Monday, March 31, 2008

Forbiddden in Tibet

The Tibetan flag.....forbidden in Tibet.

Religious and spiritual freedom for Tibetans....forbidden.

Tibetan autonomy and economic opportunity.....forbidden.

Human rights and PEACE for all Tibetan people.....forbidden.

"I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest. I do not judge the universe." Dalai Lama

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Tea Time

Sometimes I do think I should have been born in a different time, the time of Jane Austen, horse drawn carriage, chivalry, petticoats, hats for every outfit, and of course, afternoon tea. I realize that had I been born in Jane Austen's time I probably wouldn't have been in the class of people who actually got to partake of the lovely ritual of tea, dainty finger sandwiches, and scones with clotted cream. So I guess it's better that I live in this century, where I can go with a couple of gal pals to a grand hotel and have the chance to be treated like a real lady, have scrumptious treats and great conversation. I'm glad I have friends who like to do this. The picture above is from the hotel we went to, The Peninsula Chicago and that is exactly what our tea service looked like. Heck that might have even been my teapot.

I'm also glad I belong to a meet-up group of ladies who meet on a regular basis for Afternoon Tea. We'd been on a hiatus, but I'll be joining them in April for an afternoon of more of the same. I'm glad I only do this, at most, once a month, because it really seems like a treat then. I'm not so sure doing this everyday, like the Victorians did, would have been so special.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Spinach Mushroom Lasagne

"If you ate pasta and antipasto, would you still be hungry?"....Author Unknown

I love to make lasagne, and while it's not hard and I really don't think you can mess it up (unless you burn it), it can be a laborious task, especially if you are using regular lasagne noodles that you have to worry about getting out of the water and straightened, so they don't bend and stick to themselves. That's the reason I've switched to the no-boil type of noodles...very easy to use and just as tasty. But that doesn't mean I make the recipe any more than I use to... Before I continue, let me just say, if you don't like the vegetable ingredients, substitute to whatever you like. You really can't mess this up.


1 package no-boil lasagne noodles
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
4 cups (firmly packed) fresh spinach, coarsely chopped
4 cups tomato sauce or your favorite pasta sauce
3 tbsp fresh basil, chopped (if using dried, remember that you use 1/3 amt of dried herbs, so 1 tbsp dried)
2 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped (3/4 tspn dried)
salt & pepper to taste (I personally don't salt many recipes because there is enough salt found in things like cheese)
1 four oz can of sliced black olives (or about 1/2 cup)
2 cups Ricotta cheese (I use the low-fat variety)
2 eggs1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped (1 tbsp dried flakes)
4 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (using fresh is so much nicer than that powered stuff...ick!)

In a large skillet on medium heat, saute onions, garlic and mushrooms in the olive oil until veggies are soft, but not brown. Add chopped spinach, lower heat, stirring occasionally and saute for about 5 minutes, or until all of the spinach absorbs liquid from the pan and gets soft (almost wilted looking.) Add 3 1/2 cups of the tomato sauce (setting aside 1/2 cup of sauce), to the veggie mixture. Add the basil, oregano, pepper and black olives. Simmer, covered, on LOW heat for about 10-15 minutes.

In the meantime, beat the eggs and combine with the ricotta cheese, TWO of the cups of mozzarella cheese and the parsley. Set aside the other two cups of mozzarella cheese.

In a 13x9x2 inch baking pan, spread the 1/2 cup set aside tomato sauce, evenly on the bottom. Layer in the following manner, layering noodles overlapping so there are no gaps in the noodles:

If making two layers -

Noodles, 1/2 ricotta mixture, 1/2 veggie sauce mixture, 1/2 mozzarella cheeseNoodles, 1/2 ricotta mixture, 1/2 veggie sauce mixture, 1/2 mozzarella cheese, sprinkle with parmesan cheese

If making three layers -

Noodles, 1/3 ricotta mixture, 1/3 veggie sauce mixture, 1/3 mozzarella cheeseNoodles, 1/3 ricotta mixture, 1/3 veggie sauce mixture, 1/3 mozzarella cheeseNoodles, 1/3 ricotta mixture, 1/3 veggie sauce mixture, 1/3 mozzarella cheese, sprinkle with parmesan cheese

As a side note, using the no-boil noodles, because the brand I use is a flatter noodle, I can make three layers, but using the traditional noodles, I only get 2 layers.
Depending on what noodles you are using, follow the directions for your noodles to determine baking time. With traditional noodles, since you already cooked them, you should only need to bake the lasagne for 30 -40 minutes at 375°F. With the no-boil noodles, you should bake it for 50-60 minutes at 375° F.

So here is a finished lasagne.

Serve with a nice crisp green salad and some garlic bread. Mangia!!

Well, I never claimed to be a food photographer and my guess is that a lot of the really yummy looking recipes you see in food magazines are either plastic, dyed or inedible. You can't see the layers very well, but trust me, all three were there and they were yummy....if I do say so myself.

Happy Caturday!!

w00t! It's Caturday.... after 10:30 am and still in me jammies. Finished a book this morning and had a piece of cold pizza with a glass of milk for breakfast.'s Caturday!

Happy Caturday peeps!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Week 2

The men and women took the floor tonight doing either the Mambo or Quickstep. This ought to be interesting doing the Quickstep so early in the season when these stars haven't had a chance to break in with an easier dance.

