germany
4. Russia
5. India
6. Kuwait
7. Canada
8. Iran
9. China
10. Finland

Old Timer ...


I have an old timer.

Not a man who's gotten on in years and sits around grousing about how things aren't what they used to be.

But, literally, an old timer. A timer that is old.

I've started using it recently. Usually, when I bake or cook, I use the timer on my microwave. Once, while on the phone with Jay, I entered the wrong time and had to try again. He heard the series of beeps and said, if memory serves, "What are you doing? Launching the space shuttle?"

It was rather ridiculous, all that beeping when turning a simple dial will do.

I've come to be very fond of this timer. I like old things. They're usually more interesting than new things. I have a timer that looks like a red bell pepper. It's cute, but it lacks heft. And it has an anemic ring. This timer, though. This thing must have been made with parts left over from machining tanks during World War II. And even though I have a sense of about when it will ring, it still startles me a little every time.

DING!

It's very decisive, very matter-of-fact.

The timer on my microwave coddles, chirping every minute until I hit End.

Not this timer. This timer dings and that's it. If anything overbakes, that's my damn problem. It did its job.

Which suits it and the woman who owned it. One of my great aunts left everything in her kitchen to me when she died (we won't talk about the Cuisinart) and she was a very no-nonsense woman. She would never have owned a timer shaped like a red bell pepper. She was not a fan of "cute," not in the kitchen.

But she made the best damn pound cake on the planet. To this day, we haven't cracked the code, my mom and me. And mom is one hell of a baker in her own right.

Maybe she needs to borrow this timer.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Snickerdoodles, Revisited ...


Ah, Snickerdoodles, the cookie that spurred the thought, "I should start a baking blog!"

Regular readers will know that I'm reshooting the cookies I featured when I started to photograph my holiday baking. I didn't have a digital camera then. I have a digital camera now. Just a point-and-shoot camera, not one of those fancy behemoths that make me think that the owners should be wearing flak jackets and press credentials.

Anyhoo, if you like cinnamon – and I can't imagine why you wouldn't (Ahem. Karl.) – whip up a batch of these babies. They're super simple and super delicious.

Snickerdoodles
(From Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book, Published by General Mills, 1963)

1 C. shortening (part butter or margarine; I use a half-cup of shortening and a stick of butter)
1 1/2 C. granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 3/4 C. flour
2 t. cream of tartar
1 t. soda
1/4 t. salt
3 T. sugar
3 t. cinnamon

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix shortening, 1 1/2 C. sugar and eggs. Measure flour by dipping method*. Blend flour, cream of tartar, soda and salt. Blend into shortening mixture. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in combined 3 T. sugar and 3 t. cinnamon. Place 2 inches apart on baking sheets. Bake 8 to 10 minutes.

* Dipping method: Slightly fluff up flour with a spoon or measuring cup. Dip measuring cup into flour and overfill. Level off measuring cup.

And just for kicks, this is the post that featured the original image. Christmas was very near.

Monday, May 23, 2011

So Much Depends On A Red Ripe Tomato ...

The best thing I ate today was a half a slice of tomato.

My mom heard about a gyros place, and as she and I are on a constant quest for a worthwhile gyros, we went.

We were surprised to find that the home of the gyros was not a usual diner-type joint. It was a little Greek grocery with a couple of tables inside.

Uh oh. I can do a lot of damage in a little Greek grocery.

We ordered one gyros, to split. One, because if it's a crappy gyros (oh yes, there is such a thing), we'd rather not be wasteful, and 2) because if it's a tasty gyros, made well with enough meat, half is enough.

And we ordered some lemon rice soup, because Mom loves lemon rice soup and it's always best to know where it's good and where it's not.

We peered into the refrigerator cases before we sat down.

Oh dear. Jars of tarama. Better yet, jars of taramasalata. Yes, I should buy tarama and make taramasalata at home, but like that's going to happen sometime soon? And will I make enough to use an entire jar? Probably not. But in a pinch, I can get my taramasalata fix. (The little Greek grocery sells Greek bread, too.)

We sat down and tried the soup. It was worthy. Not the best, but worthy. I had a couple of spoonfuls and Mom finished the rest. I looked around while she ate.

"They have buckets of feta cheese," I said. Buckets. And shrink-wrapped hunks of kasseri, too. "We can make our own saganaki," I said. "We can flour it and fry it and douse it with brandy and set it on fire."

"And set my house on fire, too," Mom said. Well, yeah. There's that. The danger of an 8-foot ceiling.

The gyros arrived, not wrapped in paper and foil but piled on a pita on a plate, a mountain of meat and sliced onion topped with a generous dollop of tzatziki, a sprinkling of chopped, flat-leaf parsley (nice touch), and the most perfect, gorgeously red, thick slice of tomato.

I cut the whole shebang in half and attempted to fold mine into something I could eat. I ended up with a mouthful of tomato. The most outstanding tomato I've had in the month of May. If this were August, I wouldn't have been so amazed, but May? Tomato perfection in May?

