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Our fat & festive tree...plus glowing cat eyes at right.

Rather than therapeutically writing about the inevitable “post Christmas blues,” which undoubtedly will befall many an individual in just a week or so from today, I’ve decided to revel in the beauty of the season by creating a “best of” list for this Christmas.  If you’re looking for a new cookie, a new Xmas CD, a new festive drink, a new holiday scented bath product, a new holiday date spot, (oh, and a way to possibly beat the post-holiday doldrums) look no further!  Well, at least here are some ideas…

1.  Music: John Erickson’s “A Feeling of Christmas” is one I highly recommend for peaceful piano tunes most likely in the jazz category.  There are a couple cheezy renditions, but for the most part, I absolutely love this record, particularly his versions of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “Greensleeves,” and “Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming.”  Our bass-player friend Patrick Williams gave us the record last year…and he’s on it!  🙂

2.  More music: Frank Wallace’s “Joy: Carols & Songs for a Season of Light.”  Peaceful, Renaissance-influenced guitar music.  Absolutely fabulous, beautiful, peaceful…

(I still think Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas is my fave of all-time…)

3.  Cookies/treats: the famous Riley Holiday Nuggets (top secret recipe), but I will share a recipe I recently acquired from my good friend, Angie.  Sandwich a peppermint patty between 2 Ritz crackers; coat with melted chocolate (preferably “almond bark,” which is apparently better for coating and NO, it does not have almonds in it).  Let the cookies dry on wax paper and store in an air-tight container.  They don’t sound like my kind of thing AT ALL – I mean…Ritz crackers??? – but these are…in a word…superb.  TRY THEM!  Or at least take them to a Xmas or New Year’s party when you don’t have time for in-depth baking.

4.  Candles: holiday scented candles from Bath & Body works.  Ever since Illuminations went out of business a couple years ago, I’ve been searching for a truly wondrous scented candle.  Look no further, Bath & Body Works is the way to go.  They also have these beautiful ceramic shapes — pumpkins, acorns, apples, pine cones.  They’ve been gracing chez Rigby since October.  They had some pretty sweet sales online recently, so check it out.

5.  Drink: Riley Cranberry spice tea with Jameson.  3 parts cranberry, 1 part water & a splash of OJ if you have it on hand.  2-3 Constant Comment teabags and or mulling spice sack.  Sliced oranges.  Cinnamon stick.  Liberal sprinkles of nutmeg, cinnamon, &  whole cloves.  This is fine without the booze as well, but nothing warms a winter night like Jameson.  You could also use Maker’s Mark, of course.

6.  Decor: Strands of white/clear Moravian star lights.  This is our favorite piece of holiday decor.  You can hang them anywhere.  Since we do colored lights on our tree, we take the Moravians off the lights on which they come and put them on the colored lights.  (See photo.)  Ours came from the Winterthur catalog maybe 3-4 years ago, but I’m having a very hard time finding them online.  I’m sure they’re out there, so it’s worth the search.  Moravian stars in general are just gorgeous, so I think every home should have one.  🙂

7.  Arts/dance/theater: the 1977 version of the Nutcracker with Baryshnikov & Gelsey Kirkland.  This is the one I grew up watching…as many of us did!  🙂  Kirkland looks bizarre, but I really think this is THE quintessential Nutcracker.  Almost all of it is on youtube, but I think this is a DVD worth owning.

8.  Movie for all ages: Polar Express.  I have a rather lengthy list of holiday favorites, most of which I’ve been watching since the 80s, but Polar Express is one of my relatively new faves.  What a beauty!

9.  Movie for little ones: Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas.  This is a fantastic, fun, imaginative film that Jim Henson & his ingenious team did back in the early 80s as an HBO special.  It is just wonderful!  I still have such fun watching it.  And be sure to watch the special features.  Frank Oz (Miss Piggy, Yoda, etc) originally did the voice of Ma Otter.

10. Beauty: Holiday scented shower gels & hand soaps from Bath & Body Works OR Philosophy.  I highly recommend Sweet Cinnamon Pumpkin & Twisted Peppermint from Bath & Body Works…and just about anything from Philosophy (available at Sephora or philosophy.com).  Superb!  Also, any holiday scented handmade soaps off ebay.  They are easy to find…and cheap!