Steve & Anna - Mambo - Again, what is it with the huge facial expressions he's making? He seems to really love doing this and has a great outlook on this. He's trying hard and I'm sure he'll be a crowd favorite. But he's not great...just ok.
Judges score - 16/30, mine 6/10

Christian & Cheryl - Quickstep - this is a hard dance and I thought they did a good job but it seems the judges weren't overly thrilled. Are they giving this guy a harder time because he's Latin and should have good rhythymor something? He's CUTE! ah well...
Judges: 20/30, me 7/10

Monica and Jonathan - Mambo - eeesh, I don't think she can pull off loosening up and swishing her skirt. It doesn't work. She looks stiff. She did try hard, but I really think it her dances have come to an end...or should anyway.
Judges: 15/30, me 5/10

Penn & Kym - Quickstep - oh dear.... the dance may be quick, but he really does look like a bit of a giant in a tutu and the magic bit at the beginning was just plain daft. He seemed irritated by the judges remarks. They do sound harsh.
Judges: 17/30, me 5/10

Priscilla & Louis - Mambo - Go mamma, shake that skirt! She is much more fluid and swishy than Monica, she's just plain GOOD! The judges give her a bit of a hard time for not being sexy enough, but I think she did a great job.
Judges: 21/30, me 8/10

Shannon & Derek - Quickstep - They did a really nice job, but I can't find anything to warm up to this star. She's alright. The judges love her though for this dance.
Judges: 24/30, me 7/10

Jason & Edyta - Mambo - WOW, again, for a football player, this guy is a great dancer. And he doesn't carry himself the way other tall athletes in past series' have, where they kind of hunch their shoulders. He has great posture and once again, he looks great with Edyta. And DO the judges love him or what!
Judges: 27/30, me 9/10

Marissa & Tony - Quickstep - Whe I saw they were doing the quickstep, I thought cripes, you'll never see them. They will just be a blur on the screen with all of her pent up frenetic energy....whirrrrrrrrrr! They were good though and she seemed to settle down and focus more. She had the energy, but it wasn't crazy.
Judges: 21/30, me 7/10

Adam & Julianne - Mambo - errrr, ok, let's just say it was a bit odd and that Julianne won't be staying around longer than her brother.
Judges: 19/20, me 6/10

Marlee & Fabian - Quickstep - At some point in this dance I did fall asleep, thank god for DVR. Upon rewatching, this time with my eyes open, I thought they were ok. I liked her better this week than last. She seemed more fluid and I liked her dress. As an aside, too bad there can't be points added or subtracted for their outfits...hehe...a Project Runway meets Dancing with the Stars. Anywhoo, not bad and the judges thought so too.
Judges: 24/30, me 7/10

Kristi & Mark - Mambo - and whoa! They hit a homerun again! They do a difficult dance, even I can tell that and pull some cool moves. But I'm not crazy about Kristi's dress or gloves at all...what's up with that??? She's a serious contender. I hope I don't jinx it though. Look what happened to Sabrina last year...
Judges: 27/30, me 9/10

Mario & Karina - Quickstep - The dance started with her flying into his arms from a few steps above him. Let's just say I wouldn't have been sorry to see him accidentally not quite catch her properly...ahem. I know that's not fair. He did a great job and seems like a nice guy. I imagine this causes a bit of flack for his rep....hehehe.
Judges: 26/30, me 9/10

For me Kristi and Priscilla are the best of the ladies and Jason and Christian are the best men. At the bottom I'd put Monica and Marrissa and Adam and Penn.

On elimination night I never watch the show, just the last 5-10 minutes. I just can't bear all of that filler, recapping, and singing and dancing from people I don't care to watch.

In the end, Penn and Monica went surprise.

Dancing With The Stars

Alrighty here we go...a new season. I've been looking forward to it. I know, it's a bit schmaltzy and many times the stars that kicked off aren't the worst dancers, just the least popular for that week. It IS a popularity contest, but in general the stars that DO make it into the final round and are amongst the one's that are the better dancers. If that weren't the case, we'd have seen Jerry Springer or George Hamilton of previous seasons win, which they didn't and shouldn't have. The stars for this season consist of:

I had no idea who Christian de la Fuente or Mario were. Christian is a Chilean actor and Mario is a rap or hip hop or R&B singer. Can't remember which. Adam Carolla isn't so familiar either and I didn't know Shannon Elizabeth did more than American Pie. I'm sure like everyone else, I was surprised to see Marlee Matlin on the roster, and not to be mean or anything, but is every season going to have a star with some sort of disability who gets given a bit of leeway by the judges and gets voted off long after they should have? Will she be another Heather Mills? hmmm Time will tell. I was also surprised to see Priscilla Presley and a little disturbed by what possibly could be botox gone wrong. Jason Taylor I don't know from football, but he won't be hard to watch (along with Christian), Steve Guttenberg might be the "old" guy this year. Penn Jillette....oh my is all I'll say. And Monica and I WAS thrilled to see how Kristi Yamaguchi participating. I loved her skating and thought she might be enjoyable to watch.

The stars are paired up this way: Adam & Julianne Hough (winner of last two seasons); Christian & Cheryl Burke (winner of the two seasons before Julianne); Shannon& Derek Hough (yes, Julianne's brother); Steve & Anna Trebunskaya; Mario & Karina Smirnoff (ick I don't like her); Marlee & Fabian Sanchez (he's replacing Maxim Chemerkovsky...toooo bad. Fabian seems boring); Penn & Kym Johnson (how does she always get stuck with duds); Priscilla & Louis van Amstel; Monica & Jonathan Roberts; Jason & Edyta Sliwinska (this woman has legs that go on for miles...holy schmoly); Marissa & Tony Dovolani and Kristi & Mark Ballas.

The judges are, as usual Carrie Ann Inaba, Len Goodman, and Bruno Tonioli.

