Friday, January 29, 2010

Books and weather

Miss Chef's nightstand. I've been wanting to take a picture of this for a while; it really shows how all-encompassing her passion is for her work. Click on it to biggerize it, if you want to read all the titles!


OMIGOD IT'S SNOWING! EVERYBODY PANIC!! We're in the pipeline for a winter storm which promises to drop several inches of...something. Charlotte sits right at the intersection of snow and rain around here, which usually means rain. But sometimes it means ice, black ice. Having learned to drive in the snow belt, I used to scoff at the locals for being scared of driving in the snow. But then I realized that Charlotte doesn't have the equipment to keep up with the snow, and that swinging temperatures are more dangerous than steady below-freezing. So I take it a little more seriously now. I still catch myself hollering, "Oh, come ON, it's just WET!" from time to time.

Anyway, it was snowing great juicy flakes when I left work this afternoon, but like a moron, I had to go to the grocery store (with all the other morons). We really were out of milk, honest! And since Miss Chef will have to go out in this mess tomorrow before it's finished messing, I wanted her to be able to have a nice hot bowl of oatmeal. So there I stood, with the other panic-stricken lemmings, in the slowest checkout line in the world, wishing I could just be home to play in the snow. I did, however, get sucked in by a sample offering in the back of the store---of WINE! I've never seen wine samples offered in a grocery store. I figured a nice cheap malbec would help me weather the storm. As a bonus, I got carded at checkout!

I was very excited about getting home and taking Rosie out for a snowy walk, but by the time I got there, it had stopped snowing. Figures. Good thing I had that malbec to comfort myself with. I'm hoping tomorrow to wake up to at least some white stuff on the ground. It's hard to sleep with my fingers crossed, though.

Well, I'm gonna check one more time to see if it's snowing, then I'm gonna pour another glass of wine and give Rosie some attention. Happy weekend everybody!

Update: Saturday morning

This one's fuzzy, but it has Rosie in it.

Some leftover Christmas decorations.

This last one is sideways...sometimes Blogger gives me fits....

Rosie--of the long double coat--ate so much snow she started shivering. Miss Chef took her inside, wrapped her up in a towel and pet her until she stopped. Silly dog!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Auntie Eva

Do you remember, as a child, when the arrival of the mail was still interesting? Do you remember a time when unexpected packages promised mystery and excitement?

Most of the packages arriving at our big farmhouse in the country were not unexpected. Christmas and birthdays brought regular boxes from the UPS truck. But every once in a while, out of the blue, we'd get a box from Auntie Eva.

I had no memories of Aunt Eva, though she was very present in our photo albums. Both my brother and I dandled on her knee as infants. Yet, since we'd moved to Ohio, and she remained in Manhattan, I hadn't seen her since I was about a year old.

I can't say her absence bothered me. After all, in the pictures, she seemed very serious, even grumpy to a kid like me. And she was greatly overweight. I was happy that my mother was the more attractive of the two.

However, Eva got major points for sending packages! You see, Back in The Day, the New York Times was not available at every convenience store or gas station. My parents, having met and lived in Manhattan, missed the world-class reporting that was unparalleled in the days before satellite communications and internet. So every month or so, Auntie Eva would pack up a box of her gently-used Times and ship them off to northeastern Ohio.

Even though I was too young to read such serious fare, I was always excited when her packages came, because there was often something besides paper in there. At Christmas, she usually sent a real gingerbread house, which was displayed on the dining room table--and never eaten! She also sent chocolates, candies and other treats; I especially remember strawberry candies in red wrappers with green tufts that mimicked the fruit itself. I've seen them since, but they've never tasted as good as the ones Aunt Eva mailed us.

As I grew older, I began to delve into the Times Sunday Magazine. At first, it was mostly to look at the pictures, to see how the other half lived. My brother and I often pored over the real estate section in the back. Estates for over a million dollars! Back in the eighties, conspicuous consumption was something we kids aspired to.