It made my day, that slice of tomato. It made my day. And today was a pretty damn good day on a lot of levels. but even now, I'm happy, thinking about that tomato.

Both because the tomato was tasty but also because of what the tomato represents. The man who made that sandwich cares about what he does. I have seen too many hard, tasteless, mealy, anemically pink tomato wedges in my day. And as someone who likes to cook and who cares about the food she offers to others, I cannot understand why anyone would serve something so useless. Because a hard, tasteless, mealy, anemically pink wedge of tomato says to me, "I don't care about your enjoyment of this meal. I know this is inedible. It borders on offensive. But I'm going to serve it to you anyway."

Yes, that's a lot of meaning in a wedge of tomato, I know, but food is love, people. Well, some food is love.

The perfect, gorgeously red, thick slice of tomato was love. I appreciated that the man who greeted us when we walked into the store cares, that he takes pride in what he serves, even something as humble as a gyros sandwich.

We poked around the store after we were finished. I saw Kalamata olives the size of Key limes. And olive oil in bottles and cans. And coffee. And peppers of all kinds. And a jar of something that looked delicious with hazelnuts on the label. I should have bought one of those.

The cases along the wall featured vats of massive hunks of feta (the buckets were the grab-and-go variety; for those who need buckets of feta but quick) and an array of meats (pancetta; good to know) and a worrisomely large case of cookies of all kinds and pans of baklava. I adore baklava. But I resisted.

Though mom did buy some bacon, just to try it. (Our primary source is a five-hour drive away. Yes, we travel for bacon. And ham.) And I pointed out a wee box of cookies to her that hearkened back to little marshmallow cookies she had as a kid. So she had to buy those, too.

We've decided to go there weekly for lunch. We'll see if that pans out. But on our next adventure, I've already decided that I'm having octopus salad and spinach pie.

The only thing missing will be a glass of Roditis. I wonder if it's BYOB.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Voiceovers ...

Once upon a time, when I had much shorter hair, I recorded a couple of demos ... .

And my producer (the incomparable Kate McClanaghan at Sound Advice) insisted that I get a headshot. Yes, I know it seems odd to have a headshot to do voice work, but her reasoning was that as long as we voiceover folk were going to be repped by agents, we may as well have headshots just in case a casting director decided we'd be perfect for a walk-on role or some such. Chicago's a big film town. One never knows, right? (Trivia: My hair was red when that shot was taken. A Burgundy-like red. That was a fun color experiment.)


This is my Commercial demo:

And this is the link to my Commercial demo.


And this is my Corporate demo:

And this is the link to my Corporate demo.

'A Place That's Known' ...

I am not a poet.

In my lone poetry class in college, I earned a B. A pity B, I'm sure. Or maybe we all received Bs. My poetry professor didn't seem like the motivated sort. Perhaps he gave everyone a B and beelined for a bar.

However, I took a literature class taught by a poet. A professor who wrote poetry but who did not, to my knowledge, teach poetry, at least not to we underlings that I remember, which is just as well because while I wasn't really bothered to submit poetry to the man who taught my poetry class, I would have been nearly paralyzed by the notion of having to submit poetry to Michael. Because Michael, or Professor Anania as he should be called, is, poetically, a genius.

But the brilliance of his work, I have long maintained in those rare moments in which I am discussing poetry and poets, is two-fold: His words are beautiful, yes, but he has the most amazing voice. And so I've always thought of Michael's poems in terms of being both read and heard, but only if heard by him. The voice in your head, however a lovely a voice it may be, cannot do them justice.

Happily, others agree. In Natural Light is a small volume of his work, about the size of a jewel case, which contains a CD of him reading his poems. (My brain is convinced that I have written about this before, though where, I do not know. I can find no evidence of it in my archives, but even if I have, it is worth repeating.)

And so I took the liberty of uploading the audio of the first poem as well as keying it in, so you can both listen and read and experience Michael's poetry in the best possible way. There is something about this particular poem that I love, something that I cannot name, the elusive quality unique to us all, the reason some like some things and others like others, the stirring that art creates inside.

Thank you, professor. I hope you're well.


(If the embedded player, above, doesn't render in your browser, the direct URL for the mp3 is here.)


A Place That's Known

Out on the front step fifty years ago,
my mother beside the four o'clocks
smoking her last Chesterfield of the night,
locusts strumming, radio dramas and anger
practiced through open windows, the Plaza
beginning just where her anklets crossed,
American elms opening a span of western sky.

Sky outside her hospital window
spring-gray and full of the plains, droplets
sigh against the glass: wind out of Norfolk
and Kearney, brimming their emptiness.
We are silent now watching the thin,
transparent oxygen tube rise and fall
at the vein where it crosses her neck.