So for the start of this season, the producers decided that the couples would dance two dances before an elimination and for the first time there would be a double elimination. Sooooooo, week one had the dancers doing either the Foxtrot or the ChaChaCha. The men danced the first night. Penn & Kym were up first with the ChaChaCha. Eeeek, he did seem to be trying but jimminy crickets, Bruno said it right, he looks like Shrek and his feet are like BOATS! Their score was 16 out of a possible 30. My score 6/10. Jason & Edyta followed with the Foxtrot. He did a really nice job. For a football player, he was surprisingly elegant and paired with Edyta, they make a nice picture on the dance floor. Score: 22/30, my score 8/10. Christian & Cheryl were up next with the ChaChaCha. He was nice to watch and I think the judges were a little hard on him, but they still gave him fairly respectable marks 21/30. My score 7/10. Then it was time for Adam & Julianne with the Foxtrot. Let's just say, there is no way Julianne is going to have a three-peat! Judges score 15/30, mine 6/10. Mario & Karina were up next doing the ChaChaCha and while he was good, I'm never going to get past that I don't like her and I wanted to urp when one of the judges said something about her and all these great Mario's...aaack. Their score 24/30, mine 7/10. Lastly Steve & Anna took the floor and I think Steve needs to stop making all of the facial expressions. He did fair. Their score 18/30. My score 6/10. So the men were in the following order by score: Mario, Jason, Christian, Steve, Penn and Adam.

The next night the ladies took to the dance floor. Shannon & Derek were up first with the ChaChaCha. The judges liked them. I thought they were ok. Derek made some comment about being a MAN this year instead of a boy like last year....aaack! Judges score 21/30. My score, 7/10. Monica & Jonathan were up next with the Foxtrot. Oh my goodness! It's a real good thing Monica is just using this as a substitute for the prom she never went to because she was in a Grand Slam, cuz I think she may see her last dance next week. She was so stiff and gangly. Judges score 15/30, my score 5/10. Marrissa & Tony did the ChaChaCha. First of all, in the bits they show before the dances of the dancers practicing and learning and all that filler which sometimes gets annoying... I wanted to either shake her or slap her Cher style ala Moonlight "SNAP OUT OF IT!" She was so hyper and over the top bubbly. I understand that was probably a huge bit nervousness, but SHEESH! This carried into the dance where she was kinda all over the place. I got exhausted watching her. The judges kinda felt this too. Their score 18/30. My score 5/10. Next was Priscilla & Louis doing the Foxtrot. WOW....I was shocked. She was GREAT! She did this death spiral thingy and she really looked great. I just wish she could smile properly. Judges loved 'em...24/30. My score 8/10. And then came Kristi & Mark, also doing the Foxtrot. C'mon, could she do a bad job. With her years of skating experience, she must have loads of dance training and any dance that would require elegance and good arm and leg extension, she'd surely be able to pull off nicely. YAYYYYYYYY, she did. She looked GREAT out there and everyone loved her! Judges score 27/30, my score 9/10. Finally Marlee was up last and did the the ChaChaCha. She was good, don't get me wrong, but there were a few awkward moments of a stiffness. hmmm Judges gave her a 22/30, my score 7/10. So the ladies are in the following order: Kristi, Priscilla, Marlee, Shannon, Marissa & Monica.

Next episode and then duh duh duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh...double elimination!

Out with TC4, in with DWTS!

OK, I've made an executive decision here. Instead of doing a weekly recap of Top Chef, I'm going to do one of Dancing with the Stars. I may make reference to TC, but it's easier to talk about the stars than the cheftestants that no one knows. The review of the first elimination round will be forthcoming very soon.

So what else is new? Earth Hour is tomorrow. The Hubs and I are planning to go out early to celebrate the booking of our trip to Peru by going to an authentic Peruvian restaurant not too far from us. Ya know, that's what I love about can find an authentic Peruvian restaurant, run by a Peruvian immigrant, so you know he's going to be serving the real thing, not just an Americanized version, like I think so many Chinese restaurants are. Where do you find something like that in Bumblehoot, Iowa? We'll be going out early enough to get home in time to turn off a lot of the things in the house that use electrical energy. I don't think I'll unplug the clock radio...too much of a pain to reset the time.

And then on Sunday, I'll be going out to Afternoon Tea with the ladies *said with pinky held high* at one of the posh downtown hotels. I'll let you know how that goes.

I was able to unload another book from my Bookins list...YAY! And I have two items coming to me, the book Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. I've been wanting to get this book for a long time. I've heard it's hilarious. And maybe it will help me be a better writer...LOL. I just had to include an image of the book cover because it cracks me up! I'm also getting a Spanish Level 1 (Learn in your Car). Well, we don't have a car, so I'm assuming this will be Spanish Level 1 (Learn in your cocina). It should be a hoot anyway!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Episode 2

Okay, so I know I'm a week a bit busy with my own top chef activities for Easter dinner and didn't get to watch TC4 until this week. To keep it short, the elimination challenge from Lincoln Park Zoo was fun to watch, having volunteered at LPZoo for over 10 years. The premise was that 5 teams of 3 cheftestants were named after 5 animals, lion, bear, vulture, penguin, and gorrilla and the teams had to prepare appetizers using foods that those animals would eat and they would have to cater to a fancy cocktail party for zoo patrons.

In the end the winner was the annoying Andrew, from the penguin team, who swore a lot in the first episode but didn't seem to be so obnoxious this episode...hmmmm. He made a ceviche and this glacier made out of yuzu (a Japanese fruit). Valerie, from the gorilla team, made some awful looking olive blinis that got soggy and was sent packing. I would have ditched either her or Nikki, from the bear team for making the "poo" looking stuffed mushrooms. I can't believe her team didn't tasted them before serving them. It seems a no-brainer to taste the food you are serving to anyone else, before you do so. Heck even I do that when I cook....duh!

For more reviews, visit the Top Chef website or read David Dust's blog.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Conserve some energy and read a book!!

Two things on my mind I was reminded about in an email from a "family-member-by-choice", that Saturday, March 30th, my husband and I are going to observe Earth Hour, Chicago, from 8-9 pm. To all (yes, I know I have a mass audience out there...hehehe) naysayers who would say that by turning off the lights and using as little electrical power as possible, one can't make a difference, well then they really are missing the point. It's about making those small changes on a daily basis that make a difference and if you don't believe we, as humans are having an impact on our environment, then I just don't know what to say. Impact it possitvely by reducing your energy use. I know I'm far from perfect when it comes to the three R's (and I don't mean, Reading, Ritin', and 'Rithmatic), I'm talking about Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, but I think these kind of observances give us all pause to think about what we are TURN YOUR LIGHT OFF!

