• All Blog Entries,  Family & Life,  Food & Drink,  Recipes,  Rock House

    Sugar & Spice & Everything Nice Cream

    Sopaipillas & FlagIn high school, I studied Spanish for two years under the tutelage of Mrs. Spooner. One assignment required us to make a Mexican dish of our choosing. I elected sopapillas because, A) I loved them, and B) I knew I could get them at Pancho’s at their freakishly cheap “all you care to eat” buffet. After chowing down, I could simply raise the Mexican flag at my table, request additional sopaipillas from my server, stuff  them in my purse, repeat a few more times and still be home in time for Moonlighting.

    “What’s a sopaipilla?” some of you might be wondering. It’s deep-fried pastry that can be used in all sorts of dishes, but is primarily served as a dessert served in the shape of a puffed up little pillow and served with honey. We would tear off a corner, pour a little honey in the hole, swirl it around and mmm, mmm, GOOD!

    I have never seen them anywhere in the Midwest or Northeast (though I’m sure I’ll hear from someone telling me where they serve them around these parts). The one time I did order them from a menu at a New York restaurant, they were not sopaipillas. They were hard & crunchy like cinnamon pita chips. That was my first and last attempt since 1991.

    Now that we have the Rock House, I’ve enjoyed cooking, baking, making, trying all sorts of things. So when I came across this sopaipilla recipe in In Style magazine, I clipped it. It’s been sitting in a drawer ever since. I mean, it looks delicious. But it also looks like a messy hassle. Look at the list of ingredients and all those steps in the instructions. Frying, too? Messy & bad for me and…ah, forget it.

    Fast forward to today when I came across the recipe stuck in a drawer. “Hey, wait a second? Isn’t a sopaipilla basically just puffed pastry?!”

    PUFFED PASTRY! AKA my new BFF and answer to all the world’s ills. Since discovering it a few months ago (Like I’m Chris Columbus or something. Heh. You’re welcome for The Americas, BTW!), I’ve used it for pot pies, egg soufflés, desserts, tarts, pizzas, you name it. If it came in queen-sized sheets, I would sleep with it like a down comforter. That’s how versatile and easy it is. How easy? I’M GONNA EAT IT LIKE A SOPAIPILLA!

    If you don’t make your own dough, this is the hardest part: Bake the puff pastry, drizzle it with honey. DONE! Screw you Bobby Flay & your stupid, messy recipe!

    Now, technically, that’s all a sopaipilla is, but I fancied it up a bit because when you get old the things that excited you when you were young only make you feel hopeless and empty and search for meaning in life. So I spiced it up a bit with sugar & cinnamon (which is how many folks eat their fritters & sopaipillas anyway. This was my first time.)

    Sugar & Spice

    INGREDIENTS:
    1/3 of one sheet of Pepperidge Farm’s Puff Pastry Sheet (they owe me a % of profits based on how much I’ve been pimping them out!)
    1/4 cup sugar
    1 tspn ground cinnamon
    Honey
    Vanilla or Caramel Ice Cream (Because screw it. WHY NOT?! It’s my mom’s birthday! {Or whatever excuse you need to justify this delicious decision.})

    Heat the oven to 400°F.  Cut the pastry sheet into 4 squares & bake for 15 minutes or until the pastries are golden brown.

    Place the sugar and cinnamon into a paper or plastic baggy and shake to combine.

    Add the hot pastries to the bag and shake until coated with the sugar mixture. Drizzle the pastries with the honey or, if you have a squeeze bottle of honey, let the diners tear off a corner and squeeze away themselves. Serve yourself first, though, because they’re best hot and you deserve the best.

    Add a dollop of ice cream to the plate and you have what I call Sugar & Spice and everything Nice Cream.

    Dunking in Sugar & Spice Waiting for Pastry Bon Appetit!

  • News

    Appeared at the SC Festival of the Book in Colubmia, SC.

  • All Blog Entries,  Family & Life,  NYC,  Random

    Chicken of the NYC

    I was standing on my corner waiting for the light to change when an older woman of European or Middle Eastern descent with a utility push cart suddenly stopped and asked me, “Do you eat tuna?”

    “Sorry?” I was sure I understood her, but wait. What?

    “Tuna. Do you eat it?”

    “Oh, tuna, yes I eat it.”

    “Do you know of this Chicken of the Sea. Is good yes?”

    “Sure,” I shrugged. “Brands are kind of all the same.” I didn’t think it worth it to parse out the differences between oil and water, chunk, light, blah, blah, blah.

    “Because my husband say it CHEAP!” She then launched into a scathing detailed account of how she came home with the groceries and he bitched about the cheap tuna demanding she go back to the store to return it. She disagreed and said, “He eat what I bring home!”

    Strong words for a woman who was on her way to Western Beef to exchange the tuna.

    I laughed and said, “I don’t think the brand matters but look for solid white albacore.”

    “Huh? Al-buh-core?” She repeated, unsure of this new word I was introducing to her vocabulary.

    “Yes, A-L-B-A…You know what, I’ll just show you.” So she and I walked along with her pushcart to Western Beef, her complaining of her nitpicking husband the whole way.

    In the canned meat section of the store, I showed her the difference between tuna packed in oil versus water and chunk versus solid white.

    I gave her a wicked little grin and said, “Take home Bumble Bee, so your husband will think he’s right.”

    “He will complain about something else then! He eat what I bring home!” She said as she placed the Bumble Bee in her basket.

  • All Blog Entries,  Rock House,  Running

    Skinny Mountain Air

    “Worst run ever,” I posted on Facebook last Sunday. And it was. I felt like a beginner and the time on my Runkeeper app agreed. I set out for a simple 5k. I say simple, because I’m not a beginner and I had completed a 10k race only a week before. One week! Twice the distance. And I sucked. It felt like sand bags were tied to my legs and a Sumo wrestler was sitting on my chest. I’m at my fittest since my book came out! (Thanks friends, tour and hotel bar for the good times, but I’m happy to shed you!) How can this BE?!

    “Amazing how quickly I fall out of the practice of running in the mountains,” I continued. “I’ll try again tomorrow. Oof.”

    Typing that felt like a copout. I mean “mountains”? Really? Sure, I can see amazing mountain ranges in the distance as I run. Vistas that offer something beautiful, different, interesting with every run, every season. Flocks of wild turkeys, a cornucopia of colors, fuzzy caterpillars crossing the road not realizing they’re in mortal danger…so much to see, things to photograph, moths-in-the-making to save. Mountains are what I see off in the distance.

    I did go the next day as I publicly declared and it was worse. I only went 1.47 miles and was slower. SLOWER! Granted I was with Griswold, but even he was dragging! Usually he flies along, excited for the adventure, fresh air, wildlife and the best part: running back home. But he still trailed behind me, huffing & puffing.

    This required some research.

    So I scoured my Runkeeper history about when I last ran up here, when did I run here consistently, and just how high up are we? Which is why I can’t switch to Map My Run…I’ve got too much stored on Runkeeper and if theres one thing I love, it’s STATISTICS! I might even make an Excel spreadsheet of all the info, that’s how much I love examining each and every nuance. Is it too late to become a statistician for a living?

    Turns out we’re 1,247 feet above sea level. The race I ran the week before was at sea level or barely above/below. Hmm, interesting. While it’s not Machu Picchu where we had time to acclimatize, it’s still a significant difference from home.  Turns out, athletes regularly train in higher altitudes before races! Not 10Ks on Roosevelt Island but, still…

    I’ve always remarked that even though I workout less up here, I lose weight and tend to eat and snack less. And that’s a thing, too! Check out this article I found: Can Thin Mountain Air Make You Slim?

    Aha! So I’m not making it up! It’s harder to run up here and I take in fewer calories. I KNEW I LOVED THE ROCK HOUSE!

    Bolstered by my new knowledge –I don’t suck entirely, I just need a day or two to acclimatize– I ran two more short runs (5Ks) followed by 20-minute Bob Harper workouts. (Short but great. The hour long workouts are killer! I highly recommend them.)

    Based on these runs, by this time next week, all will be normal. Fascinating! (To me, anyway.)

  • All Blog Entries,  Books & Publishing,  Deaf Culture & ASL

    To Read & Watch

    I’ve had the book Far From the Tree on my wish list since it was published late last year. His inclusion of deafness and Deaf culture sparked my interest. In his book, “Andrew Solomon tells the stories of parents who not only learn to deal with their exceptional children but also find profound meaning in doing so.

    Solomon’s startling proposition is that diversity is what unites us all. He writes about families coping with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, multiple severe disabilities, with children who are prodigies, who are conceived in rape, who become criminals, who are transgender. While each of these characteristics is potentially isolating, the experience of difference within families is universal, as are the triumphs of love Solomon documents in every chapter.”

