Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Writing Game - It's HERE!




Okay, folks... we're going live...

So to see my story, Kate and Jake, as well as the stories of all the Writing Game players, please go here, or follow the Mr. Linky links below:


What's Cooking Wednesday: Eggplant Lentil Stew with charred onions and yogurt over Cashew Cinnamon Couscous



For this week's What's Cooking Wednesday, I am offering my submission for Jenn the Leftover Queen's monthly Royal Food Joust. The Food Joust consists of using three ingredients and posting your new recipe on the Royal Food Joust Forum by the first of the next month. So, for February 1st, our ingredients were eggplant, lentils and cinnamon. Yum! Anyone who still wants to join, just click on the forum link.

Eggplant Lentil Stew with Charred Onions and Yogurt Served over Cinnamon Cashew Couscous



Ingredients



1 eggplant, peeled and cubed
1/2 cup lentils
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 small cans fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 TBS olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper

1 medium onions, quartered and drizzled with
1 tsp olive oil

6 – 12 TBS lowfat, plain yogurt

Fat: 3.7g
Carbohydrates: 17g
Calories:114
Protein: 5.25



1. Peel and cube eggplant. Put in collander. Sprinkle with salt. Leave for 15 minutes.

2. While eggplant is standing, rinse and sort 1/2 cup of lentils. Precook lentils in four cups of water for 10 minutes. After the 10 minutes, drain out the water. The lentils will not be cooked yet. In the meantime, chop the garlic and open the cans of tomatoes.

3. After 15 minutes, rinse the eggplant and pat dry.



4. Add 1 TBS olive oil to saute pan. Heat to medium. Drop in garlic and cook 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add eggplant, and cook for five minutes. Add tomatoes and lentils, cumin and cayenne and cook for 15 - 20 minutes, covered, until lentils are soft.

5. While lentil/eggplant mixture is cooking, heat up a grill pan to smoking. (Or use an outdoor grill). Cut onion into quarters, and drizzle 1 tsp olive oil over onions. Cook on the grill pan until all edges are well charred. Remove from pan and set aside.



6. To serve, pile couscous on plate (use Cashew Cinnamon Couscous recipe below), ladle 1/6 of the stew on top, sprinkle 1/4 of charred onions on top of the stew, and drizzle 1 - 2 tablespoons of stirred, lowfat plain yogurt over all. Serve with more yogurt on the side.

Serves 6.

Cashew-Cinnamon Couscous

Ingredients

1 cup dry, whole wheat couscous
2/3 cup low sodium organic chicken broth
1/3 cup lite coconut milk
1/2 TBS butter
1/4 cup golden raisins
1 tsp cinnamon
2 TBS cashews, chopped and toasted

1. Bring chicken broth, coconut milk, butter, cinnamon and raisins to a boil.

2. Stir in couscous, remove from heat. Let stand five minutes.

3. While couscous is standing, toast chopped cashews.

4. After the five minutes, fluff couscous and stir in the cashews.

Nutritional Info
Fat: 3.2g
Carbohydrates: 27.1g
Calories:155.2
Protein: 5.0g


Serves 6.

As always, nutrition information supplied by the recipe calculator at sparkrecipes.com. And please go to Shan's place for more What's Cooking Wednesday participants.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Writing Game - It's Coming in TWO DAYS!

There's nothing much to say here today. But in two days 17 intrepid explorers of the pen (okay, let's face it - the keyboard) will be joining forces to create the extravaganza that is:



So on Thursday, January 31st, please come celebrate with us by reading our final efforts! To find the stories, you can do one of three things:

1. Visit any of the blogs listed below (I'll be posting both my story and Darcy's story).
2. Jump to their blogs through a Mr. Linky, which I (hope) will be posted here.
3. Go to our brand new site, which will be revealed on the 31st!

Brillig
Alex Elliott of Formula Fed and Flexible Parenting
Cable Girl
Capitol Lady
Darcy
Gunfighter
Jenn
Mariposa
Michelle of Bleeding Espresso
Moi
NYC/Caribbean Ragazza
Luisa of Novembrance
Soccer Mom in Denial
Thalia's Child
Veriano
Wholly Burble

So get ready to rock and read! A fine time will be had by all!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Music Monday - "So Happy Together" The Turtles



For other tales of musical adventure, please visit Soccer Mom in Denial.

On a cool August night in 1969, I lay under my scratchy camp sheets and blanket and snuggled in, waiting for the magic to begin.

It was Sunny's turn to "tuck us in". It was only her turn every four nights, because, well, there were four counselors, and while two stayed behind each night and watched us, only one was "in charge". It was a weird collection of counselors that summer. During my first summer at Camp Hillcroft all my counselors had been golden. I can truly say I loved each and every one of them. They got me, with all my weird idiosyncrasies, and it was the first time in my eight years that I'd felt like I truly belonged anywhere. When my parents asked if I wanted to return for a second summer, I jumped at the opportunity like a lonely puppy greets a playmate.

This summer, camp was still wonderful. Most of the same kids had returned. I liked my bunkmates. I liked the boys in the "house" that was part of our unit - I liked all my nine-year-old peers, in fact. Another bonus was that my friend Martha had joined me at camp, and even though we were on opposite sides of the cabin, it was still fun having her there.

