Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Musings of Julia, Senator Kennedy and Crossroads

I've been thinking. About my blogs. My plays. My cooking. My life. Can I change what I want to be when I grow up? I construct blogs in my head. And discard them. I write down snippets of plays on an errant piece of paper which floats away. My thoughts float with them. They escape and I begin again. I wonder at new beginnings at this time in my life.
Senator Edward Kennedy died today. A deeply flawed man. The end of the Kennedy era. A progressive era. As a grade schooler, I certainly remember President's Kennedy's death. It's a benchmark for my generation. As an early McGovern support in my teens and later a 'Robert Kennedy for President' supporter, the assassinations remain fresh in my mind. In both cases I can see the room where I heard the news. Hear the people speaking in muffled tones. Feel the confusions in my veins. It is permanently etched.
As I grew, the scandals and tragedies that followed Senator Kennedy were of no interest to me. Somewhat judgmental, I ignored the headlines and the politician. I was not interested in the bad-boy behavior of a grown man. As an actress, I landed a temporary gig working for CBS News during the 1980 Democratic Convention. (You will note that most of my jobs as an actress did not involve the stage!) I had a press pass, "played" at being a reporter and was ushered into a room with Joan and Edward Kennedy. I was young and determined not to be impressed. I was impressed. By what? By a politician's rhetoric? No. By their vulnerability. Both of them. There was a brief statement. Very brief. And a little chat. No spin. That would come later. I never forgot the quiet, pleading look in their eyes - before it was showtime.
I've brushed my shoulders with a number of famous people. Clumsily serving chocolate cake to Robert De Niro, gushing over Tennessee Williams, standing slack-jawed in front of George Cukor. (The by-product of being a waitress; another non-stage job during my "acting" years.) I never found the witty remark or sought to get their attention. Well, I did gush over Tennessee and he hugged me. In his white suit complete with his requisite panama hat, he deigned to hug a greasy waitress.
I'm flitting. How I connect Edward Kennedy and Julia Child seems to result from a short in my brain. To me, this all makes sense. As the years passed, I would take notice of some legislation Senator Kennedy passed. It was always on the side of those who came into life with fewer advantages than he. He remained a progressive. He boozed and chased skirts. Chappaquiddick would forever be his legacy. Yet he put it all aside when the Senate was in session. He made sure his laws were worthy - even if his behaviour was not. And then something happened. Was it his new wife? His age? Or life? And he settled down to be a good senator. And a good senator he was. A life-long Democrat, he had no problem crossing the dreaded party line to work in a bi-partisan fashion to get laws passed.
He was as effective in a Republican senate as in a Democratic one. In his later years, he became the man that was earlier expected of him. A wealthy man who believed in giving voice to those who had none: the uninsured, the mentally ill, children, immigrants. He's been waging a war for health care for all - for over thirty years. And for me - the interesting thing is - his most effective years were in the last third of his life. To be sure, he passed worthy laws earlier, but it wasn't until his later years that he was finally able to fit into the shoes of an elder statesman and wear them well. He was given time - something his brothers were not and he used it well.
I think of my fleeting middle age, (AARP has claimed me as one of their own), on how people can make an impact later in life - how they still can still come into their own. Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking was not published until she was 48. It would be two more years before The French Chef would be televised. Why does my mind stray from Senator Kennedy to Julia Child? The common denominator is minuscule. They are both currently in the news.
I am at a crossroads in my life when I thought my "crossroad" years were over. I have not been thrilled with being back in the crossroads. I would have preferred to have made my crossing years ago and to spend these years building in my new place. I've started over before. I am not sure I am ready to again. But I find comfort that the legacy Julia Child left is from the last half of her life. And that a frat-brat senator can use his later years to become the Lion in the Senate.

End-of-summer musings. Wondering what is next. When I cross over, what will I find?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Why write? Why cook?



And tame.
And now a memory. As I walked the streets of Galway, I pinched myself and thought over and over, "Appreciate. Savor. Love." For all too soon it is a memory. In my work life, I am waiting for these days to be a memory. I am in the "dark side of the moon" phase where even my award-winning plays cannot find a home. I considered papering the walls with my "You write very well, but we cannot market this particular play" letters. It's been many, many months.
So why write? Well, it silences the voices. Yes, it is true. Writing (particularly plays) encourages a schizophrenic mind set. And writing is some sort of bizarre artistic therapy. Which brings me to cooking. It, too silences the voices.
In Julie and Julia, Julie Powell says, "“I love that after a day where nothing is sure — and when I say nothing, I mean nothing — you can come home and absolutely know that if you add egg yolks to chocolate and sugar and milk, it will get thick. It’s such a comfort."
I love that statement - but I am not sure that is why I cook. When I cook, I can lose myself. When I am chopping aromatics, my head is quiet. I am fully engaged in the colors and aromas and the wish to not cut my fingers off. Fast food does not give me that. Fast food leaves out anticipation. It does not fill my head with anything but the worry I am ingesting unknown ingredients! The physical activity of whisking, chopping and tasting engages my eyes, ears, nose and anticipatory taste buds. It has to. I'm not all that coordinated.
I look at my thyme and I know that if I combine it with lemon juice and a bit of olive oil and throw it in a bag with chicken drumsticks, I will make some people very happy. All I need to do is grill on some blazing coals and it will disappear - amid smiles.