    He spent a decade on this project and that intensive research is reflected in the book’s length, a whopping 976 pages. That’s partly why I haven’t read it yet, as I have a full Kindle & bookshelf. But after watching Mr. Solomon’s incredible Ted Talk, Far From the Tree is now next on my reading list. Watch his speech here:

  • All Blog Entries,  Food & Drink,  Recipes

    Strawberry Napoleon

    I discovered puff pastry! In search of a lighter, flakier and less processed pre-made dough for my Panera knock-off soufflés, I came across Pepperidge Farm’s puffed pastry sheets. So easy, so light and the come in two frozen sheets folded into three (so six total), so I can thaw just one sheet and not have to use a whole can of crescent roll dough.

    Anyway, the photo of a dessert on the box caught my eye. The recipe for the image –a “Strawberry Napoleon”– was included on the side. I never used to pay attention to those but, really, wouldn’t the manufacturer know what recipes work best for their product? Seems logical, so I decided to try out the delicious looking pastry. I’ve made it five times now and have modified the directions to a simple, user-friendly, amateur-like-me version below.

    Best part: When I use sugar free Jell-O & sugar free Cool Whip & skim milk, it’s really not even bad for me and satisfies a lot of cravings.

    Here’s the result, inside (L) and out (R) and the recipe with instructions:

    IMG_0599 Strawberry Napoleon

    INGREDIENTS:
    1/2 of a 17.3-ounce package Pepperidge Farm® Puff Pastry Sheets (1 sheet)
    1 pkg. vanilla instant pudding mix
    1 cup milk
    1 cup heavy cream, whipped or 2 cups thawed frozen whipped topping
    1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen sliced strawberries (or blueberries, or both, or whatever. Go nuts! Or, actually, go fruity!)
    A couple of squares of dark chocolate or Hershey’s Syrup [Optional]
    Powdered sugar [Optional]

    PASTRY DIRECTIONS:
    Heat the oven to 400°F. Lightly grease a baking sheet. [I actually line one with foil that I spray lightly with Pam.]

    Take one of the sealed packs of pastry sheets from the freezer and let them defrost at room temperature for a minute or two. Basically, it’s one big sheet that’s been tri-folded and you want to crack it into three sheets at their natural fold.

    Place the pastry strips onto the prepared baking sheets and let them defrost for about 20 minutes while your oven is heating up. I usually flip them once or twice.

    Bake for 15 minutes or until the pastries are golden brown. Remove the pastries from the baking sheets and let cool on wire racks for 10 minutes.

    Split the pastries into 2 layers, making 6 layers in all.

    FILLING DIRECTIONS:
    Prepare the pudding mix with 1 cup milk in a large bowl. [Don’t use two cups like the pudding package directions say! I use sugar free instant Jell-O.] Fold in the heavy or whipped cream which ever you chose*. Cover and refrigerate for 10 minutes.

    *For vanilla pudding, I gotta say –in spite of the fat & calories– heavy cream is probably what I’ll do next time. I used sugar free Cool Whip and it was just too meh. No flavor at all. Maybe a drop of vanilla extract would help?

    I’ve used chocolate pudding as filling once and used the sugar free Cool Whip in that instance and it was like a light mousse. It was enough flavor for me so I doubt I’ll try the fattier, heavy cream version.

    Spread the filling into 1/2 of the split pastries, then pile on your strawberries and top with the other half of the split pastries.

    Optional: Drizzle some melted dark chocolate or some Hershey’s syrup & sprinkle with some powdered sugar. This is easy and makes it look fancy but I’m not sure it adds much to the taste.

    That’s it!

    Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate up to 4 hours.

    NOTE: I’ve been pre-preparing the pudding mix and baking only 1/3 of the pastry since it’s just me or sometimes me & Christian. To make the full recipe is a dang lot of dessert. I save the rest of the pudding mix in a sealed container & make a warm pastry with fresh fruit whenever to mood strikes. Like now. When I typed this. YUMMMM. My keyboard is sticky now!

    For easier slicing, refrigerate the Napoleons for a least 1 hour and use a wet serrated knife.

    If you want the Pepperidge Farm version which includes icing made of confectioners’ sugar & stacking into two layers, check it out here. I tried the layers and it looked like a 2-yr-old snuck in before the party and tried a sampling of each and every piece. A huge mess. As for the icing, I’ve made it. It adds nothing to the flavor, IMO. Maybe I’m not good at making icing, but it’s not worth the calories or sugar for me. So I left it off of my ingredient’s list up top.

  • All Blog Entries,  Anipals,  Random,  Writing

    Sign from Above

    Before I went to bed last night, I considered what I might do today. I thought of starting yoga or meditation, saying to Christian, “I need to clear my mind. I need an open heart and eyes to feel and see.”

    I privately, sheepishly declared to myself, “What is right for me? What should I be doing? I need a sign from above!”

    I woke to a peaceful, breezy cool day at the Rock House. I spent much of the day researching a new hobby and helping Christian chainsaw some trees. My only “chores” were to drop Christian off at the bus station and pick up a few things at the market. After I returned home, I was on the patio putting my seedlings to bed for the night. That’s when I heard a commotion in the woods behind the outbuilding. I quickly made sure the dogs were secure then wandered to where the sound was. It had been a heavy thump with some thrashing about of leaves followed by silence. If it were deer, I would have seen and/or heard them run away. That’s when I noticed five very large birds circling very low by our outbuilding.

    Bird of Prey Quill One or more must’ve attacked something. I was so glad I had made Paquita take cover. I’d read just yesterday about how Bald Eagles, which can be spotted all over these parts, can carry about 4 pounds. That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t try to lift her up and drop her from a height that could kill her. As I marveled at their cunning hunting skills and how low they were flying, this feather floated down to earth.

    As I picked it up, I laughed. “A quill?! So I should write?!”

    I did ask for a sign from above. Ask and you shall receive, regardless if you like the answer.

    The calamus, the hollow shaft of the feather that attaches it to the bird’s skin*, was still wet with a little bit of flesh around it as though it had been ripped out from the bird’s body. Creepy! Weird! COOL!

    It measures at 18 inches long (!!!) and is almost perfect except for a teensy, weensy missing nick at the top. As much as I love my little parakeet Dinah, her feathers aren’t nearly this fascinating. The dogs sniffed at it for a full five minutes, but if it moved, they jumped back as if they’d touched an electric wire.

    I never did meditate today. As for tomorrow? Tomorrow I’ll wash the dishes and craft a quill pen out of my feather.

    And write.

    ~Kambri
    *Yes, I did look that up and will quiz you on it later.

  • All Blog Entries,  Craft Projects,  Gardening

    Paper Pot Maker for Eco-Friendly Gardening & Party Favors

    This June at the Rock House I’m seeding plenty of pots and staying here to watch over them in their early, delicate, needy stage. In anticipation of this, I’ve purchased this adorable little paper pot maker that recycles newspaper into seed-starting containers with no glue or tape necessary. Once the seedlings are ready to be transplanted outside, just plant them – pot and all. Here are three little samples I made so you can see what they look like.

    Paper Pot Maker How eco- and wallet-friendly can you get? But looking at the results –the cute little paper pots– I thought the pot maker could be used for party favors or place settings.

    To test it, I made a few little personalized pots out of brown craft paper, wrapping paper scraps & newspaper and, if used for food, I lined some with wax paper. You can tie them with ribbon or a piece of twine and, to personalize it, write guests’ names on the outside in colored sharpie or paint pen that they can take home with them. My tests were used with the limited supplies I have here at the cabin. If you have access to nice printed or colored paper, you can really make a nice little party favor.

    Paper pot ideas And, now that I’m thinking about it, if you make the pots a little taller, you can tie them at the top after they’re filled. In that case, you can have little takeaway gifts like bath salts (for the bath, of course) or confetti to throw at a wedding or…oh, man, the possibilities are endless…like:





    M&Ms for any holidayPaper Pots
    Hearts
    Kisses
    Red Hots
    Peppermints
    Gummy bears
    Jelly beans
    Candy corn
    Trail mix
    NutsPaper potsRaisins
    Gumballs
    Fresh cherries
    Raisins
    Saplings

    What other ways can you think of to them?