But our counselors were kind of... different. For one thing, we had a conservative Southern Belle. In retrospect, I feel awfully sorry for her. Hillcroft was a hippy camp, and I can only imagine what life was like for her there. I feel sorry for her even though she forced me to eat liver, creamed corn and beets one night, which I promptly vomited all over the mess hall table. It was my worst humiliation in the five years I spent at that camp, and the fact that despite this, I still feel sorry for her might give you an idea just what a fish out of water she was. To make matters worse, she was engaged to a soldier who was over in 'Nam. These were the days when "if you're not against the War, you're for it," and I'm sure that her military ties isolated her further. I've blocked out her name. I may feel sorry for her, but 39 years later, I still don't like her.

Okay, enough about Southern Belle. Of the other three, one was a tiny, athletic woman who didn't seem to like kids that much (and she was a camp counselor, why?), and the other was a protegee of our graphic arts counselor, so we never saw her except every fourth night. She was nice, but I often felt she was more involved with the images she played with during the day. Then there was Sunny.

Sunny was a hippy chick. Her name suited her well, and she had long, swinging, light brown hair, freckles, and an infectious smile. She was one of the music staff, and she played a mean guitar. She also had a boyfriend at whatever university she went to during the school year, and she loved to tell us stories about him as we fell to sleep. These stories were often accompanied by her wonderful singing and guitar playing. "So Happy Together" was apparently their song, and I can't listen to it without remembering wonderful times in those long ago days.

The clip below is a gem - true sixties and true Turtles. Enjoy!

Oh! And one last musical note. If you want something to get your whole body moving, go to Betsy's place and listen to Shantel. She got me hooked, and I've been grooving all day!

THE TURTLES - Happy Together (1967)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Friday, January 25, 2008

Downs and Ups

Downs - this has been a very disappointing week in the sense that we've had to bury the idea of a long-planned trip. And one reason its down is the U.S. dollar is so. very. down. I'll do more on this in another post. It also explains my less-than-diligent posting this week.

Ups! Many ups in the world of blogging! And warmth and kindness from blog friends really cheered me up as we were going through some rather hard patches on the trip planning front:

First off, sweet Allison, of Soccer Mom in Denial, gave me this very special award:



She was handed this award (which she very much deserves) for making a difference every, single day. (Which she does).

I would like to pass this award on to Anno, who's written a very courageous five-part piece over the past month. It has to do with the foibles of youth, and mistakes that she made long, long ago and has tried to explain through this amazing, beautifully written story. For her courage and honesty, both through her story and through the way she lives her life every day, I'd like to present Anno with this award.

I was extremely rich in friendship that day, because I received this




from Alex Elliot, which I pass on to these wonderful bloggers, in no particular order, just because I have to send a big, old Mwah! your way: , Jenn, Anno, Leslie, Blooming Idiot, Betsy, Goofball, Wholly Burble, Jan, Mariposa, Cable Girl, Carol, Luisa, Alex, and Painted Maypole. And I'm probably forgetting a slew of others, darn it!


and this lovely




from Mariposa.

I don't want to cheapen the award, or the lovely thought from Mariposa, but this one I must pass on to ALL my regular readers, along with all those (check 'em out under the blogroll!) whose blogs I visit daily. You all really DO make my day!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What's Cooking Wednesday: Chicken Rose



When I was growing up, one of our favorite family meals was something my mother called "Chicken Rose". It was actually a change on a recipe, "Chicken Breasts Piquant" by Marian Burros and Lois Levine, from their
Elegant But Easy cookbook, a bastion of 1960s entertainment cooking. The original calls for LOTS of salad oil and a variety of other things that don't appeal to my healthier, adult tastes. Also, I always believe that more vegetables enhances just about anything, so I've had fun playing around with this and getting it to a point where my 21st century family enjoys it. It is, as Jaime Oliver would say, easy-peasy!
Enjoy!

Chicken Rose





Ingredients

3 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into large chunks
2/3 package of frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
1 cup fresh cremini mushrooms, wiped or rinsed, and cut in halves

1/8 cup of canola oil
1 cup of rose wine
6 TBS lite soy sauce
4 packed tsp brown sugar
3 TBS water
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp oregano




Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375.

2. Whisk together canola oil, rose wine, soy sauce, brown sugar, water, ginger and oregano.

3. Place chicken and vegetables in dutch oven or casserole. Pour sauce over them.

4. Bake at 375 for one hour.

Great with rice, couscous or pasta.

Serves 4.


Nutritional Info


Fat: 8.2g
Carbohydrates: 11.5g
Calories:256.0
Protein: 24.0g

As always, nutrition information supplied by the recipe calculator at sparkrecipes.com. And please go to Shan's place for more What's Cooking Wednesday participants.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Button, Button, Who's Got the Button?

I have a favor to request. A plea. Okay, I'm begging. I'd like to learn this button thing. I'd like a button for The Writing Game. I might like to make a button for other things. In looking at the code for other buttons, I've figured out some things, but getting the images, etc., has me flumoxed.