And while you have the light off, you might want to pick up a book. Yes, your eyes can handle reading by candlelight for an hour. Better yet, it would be cool to read by one of those old fashioned hurricane lanterns (hmmmm, not so sure about the kerosene though). But I digress (as ususal)....this is about books and reading. I was made aware of this great book swapping website called Bookins. The idea is that you offer up books for trade that are taking up way too much space on your bookshelves and in return you can replace them with books you want to read, but instead of paying full price, you pay one flat fee for any of the books in the Bookins database...$4.49. When someone wants a book you have, you just have to print off a US postal service label, wrap the package up, slap the label on, and pop it in any auctions, no dealing with the buyers directly, no going to a post office. It's so easy, you just wait for an email telling you that someone wants one of your books and you are off! The best thing is you know the book is going to someone who wants to read it. I joined the site yesterday...for FREE, I might add....put 23 books up on my trade list and by the end of the day THREE of them were requested. That was so cool! I was worried no one would want my books...LOL Anywhoo...if you are a reader, but don't want to keep buying books at full price, or even reduced price, check Bookins out. Another suggestion I'm making to readers out there is to check Amazon Marketplace for books. Yesterday I bought the book for my next book club meeting for 1 cent! Of course there were shipping costs of $3.99, but really can one camplain about spending $4.00 on a book. And then when I'm done with it...on the Bookins list it will go! I know some of you will say....go to the library. The fact of the matter is that some of the books we read for our book club are that readily available and I'm not going to traipse all over the city to find a book. *shrug*

Lastly for today...Dancing with the Stars.... Monica Seles, Penn Jillette, and Adam Carola are in my bottom three. There will be a double elimination...two of them NEED to go. And I just gotta say, I'm impressed with how well Priscilla Presley is doing. Her face has some strangeness of the Botox variety going on, but WOW, she's dancing great....and not "just for her age". Kristi Yamaguchi is my girl though and is at the top of the heap....go Kristi!!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Fontina Risotto Cakes with Chives

Yay! I'm posting the first of my recipe collection. I served these for Easter dinner yesterday along with lamb and mixed veggies and soup and these were a big hit. I'll definitely make these again. I got this recipe out of Bon Appétit magazine. I've slightly changed it so I don't think I can be accused of copyright infringement for reprinting it here. You'll notice I say FRESHLY grated cheese and FRESH chives. The first is there is a world of difference between freshly grated Parmesan cheese and that grated powdery stuff that you get in the pasta aisle....eww, that stuff just doesn't smell right. And as far as fresh herbs, well, if that isn't pointed out, one COULD make the mistake and use dried herbs and that would be a mistake. The rule of thumb is to use 3 times as much fresh herbs as you would dried herbs.

4-5 cups (about) chicken broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup arborio rice
1/4 cup dry white wine
6 tablespoons FRESHLY grated or shaved Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter or margarine

1 1/2 cups panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1/2 cup (packed) coarsely grated FRESH Fontina cheese
1/4 cup chopped FRESH parsley
3 tablespoons chopped FRESH chives
1 large egg yolk
2 large eggs
Canola oil (for frying)

Bring 4 cups broth to simmer in small saucepan. Reduce heat to very low; cover and keep warm.

Heat olive oil in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion; sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add rice; stir 1 minute. Add wine; stir until absorbed, about 30 seconds.
Add broth, 1/2 cup at a time, and simmer until rice is just tender and risotto is creamy, allowing broth to be absorbed before adding more, and stirring often, about 20-25 minutes. Remove from heat. Mix in 6 tablespoons Parmesan and butter. Season with salt (if you want, I didn't use salt though) and pepper. Spread risotto in a thin layer in a pan and cool completely in the refrigerator. Can be chilled overnight.

Beat 2 eggs in shallow bowl to blend. Place 1 cup panko in another shallow bowl.

Mix 1/2 cup panko, Fontina cheese, parsley, chopped chives, and 1 egg yolk into risotto. The risotto will be a bit more solid than when it was first made, but it will make the cakes stick together much better. Shape mixture into 1 1/4-inch balls; flatten to 2-inch rounds. Dip risotto cakes into beaten egg, then into panko to coat.

Pour enough canola oil into large skillet to coat bottom; heat oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, sauté risotto cakes until crisp and brown, about 2 1/2 minutes per side. Either serve immediately or these can be made ahead of time and heated on a baking sheet in the oven on a low heat for 20 minutes.

Friday, March 21, 2008

grrrr Trader Joe's!

Trader Joe's is starting to get on my last nerve now. It seems everytime I go in there the product I'm looking for is "no longer carried". I went in there today for panko bread crumbs. Knowing that they make a panko-crusted ckicken breasts, I kinda thought they might carry the bread crumbs and besides...panko bread crumbs are not THAT unusual. But no, it seems that when a product is in the bottom 100 of their products, it gets rotated out of stock for something else. Apparently it's been the way they do things for over 50 years. Hmmm, I didn't know TJ had been around for 50 years. The chirpy (why are they all so chirpy anyway) TJ employee said that sometimes items get rotated back in because of demand but that these had alread been rotated back in once and he doesn't think they will be back. And then he just annoyed me by saying, it's all the products he loves too, so he felt my pain.... oi!

So off to Whole Foods I was....and yep they had organic panko bread crumbs. Organic...hmph...I don't think EVERYTHING needs to be organic. But they weren't a bad price........ for Whole Paycheck.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

We are going to Peru!!!