Combine pasta with the bounty of the season, add some cheese and your pick of herbs and you have a meal. A meal that feeds, nourishes and entices. When the rejection slips pile up and I cannot face the computer, I turn to my kitchen. It lifts the fog. It nourishes body and spirit. I will now write a scene for my middle school play and sautee some porcinis from Italyville with shallots and cream. There is no guarantee that the scene will remain in the play. But I am sure the porcinis will delight!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Blessings on the Table

Blessings. Hidden in rocks.

You find them everywhere.

They lead you up the Cliffs of Moher.
Just before leaving for Ireland, I hosted the July Bon Appetit Cover Girl Dinner. I planned just a tad too much food (only a sampling is here. I left out the bread, the corn, the salads). And I wanted it all summery and breezy and pretty. Below is the plulot jam over goat cheese atop crostini.

As I did not change or adapt the recipes, I am bringing you the links to them. The jam was easy and quick to make and was a burst of summer sunshine in your mouth. The goat cheese - the tang from the summer buzzings. Find the recipe here. Just scroll down. You'll make it again and again.

From Figtree Appetizers: Gazpacho in cucumber cups. How sweet is that? Visit her recipe: here.

Marinated feta in cherry tomatoes. Now this, I adapted from Bon Appetit. The did have you make the marinade and marinate the feta yourself, but I always (shh) have a jar of marinated feta cubes for salads. I simply cut out the tomato pulp, stick in a cube of the feta and then put 1/2 a kalamata olive in each. They disappeared. I love it when my food disappears!
All the appetizers were small bites of summer. The blessings of the season.

And - tada! Bon Appetit's July 2009 Cover Recipe in all its glory. A summery recipe that is as good as it gets in July! This also did a vanishing act.
Find the recipe here. I did use less fish sauce than in the recipe and more ginger. Play with it - you know the tastes of your family.

The first dessert was a blueberry oat scone courtesy of Molly Wizenburg. The recipe is here.
It's all sunshine, sweetness, tart and cream. I suppose some people would have it for breakfast ... but it moonlighted very well as a dessert!

And some crumbly, cheesecake cookie bars! A sampling of the richness of cheesecake without the filling. The recipe is here. My children came home late and scrambled for some.

This was a grand summer meal. All tasted of the season. The month of July was spread on my table and I could truly appreciate the bounty of the month with each dish. I had a couple for dinner and we talked around the table. Me jumping up exclaiming, "Don't eat, don't eat! I need a picture!" (Imagine being asked to dinner, sitting down at the table and then told, "don't eat!") Great conversation (family, religion, politics, cooking, pets). The mind wandering as easily as the dishes were passed, Just the way a cover girl dinner should be. And then after partaking of all, we moved out to the patio with our wine and beer. And one more summer blessing.
The finches gather on top of our evergreens to bid the sun good night. I miss July already. Another Cover Girl dinner turns to memory.

The enchantment, the quirky, the mystical and the food

I am slowly coming out of my emerald isle fog. I became reacquainted with Yeats in Dublin but my heart is on the West Coast of Ireland. I ate mostly Italian food (widely available - but they put cream in their carbonara - my Italian genes were not sure about that - but at least it's great Irish cream!) and also managed fish and chips and salmon.

The quotes are all my beloved Yeats. And while I remain true to my Italian-food heritage, Irish literature has always been part of my spirit.

"Come away, O human child! To the waters and the wild.
With a faery hand-in-hand, for the world's more full of weeping than you could understand"

I searched for a faery and if I had found one I might have followed. But alas, I am not a child.

"But now they drift on the still water; Mysterious, beautiful; Among what rushes they will build,
By what lake's edge or pool
Delight men's eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away."

"Although I can see him still, The freckled man who goes to a grey place on the hill
In grey Connemara clothes, At dawn to cast his flies."

"I have spread my dreams under your feet; tread softly because you tread on my dreams."

Amid all the grandeur of Trinity College, there labored a man. Trimming the grass with giant scissors. I smiled.
And now we move on to the food.

Italian pastries at Carlucci's in Dublin.

A late dinner at Da Pino.

Pizza! It translated very well to Gaelic.
Galway had McCambridges with fresh, small doughnuts filled with chocolate.

Where we got our morning coffee and sat to people watch.

And to gaze on giant barrels of pesto.

The Western Bar in Galway where we finally had an Irish meal - that was truly delectable.And dined on fresh fish.