If anyone can help me out in this quest, I'd be very grateful. I might even be induced to send you a Michigan kit of various things Michigan. And actually, we have a LOT of cool things in Michigan.

So, if you can please, please help me, please e-mail me at jenshaines at aol dot com.

My artistic muse will be ever so happy!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Music Monday - Who IS that Guy and Why is He Singing in French?



For other tales of musical adventure, please visit Soccer Mom in Denial.

I twirled. I whirled. My three-year-old little self was bursting with dreams of dancing, and elegant couples gliding across rooms, and a place that my parents often talked about, called Paris.

Music filled my house growing up. During the day, my mother often played the scores of musicals or the music of one of her favorite singers: Yves Montand. To me, at that young age and forever on, Yves Montand was the last word in sophistication. He was my first crush, my first love, and my dancing partner. Here's a picture of him that I believe graced the cover of one of our albums:



Just look at that face. That scowl? How could I not have been in love? Especially when Yves was the precursor to my many years' obsession with Humphrey Bogart. (No, I'm not that old, but I was an absolute old movies fanatic). Now, there was another plus about Yves. It was that he sang in French. My parents were both passable in French, and it was the language they used when they didn't want their petite enfant to know just what they were saying. So, I was determined to learn French, darn it! And somehow, even at my tender age, I knew that Yves was the key to that special language.

He has continued that hold on me ever since. In fact, one evening in the early 80s, my father was on a research trip to Paris, and I was able to join him, and we were invited by his French publisher to a 2-star Michelin restaurant that was located in the building where Yves Montand and his wife, Simone Signoret lived. And they often frequented this restaurant. It was probably one of the most sublime culinary experiences of my life, but I have no memory of the food at all (which is unusual for me). All I remember is spending the entire evening straining, and looking around, and hoping that The Great One would show. He didn't, and it was disappointing, but for a true fan, just being in a place where he had walked was enough for me.

So in the clip below, he is a bit past his prime in terms of thinning hair, etc., but you can see and hear the charm and warmth of his voice. And what better introduction to Yves, than "A Paris"? Eh bien - Vous vous amusez!*





*And French speakers - please excuse my horrid mistakes - it's been years since I've really used French, and it shows.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Idiocy That Was the Michigan Democratic Primary

Several of you left comments or wrote and were confused as to why my vote didn't count in Michigan.

So was I.

I mean, by the day of the primary I understood, intellectually, why my vote wouldn't count, but I didn't understand the idiocy of the Michigan Democratic Party's actions in terms of why my vote wouldn't count.

Basically, the situation was this: Michigan didn't like having a late primary date. Both Michigan parties felt that it was time that Michigan broke the stronghold of the influence of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. And you know what? I agree with that part.

Because I believe our primary system, and our national elections system in general, is irreparably broken. But that's fodder for another post.

In any case, the Democratic National Party apparently has rules that the Republican National Party does not. The DNC's rules are that no state aside from Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada can hold a primary prior to February 5th. But Michigan decided to, and so did Florida. And the delegates from both states were stripped for the National Convention. We should have had 156 delegates. We now will have none, 17, or 34 (at least those are the numbers I've heard bandied around - if anyone wants to correct me on this, I'd be delighted). All the major national Democratic candidates said they would not campaign in Michigan for that reason. To avoid offending New Hampshire and Iowa, and to be fair to the rules of the DNC, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Bill Richardson and Joe Biden withdrew their names from the Michigan ballot. Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd, Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gavel remained on the ballot (apparently, these candidates care less about fairness). Since Dodd and Gavel had withdrawn by the time of the election, that left Michiganders with three choices - Hillary Clinton, Dennis Kucinich or a strange category called "Uncommitted." We couldn't even do write-ins, even though a write-in slot was listed, because no candidate had registered to be a write-in candidate.

This created a huge mess for the absentee balloteers, because the Michigan Democratic Party neglected to mention this fact until after many of the absentee ballots had already come in. The only way to support Barack Obama or John Edwards, for example, was to check off the "uncommitted" box and hope/pray that a. Michigan would actually be given a few delegates, b. that the Michigan Democratic Party would deign to acknowledge that not every Michigan Democrat wanted either Hillary Clinton or Dennis Kucinich, and c. that the folks who went to the convention as "uncommitted" delegates actually voted for the candidate you wanted - which is anybody's guess, because the votes for Obama, Edwards, and even those who want to draft Gore (yes, they're still out there) would all be lumped together.

So, because I really, really believe in the importance of voting, I voted.

But as you might have guessed, since neither Ms. Clinton nor Mr. Kucinich are my candidates, I didn't really have a say. And it stinks, as far as I'm concerned.

For perhaps clearer information on the DNC's ruling on Michigan, please see this article.

Okay, and for something a bit lighter...

This is a last gasp reminder for The Writing Game. I'm still having people join, although I'm disorganized enough that I can't list them today. I'll list the final group some time early next week. If you still want to join, please check the rules here, and send me your ideas by midnight tonight, GMT -5, to jenshaines at aol dot com.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

"Idoling" Away My Time

American Idol is a microcosm of all that's bad, and a little of what's good, in the U.S. right now.