After accumulating airmiles for the past few years, and working diligently to boost those miles over the past two months, my husband and I finally have enough miles to book our trip to Peru so that we only have to pay the taxes. We'll be going in our summer, their winter and will be there for Peru Independence Day at the end of July! I'm so excited about this. It will be the first time either of us have been south of the equator, in South America, in a totally different culture.

One question always comes up when we tell people of our plans, NO, we are NOT going to Machu Picchu, not because it's not an amazing site to see I'm quite sure, but we were looking to do something a bit less touristy and therefore a bit less expensive. Since the airfare is basically free, we only have to worry about accomodations, dining, and of course....SHOPPING! hehehe Ooooh, and I may have to bring an alpaca back with me. And from what I understand about less travelled places in Peru, staying and visiting is really inexpensive. The only thing we need to do is learn a bit of Spanish. I'm sure we won't have much difficulty getting around in Lima, but we won't be styaing there for long and the smaller towns may require a bit more communication skills. So, I'm going to taking a Spanish class meant for travellers and a good translation book will go a long way! OHMIGOSH! I'm so excited!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

I'd like to wrap the world in cashmere...

Ok, so I know this wouldn't work on warmer climates, but honestly there is no fabric more devine. Yesterday walking home (through) Nordstrom's, I noticed a sale in the sock department. And lo and behold, the cashmere socks were half priced. EEEEEEEE...I couldn't believe my luck. I bought just two pairs, because really, they are still a hefty price, but OMG, do they make my feet happy. And they aren't like angora socks, which make my feet too warm. Maybe it has to do with the size of the weave. The angora socks are soft enough, but maybe the tightness of weave just makes them too warm.

I just believe that if people were wearing some form of cashmere, they'd be too peaceful to start and participate in any kind of conflict.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Foodie fodder

I was going to work this morning and when I got off the bus I found myself enveloped in that unmistakeable wonderful aroma of cocoa beans being roasted at a downtown Chicago chocolate factory. It's not like this factory is anywhere near where I work, but when the wind is blowing just right, the scent is akin to a warm cup of hot cocoa wafting through the air....mmmm, chocolate. It's best experienced on a chilly winter morning instead of a hot humid summer day, when I'd rather sniff a cool crisp iced-tea or lemonade or something. But this morning, it was bliss, not overpowering, just comforting. So I decided, this would be a foodie post today. I've got some gripes to air and woo-hoo, my impressions of the first episode of this seasons Top Chef!

So my gripes...I went to Trader Joe's yesterday because I had this idea for a meal that was very specific. In the past, I'd bought this mojito meat marinade that was pretty good. I had some chicken that needed to be cooked up and while I know the free-range, non-hormone, non-antibiotic injected, organically-fed stuff is all around a better product for you, it bugs me that I have to cook it up so quickly after buying. I know, not something to really be bugged about, but there you are. That is NOT my gripe. So the menu I had in my head was to cook up this chicken in the mojito marinade and serve it with a nice mix of rice, Cuban black beans (also from TJ), & roasted corn. Mmmm...sounds good, yeah? Well it wasn't to be because Trader Joe's NO LONGER CARRIES mojito meat marinade. GRRRR! I asked one of the chirpy TJ employees what happened to it and he thought it had a possibilty of making it back on TJ shelves because it was popular. This was my gripe! C'mon TJ, don't take popular products off your shelves. Crossing fingers. So I figured, well, I'm here and TJ makes other nice meat sauces, so I wound up getting an Indian "curry" sauce, some naan bread and a package of Jaipur vegetables. All in all, it was ok. The Jaipur vegetables were pretty good, and I'd like to get that dish into my Indian recipe repertoire. It's actually called Navrattan vegetables...a mildly sauced dish with several veggie types and my favorite Indian cheese, paneer. Oh lordy, I'm off track here... The "curry" sauce was a question-mark because it really was difficult to tell just WHAT curry sauce the makers were trying to duplicate. It had Indian flavors so that's good enough to satisfy hubster's insatiable craving for Indian meals when I don't have the desire, energy, or twelvety-five hours to make a dish from scratch.

My second gripe.... I bought a new cereal to bring to work which sounded promising. Post Nut Harvest Crunch... whole grain flakes with lightly sweetened cruncy clusters, almonds, pecans & walnuts. With 200 calories per serving and despite being lightly sweetened, only 8 grams of sugar, but a nice 8 g of fiber (a whopping 32% of recommended daily fiber intake), and not bad in the sodium department. What bugged me was that the cereal looked nothing like the picture on the box. I opened the box expecting all these nice crunchy clusters and I saw not a cluster, not a nut. I KNOW they didn't all settle to the bottom, but there had to be about only 3 of each nut type chopped up so finely in the entire box. Bah...if I wanted boring whole grain flakes, I'm sure I can buy a box of that. The thing is, the picture on that box would have fruit garnishing and would make it look real interesting. I think it's funny too how they give you the impression that you can have a nice big heaping bowl of cereal for breakfast, when in reality, the serving size for most is no more than 1 cup. A better picture for this cereal would have been one little cup with one cluster on top. I think cereal makers and frozen dinner makers are the worst when it comes to the pictures they put on their boxes. I learned a long time ago that the pictures on the frozen foods would not only never look that good, but wouldn't taste as good either. That's why I rarely eat a frozen food, they just rarely taste good and are filled with all kinds of junk.

Episode 1

So on to Top Chef! I'll be yapping about this for the remainder of the season and will try to figure out how I keep keep all of the Top Chef posts in one spot here. Anyway, it was a great first episode. The viewing audience was introduced to 16 cheftestants (I saw that word on Ted Allen's Top Chef blog and decided to steal it) and it definitely looks like it will be an interesting series. Of course many of them are very confident, some to the point of arrogance, of their abilities. One especially got on my nerves right away...Andrew, who found it necessary to sprinkle each sentence with at least one $%#&*, and for what, to make himself look cool...gimme a break. This was a first for Top Chef, a lesbian couple who both made it on to the show...hmmmm. I'm guessing that the TC producers thought that would put some more interest into the out-of-the-kitchen stories. I wonder if one of the thousands of other chefs that auditioned might not have been a better fit for the show, but lost out because of the human interest story. They "came out" to the other contestants and while there were a few glances around, one chef said it best, well so they are a couple, do they have an advantage, no...and they can just both go home together too. LOL I liked his attitude.

