Sunday, February 27, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ It's a Dandy Day!

About 27 years ago, I got a book that changed my life and the way I approached food and cooking. It was The New James Beard- a wedding shower gift from my Mom's friend Karen Pope. I loved the book, the recipes and, maybe most of all, the stories that went with the recipes. I collected other cookbooks of Beards (who was friends and a contemporary of Julia Child) and once ate at a restaurant in Boston simply because he had praised it. My mother had these cookbooks I used to love to read as a child- Women's Day Encyclopedia of Cooking and when I re-read them years later, I discovered James Beard had written some of the entries. One recipe of his that fascinated me was for dandelion greens. Every time I passed a dandelion in my yard, I would think "I should pick some and make that recipe", but inevitably, I would not. Finally, the other day, I went through my yard and garden, picking dandelions willy nilly. Since we do our own yard and I maintain my garden organically, I assumed this was okay. I felt like Euell Gibbons (if you're young, Google it) foraging in my front yard, living off the land. Finally, after 27 years, I tried dandelions! Today I sauteed them Italian style, in garlic and olive oil, with a little crushed red pepper and balsamic vinegar. My skeptical son Christopher, an adventurous eater who shared them with me (along with some potato gnocchi) said: "It tastes like spinach, but not as soft. They're good." According to the Encyclopedia of Cooking "To our colonial forefathers, a mess of dandelion greens on the table meant a spring tonic, a blood purifier and a cure for heart trouble and rheumatism." They are also an excellent source of Vitamin A, iron and calcium. If you go forage in your yard, look for young, tender leaves that have not started to flower. Pull them out, root and all (you get your weeding done too!), cut off the roots and wash thoroughly in salted water. Wrap in a paper towel and store in the refrigerator for up to a week. Here's the recipe that started it all:

Fry chopped bacon in a heavy skillet until fat has rendered. Add the washed and dried dandelion greens and toss in the fat with the bacon, a little chopped garlic, finely chopped mint and a touch of red wine vinegar until wilted, about 5 minutes.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Find Your Bliss

In my garden this morning, I was thinking I'm lucky I don't work a 9 to 5 job, so I have the chance to be outside on a beautiful day like today. Then I remembered when I worked for U.S. Air in Tallahassee, with not a lot of free time and very little money. I spent my paycheck on plants. So, if there's something you really love, or love to do, you will find a way to do it. Working in the garden is not work to me, it is therapy. It's like when I'm writing something I really enjoy-time flies and I get lost in the process and lose track of time. So here's to finding something, anything, that brings you bliss and trying to do it as much as possible.

"If you have a mind at peace, a heart that cannot harden, go find a door that opens wide upon a lovely garden."

"To find your own way is to follow your bliss." Joseph Campbell

Friday, February 25, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ AMC Best Picture Showcase

Every year I try to see the films nominated for Best Picture for the Academy Awards. This hasn't usually been a problem in the past, since there were only five films nominated. Last year, however, in an effort to honor more diverse films, the Academy upped the number to ten. This was more of a challenge! Last year, I walked, many days, to Sunset Place (can't deal with the parking there) to see the movies nominated. This year, I have seen seven of the nominated films and Netflixed two more. There is only one film I will not have seen by the time the Oscars air Sunday night, and that is 127 Hours with James Franco. The only place it's playing is hours away and it's not available on Netflix. AMC is offering a showing of the 10 nominated films, on two successive Saturdays. The first one was last Saturday, February 19th, the next one is tomorrow, February 26th.
It is $35 dollars for a one-day pass, $60 for a two-day pass and $50 for a 24-hour marathon with all ten movies! In addition, you get a $10 AMC gift card for one day pass, or $20 AMC gift card for two day pass, to be divided between days, that can be used at the concession stands. I think this is a great bargain, since you usually pay $10 per movie. With this deal, you're getting five movies for $35 ($7 per movie), plus $10 for the popcorn and soda, essentially bringing your movie down to five bucks. Individual movies are also able to be seen, is some cases. Alas, I missed my window of opportunity, since 127 Hours was shown last Saturday. I guess I will just have to miss the story of the mountain climber (played by the so darned cute James Franco), who cuts his arm off in order to escape certain death. As for me, my money is on The Fighter for Best Picture. It's a long shot, but I'm a sucker for the underdog and if Christian Bale doesn't win for Best Supporting Actor, I'll eat my hat. Here's the website for info on the AMC deal:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Battle of the Snails or the Great Snail Day Massacre