  • All Blog Entries,  Rock House

    Trash By Another Name

    I’m hopping on the hipster, green, gardening trend and getting myself an indoor composter. Here’s the one I chose for the Rock House upstate in the Catskills. I know nothing of composting but always feel awful bagging up rinds, coffee grinds, eggshells and rotten veggies when we pack up from a week at the cabin to head home to NYC. Since there are just two of us and it’s only a weekend home, I figured a 5-gallon composter was big enough. BUT: It turns out that compost can spontaneously combust. WTF?! Why does everything require an asterisk and at least eight hours of intensive research?*

    I still can’t have chickens or a goat since we don’t live there full-time which makes me very, very sad. I suppose I could be that lady who rides the bus with a live chicken except that I can’t carry it along with the dogs, parakeet and my overnight bag. Someday I’ll get a baby bjorn that can accommodate all my livestock. Till then, it’s composting, raised bed gardening, building bat housing and feeding birds, deer, beavers and raccoons.

    *Including this blog.

     

  • All Blog Entries,  Family & Life,  Random

    You Say Cicada. I Say Locust. Let’s Call the Whole Thing an Exoskeleton.

    With all the talk of cicadas coming out of a seventeen year slumber emerging from the earth, I can’t help but think of my maternal deaf grandmother. She was traumatized at the mere sight of their crusty brown exoskeletons, so surely the onslaught of trillions must have her convulsing in her grave.

    During my childhood, I spent summers staying with her and Grandpa at their two-bedroom Tulsa home. Once the magic of cable television wore off, I staved off boredom by playing pranks on my sweet, gullible, good sport, grandma. My budding acting skills were honed as I terrorized her. I would ring the doorbell and pretend an axe murderer was trying to break in and the phone lines had been cut, or I’d push over the swing set in the backyard and act as if my cousins or the neighborhood kids were trapped underneath with broken limbs.

    My favorite prank was finding the empty shells of locusts clinging to trees and bushes and place them where I knew Grandma would grab before looking:  The kitchen faucet, the television remote and the steering wheel of her car. The jerk of her hand as if she’d touched a hot stove coupled with a blood curdling scream was pee-in-my-pants hilarious. The meanest placement was on the toilet paper roll knowing she would have no choice but to either not wipe or gather the courage to remove the critter on her own. Bless her sweet heart.

    shokotan_cicada_3

    But this?

    I never thought to do this.

    Why would I?

    Because WTF?

  • All Blog Entries,  Craft Projects,  Family & Life,  Gardening,  Mentoring

    An “Epic” Date

    After kicking off my gardening project, I drove home from the cabin so I could take my protege Jeaniah to a preview screening of “Epic” at the Museum of the Moving Image. When I picked her up, she and the other Hour Children kids were having a craft day with volunteers from the Kabbalah Center. We made jewelry, got professional photos taken and planted some flower seeds which took about 20 seconds. Throw some dirt in the peat pot, add some seeds, top with more soil, add water and voila. Four days later they sprouted.

    It was a great reminder of what I said in my earlier post: gardening is much more simple than the Internet would have you believe. Don’t be afraid! Jeaniah wanted me to keep both of our pots so I can plant them at the cabin. I plan to find a special spot for our little flower pots to grow together. It’s lousy with symbolism.

    Anyway, on to the movie. We were excited and surprised to learn that the director of “Epic”, Oscar winner Chris Wedge, was at the screening and would participate in a Q&A afterward. COOL! The movie is about a teenage girl who is transported (shrunken to the size of an insect) into the forest where she helps the “Leafmen” battle the dark forces after the forest Queen is killed. The movie itself was in 3-D and, damn, animation these days is simply breathtaking. I got dizzy a few times “flying” with the Leafmen on their hummingbirds that they rode like horses. So clever. Check out Metacritic for comprehensive reviews, but we gave it our thumbs up as did the other kids in the audience.

    Chris Wedge - "Epic" DirectorWe also enjoyed the Q&A with Mr. Wedge who was really  casual, funny and gracious with his time. Jeaniah seized up with shyness when it came to asking for an autograph, so I asked on her behalf. We wanted to get it mostly as proof to the kids at school that she’d seen the movie before it was in theaters. Last time we did this (a preview of the “Croods” which was okay), no one believed her. So, this time we kept her program and autographed ticket stub for her to use to “show off”. Take that, non-believers!

    Christian met up with us at Pizzeria Uno and during our drive home he told her about my undying love for David Lee Roth. When he showed her pictures of Diamond Dave, she burst out laughing and said, “He looks like a GIRL!”

    I spent way too much time defending my love and trying to find a better picture. None were to be found. He’s pretty ridiculous in all of them and yet…sigh.

    I can’t wait for the day I meet her husband and can tease her about how she wore Justin Bieber perfume.

  • All Blog Entries,  Gardening,  Mentoring,  Rock House

    Adventures in Gardening: In the Beginning

    Growing up, we dug up rows of dirt, plopped in some seeds and had fruits and vegetables a few weeks later. The Internet made it all seem so complicated. After all the research and over-thinking, it was time to get my hands dirty.

    I had a few days at the cabin and took the plunge on beginning my landscaping and gardening projects. I spent part of a day gathering rocks that I stacked at the base of the cabin, covering the concrete and creating a raised flower bed. Once it was in place, I filled it with soil from the woods mixed with bags of plain topsoil and two bags of high quality, fertilized soil. Then I planted some hostas that I purchased from Home Depot. Hostas are hearty, low to the ground, spread over time, and are great in the shade. I think this is the perfect spot for them as long as I can keep the slugs away.

    Behold the before and after:

    5864939688_1edbd2ba04_b After Before After After After

  • All Blog Entries,  Family & Life,  NYC,  Running

    Run, Baby Run!

    I was so happy to accompany my pal Liam on his first race, a 5K on Roosevelt Island. I ran a 10K soon after his race started and we met up at the finish line to walk home for a celebratory brunch. He’s been following the Couch to 5K program that so many people swear by. Judging by how well he did –never stopping and clocking in at a 13 minute mile pace — I’m endorsing the program, too.

    He was beaming afterward and we’ve already signed up for the next race. (I dare you to run a race and NOT want to recapture the feeling ASAP.) He and I will be running a 5K & 10K again on Memorial Day and welcome any and all to join us. It’s an ice cream social, too!

  • All Blog Entries,  Food & Drink,  Recipes

    Pickled Pepper Relish

    Found this yummy recipe via Oprah. It’s from Megan Johnson, chef at Casellula Cheese & Wine Café in NYC.

    • Relish2 cups Pepperoncini peppers
    • 1 cup cornichon pickles
    • 1 small shallot, chopped
    • 1 tsp. red chili flakes
    • 1 tbsp. crisp white wine
    • Salt and pepper to taste

    Throw all ingredients in a food processor and pulse / grind / chop / whatever till it’s the desired consistency. It has some KICK and was amazing on our burgers. I can’t stop thinking about it, so it’s a good thing I’ve got about a cup & a half left!

     

  • All Blog Entries,  Family & Life,  Random

    Cleveland’s Cavalier

    By now I’m sure you’ve seen the news from Cleveland, Ohio that three young women Gina DeJesus, Amanda Berry and Michelle Knight who were missing for nine, ten and eleven years respectively, have been found alive. charles-ramsey-meme

    During an epic interview with local news reporters, neighbor Charles Ramsey had this to say about his kidnapping neighbor Ariel Castro, “You got some big testicles to pull this off, bro.”

    Indeed.

    “I knew something was wrong when a little, pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms” is just one of several amazing quotes Ramsey gives. The interview came after he came to the aide of Berry who bravely initiated the escape from captivity with her six-year-old daughter at her side. (Yeah, do the math, that daughter is the product of her captor or one of his two brothers who are also in custody.)

    “I figured it was a domestic-violence dispute,” Ramsey said. And he helped anyway. 

    Now that is a motherfu*king hero right there. Thank God he didn’t just look away when he thought it was a domestic situation like so many people do. Bro should get some hefty reward money to buy some of those newfangled wraps from Mickey Ds!

    I had screamed and begged for someone to call 911 the night Dad attacked Mom. No one did. Yet within the week we were evicted for “excessive noise disturbance.” So my neighbors DID hear my cries and chose not to intervene. They didn’t even place an anonymous call to 911. I wrote about it in my memoir (excerpt below) and to this day my heart races and blood pressure rises when I think about the cowardice and selfishness they displayed.

    If you hear or suspect any abuse of any kind, you can anonymously report it. SIMPLY REPORT IT. Charles Ramsey? He ran to the porch, smashed the door, pulled the woman and her child out and called 911. To him I’ll echo his own words:

    “You got some big testicles to pull this off, bro.”

    ~~~

    Excerpt from BURN DOWN THE GROUND Chapter 14 – Excessive Noise Disturbance:

    I was back with Rob for only a week when Mom dropped another bombshell: “We’re going to be evicted.”

    “Evicted? Why?”

    “Excessive noise disturbance. Come on and help me pack.”