One and one and one, not a sequence
but something failing to start, ending.
Her hands seem longer than I had thought,
the still curve from wrist bone to fingertip,
fingernail ridges the same as my own;
my hand, my fingers begin and end in hers.
Slipping away, they say, one breath, no others.

I remember singing, a dance spun
across the linoleum's worn flowers,
her hair pressed into his chest, the Zenith's
pale dial, words of the song that stopped
the dancing, everyone staring into
the music, Seven-up blushed with port, war:
"I'd like to leave it all behind and go and find . . ."

somewhere in the West, in a space of green
edged with gold and sky blue, something the Plaza
might have given way to if we listened hard and held tight,
like the night his face appeared at the back window,
hitchhiked from Kearney, rail thin and cold,
and she sighed and scolded and leaned against him.
"What hospital?" he said, wishing it away.

That night we huddled into our wishes,
as later into relics and stories, evenings
full of the past, the green strong box opened,
bits of his life and hers spread out over
white chenille, each object held and named:
rosary, scapular, catechism, gun,
rewrapped in cloth or paper and locked away.

"Your father," "your grandmother," "my dad"
she said into the broken night, sirens edging
toward us, the fight across the way spilt
down the steps onto the Plaza's hopscotch,
knife flash or skillet lid, a razor's band
of blue darkness moving across soft skin
as smoothly as sweat, blood quick as a tear.

Summer night, poverty's continual rage,
voices, hands, fists rising and falling,
accusations and recriminations
breaking through windows, out of doors.
"Your father," she said, "your grandmother,"
the boat, the island, the train, the long dusty
tilt of the world, how they sang and danced.

One voice, all those years, against the clamor,
stories and names against blood-soaked hand towels,
against heels pounding down the walk, screams,
drowned children, scaldings, flesh drawn up and pink,
stretcher after stretcher, "cover their eyes,"
their faces, so many stomachs clutched in pain.
"Your father," she said, "my mother" and "sleep."

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Recession Is Over ...

The recession is over! (Just in time for the Rapture.)

How do I know this? Have I consulted leading economists? Have I monitored leading financial indicators? Have I polled a healthy sampling of the American public to gauge their hopefulness about the future and our economic recovery?

I have not. I have, instead, turned to a much more trustworthy, stalwart source: the "baby & child" catalog from Restoration Hardware.

But not only does the catalog provide proof that the recession is over, it also contains at least one of the most important developments in modern history. "The best idea since the Wright Brothers," the back cover proclaims. "Introducing unlimited furniture delivery starting at $95."

Oh, ho, you thought that polio vaccine was something to crow about? Wrong!

I presume that the copywriter was going for "The best idea since the Wright Brothers'," implying that unlimited furniture delivery starting at $95 is the best idea since the Wright Brothers' idea for how man could take to the skies. I presume that the copywriter was not implying that unlimited furniture delivery starting at $95 is not the best idea since Mother and Father Wright had the idea to have children. See what confusion a missing apostrophe can wreak? Respect the apostrophe, people!

But I digress. I was detailing my findings on the end of the recession.

But first, a side note: In the rosy economic future, all interiors will appear as though they were photographed on a rainy day. Every room will have a subdued quality about it that telegraphs that the contents of it are Very Expensive. And most importantly, the furnishings will clearly convey to all who see them that the parents of the children who inhabit those rooms must spend an exorbitant amount of money on upholstery-cleaning services.


Let us begin with the Mini French Wing Chair. As the name indicates, this chair is not for you. This is not a chair in which you and your child will cuddle and read a bedtime story. Don't be absurd. This chair is for your child. The one who better have just scrubbed for surgery, because this baby only comes in natural linen upholstery and nothing ruins the look of natural linen like a smudge of grape jelly. So fork over $429, because your child cannot possibly sit on his or her bed, and your child surely cannot sit on the floor. If your child is not sitting in a chair with "[h]and-hammered exposed brads" that "reflect its artisan tailoring," you can't really call yourself a parent, now, can you?

Answer: No.

What's that? You're not the Mini French Wing Chair type? Are you telling me that in an effort to appear more common?


Perhaps you think the Mini Professor's Chair is more pedestrian, less ostentatious? Well, it is "[c]overed in flour-sack hemp upholstery with the chunky weave of vintage French granary bags." Upholstery in the style of French flour sacks. A reasonable compromise. And hemp. How very now. But you'll pay for your bourgeoisie ways. The Mini Professor's Chair is $499.


Of course, every child needs a bed, and of course any bed worthy of slumber has a headboard. Perhaps this French Wing Headboard. But wait. This isn't paired with the Mini French Wing Chair, is it? It is?! My God, stop reading this long enough to fire your decorator! Your child cannot have matching furniture. Coordinated? Yes. Matching? No. Where the hell do you think you're shopping? Wickes? There's a reason Wickes went out of business. Please try to keep up. Of course, you're teaching your child some measure of humility, so you only allow their tiny body to slumber in a twin-size bed, right? Smart move. The twin-size headboard is only $699. The full-size headboard your haughty neighbor bought for their kid, who will grow up to trash hotel rooms, is $799. Go ahead and feel smug.