IT'S ON! Snails have invaded my garden and attacked my poor defenseless pea plants (and my habanero pepper, but not sure how defenseless they are). I am now going to have to bring out the BIG GUNS (as long as it's organic). So snails, prepare to be shredded (egg shells), drowned (death by beer- not so bad!), dehydrated (coffee grinds) and just as a little extra ammo, I shall sprinkle some cayenne pepper around the sweet peas. I hope you like it spicy! That should do it.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Hope Springs Eternal in a Garden

I know it's freezing in most parts of the country, but here in Miami, my garden is in full swing! Each year I try to plant something new, to see how it does and to have something to look forward to. Tomatoes and herbs are staples in my garden and this year I purchased three different types of tomatoes at Fairchild Tropical Gardens- Persimmon, Mortgage Lifter (loved the name) and one other I forget. I believe Persimmon is named that because the tomato is the same color as that fruit, and Mortgage Lifter grows into HUGE tomatoes. The herbs I have growing are basil (partially eaten by snails), dill (it's going crazy), mint, chives, cilantro, sage and thyme. I also have a few pepper plants- jalapeno, serrano and habanero. Last year I planted peas and they were so cute, I planted them again, along with an eggplant. Last year my eggplant got eaten by something, but I am trying it again. In a garden, hope springs eternal and it's your own miniature landscape to watch evolving. The first thing I do each morning, is go out and check my garden. New this year is a strawberry plant. I got a good deal on the pot at Target, so decided to try my hand at the red beauties. Snails have been a problem, so I've tried every remedy (organic) I could find- crushed eggshells (it cuts the snail's flesh), coffee grinds (it dehydrates them), beer in cups (they drowned in it) as well as picking them off and flinging them away. My son Christopher (who used to shish kabob lizards as a child) says I am cruel to use these methods, so lately I have been coexisting with the snails who congregate around my chive plant.

As an addendum to my lip balm report, my daughter A.J. tells me THE BEST LIP BALM is one I gave a so-so rating to- Neutrogena. It's the only one she uses and says a girl she used to work with that had Lupus, used it because it was most effective. The ones I like- Blistik and Burt's Bees- contain camphor and menthol, two ingredients which dry out your lips. So as Rosannadannadana used to say, "Oh well... Nevermind."

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Home Movies

My grandmother, Julia Rice, died in 2001 and I inherited her house. In her garage, I discovered a treasure trove of artifacts (she never threw ANYTHING away) including a collection of 8 mm films in the classic tin film canisters. Around this time, I was in Graduate School for Screenwriting at UM and we visited the downtown Florida Moving Images Archives, on a field trip. While we were there, watching historic old movies of Miami, we were told that they provided a service to convert old films onto DVD. They kept a copy for their archives, and provided a copy for the owner of the films. Voila! I brought my box full of old films down and waited with bated breath. And waited, and waited and waited. In the meantime, I got married, changed my name and moved to a new house. Every now and then, I would think of the films and contact the Archives- a part of Miami Dade College- to remind them of the films, give them my new address, name etc... Finally, a week or so, the first film arrived and it was worth the (10 year) wait! Video of my parent's wedding, honeymoon, me coming home from the hospital, my first bath, first birthday, all were preserved in this film. Many thanks to Erin Clark at the Lynn and Louis Wolfson ll for transferring and making these wonderful memories available to me. I know now that my earliest days were surrounded by planes and cameras- making my career choices of flight attendant and screenwriter no surprise. These films, which cost nothing but persistence on my part, are truly priceless to me. I have a slice of my history, a visual memory I can share with my children, and a firm sense of how loved and adored I was by my parents and grandparents. That is surely a gift you cannot put a price on.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Lip Balms