Of course, I eventually began to read some of the articles, usually starting with the humorous one-page essay at the back. I didn't "get" a lot of the articles, especially the ones dealing with strictly NYC affairs. The Fashion Issue was completely beyond my comprehension (and still is!).

At some point, having visited my dad's sister and brothers in New York and New Jersey over the years, it suddenly dawned on me that Eva didn't fit into either family tree. "Is she a real Aunt?" I asked my mom. No, she wasn't. In fact, Eva was one of my mother's dearest friends.

They met in Manhattan, and though I'm not sure of the details, I get the feeling Mom was impressed, if not comforted, by Eva's worldliness. Mom had come from a small town in Pennsylvania, and college, to study biochemistry at Hunter College. I think between moving into the big city on her own, and starting post-graduate studies in a man's world, she must have been a little nervous.

I never heard much about what made them such great friends. I know they joined a ski club together--picturing the obese, unhappy woman from my baby pictures at the top of a mountain, perched on thin wooden slats, tested my imagination.

Eventually, I had more questions about Aunt Eva...where was she from? What about her family? And her story opened my eyes.

You see, Auntie Eva was a Holocaust survivor.

Her story is less dramatic than most that you hear about. She and her mother somehow escaped the camps. They were moved into the Jewish Ghetto in Budapest, where they lived, crammed together with strangers, scraping by the best they could on meager supplies of food.

According to Mom, Eva's obesity resulted from a metabolism destroyed by surviving for months on nothing but beans. Mom shared a story Eva had told her to illustrate their desperation in the Ghetto. A doctor came one day to treat a sick person in their building. He arrived in a horse-drawn carriage, and entered the house to treat the patient. When he came back out, the horse was gone.

That night, everyone in the building had meat for the first time in months.

I don't remember if Eva had any siblings; I do know she had a father. He was not as lucky. He was sent to a concentration camp, where he eventually died of exposure. The only reason Eva learned what happened to him was because someone--a guard, another prisoner, I don't recall--found a picture of Eva in a book of his after he died. There was enough information on the back of it to contact the family after the war.

Eva and her mother somehow escaped Hungary before the implementation of the Final Solution. They emigrated to England, and her mother later remarried. Eva was sent to stay with relatives in the US, which is how she eventually entered into our lives.

Now, as I said, I was never close to Eva. I met her once as an adult; she came to my (real) aunt's house while we were visiting in New Jersey. Oddly, I don't remember much of that visit. I do remember Eva was a presence. She made a living for several years as an extra in movies and tv shows. She was the big lady with the big laugh.

In spite of my apparent indifference, I think Eva enjoyed watching my brother and me grow up, even at a distance. I can recognize now that she would have liked to be a bigger presence in our lives, as she never had children of her own. She didn't marry until her 50s or 60s, though she was very happy when she did!

I'm sad to say Eva died a year or so ago. It's unfortunate that she'll never know that she really affected my development. Not only did her old Sunday Times broaden my horizons, but her life story introduced me to the horrors of World War II in a very personal way. It took me many years to figure out why I was so particularly empathetic to those in untenable situations--slavery, poverty, abuse. I believe it's because Eva's story made it so real.

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day. It is a day to remember victims of all holocausts, not just those of the second World War. It is not a day to wallow in despair, or point fingers of blame. It is a day to honor the victims by taking this lesson to heart: a holocaust can still happen, if we let it. It takes more than hate-filled people with weapons. It takes, as a wise man once said, for good people to do nothing.

Today is a day to remember that all people are human.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Full Stop

or, "From Crazed to Dazed"

In our last episode, Miss Chef and I had returned from a memorable trip to parts north--New Jersey suburbia, and the bustle of Manhattan. Our return flight was Friday morning, to allow Miss Chef and I to get back to our busy work schedules. Our flight was delayed, so almost immediately upon arrival, Miss Chef changed and headed back out to work. Yep, that's right: she's a workaholic.