    My blood boiled. I had screamed and begged for help the night my father smashed our porch light, punched holes in the walls, and broke down our front door. Not only had the neighbors heard my cries for help and chosen to ignore me, but they had complained?

    Defeated, I packed up my room for another move. I was loading up boxes of books and letters when I came across a pile of college brochures and scholarship applications. Before August 15, I had planned on attending a university to major in aeronautical engineering as homage to Mom, admiring her for her work with helicopters. Aeronautical engineering could be my backup plan in case my acting career didn’t pan out. The paperwork had been overwhelming and asked detailed questions that I didn’t know how to answer, like what my parents’ income was. On the rare occasions Mom inquired about the process, I brushed her off. She never went to college, so she wouldn’t know how to fi ll out the forms any more than I would. “I’m working on them,” I answered and that was that. They remained incomplete.

    Who am I kidding? I angrily hurled the blank applications in the trash and emptied the rest of my room. I felt hopeless and just gave up. I should have asked for help, but I didn’t know how.

     

  • All Blog Entries,  Mentoring

    Kid Logic

    I screamed out loud at “Jurassic Park” more than once but so enjoyed seeing it again for the first time in 20 years, especially in 3D. At one point Jeaniah & I were cringing and squirming and gasping so much I said, “This movie is STRESSING us OUT!” She laughed and said, “Yeah, but I don’t get it. If you’re gonna bring dinosaurs back, why would you make meat eaters and poisonous ones? Why not just stick with herbivores?”

    I mean, really?

  • All Blog Entries,  Family & Life,  Mentoring,  NYC,  Theater

    May Days! May Days!

    I drove back to NYC for one day and making time to see my two favorite Big Apple ladies. First I’m picking up my protege Jeaniah from school to see “Jurassic Park” in 3D followed by dinner with Jenn Dodd. Then it’s off to the RUBBER CAPITAL OF THE WORLD! That’s Akron, Ohio for three whole days. I’m so excited to perform in my friend Eileen Moushey‘s play alongside some of my dearest, funniest, funnest acting buddies for the first time in about 15 years.

    Then it’s a jaunt to Philly to perform 1812 Productions storytelling show raising money for Women Against Violence before I head back to NYC to see my buddy H. Alan Scott & take him to record an interview with Chemda Katg. Follow that up with another week at our cabin, throw in a 5K race, an appearance at the SouthCarolina Book Festival, a 10K race and another date with my protege and holy, wow…

    May: I love you already!

  • All Blog Entries,  Gardening,  Rock House

    Gardening Questions

    The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expect a different outcome. So, I’m giving Facebook the big middle finger and taking my gardening posts elsewhere. The Internet is a huge time suck (weird, right?) and varying opinions leave me up in the air.

    Example: Some have said how impossible ferns are to transplant and how I should propagate from spores only to have others say that propagating spores is near impossible and I should just transplant. Lesson? Trial, error, time and patience will win. I just need to gain the confidence to try, err, wait and try again, if needed.

    Patio I spent some time clearing the weird patch of patio at our Rock House. I ended up with  66″ x 51″ patch of rocky earth that eventually stops at about 15″ deep when I hit the solid slate, giant boulders that the house is built on.

    I’m going to first try transplanting ferns in a straight line up against the house and fill the rest in with the rocks that I dug out. If that doesn’t work, I’ll try ferns again because they’re native (we have 4.5 acres COVERED in wild ferns) and I truly believe moving them 20 feet is gonna work at some point.

    Hostas  Meanwhile, hostas are sprouting on our walkway. This is our third spring owning this cabin and in spite of the hostas being trampled, eaten by deer & dug up during an installation of a French drain, they’ve sprung back each time. I love hostas and they’re obviously low-maintence. This and their hardiness makes me excited to move them to an area where they can actually thrive. Until then I’m going to build little wire cages around them so we don’t smash them again.

    Also, there’s a strange bush or tree growing by the outbuilding that no one can seem to identify. It’s not pictured in three very extensive gardening books and a horticulture expert drew a blank, too. So, I’ll keep my eye on it and decide whether it’s worth keeping, moving or killing. God complex, anyone?

    Bush or tree?

    Bush or tree? 2

  • News

    Was a guest speaker at Illinois State University sponsored by the Deaf Redbirds and St. John’s University.

  • All Blog Entries,  Craft Projects,  Family & Life,  NYC

    Broadway Bound

    My niece turned 10 years old! As my gift to her, I’m treating her to a trip to the Big Apple. I filled a box with some NYC trinkets and a homemade boarding pass so she’d have something tangible to open and think about before the actual trip happens. Happy birthday to her!

    A bell’invito stationery box filled with some NYC goodies.

    Boarding pass to NYC & tri-fold holder.
    Good for one round-trip airfare to NYC!
  • All Blog Entries,  Family & Life,  Mentoring,  NYC

    Taking My Protege to “Work”

    Tomorrow is “Take Your Mentee* to Work Day”. Since I work from home and have an unconventional life and schedule, I figured I’d show her a little bit about publicity and the daily newspapers and then spend the day learning about other worthwhile stuff.

    Searching for things to do, I was frustrated that so many museums and exhibits are still out of commission from Sandy. I was especially disappointed we can’t visit the “Bodies” exhibit. It is moving to Discovery Times Square so we will hit that soon enough, but the others? Who knows.

    Instead, I’ve decided to take her on an adventure through Lower Manhattan focusing on the plight of the immigrant. We’ll ride the subway to the World Trade Center, view the 9/11 Memorial, take the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island up close (both are closed due to Sandy damage), walk through Chinatown and Little Italy as we make our way to the LES for a tour of the Tenement Museum.

    At least that’s the plan. NYC is unkind lately. Let’s see how the craptastic NYC weather treats us (cold and biting wind, I bet), how my wallet fares even with the free ferry ride (empty, surely, the Tenement Museum is ridiculously expensive but since Ellis Island is shuttered, it is what it is), and what memories we make (with googly eyeballs and smelly unidentifiable things for sale all over Chinatown, this has got to be a goldmine).

    *Protégé. The word is protégé. “Mentee” sounds like an immature manatee or a dental hygiene product. My lady is neither of those things, she is befitting of an elegant word from the 1700s, not one made up in the mid-1960s when people were dropping acid.

  • All Blog Entries,  Christian Finnegan,  Comedy

    Pimping My Ride

    Christian has lots of amazing things happening and it’s been a while since I’ve pimped his stuff. This is especially negligent of me since he has been so generous about hawking my memoir while on the road.

    So, about my handsome, talented, kind, smart and funny (duh!) husband:

    1) He’s filming a new one hour stand up special, tentatively titled DOUBLE SHIFT AT THE ASBESTOS FACTORY on April 4th at the Wilbur Theater in Boston, MA. There are two shows at 7PM and 9:30PM. Both are free and open to the public, so if you’re in the area GET TICKETS.

    2) He started his own podcast called “Audio Spackle” to honor his love of music of all kinds. His savant-like powers of recalling music trivia are what won him a car on a game show and help our team of two win a ton of trivia nights against groups of five and bigger. He’s my ringer. If you like music, you’ll probably dig his Audio Spackle Twitter feed, too.

    3) He’s headlining in NOLA for the first time this weekend March 22nd & 23rd (GET TICKETS) and will be at Austin’s Moontower Comedy Festival April 24th – 27th. I’ll be traveling with him to Austin and swinging through Huntsville to visit Dad in the clink. That’s sure to be a fun trip. He’s always traveling somewhere, so if you want to stay informed of if/when he’s in your town, sign up to his mailing list. He’s not a spammer, promise.

    Sunset after Winery Tours4) He’s co-hosting a new travel show with Custom Nation sponsored by Smart Car. This is the reason I was able to tour San Francisco and jog across the Golden Gate Bridge while he was working. They’ve already uploaded a bunch of videos for Austin, so if you’re in the area & looking for something to do check out Christian’s adventures. New York, San Francisco and one more city TBD should all be posted soon. Till then, enjoy Austin! Oh, hey, just in time for his trip their for Moontower…how about that!

  • All Blog Entries,  Random,  TV & Movies

    Someone Teach Jennifer Lawrence ASL

    And have her star as me in the movie of my life. Seriously. Everything she said, the faces she made, all of it was so “me”. She nails the same tone I strike in telling my stories and answering questions like, “What was it like living in a shack because my trailer was repo’d?” It sucked. DUH! But make a funny face and laugh and on to the next question. I love her.

  • All Blog Entries,  NYC,  Running

    Eye of the Tiger!

    I’m back in fighting mode…well, let’s be honest, I’m moving at a pace faster than a sloth. Geez, who are you my mother? So, anyway, I’m running again after over a year-and-a-half of book publishing bullarkey and the ensuing tour which I loved. Loved a leeeetle bit too much say my jeans that split apart at the ass crack during the most inopportune time ever — as if there’s ever an opportune time for flabby white cellulite to poke out like sausage escaping its casing, but that’s another story.