The first challenge they had was to put their own twist on the classic Chicago-style deep dish pizza. I guess you could see that one coming for a mile with all of the Chicago references mentioned and shown. I felt bad for the guest judge Rocco DiSpirito, who had to sample 16 types of deep dish pizza....aack. I hope he hadn't eaten that day and wasn't planning on it for a few days after. One cracked me up, by Nikki...she had used way too much dough so her result was a massive piece of crust with a tiny amount of filling. The New Zealander, Mark put Marmite on his...yes, MARMITE!!!! It's a strange concoction that Brits put on their toast, but as was advised to me by my father-in-law who even travels with the stuff, a LITTLE goes a long way. My mum found this out the hard way when she put a teaspoon of the stuff on her toast and chomped down... AACK! More like 1/8 of a teaspoon is all that is edible. LOL

Anywhoo, Rocco (rawr), picked his 8 favorite and 8 least favorite pizzas and for the elimination challenge, one least fav chef went up against one fav chef in cooking the same classic dish. The dishes were shrimp scampi, lasagne, chicken piccata, steak au poivre, duck a l'orange, crab cakes, eggs benedict, and souffle. Each chef made their dish and the panel of judges decided of the two, which chef would be in the group possible to win the challenge and which would be in the group possible to be eliminated. There was some great looking lasagne, some pretentiously deconstructed duck a l'orange, overly salted and inedible srimp scampi with some funky looking cauliflower puree, chicken piccata that wasn't piccata at all and two darn right disastrous and funny souffles.

In the end I picked who the eliminated chef would be... Nimma with the inedible shrimp scampi. She also just had this really dour attitude. When she was in the losing group of pizza makers, she said she wasn't there to have fun, therefore wasn't going to socialize in the house with the other chefs. She was only there for business. Well boo-hoo, she doesn't have to worry about socializing anymore with them. Pack your knives Nimma. Congrats to Chicago resident Stephanie who won the challenge with her duck dish. Ok, so she isn't a Chicago native, but that's ok...she lives here now.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Purse Schizophrenic?

I decided it was time for a new "everyday" purse. At this point my husband will no doubt look into the closet, see the Rubbermaid bin overflowing with all purses of every description and just plain think I've cracked a few of my marbles. What he fails to understand is that there are purses for every occasion and season. But a woman should have an everyday purse that is just basic and will "go" with everything. My everyday purse is always a black one. I couldn't use my brown sparkly beaded one, the red one in the shape of a Yorkshire terrier, or the hand stitched Tibetan one on a daily basis. This is obvious!

It was time for a new one because the one I'm about to throw in the garbage which I only paid about 10 bucks for at one of those Claire's Accessories boutiques has a sticker on it that I can't scrape off (don't ask), and let's face it, a $10 purse is only suppose to last so long and this one has gone well beyond it's expiration date.

The weather isn't too bad today, so I took myself over to Marshall's (a discount store), determined to get a new purse. My goal was to spend no more than $30, and at Marshall's this is not only possible, but probable. For those who don't know Marshall's, they carry name-brand products at low prices, the stock is always different, and you can really get some good bargains there. You gotta be careful though because sometimes prices are WAY out of line for that store. I guess it depends on the desinger that is sending the item over and how low they will let Marshall's mark it....or something. I love having lots of purses to mix it up, so I've always kept the prices down on the purses I DO buy. I've really never understood the attraction to a $300-$400 Dooney & Burke or Coach bag. Actually I can't say that I DON'T have a Coach, because I actually that I paid about 75% off for at Nordstroms that is this adorable suede, the shade of powder blue that I would never think of giving up. I've only used it about 3 times, but when it matches the outfit, it is FAB!!!!!!!!!!

Anywhoooo....I headed right for the black purses and was met with quite the array....but it only took about 5 minutes to rule out about 95% of the purses (too big, too small, gaudy, wrong material, cheap looking, too expensive). But then I hit upon it. A simple in design Etienne Aigner black fabric satchel. I think Etienne Aigner is a classic, timeless, elegant designer. Nothing flashy. The purse had a suggested retail price of $67 and it was selling for $24!!!! SOLD! It has a few pockets for small things...which I always say I'll use but when truth comes to it, everything winds up getting thrown in the same section. The best thing is it isn't a walking advertisement for the designer. I hate that and if my Coach purse had those stupid "C"s all over it, I never would have bought it. So I'm happy now...I got a well-made, nice looking purse for twenty-four bucks!

Getting this purse made me think about the feature story I saw by comedienne Anita Renfro the other day on Good Morning America when I stayed home sick. It cracked me up, so I thought I'd share a bit of it. To see the video of the feature, go here.

Clutch, hand bag or purse — whatever the name of your all-inclusive accessory, it can say a lot about you. Whether you love those over-the-shoulder boulder holders or tiny totes are your thing, your pocketbook is telling the world more than you realize.
There are at least four purse analogies.

More Is More Better
This lady is the one who never really got over carrying the diaper bag and still wishes she had something that large. She normally has like a full snack bar and a working pharmacy down in her bag and is prepared for every situation in life.
The upside: Should you ever find yourself in jail, she'll be the only one in your group of friends with a MacGyver 7-in-1 tool to bust you out.

Basic Tiny Toter
This girl can get the whole contents of her day into seven square inches. I don't really understand this woman, but you can bet if she can do this that she's got some control issues.
She probably pays her bills ahead of time and has her sheets tucked in real tight on the corners of her bed.
The upside: Should you ever find yourselves in jail, she'll be the only one with the unlimited AMEX who can bail you out.