11. Manhattan holiday date-spot: Bin 71 or Barcibo (and/or the soon-to-open Bar’rique).  I found myself unexpectedly at Bin last night & it was just super cozy & candlelit & I ordered one of my favorite wintertime meals — meatballs in a lemon broth with crusty bread.  I can’t speak more highly of these places & they are so wonderful in the wintertime.  Cozy up to your sweetheart & enjoy!  Bin is on Columbus & 71st (SE corner) and Barcibo is on Broadway & 69th (NE corner).  The soon-to-be-open Bar’rique is on Bleecker & Cornelia.

12.  Asheville, NC holiday date spot: the lobby at the Grove Park Inn…or (if you’re lucky) a ROOM at the Grove Park Inn!  (wink, wink…)  I’m unfortunately only in Asheville a handful of times a year, but this is a go-to spot for hanging with friends and loved ones, esp. at Christmastime when GP goes all-out with its decorating.  There is also a beautiful spa there as well as shops, Christmas stores, restaurants, etc.  It’s an Asheville gem!

13. International Christmas destination: York, England.  The most Christmasey place I’ve ever been to!  Jason and I went there on our honeymoon and it was like stepping into Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.”  Beautiful, charming, interesting medieval town…they know how to do Christmas there.

14. Swanky gift-buying spot for gals & metrosexuals: L’Occitane.  This is my new favorite beauty supply place, though I really can’t afford anything there.  But…if you need a luxurious, swanky gift with absolutely gorgeous holiday gift wrap, check out L’Occitane.  They’re usually generous with their samples as well, which one can certainly pocket.  For more CRAFTY gifts, check out etsy.com.  Esp. the tattoo tights!  🙂

15.  Beating the post-Christmas blues: I really don’t have a fool-proof solution for this except to create things to look forward to in the new year.  This year for me they are: SNOW, starting up ballet classes again, maybe starting riding again, SNOW, becoming a stronger runner, seeing lots more of my family…oh, and snow.  🙂

Merry Christmas!

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The Gramercy Tavern, on E. 20th St, is my new favorite NYC spot for food/wine.  J & I went last night for a somewhat last-minute Monday evening rendez-vous, and we had an absolutely  incredible meal complete with amazing wine, impeccable service, and stunning decor.  This is THE place to go in NYC, in my book.  And I have many reasons!

1.  If you’re looking for something of “a deal” price-wise, you really can’t beat walking into the Tavern, GT’s front room (a bit more casual than the dining area in the back) and ordering 3 courses for $38.  For the incredible quality of the food & service, I don’t think you can beat that.  You can also do a la carte, which is by no means off-the-charts price wise.  I think GT is the deal of the century considering the amazingness of the food.

2. The food is number one, don’t get me wrong, and they have a beautiful wine list & some really interesting & fun cocktails!  But the DECOR.  Omg!  This was the second time I’ve been in the fall – luckily, because their pumpkin/birch tree/bittersweet/candle arrangements are absolutely out of this world gorgeous.  Even the flower arrangement in the bathroom was autumnal and stunning.  GT is hands-down my favorite place for decor.  (One year we went for J’s bday around Christmastime and they were decorated accordingly.  However, I had one of the worst sinus infections of my life, and had trouble swallowing.  Not a good evening to go to GT.  I think I was so distracted by my throat that I barely remember anything about the evening.)

3.  Lovely service.  Nothing snooty-patooty here.

Quick menu overview.

For appetizer, I ordered the Red Kuri Squash Soup with Brussels Sprouts and Fried Oysters.  Jason ordered the Fish Croquette with Heirloom Beans, Arugula and Lemon.  This was our favorite course, I think.

For main course, I ordered the Hanger Steak with Fingerling Potatoes, Red Russian Kale and Bourbon Sauce.  J ordered the Meatball with Fontina, Potato Puree, and Red Wine Onions.  Deliciousness all around.

For dessert, we shared the Butterscotch Bread Pudding with Pear Sorbet.  Amazing!  Autumnal!

Wines: I ordered (via waiter’s recommendation) a glass of the Aligote Derain (2009) from Burgundy; J ordered a glass of the Barolo (1999), which I eventually ordered as well since it was INCREDIBLE.