In keeping with the linen theme and the monochromatic future of economic prosperity, these Linen-Cotton Drapery panels are a bargain at $119 each for the standard 84-inch length. Sure, you could save $10 per and only shell out $109 each for the 63-inch panels, but why would you want your child to grow up feeling inferior? (Confidential to those of you who live in real magnificent homes, not those new-construction, stone-veneered wannabes that only require 84-inch panels in their standard-ceilinged rooms: Worry not; 96-inch panels are available for you. But only if you use your American Express Black cards.)

So hop to it, people. Don't let your children spend another night on Buzz Lightyear sheets in headboardless beds. Leading economic indicators are counting on you.

(Thanks to Doreen for passing along the catalogy wonderment.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Interactive Résumé ...

Funny thing about humility: It's not the most desirable trait to put forth when looking for a job.

Not talking about oneself for fear of seeming boastful? Some other time, kid. Not now.

One day last week, I applied for a job for which I thought I was qualified and well-suited. The following day, I received a boilerplate "After careful consideration, we regret to inform you ..." reply. It was nice of someone to reply, but I don't think there was a whole lot of careful consideration; in my book, careful consideration would have involved several staffers under the tiresome glow of florescent lights, all night long, in a conference room, their sleeves rolled up, their hair mussed from so much head clutching, the table strewn with grease-soaked pizza boxes littered with discarded crusts and congealed, plastic-seeming bits of cheese.

My resumé, by virtue of being static, can't convey all that I have to offer. But here, here I can create an interactive experience. Granted, prospective employers may never click on the link I supply to this post, but it will be out there, in the world, an opus of 1s and 0s, a beacon of awesomeness, and people everywhere will be drawn to it, drawn by its burning intensity of fabulousness. It will become a symbol of hope for all mankind. And I shall wake one day to find pilgrims from around the globe camped out on my lawn and in the street and throughout my neighborhood, city, and state, all waiting, waiting for me to step out onto my front stoop, coffee in hand, to share with them my awesome creativity.

Or it might help me to land a job. Either outcome is fine with me.


❑ To lay the groundwork, allow me to share with those who may not know it, the story of the day I interviewed Kurt Vonnegut at his home in Sagaponak, New York. I was writing a paper about Nelson Algren. For a college class. I was 19. Yes, it's a well-known tale to some, but it's an unknown tale to others, and if I can reap mileage out of it in this situation, I'll reap. (For those who may be so inclined, they can read the back story of the adventure here.)

❑ While in college, I spent a couple of summers holding down the fort of Jeff Zaslow's office at the Chicago Sun-Times. I was 17 when I met Jeff. We're still friends. [Even now that he's gone, I think of him that way.] I form lasting relationships. Both my personal and professional networks are vast and varied, and they often overlap.

❑ Also while in college, I interned at Chicago magazine. It wasn't a paid position, but one day, a check arrived in my mailbox, my first-ever payment for something word-related. (I Xeroxed it. I still have it.) I called my editor, confused as to why he had paid me. He told me I deserved it. Also, it was at Chicago that I came to understand that brownies are one of the keys to forming the aforementioned lasting relationships. People appreciate small gestures. Especially if those small gestures involve chocolate.

❑ After college, in a less-than-perfect job market, I landed a part-time gig at the Chicago Tribune. In Sports. Those who knew me asked, skeptically, "Beth, do you know anything about sports?"

"There are three periods in hockey and four quarters in football," I replied. "I'll figure out the rest as I go."

My plan was to stay at the paper for six months, maybe a year. I figured I could round out my resumé with another name-brand publication and wait for the job market to strengthen.

I stayed nearly five years. So much for plans.

I did OK in Sports – I could code a box score with the best of 'em – and then moved on to the News desk where I acquired the enviable title of "Dumper." Thankfully, my editor, Randy Weissman, indulged my curiosities and presented me with opportunities as they came along. One such opportunity led to a full-time job in Features, where I wrote my first article for the paper, for which I interviewed Bill Kurtis. At the end of our phone conversation, he said, in that legendary voice, "Well, Beth, you'll have to come by sometime and see what we do here."

So I did. I was 25 when I met Bill. We're still friends. In terms of baked goods, however, he prefers oatmeal raisin cookies.

❑ I left the Tribune to take a job with the now-former Thomson Newspapers. Thomson exists. Thomson Newspapers does not. But while there, I had the great good fortune to work with some truly exceptional people, including Paul Camp, who remains my best boss to date. Myself not included.

❑ More recently, I had the privilege of lending an editorial hand to The Last Lecture, the missive that Carnegie Mellon University professor Randy Pausch left for his children that he was kind enough to share with the world. Jeff Zaslow was Randy's co-author, you'll remember, and I was one of Jeff's editors, though Jeff was such a talented writer, there was not a lot for me to do. But if you pick up a copy of The Last Lecture and notice that Thin Mints is capitalized, that's my doing. Editing. It's a glamorous life.