Serial Monogamist
She gets one purse and sticks with it for 12 years. She's the kind of person for whom you occasionally have to do what we call "a purse intervention." Now she's also loyal and if she'll stay with this purse for 12 years she'll hang with you.
The upside: Should you ever find yourself in jail, she's the only one in your group of friends who'll be out on the sidewalk holding a candlelight vigil with a sign that says, "My friend is innocent."

Purse Schizophrenic
This woman changes her purses more often than she changes her underwear. Sometimes she doesn't know how she's going to feel after lunch so she'll occasionally carry a purse inside of her purse just in case her mood changes.
The upside: If you find yourself in jail, she's normally the reason why you're there, BUT she's also the one who'll sit right there with you in that jail cell saying, "Isn't that the best fun we ever had honey?"

hmmm, so who am I? I think I go between a Purse Schizophrenic (hubster would be nodding the affirmative while looking in the closet) and a Basic Tiny Toter. I know my mum is a Serial Monogamist. I once bought her a nice Liz Claiborne and hadn't paid attention to the fact that she carried that thing for YEARSSSSSSSS. It does say a lot about the durabilty and quality of a Liz Claiborne though. I think if it hadn't been for the fact that the leather straps were wearing away so bad from being carried around for years, she'd still be carrying it.

Another bit in the Renfro piece was an interesting fact...that on average, women carry about 65 things in their purses. REALLY?? 65??? I thought I'd take a look in mine seeing as I'd just transferred the contents to the new purse:
  • 1 cell phone (may or may not be charged....probably NOT)
  • 1 set of house keys
  • 1 change purse with money and debit card
  • 1 bus pass holder with bus pass
  • 1 comb
  • 1 clear lip gloss
  • 1 colored lip gloss
  • 1 purse-size perfume
  • 1 bottle of Ibuprofen
  • 3 Halls throat lozengers
  • 1 pair of gloves
THAT'S IT?!?!?!? Something must be missing?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Well it seems like Peep Diorama Contests are peeping out all over the place. The Chicago Tribune invited Peep lovers to create a diorama and send a picture in for a public vote. Well the top 10 finalists have been named and it's time to vote. The winner will be announced on, well, of course....Easter! Go HERE to vote! I won't say which is my favorite of the bunch, but it's not looking good so far for my pick.

I'm not sure how this contest started, but it might have been because of the overwhelming success of the Washington Post's first ever Peep Diorama contest last year. (The pic is of the winner, Peeps are a Girl's Best Friend). Who knew there are people out there who would have so much time on their hands to create a diorama out of Peeps...and in the case of the Chicago Tribune contest, for the staggering $101 prize. I love it though! I wish I were that creative. The only thing I do with my Peeps is let them get stale by puncturing a hole in the Peep box and then enjoying the hardened exterior/gooey interior. I'm glad they've introduced Peeps for other holidays and ghost Peeps for Halloween and tree and snowman Peeps for Christmas...hehehe. I've never tried any of the other microwave-related Peep experiments, mainly because I don't want to blow up my 20 year old microwave over some Peeps!

Friday, March 7, 2008


I've got the gunks. And I'm blaming my husband 100% because he's been carrying the nasties around for weeks and weeks now. My throat hurts, my glands are swollen, I'm cold, my nose is simultaneously runny and stuffy, my ears hurt, and I'm tired because I didn't get enough sleep. blllllllllaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh. Ok, that's my whine-fest for the day.

I have a co-worker who always says it's a "mute" point. hahahahahaha That cracks me up. If it's mute...I shouldn't have to hear about it, right? That's the way I figure it. It got me to thinking about some of the funny things that people mis-say (is that a word?) Another favorite is "for all intensive purposes" or "for all intense and purposes". Teehee! Don't forget "all-timers" disease. One I ran across the other day was "I could care less", which really SHOULD be "I couldn't care less", unless they actually meant it really wasn't all that bothering. I think I make that gaffe occasionally, oops. I know there are loads of them, and I can't think of anymore right now. It must be because I'm all clogged up.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Christian Siriano, you're UBER-FIERCE!

If you're a fan/viewer of Project Runway, you'll know what I'm talking about. Last night was the finale of the reality show that pits fashion designers against each other with the prize being $100,000 to start their own line, a new car, and a photo spread in Elle magazine. This season's winner, Christian Siriano was arrogant, a bit of a punk and his kooky "do" got on my nerves sometimes. But he did grow on me as the season wore on and his designs were, as he'd put it....fierce.... except for that one hideous prom gown!!! AAACK. I was actually surprised that he'd made it past that episode, but in the end, glad he did. His final collection was, for lack of a better word, a bit "samey", but the way he pulled it off, was WOW. I'd love to see if his collection will ever translate to real people, in the real world. Whatever though, for this 21 year old wunderkind, it is definitely HIS time now.

Monday, March 3, 2008

How did I miss my flight?

I couldn't get to the airport on time. I had an international flight which was departing at 12:30pm. I was going to a couple of European countries. My plan was to get to the airport by 10:00am. My parents were picking me up to take me to the airport. But I as I was doing the last minute stuff you do before you leave on a trip, one of my neighbors dropped by with some sets of keys for apartments that I had to check on when I got back. The people whose apartments I was going to be watching were also going to be on vacation. One of those people was Spinelli (more on that later.) Somehow I missed my parents. So I thought I'd catch a cab. The only one available to the airport already had two passengers...two Italian brothers on their way to Florida. They had to make a stop at this shop and since I was butting in on their cab ride, I couldn't very well complain. I was still ok with time. I figured as long as I got to the airport by 10:30, I'd still be ok. So I went in the shop with the Italians, and they had the cutest tiny vases made of all different colored mosiac glass. I'm turning around and I saw this huge plate hurtling toward the ground. But it didn't crash, it didn't even break. It was plastic. I lost the Italians somewhere in the shop and decided I'd go back home and check to see if my parents were waiting for me. I figured, as long as I got to the airport by 11:00, I'd still be ok. When I got back, there was painting going on in the hallway and my apartment door was open. All of my furniture was stacked up in a strange way and I saw my stepfather moving things around. And then I saw my mum coming toward me, with a short soft cast on her left arm. It seems she'd had an accident and that was why they didn't make it to may apartment earlier, and their phone wasn't working. And I thought well, ok, now they are here, but I don't think I can make the flight if I get to the airport at 11:30, what with the way you have to check in by a certain time before they close check-in to the flight.