I should also add that if you do any sort of no-bread diet (South Beach, etc), sorry, but you CANNOT pass up the bread at this place.  Soft yet crusty multi-grain goodness with the most amazing butter…even a little side dish of sea salt.  Omg!  Heaven!

If you’re doing a walk-in for the Tavern, I recommend getting there early.  We were there around 5:15 on a Monday & it was pretty packed shortly thereafter.

This place is amazing.  Am thinking maybe we’ll do our 5-year wedding anniversary at GT next year in their regular dining room.  The whole place is perfection!!

Happy NYC dining!

http://www.gramercytavern.com/

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A Lovely Meal at Home: Take-Out from 12 Bones BBQ, Asheville, NC

Hard to beat a home-cooked meal: Jason's German-style dinner - organic, western NC sausages, German potato salad, cucumber salad, Coconut cake from the Well-Bred Bakery in Weaverville, NC

Last night my husband and I decided to have our long-awaited date night at a cute tapas bar on the upper west side, which will remain nameless, but I have indeed been there before — twice, in fact —  and was reasonably pleased both times — enough to go back.  I’ll keep this as succinct as possible so as to get to the point of this post.  We had a lovely time, mostly because it was the one time in the last month that we’ve actually sat down face to face with no reason to hurry through a meal and/or a conversation (our lives are crazy…seriously).  I do like this tapas bar.  It’s candlelit, cozy without being too cramped like many NYC wine bars, and the service was attentive and friendly — the host even inquired about the book I had on the table.  Nice touch…I mean, I like when people are inquisitive without seeming too nosey.  The wine was fine.  $13 for a quarttino of Pinot Grigio (so-so)…Jason had a spicy, full-bodied red (Crianza???), around the same price.  Anyway, the food was really just so-so, and we ended up spending waaayyyy too much for the quality.  We had grilled calamari, which was just weird…I mean, it’s not even worth describing.  Brussel sprouts which badly needed salt and had a presentation that would perhaps even scare off the most die-hard brussel sprout lover.  The meatballs were pretty good, though Jason thought they too needed salt.  The bread & olive oil was lovely, though we ended with this little “snack” for $3.50, which was basically a slice of slightly stale baguette, a piece of serrano ham, a piece of unexciting cheese, an olive, all toothpicked together.  It kind of reminded me of something from the infamous Ohio relish trays to which I was introduced Thanksgiving 2008.  Bottom line: lovely date, disappointingly so-so food, too much money spent.  We could’ve prepared every single thing better at home.

So hard to find a great restaurant sometimes!  Since the above comments are about a tapas bar, I should say that two of my favorite wine bars EVER are on the upper west side, but we opted for tapas, because the other 2 tend to be crazy busy & just a tad too expensive for what we were looking for.  I’ll go to my staples next time: Bin 71, Barcibo for uptown; 8th Street Wine Cellar for downtown.  You can’t go wrong with those.

Here’s the question: how do so many restaurants — cute, pretty, inviting restaurants with attentive servers — get away with such subpar food?!?!  I’m realizing as I’m writing this that I sound like a total snob…but it’s really about standards, isn’t it?

I recently started working at a really fabulous restaurant in Tarrytown.  I’ve really been enjoying the job so far & it’s been a much-needed break from so much of the stuff I’ve been doing for so many years.  And I have to say, the food is STELLAR.  And THAT’S what makes me enjoy going to work.  I used to find waiting tables to be demeaning.  Waiting on snooty people?  No, thank you.  Waiting on people who treat you like you’re below them?  No, thank you.  But I (knock on wood) haven’t encountered those attitudes at my current job, and I notice that people are just blown away by the food.  What a difference a high quality meal makes!  The food is almost all locally produced/grown, with the exception of a few seafood items.  The presentation is beautiful, I literally want to eat every single thing on the menu, the restaurant cozy and inviting with a really beautiful bar as well.  I just can’t say enough good things about this place.

But then I come home to Manhattan, meet my husband out at a cute little chic tapas bar on the UWS…and we’re disappointed.  We also experienced another recent disappointment when we did dinner on the UWS back in July at a restaurant that I had absolutely raved about to Jason — and we were so incredibly disappointed!  It was just subpar quality and (big surprise) too much money!  Maybe they went downhill???  Or maybe my standard just suddenly got higher.