Since it's wintertime, I've been wanting to blog about lip balms. Which is the best for keeping the sensitive skin on your lips smooth and chap-free? I had a couple criteria to judge the contestants on. #1 The lip balm had to be affordable (under $10) and #2 Easy to purchase. This means you can buy these at your local drugstore and do not have to make a special trip to Sephora. I judged the lip balms on:
How they smell, taste, application ease and if it contains SPF. I realized the importance of this the other day, during a three hour tennis match, when the lip balm I used had no SPF and my lips got burned. The skin on our lips is very thin and so needs extra protection. If you are going to be in the sun for any extended period of time, pick a lip balm with sunscreen in it. I did not test them on durability because I am not making a career out of testing lip balms. So, without further ado, the results, from lowest to highest.

  • #10 Chapstick Lip Balm
There is no SPF in this one and it tastes and smells like Chapstick. $2.00

  • #9 Nivea A Kiss of Moisture Essential Lip Care

This one comes in a big tube that looks like a glue stick. It has a slight fragrance, no taste

and goes on smoothly. No SPF. $2.47

  • #8 Kiehl's Lip Balm #1

This is the one exception to the "easy to buy" category I made, because I already had it

at home and had heard how great Kiehl's products are. It felt greasy, like petroleum jelly

going on. This is probably because it was 90% Petrolatum. The other ingredient was

Octinoxate, a sunscreen. It also comes in big tube, making it less portable. SPF #4 $7

  • #7 Neutrogena Lip Moisturizer

I am a sucker for anything with a flag on it. This has the Norwegian flag and says

"Norwegian Formula" yet the only ingredients it lists are two sunscreens. It has no smell,

no taste and a waxy feel. SPF 15 $2.50

  • #6 Chapstick Ultra Daytime Formula

This one comes in a larger package, but the applicator is slanted, making for easier

application. It tastes OK, but was a little greasy going on. 33% Petrolatum SPF 15

  • #5 Burt's Bee's Beeswax Lip Balm

I love the one this one tastes (you can taste the beeswax) and it is 100% natural. It smells

good, tastes good but has no SPF. This is a good choice if you are not going to be in the sun.

  • #4 Jolly Rancher Watermelon Lip Balm

This one is a fun lip balm I threw in because watermelon Jolly Rancher's remind me of my

youth. It smells good, tastes good, which can be a negative because licking your lips makes

them become chapped. I leave this one in my car for a lipsmacking good time. No SPF.

  • #3 Carmex Lip Balm

This is really a tie with Blistix, and it's just a matter of personal preference. Both smell

medicated, taste medicated. My friend Susie likes Carmex because it "tingles", which is

probably the camphor/menthol it contains. SPF 15 $2

  • #2 Blistix Medicated Lip Balm

This one smells medicated, tastes medicated, goes on smoothly. When I swipe this on

before a tennis match, I feel it is my final touch before going to battle! It has a pinkish tint

to it, probably the result of red 6 lake in the ingredients. It also has camphor. SPF 15 $2

  • #1 Soft Lips Vanilla

Some people love this lip balm, others do not. Obviously, since it is #1, I love it! It has a

couple things going for it, the other lip balms do not. It smells delicious, tastes good and

has an SPF of 20, higher than any of the others. As an added bonus, it comes in a very

skinny tube, perfect for sticking in your pants or jacket pocket. And, at $3 for 2, it's a good


I hope this review has helped you select a lip balm that will keep your lips silky smooth throughout the winter. The one other lip balm I heard good things about, but have yet to try, is EOS. That will have to be a topic for another day.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ V Day on the Cheap