My plan was to spend the weekend re-working and tightening up my syllabus, and maybe writing some conversations to introduce each week's topic. I really should have started it the week before Christmas, since school was out and my evenings were free. I wasn't looking forward to cramming all that work into the last weekend of my vacation.

But our last day in Jersey, I was thrown for a loop. I got the following email from my department head:

I hope you enjoyed a nice holiday season.

Yesterday we closed the FRE101 course for the winter term due to low enrollment. We’ll try again for spring!

The subject line read "Schedule Change." Change?!? That's like saying death is a change in living status. Hmph. I had a hard time deciding how I felt: shocked, relieved, disappointed, excited, worried. "Hey, glad I didn't spend all that time before Christmas working on an unneeded syllabus!" "Damn, I hope word hasn't spread throught the student body that my class sucks." "Wow, I'll have plenty of free time again." "Shit, what the hell am I going to do with myself?"

And, as Miss Chef pointed out, "I bought you that nice briefcase for Christmas, and now you don't have any use for it."

I feel about half as bad as I would have if I'd been fired. I mean, it's not like they're going to go through the headache of finding another (well-qualified, happy to work part-time) French instructor. And I assume there will eventually be student demand for a French course again. Still, there's a sense of rejection there--probably more so because I'm female. (Is that sexist?)

Anyway, my point is supposed to be that I'm feeling a bit at loose ends. Add to that Miss Chef's absence this weekend, visiting her family and some of our friends in Alabama. For various reasons, I opted not to dip back into my vacation days to go with her, though I would dearly love to see Mobile again.

Just as I was coming to terms with missing out on the fun, near the end of the week, I realized I had Monday off. A three-day weekend? Double drat! Not only was it too late to change my mind about those vacation hours, but now I had three whole days at home, Chefless. *sniffle* *pout*

I have never felt so negative about a day off in my life.

Maybe I should explain a little. I lived alone for five years in graduate school. I made some friends; our department was small, my program even smaller. We all knew each other, for better or worse. But, between being alone, being single and in a years-long dry spell, and, as it turns out, going too far down the wrong path, I ended up in therapy. Nothing serious, in fact most of the people I knew in grad school had been or were going through counseling. Suffice it to say that, in spite of how important those grad-school years have been to my mind and my career, they were probably the worst days of my life.

This weekend alone, without a course to prepare, was starting to feel like my endless, dreary weekends alone in my apartment. And I know that depression is not something you get over like the flu; it's always ready to come back into your life. So I got proactive.

I emailed some friends, explaining my predicament. One couple apologized, saying they were going to be out of town. The other never emailed back. Oh dread...I started making up a list of projects to keep myself busy: get my oil changed. Hair cut. Trim shrubs.

Miss Chef left Friday morning, with my admonishment to call when she got home. (I never used to worry about people traveling...) That afternoon at work, I placed my cell phone on my desk, so I could grab it when she called. Around 4:00, it buzzed with a text message...but it wasn't from Miss Chef: "J & J are coming over to have some adult beverages. We'd love it if you could come by."

Sweet! My going-out-of-town friends had decided to have a happy hour at their place, partly for me. Not only would that keep me from moping around Friday night, but if things worked out right, I'd have a great excuse to drag around the house Saturday morning!

So my weekend is turning out to be only half-bad. Friday was wonderful fun, and I did spend Saturday doing absolutely nothing, even though I felt fine when I got up. My other friend called this afternoon to accept my suggestion to see a movie. (We saw Up in the Air, with George Clooney. I'd love to hang out with that man for a day. He seems fun. And yes, hot.) And it turns out I have a doctor's appointment Monday afternoon I'd forgotten about.

And so, feeling not so bad off, I'm spending the evening doing something I haven't had much time for: cooking. I'm camera-less too, this weekend, so I was unable to take any pictures, but I'm making an easy Coq au Vin. Do you want the recipe? I'm using this one I found at To summarize: in a heavy dutch oven, brown some bacon, pull it out; brown some chicken, pull it out. Brown some onions, garlic & carrot, add some wine and cook a few minutes, then put the meat back in with broth, herbs and more wine. Simmer 45 minutes, serve over egg noodles.