I should write a quick disclaimer here that I am not a picky eater…and not really a picky drinker either.  I’m pretty good at identifying shitty wine, but I’ll gladly settle if that’s what’s offered.  (I can’t say the same for Jason…but then I just get to drink his crappy wine, so it all works out)!  But J & I really do good food at home, we know how to eat, how to savor food & wine…but we’re just not in the budget to go to Le Bernardin.  So what to do.  Either cook at home or go to a place that you KNOW is going to be good.  No more risk-taking a la last night’s date.  The tricky thing here is that both of our not-so-good UWS dining experiences these last few months were at places that I thought were good.  Perhaps my standard really has gotten higher.  But if we’re going to go out and spend, say, over $50 on food, it should be absolutely stellar in my book.  Anyway…  So I’m making a relatively short list here of places that rarely, if ever, disappoint (the first 5 are in Manhattan).  As for any new places to try, I’m going to go with friends’ recommendations.  So here are my picks:

1. 8th Street Wine Cellar  http://8thstwinecellar.com/

2. Bin 71  — Their meatballs in lemon broth is one of my all-time favorite wintertime meals.  http://www.bin71.com/

3. Barcibo  http://barciboenoteca.com/

4. Supper  http://www.supperrestaurant.com/

5. Otto — go for the wine & cheese & of course, the famous olive oil gelato; the pasta is so-so.  Sorry, Mario.  😦  But it’s still a go-to place and doesn’t seem to break the bank.  http://www.ottopizzeria.com/

6. Sweet Grass Grill — Tarrytown, NY http://sweetgrassgrill.com/

7.  Rezaz — Asheville, NC (this is one of my favorite places of all time).  http://www.rezaz.com/intro.html

8.  Laughing Seed — Asheville, NC  http://laughingseed.jackofthewood.com/

And lastly, chez Rigby, Washington Heights, NYC.  🙂

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Buss up shut

The legendary Doubles

Various fruit chows

This past summer, I returned to Trinidad for the 3rd time to work/perform as a tutor/cellist for the National Sinfonia Orchestra’s summer workshop.  I always have a great time in Trinidad, and being the foodie that I am, I pay close attention to the food of whatever culture in which I find myself.  The food in Trinidad is, generally speaking, fabulous!  And they really, really know how to season, that’s for sure.  Spice abounds!  Some highlights:

1. Doubles: 2 pieces of fried, rather soft flat-bread, onto which is spooned a split pea & chickpea stew of sorts; then they put a tsp or more of tamarind and pepper sauce (if you request it).  Trinidadians loooovvvve pepper sauce.  You can even find it at Subway & KFC!  Anyway, Doubles are fabulous, filling, and CHEAP.  I recommend UWI Doubles in St. Augustin.

2. Aloo Pie: a relatively small fried potato “pie” of sorts (the “crust” is potato), typically served with a garlicky chutney.  Fabulous!

3.  Pholourie: I actually just had this for the first time this past visit.  A couple of the orchestra mothers make dinner for us on rehearsal nights, and they cook spectacularly.  One of them made this huge bucket of pholourie, which are split pea fritters.  One eats them with the fingers, dipped in mango chutney or tamarind yumminess!

4. Pineapple/mango chow: chopped or sliced fresh pineapple or mango, marinated in a spicy concoction of what tastes like salt, pepper, and cilantro.  It is tangy & spicy & utterly delicious, though I prefer the pineapple.  Many times they make the mango chow with pretty unripe mangos, so they’re a bit too tart for my taste.  They do sell chow in the supermarket, but the best is bought roadside in little plastic baggies (see photo).  I love the chow on the way to Maracas Beach!

5. Buss-up-shut: I’ve only had this a couple times, so I’m not really an expert.  It’s basically roti bread (similar to naan bread, but a bit more moist/soft) which one dips into whatever yummy veggie or meat stew he/she has ordered.  Kind of reminiscent of Ethiopian cuisine with a distinct Indian vibe.  I think roti is technically Indian.  The last time I had it, I ordered the veggie plate, which had a pumpkin puree, a chickpea/split pea concoction (much like what they put on doubles), and a mango chutney.  ***One odd thing about the mango thing: they like to put pieces of the pit in the dish.  It’s a little strange to me, because mango without the pit is terribly yummy…so why the big pieces of pit?  It is perplexing to me.  (The chow, however, is just fruit pieces; no pit, thankfully).