    To put my money where my mouth is (Wait! My mouth was on food…hmmm. Flawed cliche.) and to meet my 2012 New Year’s Eve goal to “always have a race” I signed up for two in NYC. I’m not a fan of the NYRR (they make terrible PR choices and their very well-paid top management is to blame, plus their races are damned pricey), but the first race is relatively affordable, a good warmup for my 2nd race, and for a good cause (who doesn’t hate butt cancer?). The second race is an exciting course in Brooklyn which needs the love as its shoreline was damaged from that bitch Sandy.

    I promise I won’t post all of my training and bore you with stats or make you feel bad if you’re not feeling like moving right now or ever. Instead, if you want to follow (a/k/a stalk) me on Runkeeper.com, I’m letting it all hang out…sausage casing be damned. My profile is here and, yes, I’m at 158 pounds and aiming for 145. I’m already down 12 pounds since last fall (My tour was THAT good. Damn you, Madison, WI! And I didn’t work out or diet from November till late January so I’m pretty stoked that I stayed steady for the holidays!)

    I perform better when I’m in “put up or shut up” mode. Hell, that’s how I wrote a book. I told everyone “I’m writing a book!” and then had to manifest that shite.

    So yeah, I’m running some races, bitches! Catch me if you can!*

    Because I’m at the cabin for the weekend and am afraid of getting complacent while holed up in front of the fire and ice & snow outside, I decided to do some other type of cardio workout besides running. Enter Bob #$%&*@! Harper. HOLY MOTHER OF GOD I HATE/LOVE HIM FOR WHAT HE DID TO ME. I highly recommend these two DVDs, but unless you’re in really fit shape start out with his 25 minute workout. TRUST ME. I’m hobbling around like a $10 hooker on 8″ platforms. I. Am. WRECKED.

    For many years, I’ve also enjoyed Jennifer Kries’ pilates workouts. They’re much less strenuous but no less effective when it comes to toning and core conditioning. For me right now, though, I’m working on getting my stamina and cardio health back up to being able to run. Enter this S.O.B.:

      

    *You can. Please don’t hurt me for the smack talk. I promise, I’m just kidding and trying to PUMP US UP!

    P.S. I don’t care if you think I didn’t need to lose weight or if you think I’m fine how I am. My clothes don’t fit and haven’t for a long while…since Comix closed, I’d guess. I have nice clothes, and I’d like to fit into them again.

  • All Blog Entries,  Food & Drink,  Recipes

    Extremely Thin Crust Pizza

    My friend Jenn taught me that a tortilla makes for a great pizza crust. Using a multi-grain wrap makes it an even better choice. Using Pizzeria Uno’s cheap and healthy Mediterranean thin crust pizza as inspiration, I concocted this quick and easy dinner with tomato sauce, baby spinach, feta, Greek olives, and halved grape tomatoes.

    UPDATED:
    So some pals wanted more instruction. Okay, so put on more baby spinach than you think necessary…even more than you see below. It shrinks dramatically when cooked.

    Yes, you can add onions and capers or anything else your heart desires. The cook time doesn’t really change.

    I baked mine at 425 degrees for about 25 – 30 minutes. I wanted the tortilla crispy and the toppings hot. I ate it once after only about 15 minutes because I was starving & in a hurry. The tortilla was still very flexible so I was able to make it into a wrap. It was okay, but I prefer the crispy tortilla.

    You can’t really go wrong unless you burn it which won’t happen if you’re paying attention. Set a timer if you’re prone to zoning out.

    20130210-180432.jpg

  • All Blog Entries,  Family & Life,  NYC

    I Need a Trip to Paramus Mall

    I’ve been feeling pretty worthless and insignificant lately. Past my prime? My biggest accomplishment behind me? I don’t know. I just have nothing really to look forward to or work toward. I’m not the same “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” kind of gal. I’m more “I’ll sleep [eat, drink, watch TV], because I have nothing else to do” kind of blob.

    Normally, I’d move on to the next adventure. Find another city, a new career, something else. But here I am, stuck in the supposedly greatest city of the world feeling lonely, bored, aimless. Feeling used and forgotten. Washed up and dried out. Done.

    Maybe I just need a quick trip to Paramus Mall.

  • Acting,  All Blog Entries,  Family & Life,  NYC,  Theater,  TV & Movies

    Extra! Extra!

    Since leaving the 92YTribeca, I haven’t been able to commit to any gigs or new clients because of my book tour and speaking gigs. So, to make a few bucks and get out of the house during the time between tour dates, I’ve worked as an extra (or “background” as some prefer) on a ton of TV shows filming around NYC. I even booked an AARP commercial. I was not the RP, thankyouverymuch. I was a jogger that the RP was checking out. That said, I did get a callback for a menopause relief medicine. See also: definition of “bittersweet”.  /ˈbitərˌswēt/

    During a meeting with a commercial casting agent I was told I’m “a big girl” & “older”, had a great look that was perfect for soccer mom roles & pharmaceutical companies. It was a weird few minutes of feeling bloated, old and ugly, but hire-able because I’m photogenic and not morbidly obese. I can’t imagine embarking on this journey when I was an insecure 20-something. Now I’m a totally secure 40-something who just needs to lose weight, get Botox and a tan. This feeling is strongest after I see myself onscreen. Blech!

    At least it wasn’t me who Wardrobe point to and said “Okay, so you’re my ‘lady of the night’. You look great.” She was *not* a “lady of the night”, simply a bar patron. Oops. Oh, schadenfreude, you make me feel so young!

    But I’m having fun, getting paid when I’d otherwise be day drinking. During down-time on set I’m able to watch tons of “Cheers”, read dozens of books, and meet great people from Liza Minelli and Annie Potts to other everyday folks like me. I’m not loving New York City much these days, but where else but here could I truly swing this odd balance of freelance entrepreneurial gadabout?*

    ~Kambri
    *Seriously, tell me, because I’d like to move there.

  • All Blog Entries,  Family & Life,  Mentoring,  NYC,  Theater

    Big Apple Circus Review

    My protégé Jeaniah and I had an awesome date at the Big Apple Circus! In fact, I think this was our best date ever. We were both in great moods, excited for the show and had lots to talk about as we rode the subway to Lincoln Center*. The big tent itself was set up in Damrosch Park. We got our complimentary tickets (thanks again Marianne Ways!) and hit the concession stand where we loaded up on drinks, popcorn, Sour Patch Kids and cotton candy.

    J asked, “What color cotton candy do you want?”

    “It all tastes the same, so what color do we want our tongues to be?”

    She and I both looked at each other, smiled and said in unison, “BLUE!”

    Our seats were awesome –we were on the aisle just four rows from the ring!– but being in the round and only about 1,800 seats there really isn’t a bad seat in the house.

    The theme was LEGENDARIUM: A Journey Into Circus Past and it was spectacular! Every act was cute, charming or downright thrilling, but we definitely had favorites.

    One such favorite was Zhang Fan who performed a slack wire act. I’ve never heard of such a thing and was mesmerized. He made the tight rope seem like child’s play. That rope is taut & still. The slack wire is just that and it’s constantly in motion. On this wavy, swinging wire, he carried out spectacular tricks like doing forward & backward somersaults, balancing himself with a ladder, and riding a unicycle. Upside down. On his head. Pedaling with his hands. Can’t believe it? Check out this photo of him I found online. What an incredible athlete. Olympians should train for the circus. Yowzah!

    I also enjoyed the juggling tango dancers. A husband and wife team that danced a beautifully choreographed tango all while the husband juggles balls and clubs. I’m not sure a kid can appreciate how much trust must be there for this act to be possible, but I was awed. I wouldn’t trust Christian throwing clubs all around me, let alone while we’re dancing a tango! But since Christian says I dance like a Sims character, we can safely assume this will never, ever be tested.

    Our favorite performer, no question, was the contortionist Elayne Kramer. Or as Jeaniah said, “I loved Elayne and her flexibility tricks.” The girl was a jellyfish. She can’t have any bones! She folded herself backwards and on top of herself and even held herself up with her mouth (see photo). That’s what blew Jeaniah away. I was screaming, “NO WAY! NUH UH! GET OUT!” every five seconds but was slack-jawed when it came to Ms. Kramer’s final trick. Turned upside-down (you know, how one does), she shot a bow & arrow with her feet. Yeah. You read that right.

    Not only did she shoot an arrow, she was aiming the arrow at a balloon, and hit her mark. Holy. Wow. I don’t have a picture of it but found this one online. Incredible, isn’t it? It’s one thing to be born without a spine, but this is skill, people. Strength, training and skill!