I swore I wasn't going to watch it this season. First of all, I don't like watching TV. I mean, I actually do like watching TV at times, but mostly I feel the way I do when I eat cotton candy - I'm sluggish from too much sugar, and I didn't really enjoy the experience enough to merit that much sugar in the first place. And committing to watching American Idol is committing to spending many, many hours in front of the boob tube.

Secondly, I'm pretty sick of watching Randy, Paula, Simon and Ryan all make the same jokes, do the same things, make the same comments, etc. And I hate the audition segments, because I think, for the most part, they're cruel.

But I kept hearing hype that the singers this year might be the finest ever, and when Simon came on board and said that yes, he'd felt last season was weak, and yes, this season has enormous potential, I decided I had to check it out.

Mainly because I love music. And I love working with kids, and seeing these (mostly) quite young folks work so hard for their dreams can be inspiring. The music can be great, too, once you forget about Sanjaya. I end up watching the auditions to find out about the life stories. But as I said, I really don't enjoy the parts where the Big Three make fun of some poor, delusional, half-baby who doesn't have a clue of his or her utter lack of talent, so I was in and out of the room, reading sometimes, coming to the computer sometimes, etc.

Here are some things I took away, though:

1. The producers and big business who are fighting the writers during the writers strike are idiots. We so need interesting, well-scripted shows on TV. And writers deserve to be paid in the same way that the other artists who work on these productions are paid. Period.

2. If you want to see the whole "self-esteem" movement gone dramatically wrong, just watch the audition segments. Some of these kids are truly out there in terms of gauging their own talents. And the self-confidence of others is staggering, even when it shouldn't be. One young woman came out brimming with herself. She was eighteen. She delivered some nice singing, a la Carrie Underwood, whom she made no secret about being compared to. At the end of her audition, Simon looked up at her and said, "You're okay. But you're not as good as you think you are." And I say, "Thank you, Simon Cowell." Why? Because...

3. What kind of nut case parents are out there who feel that they need to coddle their adult children and guide their every direction and dream? Examples: the dad who gave his son a key around a chain, and carries a heart on a chain around his own neck, which he'll give to the boy to give to a girl when he marries that girl. This child is NINETEEN, and dad doesn't want him to even have a kiss until the wedding night. And sonny boy doesn't question this at all. Saving yourself for marriage - great - but a kiss is just a kiss. I'm sorry, but saying that sexual chemistry doesn't come into marriage at all is just wrong, and you can't have a thing, if you don't have that "swing."

Then there are the parents who gave their lovely, if completely non-singing, son both thumbs up in terms of his singing. And this young man is in his early twenties!

Then there are the mothers who let their children rant and rave and hit their butts to show Simon where he can kiss them on national television and the wimp head parent just stands in the background, smiling, while her daughter is rude and abusive.

And don't get me started on stage mothers or fathers who push an unwilling child into the spotlight to win lots of money for the family.

Okay, rant over.

The good parts? The kids who are truly talented, who understand the audition process, and who have worked hard to get to this point. These kids have given things up in their lives and they understand that this is a privilege, not a right. Watching the kids who will be in that final ten growing over the season will be like watching a small slice of the American dream unfold.

But, all in all, I'd rather read.

Remember, tomorrow by midnight is the last chance to join The Writing Game. Brillig, Sognatrice of Bleeding Espresso and Alex Elliot of Formula Fed and Flexible Parenting have all joined the rest of the crew since yesterday. Won't you join us, if you haven't already?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What's Cooking Wednesday: Revised Turkey Tetrazzini



I love Turkey Tetrazzini, but I hate the calories/fat involved in a classic recipe. I played around with this last week, and ended up with a bastardized recipe that we all really liked. (Well, those of us who eat "grown-up" food, anyway.) I'm sorry about the lack of photos - I'll have to update this entry with photos the next time I make this - I completely forgot. (See why I was a failure at Wordless Wednesday?)

Unlike last week's Lazy Day Spinach Lasagna, there's nothing lazy about this one, but it's worth the extra effort. Just crank up some good music and get into your cooking groove. Enjoy! As always, nutrition information supplied by the recipe calculator at sparkrecipes.com. And please go to Shan's place for more What's Cooking Wednesday participants.

Revised Turkey Tetrazzini

Ingredients

2 cups whole cremini mushrooms, washed and sliced
1/2 package of frozen artichokes, thawed and chopped
1 TBS butter
2 TBS flour
1/2 tsp salt
dash nutmeg
dash cayenne
1 cup nonfat milk
6 oz. chicken broth (preferably home made)
1 egg yolk
3 TBS half and half
3 TBS dry sherry
1/2 package cooked spaghetti (4 oz.)
6 oz. turkey breast meat, cooked and chopped
4 TBS parmesan cheese

Nutritional Info

Fat: 8.9g
Carbohydrates: 35.1g
Calories:304.0
Protein: 20.6g

1. Preheat the oven to 300.

2. Cook the spaghetti to al dente package directions. Drain, rinse with cold water and set aside.

2. Saute the vegetables with some olive oil cooking spray. When they are cooked, but not over done, set aside.

3. Melt the butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour to make a roux. Gradually stir in chicken broth, when all is smooth, add in spices and milk. Stir well and bring to a boil, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened. Remove from heat. Add the sherry.