6. Breakfast sandwiches at Subway (Port of Spain airport) with pineapple…need I say more?  And yes, you can get pepper sauce and/or garlic sauce and/or Shadon Beni (Indian green chutney) on your sandwich.

I always seem to have a vegetarian roommate in Trinidad, and they always seem to find lots of things to eat there.  In fact, I found a great blog (also on wordpress) called, “Vegan in the Sun: Caribbean Vegan Delights.”  http://caribbeanvegan.wordpress.com/2009/12/13/buss-up-shut-green-split-pea-dhal-and-curried-pumpkin/

Sadly, there is one thing in Trinidad I do NOT like, food-wise: callaloo.  Too much reminiscent of mucus.  I almost don’t even want to include it in my blog (I mean, I just used the word “mucus”), but it seems to be very popular in Trinidad.  It’s a pureed green thing, often made from okra (slimy!).  Not really to my taste, but it’s worth mentioning.

Overall, there are a myriad of culinary delights in Trinidad.  When I come back to NY, my husband and I always make a trip to Otto, Mario Batali’s more casual restaurant on 8th Street & Fifth Ave., since I so get my fill of Caribbean eats that I desperately need a cheese plate & some marinated veggies.  But it would be very hard to be disappointed by the cuisine in Trinidad.  Am already looking forward to next year!

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Three of my favorite things: cats, cheese, wine

Two things: 1) I love to eat.  2) I am and have been extremely skeptical of anything even remotely resembling fad diets, no-carb funny business, vegan or macro-biotic malarchy, etc.  It all just seems so silly.  I mean…right?

For all serious food-lovers who saw “Julie & Julia,” I think we all nodded (and perhaps giggled) with understanding at one key scene in particular:  Julia and her husband are discussing possible activities and potential professional endeavors with which she may want to become involved — this was before she was a chef.  Paul asks her, “What is it  you really like to do?”  Julia’s answer, plain and simple, is “Eat.”

Honestly, I couldn’t relate more to Julia’s answer.  I am profoundly passionate about food & cooking (and all permutations thereof, involving cooking classes, cook books, talking about food, wine, etc), and am unbelievably thankful to have some absolutely fabulous cooks & food lovers around me – almost all the time, in fact.

But I’m also, as many die-hard food lovers are, quite concerned about health, fitness, and maintaining a healthy weight.  Herein lies a bit of an obvious dilemma.  How often does one indulge?  What does “indulge” mean when looking at the scope of, say, a week?  To what extent should or can we indulge when we do?  Is indulging really that important?  How strict should we be with our diets?  How can we enjoy food passionately – and even cook with butter once in a while – and not turn into a pork chop?  Trust me, I was a chubby kid — these are serious questions, esp. considering I’m part of the “eat fervently” and “clean the plate” club.

Before I get into the aforementioned “fad” diet, I should explicitly state that I am not overweight.  In fact, I’m more fit than I’ve ever been in my entire life, and I’m probably a mere, say, 5 pounds above what I would consider to be my “ideal” weight, that is, the natural weight at which my body seems most happy.  I’m too tall & too athletic to expect to be much less than my natural weight.

I state this to emphasize that I have not entered into this diet because I have unreasonable expectations of how my body “should”  look.  Someone close to me was interested in trying it, and so I’ve joined in solidarity.  And I’m happy I did because my indulgences the last few weeks were over-the-top, and I do feel this has gotten me a bit back on track health-wise.  But there, of course, is another question mark — were my indulgences really that bad?

Okay, so the diet: I’m not doing to mention it by name, though I have managed to disclose the secret to a couple friends.  In any event, this post is not an advertisement for the diet itself, but rather a diary documenting two things I love – eating and being healthy – and how I’ve entered into something of which I was extraordinarily skeptical. Alas, it seems…well, so far, so good!

The key points of the diet (many of you will know what this is right off the bat, but it’s more fun for it to remain nameless):

1. Stay away from refined carbs – so no bread or pasta or fruit (esp. during the first 2 weeks)

2. No alcohol during the first 2 weeks; after that, wine is fine.  THANK GOD.

3. Eat lots of veggies & lean protein – that includes eggs & turkey bacon at breakfast

4. No butter, no fatty cheeses; low-fat cheeses are fine

5. No sugar or honey; artificial sweeteners are fine.  This I have trouble with because I just don’t see how artificial sweeteners are good for you.  How can they be?  In any event, they seem to be doing the trick right now.  Mix in some splenda with non-fat Greek yogurt, a little bit of vanilla or almond extract, and you have quite a yummy treat.