One pot; what's not to like? And baby, I gotta tell you--it smells good in here!

And yes, Miss Chef did eventually call me...after I called her and left a message. Humph. I may make a point of eating all this coq au vin before she gets home.

Today's post feels especially self-absorbed to me, especially considering the plight of Haitians this week. As I mentioned in a comment to Liz, I've been wanting to write about the earthquake and its aftermath, but I have no idea what to write. Only that I feel terrible, and I hope that we--the rest of the world--don't get bored and turn away when it doesn't get better in a week or two. I wish I could hold someone's hand, but all I can do is send some money. And I feel good that I have money to send, thanks to my crazy, two-job schedule the last several months.

God bless Haiti--they need it more than America.

Oh, and the picture...well, I told you I'm camera-less, so I thought I'd repost my fixed-up photo of the whale at the Museum of Natural History. Just 'cause...he's a pretty cool whale, I think.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Blog Award

So there I was, the other day, checking out the latest fabulousness at Not So Humble Pie. Not surprisingly, Ms. Humble had been awarded the Sugar Doll Award, and was, as usual, being quite amusing as she listed 10 facts about herself.

Then, to my utter amazement, she went and included me on the list of award nominees!

I've only been reading that blog for a few weeks, and have commented only a handful of times. So I surely was stunned to be plucked from the crowd, as it were, not to mention more flattered than a USO starlet visiting the troops.

Well, it's up to me now to carry the flag, I suppose. In relating ten things about myself, I'm guessing it should be ten things y'all don't already know...which may be difficult. So let's see...

1. I consider myself lazy, and those close to me won't disagree. Given my druthers, I'd spend all my free time reading and/or eating.

2. I'm quite short, about 5' 2" on a low-gravity day. Though some people have told me they don't consider me short, due to my overbearingwhelming personality. Ta!

3. I once got into an argument with a Russian Embassy guard in Paris--and won! He was bigger, but my French was better.

4. I'm not a morning person. However, since I'm forced to rise before dawn for work, I'm usually ready to head to bed by 9:30 these days. It seems I have a very limited productive period.

5. Even after having lived in France for two years, I neither smoke nor drink coffee.

6. I don't like most seafood, or any type of blue cheese. My favorite food group is starch.

7. I can tell the difference in odor between cow dung and horse dung. And I'm quietly proud of it.

8. In addition to being fluent in French, I'm uncomfortably conversational in Spanish, and have briefly studied Latin, German and Russian. Don't ask me to understand any of those last three, though.

9. I was a leading member of a comedy improv troupe in college, and will always and forever miss that whole experience. We even did a workshop with Martin DeMaat of Second City in Chicago (and if you don't know the name, trust me...he was gooooood.)

10. I completed all the coursework for a PhD in French linguistics, then left before taking the exams. To my surprise, I have never once regretted this decision. My parents, ten years later, still occasionally ask me about finishing my degree.

Wow...that was more fun and eye-opening than I expected! Ok, well, the next part here is where I shall once again come up short. I'm supposed to nominate 10 other bloggers for this award. But since the only details I know about this award is that it's "food related," and I'm not even sure that that's accurate...well, I'm not gonna do it. Because I don't read many food-focused blogs, and all of you have posted about some veeerrrry interesting dishes on occasion, so really, every blog I read is as qualified as every other.

Sorry to drop the ball like that...but, on the other hand, I guess that makes you all nominees! So, if you need an excuse to share some random details about yourself, then grab the award icon and have at it!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Off to See the Wizard

No, it's not your eyes, the picture is blurry. But that's ok; these family-visits often seem that way in retrospect! "Didn't we just get here??"

This past week, Miss Chef and I traveled to New Jersey to visit my brother and his family. A year or two ago, I came upon the realization that, if I must travel by air to visit them, January is much better than December. Look, we've all got our pressures in December, tickets are ridiculously overpriced, flights overbooked, and everyone's fighting for days off around the holidays.