4. In a small bowl beat the egg yolk and half and half. Stir a little bit of the hot sauce into the yolk mixture. Add the yolk mixture to the saucepan and cook over low heat, until sauce is hot. Do not boil. Remove from heat, and add the sherry.

5. Toss the spaghetti with half the sauce. Place the spaghetti into a 8X8 baking dish. Toss the rest of the sauce with the turkey and veggies. Spoon that over the spaghetti. Top with parmesan cheese.

6. Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Uncover and bake 10 more minutes or until piping hot.

Number of Servings: 4

P.S. Don't forget! There are only three more days to join this round of The Writing Game

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

This and That and The Writing Game

First off, thanks so much for the great response to The Writing Game! (And to my begging and cajoling). I'm really excited, though, as we are shaping up with a great field of writers, some very experienced and some brand new to fiction. And I know we'll all have a blast! Here are our participants so far (and if my ancient brain forgot anyone, please let me know):

Cable Girl
Darcy
Gunfighter
Jan
Jenn(?)
Mariposa
Moi
NYC/Caribbean Ragazza
Luisa of Novembrance
Painted Maypole
Soccer Mom in Denial
Thalia's Child
Veriano
Wholly Burble

Want to join us? See the rules here. Just send me your ideas before midnight on Friday, EST.

Voting

Grrr. I voted in the Michigan Primary today. There was no one at the polls. I didn't have to stand in line. I didn't have to wait at all. Yes, it was convenient, but no, it wasn't the way it should have been. The Michigan Democratic Party screwed up big time. And I'm mad. I'll have more about this in a future post.

Weekends

I did something I almost never do - I actually made last weekend into a "weekend". The results? I've gotten tons of things done this week and it's only Tuesday. I also got ideas for two new books. And that's one of the hardest parts for me as a writer - I'm definitely more character-driven in my fiction.

What does this tell me? That I need to do this far more often.

I'm a Meter Maid

There's a meter to the side of my entries. It says Progress on my as yet Unnamed Mystery. In the past six days of writing, the meter has gone from 30% to 42%. I'm happy.

Happy Tuesday Everyone!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Music Monday - "I'm Gonna Be" by The Proclaimers



For other tales of musical adventure, please visit Soccer Mom in Denial.


Last week I posted what many believed to be a sad story. And I thank you for your sympathy. And yes, it was sad at the time, but as someone said, the break-up line was one of the most bizarre (and hysterical) ever, and for what I can mine from that alone, with 20 years' retrospect, the pain was probably worth it. And it was an adventure. So from that romance, I gained "Love Stinks" and the knowledge to avoid future Love Stinkers.

This week, I reveal myself as Nerd Princess of the Universe. For all my (hip) love of U2, Barenaked Ladies, Dave Matthews, John Lennon, each of whom have written simply stunning love songs of one type or another, I felt I had to show some sunshine love this week by revealing my favorite romantic song of ALL time.

And it's below.

Yes, those two incurable romantics, the brothers Reid, better known as The Proclaimers, charged into my life with this powerful, pure declaration of love. Simple, nerdy, determined. And that's my D all over. Er... not the simple part. But he's always been the kind of guy who lets me know just how important I am to him, and yeah, he's also nerdy and determined and funny, just like The Proclaimers themselves.

And, on top of everything else, I get to show some young Johnny Depp through the clip below, from Benny and Joon. And what could be better than young Johnny, the two Scottish lads, and happy memories of finding my one true love!

So, D, this is for you:

I'm Gonna Be

Friday, January 11, 2008

Writing Game Redux - Want to Join Us?

At the beginning of November, I posted the following challenge:

1. Create a list of things that you'd like to write about (ideas for stories)
2. Create, in a little more depth, three characters
3. Create some sort of conflict(or if you're feeling generous, a couple of conflicts and your victim co-author can choose which one he/she likes)
4. These will then be switched randomly by moi, and we will each write a story based on the ideas of a blogging buddy.

Ten brave victims writers came to play. It was great fun and a couple of the participants, Gunfighter of The View from Here and Wholly Burble from Rocking Chair Ruminations, are working on making their pieces into longer projects. Hooray!!!

So my new proposal is this: Send me those same lists to jenshaines at aol dot com by 11:59 pm, -5 GMT, Friday, January 18, and I will shuffle said lists and send you someone else's lists by Monday, January 21st. Then sharpen your crayons or pencils or clean your keyboard and GET WRITING.

We'll post our final efforts on Friday, February 1st.

No, there's no winner, nor is there a prize for a winner, but we're ALL winners when we write. Right?