AND THEN I WOKE UP!!!!!!!!!! I'll never know if I made the flight, what kind of accident my mum was in, why there was only one door that worked to get in the cab, where my husband was, why my stepfather was in shorts and what he was doing moving my furniture around, and why was I watching the apartment of the uber-hacker and slightly misunderstood guy from my soap, General Hospital???

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Jellybean anyone?

The jellybeans and Peeps are out... Easter is on it's way. I came across this info and I found it kinda interesting...

Easter is always the 1st Sunday after the 1st full moon after the Spring Equinox (which is March 20). This dating of Easter is based on the lunar calendar that Hebrew people used to identify Passover, which is why it moves around on our Roman calendar. Based on the above, Easter can actually be one day earlier (March 22) but that is pretty rare. Here's the interesting info. This year is the earliest Easter any of us will ever observe the rest of our lives! And only the most elderly of our population have ever seen Easter this early (95 years old or above!). And none of us have ever, or will ever, see it a day earlier! Here are the facts:

1) The next time Easter will be this early (March 23) will be the year 2228 (220 years from now). The last time it was this early was 1913 (so if you're 95 or older, you are the only ones that were around for that!).

2) The next time it will be a day earlier, March 22, will be in the year 2285 (277 years from now). The last time it was on March 22 was 1818. So, no one alive today has or will ever see it any earlier than this year!

I've cheated on my colorist!!!

Yes, I've cheated and I feel guilty about it. I was seeing my colorist for over 3 years and it really feels like I've betrayed her. Why did I do it? Well, I was unhappy after the last two, possibly last three appointments. I felt like she wasn't really listening to what I wanted and each time I left I was like....was that what I wanted? I guess I should explain that I'm not afraid to change colors, add highlights, lowlights, etc. And until recently I had been extremely happy with the results I was getting. The happiest I was with her was when about 1 1/2 years ago I went in for an appointment as a light brown, with blonde highlights and I came out as a deep brunette with no highlights. It was EXACTLY as I'd pictured and I felt my colorist was so in sync with what I wanted. since then I'd taken the color very dark and then back up a bit and with warm red highlights. It was fun. I don't change my hair style much, except that I'm in the latter stage of growing out bangs, but I like to change color. So I don't know what happened. I know there was tension between my colorist and the salon. She only works two days a week and I know they wanted her to work more, but I think the salon knows that she has a good client base, so they haven't pushed her too hard to work more days. There were also some other salon issues that she'd told me about that led me to think all wasn't rosey. Also, because she is only in two days a week, it's gotten harder to book with her, and when I did have an appointment, she'd alwasy be booked solid, so I'd often not be able to see her after I was rinsed and had a cut by a stylist. I'd think she'd want to check on her results.

Anyway... a friend at work recommended a colorist at a competing salon and based on the fact that her hair looked FAB, I thought, hmmm...maybe it's time for a change. So I made an appointment with this colorist and had my hair done a few days ago.

So here's the deal....I think I may have made a mistake!!! ;-( I feel guilty for not confronting my colorist and being honest and saying hey...I'm not happy, but I want to stay with you. I'm not terribly thrilled with the way my hair looks by the new colorist. It's alright and yeah, it looks ok, but I'll admit, I have high standards in what I want from a colorist and I'm picky about how I want my hair to look. I guess if this colorist had hit a homerun, out of the park with this color job, I be thinking, wow, great!!! I know many would say, hey, you pay for a service (a not a skimpy price at that), you can go wherever you want until you find someone who gives you exactly what you want, and I don't argue that, but I think after a long service relationship, and let's face it, it's not "just a service", it's how you feel about yourself, at least you can have the courtesy to tell someone who is a professional what's not working, before taking your business elsewhere, otherwise, what are they suppose to think? How can they keep from making the same mistake with another client and possibly losing another client. SOOOOOOOOO, I guess I've made my decision...I'm going to face up to my former colorist, tell her I went elsewhere and see if we can't get back to that great hair relationship we had before. In the end I really do think she's a great colorist, and maybe I just need to speak up! I don't think I'll feel AS MUCH guilt for not going back to a colorist who I'd only seen once. The complication to all of this is that I'm happy with the stylist I have at the other salon. She was my colorist's assistant and had just recently gotten her own chair at the salon and was so excited to be getting clients....and she did a good job, so I didn't want to leave her, and really how could I see her at the old salon if I was seeing another colorist at another salon? I know, it sounds crazy. There are more important things to worry about in the world, hell, in daily life, but these are the kinds of things I worry about... LOL. But not so crazy, I came to the conclusion really quickly that I just really like the old salon better. I like the vibe, the way they take care of you, even something so insignificant as I like the way the old salon looks. Or IS that insignificant? Why would they spend the time and effort to put fresh flowers at each stylist/colorist's station, why would they have the place painted in warm relaxing colors instead of just drab greyish white, why would they offer cheese and wine on Wednesday afternoons? They know what they are doing! And hey, they are in th exact same price range as the other place, so.... why not go for the place that is actually a spa, with that spa vibe?

Gosh, it must be nice to be a guy!!! LOL My husband totally doesn't get this. Yeah, it's probably a girly thing!