Saturday night we hosted a Wine Tasting/Valentine's Day Supper Club for four couples (and one single). The last few years the theme has been aphrodisiac foods, which has been fun but there are only so many oysters a girl can eat, so this year I decided to switch it up a bit and had each couple bring a dish with a wine paired to complement it. I started my decorations by making a "love tree". The love tree, a dead tree which I spray painted white and hung Christmas ornaments on in December, was still around (minus the ornaments) in February, so I took out old Valentine's Day cards from past years, punched a hole in them, tied a red ribbon on them and hung them up with Xmas tree hangers. I complemented these decorations with silk red roses stuck into the base and some heart shape ornaments I bought at Michaels. My sister said "I love your love tree" and it was fun to go through old cards and re-read them. I made wine charms for everyone, with their names spelled out on them and pink beads. I bought the materials at Michaels, and they were placed on the wine glasses for the initial tasting, so everyone could keep track of their glass throughout the night. After dinner, when we had tasted all the wines people brought, we filled out a "Which wine did you love?" ballot, with all the wines (Name, year, type) listed. We stuffed our votes into an old fashioned Valentine's Box made out of a shoe box. Surprisingly, an inexpensive red blend (Menage et Trois) purchased at Cotsco, beat out the rare and expensive ice wine (my favorite). Well, it was an appropriate vote for the night. For a final parting gift, I made heart shaped cookies, placed in Valentine cello bags, with the wine charm tied onto the ribbon. We learned something about wines and about each other that night. Viva l'amour et viva la vin and Happy Valentine's Day, Y'all!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ More Gratitude, Less Attitude

I was looking through a photo album of Air Florida memories on Facebook last night, and saw one photo with the caption "Last flight with Air Florida." I was a flight attendant for Air Florida from 1980 to 1984, and for the last two years we had heard rumors of insolvency and doom and gloom. I remember a friend of mine pronounced the end was near when we switched from serving Tropicana orange juice, to Donald Duck. At any rate, we heard about it for so long my friend and fellow flight attendant Lori and I, took the attitude "What the f***?" Maybe not the best philosophy, but you can only live with the execution's noose dangling over your head for so long, before you give up and stop caring. My last flight (which I didn't know was my last flight at the time) was uneventful and pleasant, and I flew with a girl from my training class. Would I have appreciated it more if I knew it was my last? Absolutely. So what if this was your last day on earth and you knew it was? Would you appreciate every little thing, from coffee, to a nap, to your husband's snoring? Would you appreciate your job, school, family, friends more? My son's friend Woody broke his neck in a Rugby game two weeks ago, and is now in a hospital room, unable to move his legs. He has always been an optomistic person, full of life, and we are hoping and praying for a full recovery. But as I was driving home tonight, I gave thanks for being able to breathe, to walk, even to drive my car in traffic that I hate. The fact is every day is a gift and we should live each day with gratitude for whatever happens- good, bad or indifferent- because it is all part of our journey.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Take My Christmas Tree- Please!

My recent experience with trying to dispose of our Christmas tree could be best described as a comic strip.
Panel #1 Christmas tree is put out on the street. Garbage men come (sanitation workers now?) and leave it.
Panel #2 Christmas tree is put in garbage can, right side up. Garbage men come, take it out and throw it into our bushes.
Panel #3 Christmas tree is put, upside down this time, into garbage can. Garbage men take it out, and toss it into the bushes again.
Panel #4 Husband clips all the branches off the tree, puts them in the garbage can, saves the trunk for fire wood. They finally take it.
I imagined what the garbage men must have thought at this progression of events. We did get the message though- they don't haul away Christmas trees until they are dismembered. So, even though I posted a gleesganders awhile back about ways to recycle your Christmas tree, we were trying to take the easy way out, until forced to do otherwise. Now, we have a nice trunk to use as firewood for our next cold snap (which is supposed to be tonight). The nice piney smell will remind us of our Christmas tree all over again, now sacrificed to good use. O Tannenbaum!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Just Go Bake a Cake