Our first ten participants did a wonderful job and it was so much fun to read their efforts! I'd love to see us double our numbers for this round. Let's write some fiction, Baby!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

What's Cooking Wednesday: Lazy Day Spinach Lasagna




Well, I've wanted to give myself a nudge to include more recipes here, and I've loved Bleeding Espresso-Sognatrice's contributions to What's Cooking Wednesday (a wonderful project started by Shan of Tales from a Fairy Blogmother). I love them for two reasons - one, Sognatrice does a simply bang-up job every week and her recipes tend to be both mouthwatering and beautiful and the second is that I simply suck as a photographer.

So playing along with Wordless Wednesday just doesn't do much for me.

Or for anyone who sees my pictures.

But I'm not the worst cook in the world, and so I want, at least for these first entries, to focus on recipes that are simple and healthy.

So without further babbling, here's my first contribution:

Lazy Day Spinach Lasagna



Lazy Day Spinach Lasagna was an invention of necessity: I love lasagna, when I want it, I want it quickly, ie. I don't want to fuss with cooking noodles that break, and I wanted a version that would fit in with my quest for weight loss. I actually make all kinds of lasagnas, up and down both the speed and calorie scales, but this one is delicious, easy and manageable on a diet, so... voila!

For any Italians who read this blog, please don't groan and run away in fright - this is very much an Italian-American fusion sort of thing. I know it's not the least authentic, but it's still a bit of alright. Serve with a good, green salad and either some hot, crusty bread and a glass of good chianti, or with just plain salad and water. It's all good. Enjoy!

Ingredients:



1 16 oz. package frozen spinach, thawed
1 15 oz. container part skim ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 cup of shredded part skim mozzarella, divided
2 1/4 cups Classico Tomato Basil sauce, divided (if you can't get Classico, choose a pasta sauce that is 50 calories or less per 1/2 cup and 1 gram of fat or less)
2 TBS grated parmesan cheese
4 no cook lasagna noodles
cooking spray

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375.




2. Take spinach from package and dump onto a dish towel. Bundle up the spinach, take it over to the sink, and squeeze out all excess liquid.




3. Put spinach in food processor or blender, along with ricotta, egg, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and 1/4 cup of the mozzarella. Pulse until everything is well blended.




4. To assemble lasagna: spray 8X8 cooking pan with cooking spray. Ladle 3/4 cup sauce on the bottom of the pan. Place two noodles across the bottom of the pan. Place the ricotta filling on the noodles and spread evenly. Pour another 3/4 cup of sauce over the ricotta. Place the remaining two noodles over the sauce. Pour the rest of the sauce over the noodles. Wrap tightly with foil.

5. Bake for 50 minutes at 375.

6. Take lasagna out of the oven (to keep the oven heated). Remove the foil. Sprinkle the top with the other 1/4 cup of mozzarella and the 2 TBS of grated parmesan.

7. Return the lasagna to the oven and bake for 10 more minutes, or until lasagna is bubbly and cheese is well melted.

8. Take lasagna out of the oven and let rest for 10 - 15 minutes before serving.

Serves 4, generously.



Nutritional Info. (courtesy of the recipe calculator function on www.sparkrecipes.com)


Fat: 14.8g
Carbohydrates: 33.5g
Calories:362.8
Protein: 24.5g

And finally, don't forget that tomorrow is turn-off-your-blog day for A Day to Read. Join Soccer Mom in Denial and all the rest of us who will stop tapping the keyboards for a day and turn pages, instead.


DAY TO READ campaign

Monday, January 7, 2008

Music Monday - Love Stinks - The J. Geils Band




Once upon a time there was a Maiden of, say, 20 or so, who fell in love with a prince...

Okay, so it wasn't a prince.

It was a fellow techie at a summer stock theater, where said Maiden was whiling away her summer with a hot glue gun as the "accessories" person in a light opera company costume shop.

Said Maiden and Young Tech (who whiled away his days with a hammer and occasionally a paintbrush) spent all their spare hours (about two a week) running down to the sea shore, splashing in the waves, and in all other ways behaving like the two lovers in From Here to Eternity.

The Maiden and the Young Tech were huge fans of both Kerouac and Castaneda. And it was the 70s. So they did what any self-respecting late-70s Kerouac and Castaneda-loving young lovers would do, and they ran off... to California. (Berkeley, to be exact).

And they lived happily ever after.

For about three months.

Until an earthquake hit. And being the wimps East Coast types that they were, they ran off to his land of Tennessee.

But said Maiden had actually dropped out of college to fulfill her Kerouac-fueled dreams, and decided that she and academia were missing each other.

So the two scooted off hand-in-hand (well, by Greyhound, actually) to the land of Michigan, where all went wrong for our two young lovers.

There they met a young sorceress, who feigned friendship with said Maiden so she could get her slimy claws delicate hands onto the Young Tech.

The sorceress waited until the perfect moment, when said Maiden returned back to the land of the East where she attended the funeral of her beloved grandmother. And upon her return she was greeted with the desertion of the Young Tech, who told her, "Yes just broke up" (their favorite band), "and I think it's time we did, too."

But even break-ups are not so simple when presented in such a charming manner, and it was difficult for said Maiden and Young Tech to actually separate. So during their last, miserable, sit-down, drag-out, whining weeks together, they played the song below. Often. And sang along.