❑ Also, I interviewed Melissa Etheridge for my first-ever celebrity profile. We kept chatting past my allotted time and she invited me to come backstage during her then-upcoming tour to say hello. As luck would have it, her Chicago date was right smack dab in the middle of the Chicago Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure (in which I walk every year), but her publicist kindly arranged for me to meet her in Milwaukee a few nights later.

So I did. Unlike with Jeff and Bill, Melissa and I have not become friends. But I was thrilled to see her perform that night. She's an extraordinary artist.

❑ And I bake. And write about what I bake. And photograph what I bake. One of my recipes was featured in Fine Cooking and is now part of this cookbook. And in January, I began contributing monthly posts to angelo:HOME, the lifestyle blog of designer Angelo Surmelis, who, like others, has become a friend. Our baking adventure began with a shortbread necklace which inspired January's entry, and I've since created February's, March's, April's, May's, June's, July's, August's, September's, October's, November's, and December's.

And for 2012, January's, February's, March's, April's, May's, June's, July's, August's, September's, October's, November's, and December's.

And for 2013, January's, February's, March's, April's, May's, June's, July's, August's, September's, October's, November's, and December's.

And for 2014, I'm posting every now and again.

❑ And for those who like images of food – and who doesn't? – I created a Flickr page.

❑ And then I spent some quality time with iWeb and started noodling around with a web site.

And my resumé contains other conversation-worthy tidbits. We have to have something fresh to talk about in person, right?

And I didn't even mention that I have two voiceover demos and that I sing jazz. Until now.

I have two voiceover demos and I sing jazz.

❑ Since creating this post, I've completed the shift to working for myself (yep, this bullet point is an update), and am pleased to work with a great slate of clients on word projects of all stripes.

❑ One of those clients is the estimable Michele Woodward. I am delighted to be a part of her team and help her clients and others create great resumes, write more creatively, and get book projects off their starting blocks.

My name's Beth and I'm a creative.

What can I create for you?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

From Whence, Emotions? ...

The next stop on the journey is this.

At press parties out west, back in the day, L.A. Dave had occasions to interview Hugh Laurie. Dave knew I was a fan and would call me after the FOX events to report, "Hugh Laurie says 'Hi.' " That was one of the memories of Dave that I wrote about, here, the day I learned of his death. His family asked if they could use that post as a eulogy, and so, on the day of Dave's memorial service, a church full of family and friends and parish-goers learned of our little exchange.

Hugh Laurie, when it comes to Dave, therefore, is more than a bit of a trigger.

And last night, after watching a particularly intense episode of "House," I found myself crying, a few tears that gave way to body-wracking sobs as I apologized to my friend.

I've felt guilty since his death for not taking more seriously one of the symptoms he had been describing. But it was so benign, I never thought it signaled anything grave. Back pain? Who doesn't suffer back pain every now and then?

Dave, that's who. He had never complained of it in all the years I had known him. Until he did.

Would he have gone to the doctor if I had urged him to? Not likely.

Is the guilt founded? Maybe not.

But I've felt it. It's been very real.

And last night, sitting in the dark, spent, I wondered where I'd been storing all that emotion. Where do grief and guilt reside? In our heads? In our hearts? In every cell? Where had it been lurking for two and a half years? And now, expressed, where has it gone?

Did it vanish into thin air? Is it still here? Is all the emotion ever expressed stored as energy elsewhere, the way carbon emissions are trapped by the atmosphere? Does it continue to swirl around us? If not, where does it go?

Whatever the answers, I'm very grateful to have felt it, to have released it, though those moments of intense emotion seem not to be a function of the conscious mind but rather seem to have a mind of their own. As though they reach some critical mass that spills over from someplace that's hidden into someplace where there's nowhere to hide.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Roasted Vidalia Onion Soup ...


Today is made for soup.

Because it is grey. And because it is rainy. And because it is blustery. And because it is, in comparison to the week's earlier 90-degree temperatures, cold. And because I had a crisper drawer covered in individually paper-towel-wrapped Vidalia onions. And what does one do with that many Vidalia onions on a grey, rainy, blustery, cold day?

One finds a recipe for soup.

And since I love roasted onions and since I had everything on hand, I opted for Roasted Vidalia Onion Soup, as the title of this post telegraphs so cleverly.

I had a more romantic notion of making soup today, me and my Santoku knife, slicing and dicing. My Le Creuset on the stove, full of soup, simmering away.

Instead, this recipe happens entirely in the oven until the finished soup cools a bit and is pureed. I used my blender. You can use a food processor. I have both. But the blender is easier to clean.