I actually think this diet seems quite reasonable and balanced, and I’m finding myself pleasantly surprised.  I’m on day 3 and I feel pretty good – definitely way, way better than I did after I pigged out at a friend’s Memorial Day BBQ…it’s indulgences like that that make me glad to be on this path right now.  I mean, super sugary sangria, heavy cheeses, guac, greasy burgers, chips & salsa galore…oh, and someone brought a chocolate-peanut dessert treat that basically tasted like a combination of 10 different delectables from the Halloween bag, all chocolate in nature.

Here is a downfall of this diet I’m on: the creator says that exercise is not key to losing weight on this particular plan.  Now, that might be true, but no exercising?  Really?  That is an absolute key ingredient of good health and is usually my excuse for allowance of excessive culinary indulgences.  I wouldn’t recommend the latter attitude towards exercise, but I think if I didn’t run as much as I do, I most definitely would be a porker.

In the last, say, 10 years of my life, I couldn’t have begun to imagine that I would be doing a diet like this.  It seems to go against my philosophy of eating, cooking, enjoying food, enjoying what the earth provides for us without much fuss or worry or obsessing or indulging our body-insecurities we probably picked up in our terribly awkward youth.  But I have to say, I’m pleased with this current – and perhaps longterm – lifestyle choice.  It seems to be reasonable & I feel pretty good.  I’m eating tons of veggies, which is great, and I haven’t had to contend with that horrible full feeling after a decadent bowl of pasta.  So my body seems to like this.

Pumpkin custard profiteroles; a holiday treat since 2002 and no, it is not an acceptable dessert on this diet I'm doing

Thanksgiving in Maine last year; what a spread! No dieters around that day, that's for sure.

I will follow-up this post with a couple homemade recipes and an update on how I feel 10 days from now…when I can FINALLY have a glass of wine.

Best wishes for health this summer.  🙂

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Stonewall Kitchen peach-amaretto jam next to a Big French Haut-Medoc

Jason's chana saag + some arugula

Burt's Bees Lip Shimmer (Pickles at left)

The plank pose (not me in the photo obviously)

One of Henry Giroux's books

Maria Bonnevie from the film "I am Dina"

A beautiful view from Kennebunkport, Maine (the only thing missing from this picture are cliff-dwelling pugs)

Cat photography: Mr. Fernzee having a blissed-out moment

So my blog-skeptic friends would take one look at this and say something to the effect of, “why would you think people would find your ‘best of” list to be remotely interesting?”  Said question implies, of course, that bloggers are narcissistic enough to have the audacity to think other people would be interested in what they think.  I totally see the point.  Alas, considering the only people who read my blog (I think) are members of my immediate family and pretty close friends…I mean, if any of them wrote this sort of list, you better bet I’d be interested.  Ya know?

So anyway, spring this year has been pretty special and beautiful, so I decided to compile the aforementioned “best of” list for spring ’10.  I know a hearty handful of my friends and family share very similar interests, so hopefully at least some of you will find this interesting.  🙂

1. Music: I know it’s old news at this point for those of you who have any knowledge whatsoever of my music taste, but SHEARWATER – their entire catalog is amazing.  A beautiful combination of rock…and well, just mystical music, some of which does indeed sound a bit “folksy,” though I know Jonathan Meiburg, their frontman, doesn’t care for said label.  And two, TORI AMOS: her live catalog from the late 90s.  Anything from 1996-1999.  Watch out.  She is the world’s ultimate musical bad ass and never fails to amaze me (minus her recent ventures into plastic surgery & strange fascination with the word “sin”).  See youtube video for amazingness predating plastic surgery.