    Back in Queens, we stopped at my place. Jeaniah wanted to see our apartment**, meet my parakeet and make geodes. I showed her my wedding dress and she tried on my fascinator and had the dogs do tricks for treats. Before I drove her home, we hand wrote thank you cards to Marianne and the Big Apple Circus publicist who gave us the free tickets. Back at her place one of the other kids in the group home said, “You’re her mentor? She talks about you 24/7!” [Sideways huge smile face.]

    It was a day we won’t soon forget. We can’t recommend the Big Apple Circus enough. Thank you to everyone who make the show possible. We are still floating!

    ~Kambri
    *Check out this video I took of a cool subway busker we stopped to listen to at the Times Square station.

    **I asked Jeaniah if my apartment was what she excepted. She said, “No. I didn’t think there would be this many rooms and I thought you’d have more…what do you call them?”

    She gestured with her hands like she was holding little things.

    “Tchotchkes?”

    “What’s that?”

    “Souvenirs, collectibles, trinkets?”

    “Yeah! Because you travel all the time I thought you’d have more stuff.”

    What can I say? I hate clutter and the dust that goes with it.

  • All Blog Entries,  Family & Life,  TV & Movies

    Yin Yang

    It’s like 2013 wants to make sure I keep pinching myself (or perhaps I’ve developed a disorder like trichotillomania or something) but this most lovely, fun, varied week will be capped off by the debut of Season three of Downton Abbey tonight at 9PM EST. (Search for “Masterpiece Classic” on your DVR rather than “Downton Abbey” if you want to tape it. Wish someone had told me that after very frustrating, confused searches over an entire week, so you’re welcome!)

    New York Magazine outdid itself with an episode-by-episode breakdown of the past two seasons and major plot points for each character. I told my protégé Jeaniah that I was looking forward to the show tonight, and that I wasn’t sure she’d like it but that I love it. “It’s set in 1910s and ’20s in this big, beautiful mansion and all the ladies wear gorgeous dresses and jewelry and they all talk in British accents and…”

    “And sip tea like this?” Jeaniah asked as she curtsied with an imaginary teacup with her pinky finger sticking up and a pompous look on her face.

    Exactly!

    Lest you think I’m all high falutin’, tonight I’m equally excited for the return of The Biggest Loser (or, as Christian calls it, “The Fattest Fatty”) and Jillian, one of the original and best trainers. I’ve cried during the opening sequence. Love seeing people work hard, tackle their demons and achieve goals. The show is at its worst when it lets it get too “reality TV” when contestants get hateful and let the color of money cloud their vision. Jillian keeps it real.

    ~Kambri
    I’m sure Mob Wives would be more “yang” to the “yin” of Downton Abbey but my stomach churned at seeing a 10-second promo for it. That’s the best 10 seconds they’ve got? Shee-it, I can see that from my fire escape around 4:15 AM every Sunday morning when the Latin nightclub downstairs stops serving. You can do better, Tee Vee Producer. Tsk! Tsk!

  • All Blog Entries,  Christian Finnegan,  Comedy,  PR & Marketing,  TV & Movies

    Tell Your Friends!

    On Friday, my good pal Liam McEneaney stopped by my apartment so I could record a few stories for his new podcast. I’m not sure when my spots will air, but I’ll post when they do. The podcast is part of his “Tell Your Friends” brand which includes awesome live shows (last night’s show had Gilbert Gottfried at the Bell House) and the feature-length documentary “Tell Your Friends! The Concert Film”.

    The film is a beautifully shot and well-edited documentary on the alt comedy scene which stars my funny husband Christian Finnegan along with Janeane Garofalo, Jim Gaffigan, Kurt Braunohler & Kristen Schaal and so on and son on. You can stream it online, buy clips, the soundtrack or the whole thing at Amazon.com  or iTunes and a few other places.

    Check out the trailer here:

  • All Blog Entries,  Family & Life,  Mentoring,  NYC,  Theater

    A Decade Ago & Today

    Here’s a fun retro blog entry from 10 years ago today “The Morning After” which chronicles the first time I met Christian in person and mentioned him on my site. Feels like yesterday.

    But it’s not. It’s today.

    Today, I climbed down some precarious steps into a basement in Bushwick to record an indie / alt rock music video. I was there to film b-roll chorus footage of me and two other ASL signers for my pal Mike Doughty‘s music video of the song Sunshine off his new CD The Flip is Another Honey.

    Hot and thirsty, I took a quick swig of my drink. Mike saw me guzzling from the bottle and asked, “Is that…chocolate milk?”

    Yeah, I guess most 42-year-old women don’t drink chocolate milk and definitely not from bottles with cartoon rabbits on them. But, this one does! MMM! And she signs, too!

    I used the rest of my day to run errands and relax with my dogs as tomorrow is going to be a long and exciting day. <Whisper Voice> Don’t tell her, but I’m treating my protégé to a showing of the Big Apple Circus! </Whisper Voice> This is all in courtesy of my friend and superstar booker/producer Marianne Ways and the generosity of the circus. It means a lot to my Hour Children protégé to experience things like this, so big heartfelt thanks to them for the guest passes. We will be sure to write a review.

  • All Blog Entries,  Food & Drink,  Recipes

    Mexican Pasta Salad Recipe

    Christian’s not into most vegetables, so I was looking for a side dish and found this one for Mexican Pasta Salad. We’re fans of anything with jalapeños, lime juice and cilantro so we gave it a shot and loved it. We ate it with grilled pork chops and a green salad covered in our homemade Ginger Carrot Dressing. Delicious! The next day we added some grilled chicken to the leftover pasta which made for a filling lunch.

    Ingredients 
    One box of spiral pasta (I use whole grain pasta)
    2 cups frozen corn (or 2 ears of corn on cob)
    2 jalapenos seeded and diced
    2 scallions chopped
    2 limes juiced
    olive oil (to coat pasta)
    1/4 cup Cilantro, chopped
    1 can black beans, drained & rinsed
    salt and pepper to taste

    Instructions
    — Boil the pasta per directions on the box, drain and drizzle olive oil over the cooked pasta so it doesn’t stick together.

    –While the pasta is boiling, roast the corn, jalapenos and scallion in a pan on medium heat with a tablespoon oil. Stir and cook until corn is golden. You’ll need a lid, because the corn pops! Fun!

    — Add to large bowl: pasta, corn, jalapenos, scallions, beans, cilantro and juice of limes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

    *Next time I’m going to add some halved grape cherry tomatoes and an extra jalapeño.

     

  • All Blog Entries,  Food & Drink

    Virtual Recipe Box

    Some of you may have noticed I blogged a lot of recipes on over the last week. This isn’t a sign that I’m aiming to be a food blogger or Susie Homemaker. I’m just trying to compile our favorite recipes into one easy-to-access place. We’ve bookmarked, emailed, and searched for recipes but then when we want to make them again we have to check five places, or can’t remember how we modified it or are in the grocery store with only our cell phones.

    For easy recall, I’ve created a virtual recipe box to bookmark: http://kambricrews.com/category/food-drink/recipes

    More to come, like the Mexican pasta salad we made as a side dish for last night’s dinner and had as leftover for lunch today. Muy delicioso!

  • All Blog Entries,  Food & Drink,  Recipes

    Quinoa & Black Bean Salad Recipe

    Quinoa SaladServed hot or cold, this vegetarian salad is packed with protein and flavor:

    Ingredients:
    1 teaspoon vegetable oil
    1 onion, chopped
    3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
    3/4 cup uncooked quinoa
    1 1/2 cups chicken (or vegetable) broth
    1 teaspoon ground cumin
    1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
    salt and pepper to taste
    1 cup frozen corn kernels (optional…I’ve done with, with celery instead and without altogether)
    2 (15 ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
    1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

    Directions:
    Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the onion and garlic, and saute until lightly browned.

    Mix quinoa into the saucepan and cover with chicken broth. Season with cumin, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes.

    Stir frozen corn into the saucepan, and continue to simmer about 5 minutes until heated through. Mix in the black beans and cilantro.

    Chow down on its own or as a side dish. Yummmmmmy!

  • All Blog Entries,  Food & Drink,  Recipes

    A Chicken & Dumpling Recipe So Easy…

    How easy it?

    So easy even your 5-year-old could do it. For the busiest of bees or if you want to introduce cooking to your young ‘en or anyone with a fear of cooking, this is the recipe. It’s foolproof, easier than pie and mmm, mmm good!