This soup is lovely, sweetly oniony from the onions that are sweet to begin with and get sweeter as they cook down in the oven. I used olive oil instead of vegetable oil, because that's what I keep on hand. And I used dried thyme instead of fresh. And I used chicken base instead of canned broth. Oh, and I used far more than 1 teaspoon of garlic, because using one teaspoon of garlic is like using no garlic at all. And I roasted the onions for far longer than the 50 minutes suggested in the recipe. Perhaps the chef intended cooks to cut the onions into thinner wedges. Or perhaps 50 minutes is all it takes in a commercial oven pumping out many BTUs. So I let them go longer, which was fine. It's not like I was yearning to be outside.

And I'm very happy with the end result.

If ever a soup called out for a garnish, this one would be that soup. And I think a handful of croutons at the last minute would be a nice textural contrast to the meltingly sweet onions and supple quality of the olive oil. But I don't keep croutons on hand. So I opened the fridge and my eyes fell on the hunk of Parmesan and I thought to myself, "Is there ever such a thing as too much Parmesan? No, there is not," as I used a vegetable peeler to create a pile of curls.

And, of course, Parmesan is a lovely addition to this soup. Because Parmesan is a lovely addition to everything.

So if you find yourself with more Vidalia onions than you can possibly ever know what to do with, try this. The prep is minimal, the effort is minimal, and the result is worth it, exponentially.

By the by, I didn't make the cream version because I didn't have cream in the house. And frankly, even if I did, having tried the non-cream version, I wouldn't bother. This is pleasantly rich as it is, especially if you add a bit of Parmesan cheese. I think cream would make it too rich. But that's just me.


Roasted Vidalia Onion Soup
by Banquet Chef Karl Krebs of The Ritz Carlton, Buckhead, in Atlanta.

Roasting gives Vidalias an even richer flavor in this onion soup.

3 large (about 3 pounds) Vidalia Onions, peeled and cut in wedges (13 cups)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 cans (13-3/4 ounces each) ready-to-serve chicken broth
1 tablespoon fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, crushed
1 bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
2 tablespoons chopped chives

Preheat oven to 425F. Place a 13 × 9 × 2-inch baking pan in oven for 5 minutes. Add Vidalia Onions; sprinkle with oil, stirring to coat. Bake uncovered, until Vidalia Onions are very tender and golden, stirring twice, about 50 minutes. Stir in garlic; bake until garlic softens slightly, about 2 minutes. Add chicken broth, thyme, bay leaf and red pepper; stir to combine. Cover tightly with foil; bake 20 minutes to blend flavors. Remove foil and bay leaf; cool slightly. Place half in the bowl of a food processor or in a container of an electric blender; process until onions are coarsely pureed; repeat with remaining mixture. Serve hot, garnished with chives.

Variation
Cream of Roasted Vidalia Onion Soup: Just before serving, stir 1/3 cup warm heavy cream into the pureed soup.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Oatmeal Cookies, Revisited ...


Funny story: When I created The Cookie Queen's English to document that holiday season's baking, I didn't own a digital camera. All the images that accompany those posts were taken with ... the camera built into my laptop.

Yes, taking pictures with a laptop is not the best approach to photography. I had to contort myself into some rather odd positions to both frame the image and be able to look on the screen to see what I was about to photograph. You can laugh at the idea of it. Like I said, it's a funny story.

Now, though, I own a digital camera, just a little point-and-shoot number, nothing fancy. And I enjoy creating the photographs for my baking posts on angelo:HOME. So I've decided to revisit some of the cookies from my initial cookie-blogging season and create some better images.

Mind you, I liked the composition of the shots I did then, and in some cases, I may just recreate the images. But I try to think of the essence of each cookie and style it accordingly. And oatmeal cookies are simple and homey and rustic, so today, their stage was an old cooling rack that belonged to one of my great aunts who loved to bake.

Turns out, oatmeal cookies, for all their simple, homey, rustic-y goodness, are hard to photograph, because they're basically just golden-brown lumps. Not a lot of artistry to an oatmeal cookie. But oh-so-delicious.

As for the recipe, this is the version that used to come under the lid of the Quaker oats box. The recipe has since been altered to cut down on brown sugar. Why would anyone want to do that? I recommend sticking with this version.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
(Quaker Oats Co. recipe)

1 C. butter or margarine, softened
1 C. firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 C. granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
1 1/2 C. all-purpose flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. salt (optional)
3 C. Quaker Oats (uncooked)
1 C. raisins
(I add chopped toasted walnuts, too.)

Heat oven to 350. Beat together butter and sugars until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. Add combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt; mix well. Stir in oats and raisins; mix well. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool one minute on cookie sheet; remove to wire rack.

And just for nostalgia's sake, this is the image that accompanied the original post. And considering that it was taken with a laptop computer, it's a decent shot. I like the composition, but cookies in a muffin tin end up looking a bit like, well, muffins.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Makes Beth Happy, May 13 ...

The Makes-Beth-Happy Word of the Day is:

Curd!


The Makes-Beth-Happy Recipe of the Day is:

Rhubarb Curd Shortbread

I'm not a fan of rhubarb, but I am a fan of curd and I am in love with that color.