2. Food: Vegetables prepared at home.  My foodie quartet members and I always seem to come back to one topic of discussion: brussel sprouts and/or cauliflower & the preparation of such.  My personal favorite: roasted brussel sprouts drizzled with olive oil & honey with some fresh ground pepper & sea salt.  Thanks to Kate, I now know to put nutmeg on my cauliflower.  What a savory sensation!  Hannah recommended preparing brussel sprouts with parmesan cheese, lemon juice, olive oil & salt/pepper.  Wonderful!  The picture I’ve included above is of a remarkable dish that Jason made — it’s basically Indian chana saag, using whatever spices we had at home.  Cheap, delicious, healthy.  Doesn’t get much better than that.

3. Wine: I’ve had many a wonderful bottle of wine in 2010, but I think the robust red given to me by Angie Sommerfeld takes the cake (no pun intended, though she did indeed so generously give me said bottle at my 30th bday party…thanks, Angie!!!!).  It is a BIG RED: “Chateau Larose-Trintaudon Haut-Medoc” 2005.  Sadly, I am not drinking it right now, but it was bursting with cherry and just too delicious to not mention here.

4.  Treat: Stonewall Kitchen peach-amaretto jam.  I swear, I could eat the stuff by itself.  And if you’re vacationing in Maine, do visit Stonewall Kitchen.  They have outstanding cooking classes, a wonderful cafe, and TONS of food-related merch.  Thanks to Gillian for introducing me!

5. Vacation destination: Kennebunkport, Maine.  This is a beautiful, charming town with an abundance of fabulous restaurants.  Check out HB Provisions for lobster rolls, “crabster paninis,” dog treats, coffee, breakfast sandwiches, and the world’s BEST ice cream.  Last holiday season, when J & I went there for Thanksgiving (after the birth of my niece!), we got pumpkin ice cream AND peppermint stick ice cream.  Totally to die for.  Oh, and whoopie pies are native to Maine.  They’re basically giant oreos, but the chocolate part is like devil’s food cake.  Utter decadence.

6. Exercise: yoga plank pose.  After years & years of doing crunches with very so-so results, the plank pose really targets your core muscles.  You will notice a difference, I promise.  I do many reps, holding as long as I can.  I have the “squishy middle” gene, no doubt, and this has helped.  Pair it with some cardio and maybe some weight training & you’re good to go (wow, that sounded really corny).

7.  Movie: “I am Dina” with the Scandinavian actress Maria Bonnevie.  It’s a very, very intense & dark movie, but Bonnevie does one of the best imitations of a cellist I’ve ever seen.  I mean, with the exception of the narrow, nervous vibrato, she really does look like she’s actually playing.  Plus, she’s just amazing to look at, in addition to a couple other beautiful male actors (NOT including Gerard Depardieu! sorry…) in the film.

8. Authors/theorists: Henry Giroux.  He’s written on everything from Tiger Woods to the messed up messages of Disney movies to the films, “Kids” and “Fight Club” to the Bush administration to the Obama administration…  He’s a genius, in my opinion.  http://www.henryagiroux.com/online_articles.htm

9. Beauty: Burt’s Bees Lip Shimmer.  After years of dealing with weird white stuff around the corners of my mouth (apparently very elderly people are NOT the only victims of this problem), I’ve finally found lip balm that does not render me with this unfortunate issue.  Happily, you can buy Burt’s Bees at Duane Reade, Ricky’s, and a million other beauty purveyors.  It also has tea tree in it, I think, so it has this lovely cooling sensation.  Long lasting too.  LOVE it.  It beats, Kheil’s, for those of you who love Kheil’s.

10.  Task of the moment: Broadening one’s career horizons.  Need I say more?

11. Hobby/pastime: Cat photography.  I have three cats & they are all like my children & my best friends.  Jason would agree, though we could both do without the unbelievably excessive amounts of white cat hair EVERYWHERE.  Anyway,  Mr. Burns is the most fun to photograph while he’s “bathing,” because he just looks sooooo happy &  blissed-out.  When anxious, look at a photo of him with that blissful look on his face.  It will lower your blood pressure, I promise.  His little pink nose is too much.

One of my favorite Tori performances from the late 90s.  It’s from “Sessions at W 54th” hosted by sexy Talking Heads frontman, David Byrne.  This performance gets more & more intense as it goes along.  Amazing.  Sorry, people, this makes Lady Gaga look like she’s in kindergarten.  With all due respect to Lady Gaga, of course.  😉  Also, a 1999 performance of Blood Roses.