For other tales of musical woe joy, please visit Soccer Mom in Denial. Harry Potter was thrown in, just because this clip was more fun than the others available on youtube.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Love Stinks

Day to Read: Books on My Nightstand

I've fallen down on my Day to Read, promotions. There have just been other things to write about in the past week.

But it's coming - January 10, 2008. This will be a time to shut down our computers and read from actual pages - To lose our blog friends for one. day.

It is also the brainchild of Soccer Mom in Denial.

And for me, it's none too soon. I have a teetering pile of books on my nightstand, all waiting for attention. So in case you're still looking for reading for this Thursday, here are a few suggestions, in no particular order:



Bangkok Haunts by John Burdett. This is the third book in the Bangkok 8 series by Burdett. The novels follow the narration of Sonchai Jitpleecheep as he fights vice by day and helps with his mother's brothel by night in the bundle of contradictions that is life in Bangkok. The major contrast in the books is Sonchai's striving to be a good Buddhist while living a life steeped in corruption and sex. These books are not for the faint of heart, but I've been fascinated with the first two and the world they've opened up to me.



The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy. This is a semi-autobiographical comic novel about a young girl traveling to Paris in the early 50s. It's been touted as both the precursor to the entire chic lit movement, and the female version of A Catcher in the Rye.



Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman. If you read contemporary fantasy of any type, you should be familiar with Gaiman. And if you're not, I repeat: you should be familiar with Gaiman. This is a collection of a wide variety of Gaiman's stories, several of which are major award winners. Again, Gaiman is not always for the faint of heart, but he will always stretch your imagination in new ways.



The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken: A Search for Food and Family by Laura Schenone. This is the quest of James Beard Award winning culinary historian Schenone to find the original ravioli recipe that her great grandmother brought with her from Genova at the turn of the century. Through her search, she finds herself in traditional kitchens in Liguria and looks at the bigger social history of the immigrant experience of women and cooking.




The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This is Fitzgerald's attempt to create something "beautiful and new", and it is, arguably, his finest work. We watch the tragedy of Gatsby and Daisy unfold through the eyes of cynical Nick Carraway. This will be the first book for the second semester of the American Lit. course that I teach, so it's required reading for me, as well. But enjoyable required reading, nevertheless.



Italian American Folklore by Frances Malpezzi. This was a book recommended to me by Sognatrice. It has been a huge help in researching the Italian American experience in the U.S. Fascinating stuff!



Dead of the Day by Karen E. Olson. This one is a wild card for me. It was C's Christmas gift to me. He wanted specifics, so I told him to "pick out a mystery he thought I might like". He admitted he didn't actually read anything about the book - he just liked the cover. The blurb was from Laura Lippman, though, and she's D's favorite mystery author of the moment, so hopefully there's potential. I'll write more after I've actually looked at it more carefully.


Maybe one of these will catch your fancy. Maybe none of them will, but they'll inspire you to think of something else. However it turns out, I wish you happy reading!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Urgent! Read this post!

There is a heartbreaking post at Los Angelista's Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness. It concerns the situation in Kenya, which is growing worse by the hour. It also lists ways to help. Please read this post and find a way to help!

The Whimper Continues

And I promise something MUCH lighter tomorrow. And actually, this is pretty light, too, in retrospect.

So, as you may remember from yesterday, we had no power. And we were completely snowed in - road blocked, driveway filled up, etc. But the house was still relatively warm, so we believed the power hadn't been out that long. It was around 8:15, thanks to our assortment of cell phones and my DS's watch. We called DTE. We reported our outage. We called them back. The estimate of service was not too bad - three hours.

I cleaned out the dishwasher, put in another load, got the house back in order from the dinner party. C. found all our flashlights and spare batteries (just in case). D went outside, started our cars, and charged our cell phones (again, just in case). We had Coke (D and me), Hawaiian Punch (C) and bread with peanut butter for breakfast (we hardly EVER drink sugar drinks - they were in from the canceled party). We did NOT open the fridge. We might have been snowed in and with no power, but life was good.

We did notice that the house was getting cold, rapidly. We started to worry about the piggies, who can't really tolerate cold. We covered their habitat with a big comforter. They found this to be a grand adventure and we could hear them exploring, wheeking and generally expressing their curiosity and approval.

Eleven o'clock rolled around. It was COLD. We began to worry about the piggies. We called the vet. They told us to do what we'd already done. And then I said, "So they'll be alright that way, right?" The vet tech answered, "Well, I didn't say that. They really need to be kept warm."

Uh. Oh.

We knew from past experience that DTE's service estimates are more like a promise a player keeps on a Saturday night to the three different women he's dating. And our service countdown was continuing with no hint of service actually being restored.

So, just in case, I started calling around for places the piggies could go. My one friend, R, lives about 5 minutes from us. Yes, they'd be delighted to take the piggies. The only problem was, she lives off our road, and we couldn't leave our road. We prayed for the road plow, but knew that was probably a moot point as we are a "tertiary" road and they usually get to us dead. last. I called my friend A. We were supposed to go to their house that day for an open house. They live half a block from us. And they had power. Wooohooo! But their son was allergic to guinea pigs. We thought of other neighbors - B and W had a dog, K and D had cats, S was out of town. Finally, we called the sweet Italian family from the night before. Yes, they had power! Yes, they'd take the piggies! Problem solved, if necessary.