    IMG_0420

    You just need a crockpot and the following ingredients:

    1.5 lbs boneless/skinless chicken breast (is there any other kind?)
    2 cans Cream of Chicken Soup (no water, just the regular condensed soup)
    1 can chicken broth
    2 cups frozen carrots/peas*
    1 onion diced
    2 tablespoons of butter
    1 can of Pillsbury biscuits

    Place the chicken, butter, soup, broth and onion in a slow cooker. Cover, and cook for 5 to 6 hours on Low. Then, about 90 minutes before serving, place the torn biscuit dough in the slow cooker. I dunk them and then about 45 minutes into cooking the dough, I dunk and stir them again. So, total cook time about 6.5 to 7.5 hours. If you don’t want to wait that long then, I’d cook it for about 3.5 hours on high then another hour or so for the dough.

    Serve in a bowl on a cold winter’s day and let this stick-to-your-ribs meal warm you from the inside out!

    *Optional, but definitely don’t bother with celery. I didn’t think it added to the flavor or texture and only watered down the meal.

  • All Blog Entries,  Food & Drink,  Recipes

    Ginger Carrot Dressing Recipe

    For lunch today, I finally worked up the nerve to try out my food processor that I bought specifically to make Ginger Carrot Dressing. It was delicious and easy. Honestly, if I had known cooking was so easy, I may have tried it years ago.

    I used this recipe found on Epicurious.com:

    • 1/2 lb carrots (3 medium), coarsely chopped
    • 1/4 cup chopped peeled fresh ginger
    • 1/4 cup chopped shallots
    • 1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
    • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
    • 1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
    • 1/8 teaspoon salt
    • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
    • 1/4 cup water

    Pulse carrots in a food processor until finely ground (almost puréed). Add chopped ginger, chopped shallots, rice vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and salt and pulse until ginger and shallots are minced. With motor running, add vegetable oil in a slow stream. (I have never done this. I don’t even know that I can because my machine’s safety function requires the lid to be on and locked.)

    Add 1/4 cup water and blend until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Thin dressing with additional water if desired.

    Makes about 2 cups that will last up to about two weeks in the fridge.

    UPDATE: I’ve made this twice since this original post. Christian thinks it could use a little more “kick” or “tang”. Vinegar perhaps? I’ll tinker with it. That said, we’re in our 40s and our tastebuds have been burnt off to worthless nubs. The recipe is perfect as-is, he’s just looking for a boost. Perhaps we’ve had a bit too much in too short a time and he’s growing bored. Is this a reflection of our marriage? Should I seek counseling or just add more vinegar? Hmmm.

  • All Blog Entries,  Food & Drink,  Recipes

    Chicken Pot Pie Filling

    I made some yummy and easy chicken pot pies using my Chicago Metallic Pie Mold. For pie crust, I got a box of Jiffy & followed the instructions. I rolled out the dough and using the plastic mold, I cut out four sections to fill the pan wells and four for the tops.

    For the filling, here’s the recipe I used/tweaked. Note that this made enough filling for about 7 to 8 pies. So, next time I make it, I’ll probably cut the portions in half.

    Ingredients: 
    1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast cubed
    2 cups frozen carrots and green peas
    1/2 cup sliced celery
    1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
    3 springs thyme
    1/3 cup flour
    1/3 cup butter
    1/3 cup onion, chopped
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon black pepper
    1 3/4 cups chicken broth
    2/3 cup milk

    Instructions:

    Pre-heat oven to 425.

    Add chicken, carrots, peas & celery in a pot & fill with enough water to cover. Boil for 15 minutes, drain & set aside.

    In a separate saucepan, cook onions in butter until translucent. Add in flour, salt, pepper, garlic and thyme. Carefully stir in chicken broth and milk. Let mix simmer on med-low heat until thick. Remove from heat.

    Pour the chicken mix into pan wells then top with the hot, creamy mixture. Cover with top pie crust and seal edges.

    Bake for 25-30 minutes until filling is bubbly and tops are golden brown. Let cool 10 minutes before serving.

  • All Blog Entries,  Food & Drink,  Recipes

    Panera Egg Souffle Knock Off


    For two years in a row, Christian (new comedy special debuts 4.15.14!) and I haven’t swapped gifts in the traditional sense. But last year he did get me a rolling pin and this year the Chicago Metallic Pie Mold I’d been dreaming of.

    If you’d told the 20-something-year-old me I would’ve wanted these as gifts, I would’ve beaten you with said rolling pin and made a nice meat pie out of your innards to bake in my new pan. Lo! How times have changed.

    In a recent post, I talked of my latest obsession is how to recreate Panera Bread’s yummy egg soufflés while at our cabin, since there is no Panera within a hundred miles or so.

    I found a few knock-off recipes online and pulled the basic common elements and made my own. I’ve made ham & asiago, goat cheese & spinach, sausage and cheddar, and cheese blends with and without onions & jalapeños. They were all amazing!  Since Christian doesn’t like eggs, I made a few with just sausage, onion and cheese for a hearty meat pie.

    Ingredients
    1 8-ounce tube Pillsbury Crescent Roll Dough (I suppose you could make your own dough. Go for it!)
    7 eggs, 1 reserved*
    4 tbsp of half & half (or  2 tbsp heavy cream & 2 tbsp of milk or half & half…really just 4 tbsp of whatever milk/cream concoction you want or have on hand.)
    3/4 cup of shredded cheese (any flavor / mix of flavors you like)
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/2 cup of diced ham, sausage, or bacon or whatever meat or veggies** your little heart desires.

    UPDATE: I’ve used Pepperidge Farm’s puff pastry sheets for dough and like it much more. A little lighter & flakier and uses less dough for each pie.

    Directions
    — Preheat oven to 375F.  or 400F if you’re using puff pastry

    — Unroll the crescent dough but do not separate the pairs of triangles. Instead, pinch along the perforated seam so the 2 triangles become a square of dough. So you’ll wind up with four (4) squares. Roll out each square of dough a couple of times to make a 6″ x 6″-ish square. (For puff pastry, 1/3 of a sheet rolled out & cut in half makes two pies.)

    — I spray the pan with non-stick spray and put one square of dough in each compartment.

    — Mix 6 eggs, milk, and heavy cream in a microwavable bowl. Egg yolks should be completely broken and mixed in. Add shredded cheese and salt and mix again.

    Filling the dough

    — Microwave the egg mixture in 30 second increments on high, stirring after each increment until you have a sort of solid, slightly runny scrambled egg mixture. (About 4 times-ish in a 1,000-watt microwave.)

    Basically you’re cooking the eggs just enough so the dough at the bottom will cook, and the dough at the sides and top won’t fall in.

    — Stir in your meat or veggies. For veggies, I sauté them a bit before adding.

    Ready to bake!

    — Fill each pie with your mix.

    — Fold dough over the egg mixture.

    * Optional – Break and whisk the remaining egg and brush over dough before popping it into the oven. This makes the dough brown to shiny, golden color. Pretty and makes it look “done”, but totally not necessary. So if you wanna save an egg and aren’t trying to impress anyone, feel free to skip this. I’ve included photos of what the difference looks like below.

    — Bake for about 20 minutes (15 for puff pastry) and then it’s bon appetit time!

    **I made a spinach and goat cheese soufflé and added both ingredients after the microwave process.

    Pictured from L to R:
    Puff pastry after baking with no egg wash,
    Crescent rolls with egg wash (egg soufflés in top pans and chicken pot pies in lower ones),
    Christian enjoys his sausage, onion and cheese concoction, and
    A cross section of his meat pie. Heh.

    Puff Pastry   

  • All Blog Entries,  Family & Life,  Food & Drink,  Rock House

    Happiness Is…

    During Spring 2011, our first at the Rock House, I worried to Christian:

    “I think something’s wrong with me. I find myself staring into the woods for long spells. I’m not even thinking of anything…just staring at birds, squirrels, trees, leaves, nothing. For hours.”

    “You know what that’s called?” He asked.

    I stared blankly at him.

    “Happiness.”

    Rock House in Winter

    Hmph. Interesting.

    I guess I would draw the old “Happiness Is…” naked cartoon characters here in this photo.

    For multiple reasons, we usually travel over the Christmas holiday. In fact, we had just returned from an amazing trip to Peru when we signed the papers on January 4th, 2011, to purchase our little cabin in the woods. But for our first Christmas as homeowners, we wanted to spend it in no other place. We got a tree, made sugar cookies from scratch, and played tons of Scrabble and Monopoly. It was perfectly peaceful and simple.

    The year 2012 proved to be exhausting –in a good way– for both of us. Between my book tour and Christian’s TV and stand up work, we found ourselves traveling more than staying home. So, again, we wanted nothing more than a couple of weeks in the woods at our Rock House. We were so lazy, we didn’t even put up a tree (we did hang fresh pine garland, stockings and some twinkle lights) or swap gifts.