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One of the Philabaum lemons being put to good use

My mom has always said that when my dad traveled, she would resort to really, really simple eating — like, cereal for dinner.  While I relate  to that approach to “single/alone” dining, I really do enjoy making quality meals for myself that do indeed take some preparation, & some- albeit simple- planning.

My husband is an absolutely outstanding cook…without exaggeration, one of the best I’ve ever had the pleasure to encounter.  I’ll never forget the first time he made his famous “northwoods mushroom pasta” back in March of 2005 to the soundtrack of Nick Drake, Miles Davis, Iron & Wine, and John Coltrane/Johnny Hartman (the most romantic record I’ve ever heard).  Anyway, said mushroom pasta resulted from an extraordinarily complicated recipe involving various types of mushrooms — fresh and dried –, homemade mushroom broth, etc.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out for dinner when I’ve literally thought, “Jason could do this better at home…or I could even do this better at home!”  So we dine at home as much as possible, and his approach in the kitchen is a beautiful sight to behold.  His dishes tend to resemble those at Supper, NYC’s absolutely wonderful east village Italian.

With that said, Jason is out of town…a lot.  But rather than shying away from the kitchen & opting for cereal (a la Catherine Riley – who, btw, is also an outstanding cook) or take- out (a la undergrad years), I consistently venture into food preparation with some hopefully fresh produce, almost always olive oil, usually some greens, and probably a dairy element — like goat cheese or parmesan.  I love salads, dried fruit, avocado, broiled chicken breasts, etc.

So the Philabaum lemons: one of my dearest friends, Aubyn Philabaum, is from Tucson.  I was very happy to see her last night for a (albeit wretchedly torturous) Bikram yoga class followed by an absolutely lovely dinner at Aubyn’s Hell’s Kitchen apartment.  I brought some french white wine — in terms of the Ninth Ave wine store’s chilled selections, it was that or a $7 bottle of Chardonnay, which I most definitely was NOT going to purchase…plus I was so spent from the Bikram torture that I could hardly think.  The camel pose was the last straw.  So back to the dinner: Aubyn is a wonderful cook, always has health in mind, and really knows how to season.  She knows good food & wine…like, really, really.  What could be better for a culinary combination?  She made two kinds of fish — halibut & tilapia, a lovely salad with avocado & cucumber, and some red potatoes.  So the lemons:  Her parents apparently have this lemon tree — that, surprisingly has produced oranges…yes, oranges one year when it…well, just decided not to produce lemons.  But anyway, I guess her lovely parents decided to send Aubyn all these gorgeous lemons…tons of them.  So she passed quite a few on to me.  I like to think of them as good luck charms as we enter springtime and my April 8th deadline.

I LOVE lemons…in the winter, our apartment is ridiculously freezing, so I frequently drink hot, hot, hot water with squeezed lemon in it.  Or I squeeze lemon in tea.  But what to do with so many lemons?  Hot toddies anyone?  For you Tori fans out there (I know you’re sadly few & far between):  “Lemon pie, he’s coming through.  Our commander still, Space Dog.”

Salad dressing!  I love salad, so I made a big batch of salad dressing to store in the fridge.  Chopped/minced garlic, olive oil, some salt and pepper, and lots of freshly squeezed Philabaum lemons.  Perfect!  And earlier today, I squeezed some over some broiled chicken I was making…salt, pepper, olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon.  Really, the simplest things are the best, n’est pas?  The garlic in the salad dressing is super potent.  I hope my body shows mercy to the poor soul next to me at the gym tomorrow.  At least no Bikram in the cards this week.  😉

Quick note re. cooking music: usually J & I put on Joni’s “Song to a Seagull,” “For the Roses,” or “Clouds” while we’re cooking & eating dinner.  “I Had a King” is probably my favorite bit of Joni poetry ever.  Since Joni is really an “us” thing, I’ve been listening to the entire catalog (pretty much) of Shearwater albums.  “Palo Santo,” “Rooks,” “the Golden Archipelago” while J has been away.  Jonathan Meiburg has sort of substituted for Jason…at least in the cerebral sense. 😉  Shearwater is playing in NYC next weekend and I cannot wait!

Happy eating, happy lemoning…or “turning lemons into lemonade,” to use the parlance of our times.   😉  “Come in lemon pie, can you read me, lemon pie?  I read you, buddy.”

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