January? Half-empty planes, lower prices and a fresh helping of vacation time! I hadn't seen my nephews and niece in a year and a half, and with all the extra work I've been putting in, I finally had the money for a ticket. And not just one, but two: with the lure of seeing NYC for the first time, I convinced Miss Chef to come along for the trip.

Of course, the main focus was re-bonding with the kids. Ages 10, 7 and 3, they are growing so fast I hate to miss a minute. The two oldest boys were very excited about our visit. Here Miss Chef bonds with the 7-year old, whom I nicknamed Cuddles because of his habit of climbing into either of our laps for some touchy-feely time.

I don't know much about childhood development, but I'm frankly impressed at his reading ability--especially since he doesn't much care for reading. And I'm also very happy (and proud?) that this household is a reading household. Whether they end up devouring novels as I do, or not, these kids will understand that reading can be a pastime, not just a chore.

Since the kids were back in school, and my brother and sister-in-law still had to work, Miss Chef and I took the train into Manhattan a couple of days. The first day we did Midtown. We arrived at Penn Station, then straight to a French sandwich shop recommended by Sis-in-Law, Macaron Café. An excellent recommendation; she will now be considered a Trusted Source.

From there, we walked up to Times Square (saw a few specks of confetti left from New Year's Eve), then over to 5th Avenue at Rockefeller Center...and St. Patrick's Cathedral.

By this point, Miss Chef had come to the conclusion that she hates New York. It's the crowds; she does not do well in crowds. She says she feels "irrationally angry," like she needs to start punching people...I guess it's a personal space thing. Considering I grew up on 10 wooded acres outside a small Ohio town, I was suprised how much I enjoyed the hurly-burly electric atmosphere. Don't misunderstand me; I could never, ever be happy living in a big city, sure is a nice place to visit.

In spite of her seething anger, Miss Chef did do her best to enjoy her tour. She finally suggested we visit FAO Schwarz--we had been disappointed to learn this summer that the 3-story one in Chicago no longer exists. So we called Sis-in-Law, who mapped it, and it turned out to be only 10 (short) blocks away. In spite of the cold, breezy weather (or maybe because of it), all the walking we did was no problem at all.

FAO Schwarz turns out to be located at the southeastern corner of Central Park...right across from the famous Plaza Hotel.

From the hotel's website:

For over 100 years The Plaza Hotel has held a special place in the hearts and imaginations of people around the world. It set the standard for luxury accommodation and service the moment it opened its doors at the corner of Central Park South and Fifth Avenue in New York City in 1907 and received its first guest, Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, a member of the famed American industrial family.

Throughout the twentieth century it was the site of the most lavish social affairs and was the New York City pied-a-terre of business leaders, socialites, movie stars and artists. In the 1920s it was the occasional home and social playground of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and their artistic and literary crowd companions.
Even with three kids back at the house, and Miss Chef's 3 nieces in mind, we managed to leave FAO Schwarz without buying a single thing. So we hoofed it back down 5th Ave, past the Empire State Building to 29th, and took a detour on the way back to Penn Station.

Miss Chef had read about a place that makes its own salamis and other cured meats, in Food and Wine. It's called Salumeria Biellese, and it was not at all what we expected. It looked more like a hole-in-the-wall Italian diner, run by a burly Hispanic guy...but when we tasted the sopressata, mortadella and whatever the heck else we ended up buying, all doubts were erased! We bought a couple pounds to stink up the train on the way back home.

Next day, my ever-so-gracious sis-in-law held the eldest nephew (whom I will code-name Daniel) out of school, and with the youngest niece, drove us all in to the City again, this time to the American Museum of Natural History. I had been there with Daniel when he was no more than 3 years old, but this is definitely a museum for multiple visits. Plus, it's now the star of a major motion picture: A Night at the Museum.

This is an overexposed shot of the dinosaur skeletons in the main entryway. As seen in the movie, they are...very large.