Well, twelve rolled around. We called DTE again. Now the "new" estimate was 11 hours! Time for piggy action. So D and C walked the quarter mile with the piggy cage (minus the piggies, who couldn't have tolerated the cold), to sweet Italian family's house. Then we each took a piggy in our coats and walked said piggies over to sweet Italian family's house. Some piggies thought this was a grand adventure and one piggy still isn't speaking to us.

We arranged piggies, thanked sweet Italian family profusely, and went on our way to A and F's open house, where we feasted on traditional Japanese New Year's food and caught up with A and F's charming children (and A and F, themselves). We were warm, our stomachs were full, and we'd been able to use a bathroom with toilets that flushed. Again, life was good.

Oh, but I forgot the stuff in between!

It turned out that the reason our house didn't have power, and everyone else did, was a downed wire. This upped our status with DTE a bit, but only a bit. We'd called them and then they suggested we call the local fire dept. Then the fire dept. suggested that we call DTE, but they said they'd come out anyway. And all this was taking place while we were arranging piggy arrangements, eating delicious Japanese food, etc. So, by the time we got home, a yellow "do not cross" tape had been placed by our downed wire by the fire dept., and a DTE truck was pulling into our driveway. We were saved!

Not quite.

This was the guy to see if they had to send guys out. And they did. (Need to send guys/girls out). But they had no idea when that would happen. Might be today; might be tomorrow. And although our sweet neighbors the Italians, and our sweet neighbors A and F had offered places to sleep, we knew it was really inconvenient for both of them. And our driveway was now passable, and enough folks with four wheel drive had plowed through our road, so that it was sort of passable, too.

We love our house, but as it was getting dark, and as it was freezing, we wimped out and called a local inn which just happened to have a good holiday special. And we blasted out of our dark, cold house and were so grateful that we were able to do so!

We had a warm dinner and crashed. Hard. The next morning, power was restored, our line was no longer dangerous, and we were able to retrieve piggies from our very patient and very sweet Italian neighbors.

We lost most of the contents of our refrigerator, which was a huge bummer, but we didn't lose the contents of the freezer, which was a huge relief.

And 2008 started for real.

Happy New Year.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The New Year Starts Off with a Bang! (And a whimper)

Okay... so here's what we've been up to since my post for Music Monday. Starting fifteen years ago, when I was pregnant with C, D and I have hosted an annual "family" New Year's Eve party. Originally, we had international foods, played games, etc., but over time we mostly have good food and good friends yacking away upstairs, with the kids taking over the downstairs for games, movies, their version of good food (ie. cookies, chips, etc.). It's a lovely tradition, and we enjoy it. We wanted to have a setting where families could celebrate together and not worry about people having too much alcohol, etc., and where it was okay for kids to be tired, and for families to leave early if they wanted/needed to.

One problem is that during our many homeschooling years, we made lots of friends who live quite a distance away. As it so happened, this year the main folks who were coming all lived over an hour away. And despite the casual nature of the event, it still takes several days to prep. So we'd done the prepping Friday, Saturday and part of Sunday (minus my New York Times orgy on Sunday afternoon), and here's how our day went Monday: we were at the store at 7:00 a.m., I had chili cooking by 10 a.m., and then a friend called at 10:30 and said, "What about the storm?"

And I said,"What storm?"

Yeah.

Right.

So the storm was supposed to start at 7:00 p.m. (same time as our party) and get progressively worse over the evening, and drop 8 - 12 inches. Not. Good.

So with much calling back and forth with the traveling players, we reluctantly canceled the party with the thought that we might reschedule for this weekend, since we had so much food ready to go. And since one of the families who were coming were our new Italian neighbors, we called them up, explained the situation and invited them for a real dinner that night instead. They were delighted and so were we.

We had great conversation and a fabulous combined menu - I put out my cheeses and nut mixes for hors d'oeuvres, which I served with Kir Royales (and sparkling juice with raspberries in champagne glasses for the kids), and for dinner we had my friend C's wonderful ravioli gratinee, my white chicken chili with beer cheese bread and salad, and C's tiramisu, with our cookies and clementines for dessert. The kids had a great time together and even A's mama, who doesn't speak any English, enjoyed the evening. (I brushed off my few Italian phrases and it all worked fine).

At the end of the evening, we put a load of dishes in the dishwasher, decided to do all the rest of the clean-up in the morning, and trundled off to watch the ball drop. The ball dropped, and we dropped off to dreamland.

The next thing I knew, I heard C's (DS, this time, not my friend) voice saying, "Mom?"

I woke up to check the time, but my clock's numerals weren't visible, ie. we had no power. Which would be fine, but... that meant we had no heat and no water. And a house filled with dishes and dreck from the night before. And three guinea pigs, who can't tolerate cold temperatures.

So, at the risk of this blog entry becoming way too long, I'll speak of the next set of adventures tomorrow. But suffice it to say, we finally have our power back.

Happy New Year!