We went to a dinner party last night for our friend Luis and his wife asked me to bake a cake. I happily obliged. She was explaining last night to her guests, how she always has taught her daughters to bake something for friend's birthdays, instead of getting them gifts. That way the birthday is about celebrating the day and the person, and not just about the "stuff". If you are short on cash, baking a cake for a friend's birthday is an excellent idea. Everyone can "pick up a cake." Not many people take the time to bake one. I am not at all opposed to using a cake mix, especially if baking is not your strong suit. Betty Crocker is my friend and her yellow cake rocks. When I watched Martha Stewart the other day, she claimed that if you have the ingredients on hand (flour, sugar, baking soda, butter, eggs) it's just as easy to make it from scratch and saves you from a trip to the store. I have to confess, I do both depending on time and circumstance. I made a banana cake for a tennis match the other day to send off a teammate who was leaving Miami to become a flight attendant for Delta. The recipe, made with bananas in the batter, fresh bananas in the center, toasted walnuts on the side and cream cheese frosting, was delicious. It's from the Silver Palate; if you are a banana lover, you should try it. When I was dating Zeke, we had a pool party for Rachel's birthday and I made a yellow cake (from a box) with a really good chocolate frosting (from Joy of Cooking). I decorated it with Reese's pieces and Reese's cups (because that was Rachel's favorite) and it has become a tradition now for her birthday. The recipe is quite simple and the bonus part to the frosting is that it makes enough for leftovers, which keep in the fridge and can be spread on graham crackers, vanilla wafers or spooned hot, over ice cream. Yummy!

Chocolate Satin Frosting

Cut into 2 pieces:
6 oz. unsweetened chocolate (I use Baker)

Bring to a boil in a small saucepan:
1 cup evaporated milk (I use 2%)

Remove from heat and add the chocolate pieces without stirring. Cover and set aside for exactly 10 minutes. Scrape into a food processor or blender and add:

1 1/2 cups sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla

Process until the mixture is perfectly smooth, 1 minutes or more. Transfer to a bowl. Freeze up to 6 months. Soften before using.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Upsides to the Down Economy/ Soup to Feed the Soul

My Aunt Josie, 90 years old and subject of a former gleesganders post. broke her hip last weekend. This, is of course, bad news. When I went to visit her in the hospital, she complained about the food and called the Lentil Soup "tasteless". I vowed to make her some lentil soup. She is now at The Floridean, our family nursing home and I took her some lentil soup today. I made it out of a torn, taped, family cookbook titled "The Art of Italian Cooking" which I got from my Aunt Josie. She told me "This is the way Mama cooked." Mama, my great grandmother, was from Sienna, the heart of Tuscany, and the cookbook reflects the rustic, simple and delicious style in which that region cooks. My great grandfather, who started the first Italian restaurant in Miami (The Italian Kitchen in the Royal Palm Hotel) flew his chefs down from New York and cooked Italian-American fare, like eggplant parmigiana, that the restaurant-goers expected. This Lentil Soup is simplicity itself- just lentils, onions, and butter and oil to saute it in. My little secret for making people soup is I make enough to bring the recipient a healthy serving and have enough left over to feed my family. Everyone is happy, I have done my good deed for the day and it is a cheap meal for my familia. Soup feeds your body as well as your soul and according to my Aunt Josie, "lentils are supposed to be good for you." Oh, by the way, make sure you don't overcook the lentils. I learned this the hard way. I think I have given Josie soup with mushy lentils. Hopefully, even with mushy lentils, this soup helps her heal. Here's to healing, being healthy and feeding your family. Mangia!

Zuppa Di Lenticchi
Lentil Soup #1
1 lb. lentils
3 Qts. Water
1 chopped onion
2 T butter
2 T. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Wash lentils. Place in pot with cold water. Cook over medium heat about 1 1/2 hours, or until lentils are soft. Add salt and pepper. Melt butter in separate saucepan; add oil; saute onion for about 5 minutes or until soft and slightly brown. When lentils are done, strain soup through sieve or colander; add onion and oil mixture. Stir thoroughly. Serve very hot. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese. Serves 4 to 6.