And the Makes-Beth-Happy Objet of the Day is:

Chikos the Hen

Chikos! Can you stand it?! Cute, cute, cute little chicken, and clever copy on the site, to boot. Once again, Doreen gets the chicken credit for the chicken tip and her chicken restraint in not making a chicken purchase for her chicken-loving friend.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Closure ...

Oh, the emotions, swirling about.

Impossibly, it's been more than two years since L.A. Dave died.

And while the immediate ensuing hours and days were the most difficult, there has been a sense of disbelief ever since.

Perhaps that's the case for all of us when someone dies suddenly. Death is hard and sad, but sometimes, there's a logic to it. Some may be of an advanced age, some may be young but ill. Whatever the case, there's a sense of knowing, a time to prepare, to steel oneself, somehow.

But when it's sudden, there's a sense of incompleteness. Something so meaningful should end with a goodbye.

I didn't have the chance to say goodbye to Dave.

But last night, I had a dream about him. He was tucked into a booth in a restaurant that seemed cozy. And he was excited because an umpire had called out his name at a baseball game. And even though I knew that he was trying to travel light, I gave him a satchel filled with things I thought he should have, and the one thing that he pulled out to admire, in true Dave fashion, was a package, that I'd made for him, of cookies. Chocolate chip.

And he scooted his way to the end of the booth and stood up and hugged me. And I put my head on his shoulder. And I knew that I was seeing him for the last time.

This morning, I realized that that was my subconscious's way of saying goodbye.

Not that I won't continue to think of him. Not that "Hi, Beth, it's Dave!" won't still ring through my head from time to time, the way he announced himself on every call.

But I feel a sense of closure, a sense of hope. As though I've been stuck in Neutral since that February afternoon, and now part of my life has shifted back into gear. At long last.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Your Input, Please ...


So, say you're walking through a farmers' market, coffee in hand, on a lovely early-summer morning. The sun is low, there's a bit of a breeze, you've just bought the most gorgeous tomatoes and a wildflower bouquet.

And you happen upon a booth, manned by a comely woman, and she's selling cookies, packaged adorably, tied up in cellophane with a ribbon and a handwritten tag.

What would you pay for a dozen? Or, if a dozen is too many for you, how many would you like to buy, and for how much? A package of six? A package of three?

What say you?

Editor Beth Says ...

I know that not everyone cares about language the way that I care about language. I know that not everyone obsesses about spelling and grammar and punctuation the way that I obsess about spelling and grammar and punctuation. Still, there are some basic rules that folks should know. And this morning, a few of them are swirling around in my spelling-, grammar-, and punctuation-obsessed brain, so I'm jotting them down for the benefit of all mankind. (Yes, that was meant to be grandiosely silly. And yes, "grandiosely" is a word. And yes, I know it looks weird. Words often do.)

1. Words That Are Really Two Words

Hitting the space bar on your keyboard doesn't cost a thing. Use it, please, in these instances:

- Alot = a lot

- Alright = all right

- Nevermind = never mind

2. One Space After A Period

While hitting the space bar on your keyboard doesn't cost a thing, you need only hit it once after a period. The use of two spaces after a period – space space – was a function of the days of manual typewriters when the space between characters could be inconsistent. Two spaces after a period clearly defined one sentence from the next. But now, in the spiffy age of electronic documents, one space is all that's necessary.

3. Respect The Apostrophe

I know this one is tricky for a lot of people, but it is the punctuation equivalent of nails on a chalkboard to writerly folks.

A few things to keep in mind:

- Apostrophes do not create plurals, they create possessives

Adding " 's" to a word does not make it plural. Adding "s" to a word makes it plural. Adding "es" to other words makes them plural. The plural of "taxi," for instance, is "taxis," not "taxi's."

"Taxi's" is the possessive of "taxi": "The taxi's seat was sticky. Ew."

Which brings us to ...

- The placement of an apostrophe matters

Let's use Mothers' Day as one example. Let's use Presidents' Day as another.

Mother's Day denotes a day about a mother, while Mothers' Day denotes a day about multiple mothers or, in the case of the holiday, all mothers.

Likewise, President's Day denotes a day devoted to honoring a single president, while Presidents' Day denotes a day devoted to honoring multiple presidents (Washington and Lincoln) or all presidents, if you're feeling magnanimous.

Note, however, that in the sentence "Let's use Mother's Day as one example," "Let's" is not the possessive of "Let," it's a contraction of "Let us."

Isn't English fun?!

Monday, May 09, 2011

Makes Beth Happy, May 9 ...

The Makes-Beth-Happy Word of the Day is:

Billow!


The Makes-Beth-Happy Recipe of the Day is:

Lemon Cheesecake Squares


And the Makes-Beth-Happy Objet of the Day is:

Egg Cups with Duck Feet

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Mothers' Day ...

Earlier, I was trying to remember my first memory of my mother.