Salmon with a mound of crab salad, Can you taste the sea air?
I am slowly coming around to"real life." (Really, really slowly!) And will be visiting you tomorrow. Meanwhile, another excitement came into my life. I shall be reporting on the performing arts in the Twin Cities for If you are so inclined, visit my article - here - which is an interview from the Minnesota Fringe Festival 2009. I bet some of you guessed I would manage to end this with theatre! Good night for now. Sweet dreams and I will see you tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Sweetnesses: Hold the Sugar

As I float through the midst in a mist, there have been sweetnesses. During my tenure with the 52 kids and The Magic Fishbone, two lovely bloggers (Katherine at Smoky Mountain Cafe and Wanda at Moments of Mine) sent me an award, another blogger (Foodie with a Little Thyme) sent me a cookbook! And the cherry on top? My foodie-son cooked me a foodie dinner! Pork chops with blue cheese sauce. Heavenly. (Recipe is below.)
None of this involved sugar and all of this was terribly sweet. I have been hard at work making deadline and leave for Ireland in the morning. I am one excited, nervous Nellie! And if my husband asks me one more time if I've packed the passport ... well ... never mind. This blog is about the sweetness.

I received this lovely e-mail from Foodie With a Little Thyme asking me for my address. While vacationing she found a program that a small children's theatre had or school had done with my name on it! Yep - it was my play (my old play, Little Red: Life in the Hood!). She offered to send me the program which I thought was generous. As it turns out, she was exceedingly generous! She sent the program tucked inside this:
How wonderful is that? I am itching to cook from it but I am having a hard time keeping track of it as my husband keeps putting it in his pile! How dare he? And it has the grandest stories and tales about the recipes and where they come from. (I do write plays about recipes! However, I have a friend who has a PhD in physics and he just wrote a play that was part Harpo Marx and part Quantum physics, so I don't feel odd anymore. Do check out Foodie with a Little Thyme. She has a grand variety from Curried Couscous to a no-bake Raspberry Chocolate Cake. Thank-you, Cassie!

The Kreativ Blogger is from Katherine at Smoky Mountain Cafe. I have made her pork chops (the sassy ones) her brownies, shrimp... this is one scrumptious website. Thank-you, Katherine!
In honor of the award, I am supposed to name seven people to turn it over to. The rules are simple: post the award, link to the blog and thank the person who gave it to you, and pay it forward to seven more people. Leave a comment on the blogs letting them know you have something for them! And then.... mention seven random things about yourself.
Oh dear.
1. I ... am a die hard New Yorker who never expected to live in "flyover country" but has happily made her home here in Minnesota for over 20 years.
2. I'm a manic reader. Really, I bring books home in grocery bags so no one knows I bought another book.
3. I don't have a favorite meal, favorite fruit, favorite color, favorite author, favorite music, favorite country, favorite state... well you get the picture.
4. When I work a lot of jobs, I space out and don't notice things. Like the giant Christmas tree set up in the middle of my living room as a surprise. ( I did finally smell the pine)
5. I lived in a 5th floor walk-up with a bathtub in the kitchen in Greenwich Village during my actress days and loved every minute of it.
6. When it was too late, I wished I had been a ballerina. Even though I didn't have the feet, the neck, the balance, the gait. I remain a loyal balletomane. Still enchanted by NYC Ballet and Ballanchine and Robbins.
7. I am going to Ireland tomorrow without my computer and will have withdrawal.
I would like to pass this on to: Foodie With a Little Thyme (for generosity of spirit and recipes), Bunny's Warm Oven (try the strawberry-white chocolate tiramisu!), Unconfidential Cook (she made chocolate torrone! And her cooking lessons with her daughter are so special), Capricious in Cleveland (check out her rooftop garden and her commitment to growing and buying local), Figtree Appetizers (never did small bites look so good; my gazpacho in cucumber cups was from her), I Love Flavor Me who in addition to dishing up some wondrous recipes (chicken gougons!), she has some grand stories to go with them and to Katy at Food For a Hungry Soul for the sweetest of comments and chocolate crepes! If I wasn't going on vacation, I'd simply pass this to every blogger on my list because of all of your delectables and generosity. But I have to finish packing. Oh and tell my husband for the 100th time that I do have my passport (now, where is it?)
And (I'm getting to the pork chop with blue cheese sauce, I promise) Wanda from Moments of Mine gave me this. So pretty and special. Thank-you, Wanda! I try to start my days with Wanda. Then I know I am off to a good start!
This award was created by Ces in honor of her dear friend Bella to "celebrate art, inspiration, friendship, sisterhood, sharing and caring."
I would like to pass this on to Pat at Mille Fiori Favoriti. Her photographs, tales of NYC, her family, travels, and special insight to small crevices of my beloved city never fail to charm and make me wax nostalgic for the Big Apple. Even if you have no ties to NYC, you will appreciate what she shows you. Let her be your tour guide. You will not be disappointed.

And lastly from my son: a home-cooked meal, home-cooked not by me!
Pork Chops with Blue Cheese Sauce
I love blue cheese sauce. Tart, creamy, dreamy, smooth, biting and dancing on the tongue. A little corn or salad and noodles or rice. Tastes of heaven.
His roommate made it last winter and Matthew thought it scrumptious. It was to become my Mother's Day Present. And what a fine one it was! And a bonus? He didn't have to shop! All the ingredients were found in Mom's kitchen. Works well for a graduate student. Meanwhile, have a grand August week. The summer bounty is here! And I shall be dancing with the faeries and leprechauns in Ireland. Talk to you in a week.