    Instead, we bought this mini pie pan (two egg soufflés and two chicken pot pies I baked are pictured at left) and stocked up on a bunch of new games like Mystery Rummy (Jack the Ripper), BlokusMr. Jack in New YorkCarcassonneMexican Train dominoesLost Cities and new jigsaw puzzles.

    Are we humbugs? Not really. It’s just that every morning waking up in the Rock House –no matter what the season– is like Christmas morning. There is a feeling of lightness here. The freedom to do nothing. I don’t have to be anywhere. I don’t want to be anywhere. This is it.

    Since we’d no place to go, I sang, “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!”

    Three was the magic number it seems. I enjoyed three snowfalls for 12+ inches of snow, three jigsaw puzzles, three seasons of Cheers, season three of “The Wire”, and three books (The Other Wes Moore, Hands of My Father, Just Kids).

    Over a week of being disconnected (I didn’t post a thing on Facebook, didn’t read the news & contemplated closing my Twitter account) and not being able to come up with a single goal for 2013, I finally updated my status to say, “Stick a fork in me.”

    I’m done. I have nothing to look forward to, to work towards, to want or need. Will this feeling change? Probably. But until then, I’m left to wonder how and why I tried so hard at anything.

    So perhaps the cartoon should read:

    “Happiness is…

    a terrible thing for ambition.”

  • All Blog Entries,  Travel

    Grand Rapids is Grand!

    Either middle-aged, middle-management white males of Grand Rapids aren’t getting laid enough or I’ve found a new target demo. I am HOT in GR! Like “grown men walking into poles” hot.

    I checked into my room at the Amway Grand Plaza (yes, the Amway. I haven’t heard of them in years but they’re inescapable in GR.) which is grand, like the name implies and like everything else in the city, and sprawling. They really need to install a map kiosk like in a shopping mall. Even after two nights there, I got lost trying to find my room.

    I was a sweaty mess in my jogging clothes after having gone for a run and had a confused look on my face. A man who worked at the hotel (I assume as he was wearing maintenance type clothes but no name tag) cut his conversation short on the house phone and offered to help direct me. But he wouldn’t just tell me exactly where the main lobby was. He gave short vague answers like, “You’re headed the right way,” and kept asking where I was going. “The main lobby, just tell me where the main lobby is.”

    At one point he asked for my room number. Now, I’m sure to him he knows the hotel like the back of his hand and having my exact room number would tell him which tower (yeah, they had towers, like we’re all Rapunzel or something. Crazy big!) I needed to be in and which elevator bank within that tower would take me to my room. But, dude, here’s the thing: No matter how nice you are, how helpful you think you are being and how innocent you know you are, if you have a penis don’t ask a woman who is a stranger to you for her room number. I said I’d trace my steps and start over and thanks anyway and left him standing there. I’m 99% sure he was not a rapist but that 1% is what keeps us ladies always on guard. I can hear his argument at the imaginary rape trial now, “I thought we had a date. She gave me her room number…”

    Eh, you know how the victim-blaming story goes. So, anyway, back to Grand Rapids! The hotel gym had a full size pool, hot tub, tanning beds, tennis courts and, my lordy, I wanted to move in! My room had a balcony with an incredible view of the river (What river? Why the Grand River, of course.) and the gorgeous fall colors. I was so happy to be traveling all over the midwest & northeast during peak leaf changing season. This picture just doesn’t do it justice. I could also see native golden boy Gerald R. Ford’s Presidential Museum which I decided I needed to visit simply because of how close it was to my hotel.

    My first day there was to give a speech at Grand Rapids Community College as part of the Diversity Lecture Series. I had a quick breakfast and returned to find that housekeeping had left me a note and a voice mail. I had the “do not disturb” sign on my door but apparently they couldn’t believe that I didn’t want service because they called again! I’d been here one night! What could possibly need to be cleaned?! So I said sure, I needed service and had the housekeeping lady zip up my dress instead. Now THAT’s useful!

    Sidebar: don’t kill anyone in a fancy hotel. They do wellness checks and just won’t leave your room alone, “do not disturb” sign be damned. I’d recommend the Best Western on Highway 105 in Montgomery, Texas. I stayed there five nights and not once did they call. There were no security cameras, lights, nothing. That is SIX days of getting to Mexico time, people!

    Dress zipped, I met my host from the college for an early dinner and to go over the itinerary of events. The speech itself was held at the gorgeous Fountain Street Church. I’m not a religious person –I think most organized religion is a little too cult-like and abhor anyone who selectively uses Bible passages to justify vilifying and/or discriminating– but I could see myself attending this church. It’s non-denominational and reading their mission made me want to hug an evangelical and say, “It gets better.” That’s me pictured on the left sitting in the preacher’s (? preacher, minister, I dunno what you call them) chair and a big rainbow stick. Not sure what that’s for but it made me happy the way rainbows should.

    My host said I was joining a distinguished list of speakers of the series and warned me not to get intimated when I saw the church’s green room. I thought she was pulling my leg until I laid eyes on the photos of Helen Keller, Amelia Earhart, Susan B. Anthony, Robert F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Gerald Ford (duh) and so many more. I was almost embarrassed to add my name to the list. Almost.

    The church was filled to the rafters and the speech was an A- (a technical glitch where the laptop with my PowerPoint suddenly died prevents me from giving it an A+ but it was pretty fun). I met some truly remarkable people, especially those working with the college and the diversity series. They love their jobs and make a difference and dammit to hell I’m getting choked up again!

    I’m so glad I elected to spend an extra night there because it allowed me to take in some sights and sounds of this lovely riverfront city.  I visited the lecture series’ corporate sponsor Steelcase (WOW! I want to go to design school just so I can work there. The building and people were amazing!) and gave a short presentation and Q&A. Afterward, I had the day to play tourist.

    I ate a quick burger at Flanagan’s Irish Pub. I’m sorry to say I didn’t try out more local-centric restaurants in GR like I did in Madison, but I wanted a greasy fat burger and pubs are good for those. They didn’t disappoint. Happily stuffed, I walked to my first stop, the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM).

    The GRAM had a special exhibit called Real/Surreal which compared works of realism vs. surrealism with most of the paintings on loan from NYC’s Whitney. DOH! Along the way, I caught a glimpse of this building reflected in another. I don’t know if they planned it this way but it looked like a life-sized, glued together puzzle picture. I couldn’t get over how perfect and real it looked. Talk about Real/Surreal!

    But they also had on display some of the winners of this year’s ArtPrize. Man, did I luck out on seeing these. Without these pieces, I think I would’ve felt the museum trip to be a bit of a bust. Instead, I was bowled over by “Elephants” by Adonna Kharea giant penciled mural overwhelming with it’s detail and humanity and, my lord, how does one person possess so much talent?! Please, please check her and her prizewinning piece out. You won’t be sorry.

    Excited to learn about ArtPrize and in love with “Elephants”, I asked the security guard where I could find more winners. He directed me to “Origami” by Kumi Yamashita. This gem tricked me at first. I was directed to find it and walked passed thinking it was just a bunch of square papers on a wall. Oh, how wrong I was. It’s so clever in its simplicity and very thought provoking. I thanked the guard and laughed with him how I thought it was stupid at first.

    Then he asked, “Did you see me?” Wait. WHAT? He’s one of the origami pieces? GENIUS. Click on this link, and you’ll understand what I mean. So cool.

    Thank you to GRAM and ArtPrize for introducing me to these talented women artists. Never in my life have I left an art museum so excited to share my experience with anyone. If you have a chance to go before December 31st when the ArtPrize pieces will no longer be exhibited, I highly recommend it.

    Finally, my last stop on the grand tour was of the aforementioned Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum. It takes only a few hours in Grand Rapids to realize that they looooooove Jerry. He is the pride and joy of this town. His name is plastered on everything. I’m surprised there’s not a Ford Fun Park or a burger named after him. After learning about our 38th president and getting a free ruler with my gift shop purchase, I, too, loved Jerry. He seemed like a really nice guy. I guess it is his museum and burial site so what are they gonna say? I couldn’t tell you since I’ve not been to Nixon’s. I started openly weeping at the section covering his death and funeral.

    Sidebar: Is crying a lot a sign of perimenopause? Because if you haven’t noticed, I’m crying or getting choked up at everything?! That said, I found myself transported to my early youth. I remembered vividly watching news reports of Nixon’s impeachment and Ford’s ascent to the highest office. I love our country, and the process, while flawed, does work.

    I left the museum feeling immense pride and even more grateful that our country wasn’t created and founding fathers didn’t live in the late 60s/early 70s or else we’d forever be barraged with its clothing. Egads.

     

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