I tried to remember by age. Did I remember anything about her from when I was 3? Nothing sprang to mind. Instead, my brain decided to remember the trip we took to Disneyland when I was 4.

I remembered my mom wearing oh-so-hip white sunglasses. And the very rare pair of shorts in public. And I remembered the little sunsuit that she had made for me, a sporty number in red, white, and blue. A blocky pattern featuring various red and blue elephants.

Yes, elephants. Red and blue elephants. Worn by her daughter. Who would grow up to be a flaming liberal.

I find that amusing.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Good Times, May Edition ...



The May cookie installment for the angelo:HOME blog features dark-chocolate biscotti studded with chopped dark-chocolate-covered espresso beans and sandy French sablés, the most perfect of all butter cookies.

But why two cookies, you ask? You'll have to read the post.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Makes Beth Happy, May 4 ...

The Makes-Beth-Happy Word of the Day is:

Chortle!


The Makes-Beth-Happy Recipe of the Day is:

Oaxacan Cinnamon Chocolate Macaroons

Really, they're macarons. But why quibble when cinnamon and chocolate are involved, right? Also, dig the moody photo!


And the Makes-Beth-Happy Objet of the Day is:

The Braden Media Center

Yes, Angelo's a pal, but I promote his work solely because I love it. And because he, clearly, shares my affinity for bin pulls.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Oh, Hello, Happy Little Violets! ...

Makes Beth Happy, May 3 ...

The Makes-Beth-Happy Word of the Day is:

Ruch!


The Makes-Beth-Happy Recipe of the Day is:

Toasted Coconut Gelato


And the Makes-Beth-Happy Objet of the Day is:

Chicken Cutting Board

Kudos to Doreen for pointing it out to me. Bigger kudos to Doreen for not buying it for me. She knows my love of all things chicken but respects the chicken moratorium I put in place several years ago. Still, it's cute and it makes me happy.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Bonjour, Madeleines! ...


When I was in elementary school, the mother of one of my classmates came to the school one day a week and a few students, including me, met with her in the "media center" for French lessons.

I'm not sure why the mom did it and I'm not sure why I was one of the attendees (perhaps only a handful of us showed any interest), but it was kind of her to do and I learned a wee bit of French.

So, of course, many years later, in high school and college, I studied ... German.

Yeah, don't ask. Because other than knowing that the German teacher, Frau Hodson, was a nice woman (because one of my brothers had taken her class when he was in high school, too), I had no interest in German. Well, no, that's a lie. To this day, I'm a pretty big fan of Haribo gummi bears.

My point is, instead of studying a romance language (I would have taken Italian if my school had offered it), instead of studying a language that contains words like "croissant" and "amour" and "café" (I chose those randomly, but they relate nicely), I instead chose a language whose principal property is that every utterance sounds like someone clearing their throat.

So, here I am, later in life, and my German has all but evaporated out of my mind. (Curiously, whenever I try to recall any of my German, the first word that always pops up is the word for "peas.")

If I were to find myself in France and someone was taking attendance, I could respond in two ways, thankyouverymuch, and I could tell them my name and I could ask them if they speak English, while really hoping that they speak English. But if I were to walk into a patisserie or boulangerie, I would be just fine. Forget love; the international language comprises all the words for all the baked goods in France.

The other day, I got to thinking about madeleines, specifically that I hadn't made madeleines in a very long time, and I don't know why, because they are ridiculously simple and contain nothing but staples, unless you don't usually have a lemon on hand. In which case, start keeping a lemon on hand.

And invest in a madeleine pan – metal, please, not that silicone business – and whip these up some afternoon when you're in the mood for something a little sweet to go with a warm beverage. Cafe au lait, perhaps. Or, if you must, tea.

I made a recipe from Bon Appétit via Epicurious, but most basic madeleine recipes are basically the same.


Madeleines
(Published by Bon Appétit, January 2000)

2 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
Pinch of salt
1 cup all purpose flour
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, cooled slightly

Powdered sugar

Beth Note: I used a little more than a teaspoon of lemon zest, because that's how much I ended up zesting and because I like lemon. I'd recommend using at least that much. A half-teaspoon wouldn't offer enough lemony oomph, in my opinion.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Generously butter and flour pan for large madeleines (about 3 x 1 1/4 inches). Using electric mixer, beat eggs and 2/3 cup sugar in large bowl just to blend. Beat in vanilla, lemon peel and salt. Add flour; beat just until blended. Gradually add cooled melted butter in steady stream, beating just until blended. Spoon 1 tablespoon batter into each indentation in pan. Bake until puffed and brown, about 16 minutes. Cool 5 minutes. Gently remove from pan. Repeat process, buttering and flouring pan before each batch. (Can be made 1 day ahead.)

Dust cookies with powdered sugar.

Further Beth Note: This recipe makes about 20 madeleines. Do your best not to consume them all in one sitting. It's difficult. They're tres, tres bon.