When I visited seven years ago, we were lucky to be there for the temporary butterfly exhibit. Imagine my surprise in learning it's still there! It was so popular, it was held over...and over.... The kids both loved it, and we spent quite a long time in there. (My SiL loved it too, for the overwhelming heat and humidity. She lived in Costa Rica for a few years, and still misses it, obviously!)

Between the lens fogging up, the constant flitting and fluttering, and harsh lighting, it was hard to get many good shots. I love digital worries about wasting film with multiple shots!

We finally moved on; it's a very difficult-to-navigate museum, and we got sidetracked in a geology exhibit for awhile...time for a portrait with...erm, some pretty rock.

(He is actually much more charming, and she less so, in person. She is adorable, though, I have to admit. Oh, and have I mentioned that everybody thinks she looks just like me?)

My favorite part of the Museum has to be the Ocean hall, with the full-sized blue whale hanging overhead. Literally awesome. I probably should have lightened this up before uploading it. Ah, well....

After returning home, Miss Chef and I, with Daniel's enthusiastic assistance, went to the grocery store and proceeded to make dinner for the family. Daniel absolutely loves to cook with us. He's always been pretty capable; he impressed me mightily with his pancake-flipping skills at age 8. Though he did get on my nerves, waving his chef's knife about...need to work on his safety skills, there.

I didn't get any pictures of any of the food we ate, but the menu for that night was: cheese & charcuterie platter (from our Salumeria selections), tossed salad, pork tenderloin stuffed with a savory apple mix, mashed potatoes, roasted root vegetables and apple crisp (or crumble, I'm still not sure of the difference).

Next day, everyone was off to work and school again, so Miss Chef and I hopped on the train again to Manhattan. This time we took the subway down to Little Italy.

We never did get a recommendation for a good place for lunch, so took our chances at a place called Pellegrino's. I think we did pretty well. The host was straight out of The Godfather, slicked-back hair, black bow-tie, Bronx accent and all. Again, no pictures...but Miss Chef loved her soup, called something like Pappa Fiortino. It was essentially a ball of very fresh mozarella surrounded by a warm, rich tomato ragout, garnished with toasted bread brushed with olive oil and herbs. I don't usually like any hot tomato dish not served over pasta, but this was good. (and warm...did I mention it was really cold up there?)

Miss Chef found her chicken and roasted-pepper panino disappointing after that, but I absolutely loved my pasta. It was essentially fettucine alfredo with asparagus, prosciutto and yellow bell peppers. I haven't had an alfredo that good in I can't remember how long. Neither has my digestive system, to judge by the still-lingering effects of all that cream.

It was soooooo worth it, though!

After lunch, we headed up to Grand, where I'd googled the location of some Italian food stores. There was a dairy (the picture above) with enormous wheels of parmagiano as well as an assortment of cured meats. Those are entire hams in the upper left, to give you some perspective.

And then a pasta place...heaven! All kinds and flavors of fresh and dried pastas. I had to stop and take a picture of their window display. You understand, right?

We again stocked up on some essentials to take home, as well as some fresh cheese raviolini for Cuddles, also known as the skinny one who won't eat anything. He declared "I think I just might like this," so perhaps we did some good.

Well folks, that's about all the blog-worthy action. The rest of our time was spent with the family: talking, eating, watching tv, playing on the Wii, reading to the kids at bedtime. Not notable, but no less important; certainly worth the price of two airline tickets.

Oh, and keep your eyes peeled...I have a feeling I'll be posting again soon, before my usual Friday missive.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Back Home

I snuck out on you...did you notice?

Last Saturday Miss Chef and I ventured north, to visit family. Back now to the sunny (but still cold) climes of North Carolina, I am in the midst of unpacking and laundering, as well as uploading and reviewing photos. So I'm not letting myself get sucked into what will undoubtedly be a fairly long-winded description of our trip--not now, not yet. But I did want to just poke my head up, say hello, and share this quick snapshot to help you figure out where I've been all week.

Now, back to the washer and dryer! See you all soon...