Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Soup for the Sick

Free soup is very acceptable

I am currently in Nashville, nursing round two of a nasty chest cold. Christmas was a fun whirlwind of travel, friends and family, but now I'm left in the chilly aftermath: an empty house, the tired bus-ride to work and a awful, hacking cough. Happily, I am heading back to Pittsburgh on Friday to celebrate the New Year with some old friends and squeeze in a few more days of delicious pizza and sleeping in spare beds. That means I need to recover ASAP! Thus, soup.

I made a big batch of vegetable soup, just the thing to warm the belly and kick-start a productive cough. I'd share a picture but my camera is in the clutches of my husband. But please imagine a steamy bowlful of cloudy golden broth, cubed carrots and potatoes and little winks of submerged chickpeas. Sound good? Here's the recipe:

Soup for the Sick

olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 large stalk of celery, diced
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 potato, peeled and cubed
2 carrots, chopped into rounds
1 can chickpeas, drained
a splash of water, broth or white wine
4 cups of veggie broth (try making your own!)
1 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp marjoram
1 tsp soy sauce
salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil over medium heat and sauté the onions and celery until transparent. Add the garlic and heat a minute or two more. Add the potato, carrots and chickpeas and sauté two minutes more. Deglaze* the pan with a splash of water, broth or wine - I like to use dry vermouth. Add the broth along with the herbs and soy sauce. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat, simmering for 15-20 minutes until everything is soft. Get out your salt and pepper and correct the seasoning. I know that sometimes a strong flu requires a slightly more salty broth. Season as you will!

This recipe makes about 3 big bowls full (or two days worth, if you are home on the couch surrounded by balled-up tissues.) The resulting soup is the essence of comfort food for me, and never fails to make me feel better.

Up with Soups! Down with Colds!

* A note on deglazing: if you are not familiar with this term, don't panic! Deglazing is basically when you add a few tablespoons of liquid to a pan of sautéed meat and/or veggies. It loosens up all the little caramelized bits stuck on the bottom of the pan and adds a rich flavor to the soup. Easy peasy and you get to feel sophisticated as plumes of steam rise from the sizzling pan.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


These past few weeks have been a blur. This is not to say they went quickly; rather the days and weeks lost their names and melted into one another. The temperature dropped in steps: 70's to 60's, 60's to 50's until we were shivering through freezing nights and the last lingering pansies froze solid one morning and spent the afternoon thawing into limp mounds.

shelby park structure

There is a reason no one gushes about the beauty of autumn in Tennessee. There is no glorious week of flaming oranges and reds in the hazy afternoon light. Instead stingy Southern trees clutch their green leaves like a family secret. As they weeks pass they surrender one by one, their leaves withering and dropping alone as the trees around them sway green and full or shiver their naked branches. It is only now, in mid-December, that the trees stand uniformly bare and chastened.

It is dark when I wake up and it is dark when I leave my office. I've grown accustomed to a long, nocturnal bus ride home. I learned new set of landmarks in my neighborhood - the stained glass windows of the Baptist Church, the particular pouring of street-lights at a crossroad. I pull the cord and walk the four lonely blocks to my house.

Nashville alleyway

Autumn can be hard on the Southern psyche. This city normally hums with a happy-go-lucky energy bred by warmth and long days of sunshine and the trailing glitter of country stardom. But these dark days and bitter winds call for a toughening of the marrow. I face these days with my banged puritan mettle and feel at peace. Around me natives shiver in ball caps and hooded sweatshirts.

broken horse

Lately I have not been doing what I should. Bookmarks linger between chapters, half-finished drawings lay anemically on my desk, letters linger unfinished and unsent. Instead I have been knitting, an ornate variation on pacing, as I listen to well-trod albums and other auditory pablum. I'll half-watch the local news while working the thumb of a mitten or turning a row, a cable needle held between my teeth. As Christmas approaches I find myself spiraling into comfort: laying on the couch with a blanket, listening to the favorite record of my 20th year.


I am content to let the last few weeks of 2010 pass as quietly as they wish. This has been a restorative year for me, a year where so many fractures finally knit together. I face the coming year with a feeling of possibility and a core that is rested, strengthened and ready to be pressed into service.

A mentor once told me that the years will pass regardless of what I choose to do with them. Fall reminds us of this again, as we watch the world around us disappear and feel the closeness of the frozen ground.

starlings 2

Friday, November 19, 2010


Young Man with His Leg in a Cast in Hiland Park of Brooklyn New York City ... 07/1974

My computer is being shitty so I have about a half-dozen posts bottle-necked without pictures. When I get my new computer next week all hell is gonna break loose.

I guar-un-tee.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Friday Feel-Good Club

Isn't the weekend a magical time? We look forward to it all week, compiling a list of all the things we're going to accomplish: letters to write, odd-jobs to fix, people to visit and places to haunt. Of course, many times we overbook ourselves, or get overwhelmed, or just plain laze the weekend away and are filled with the dreaded SUNDAY NIGHT REGRET. This is a terrible state of mind, wherein you kick yourself like a football and mope around, thereby ruining even the last precious hours of your weekend. Tsk-tsk.

But in the scheme of things, even a wasted weekend is a good one, as long as you had some fun and did a few things. So whenever I feel that Sunday Night Regret creep up, I resort to one of my fondest childhood Sunday rituals. I take a shower and towel-dry my hair, and let it air dry while I watch a movie. It reminds me so much of being very small and cared for, unconcerned with whatever Monday would bring. Of course, at that age Mondays usually meant coloring hand-turkeys and chocolate milk cartons - tough life!

So join me in becoming a member of the Friday Feel-Good club. Vow to enjoy your weekend (whatever it may bring) and refuse to bow to the Sunday Night Regret. Love every minute of your time off!

And now, a sign-off by the Friday Feel-Good Club mascot, Jules Verne the High-Fiving Kitty.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Haircuts and the Sickest Mac & Cheese

So last Sunday, after several weeks of bemoaning my increasingly wild and wavy hair, I grabbed a pair of scissors and decided to give myself a little flapper bob.

I was hoping for a little something along the lines of Dorothy Gish, a little Bernice Bobs Her Hair kind of action.

However, I ended up channeling Emo Philips.

ps: is this dude my real dad or what?

Now I'm not complaining. I think the cut is cute I don't mind the comparison. In honor of finding my coiffure soul mate, I want to give you all my recipe for truly sick out-of-a-box mac & cheese.


1 box shells & cheese (I am a hippy and eat that Annie's stuff)
1 can of black beans
1/4 cup milk/soymilk
1/2 tb butter
3 slices of cheddar cheese
at least 3 tbs of Tabasco chipotle sauce

1) Drain and rinse the beans and set aside.
2) Boil and drain the shells as usual.
3) In a saucepan combine the prepackaged cheese powder, milk and butter.
4) Add in everything else, including the beans and shells.
5) Stir and warm gently until everything is creamy and delicious.
6) Eat half of it out of the pot.
7) Take two tums and lay down on the couch.

At my lemonade stand I used to give the first glass away free and charge five dollars for the second glass. The refill contained the antidote. - Emo Philips

Sunday, November 7, 2010

a good weekend

As I stare down the end of my twenties I've found that my criteria for a good weekend have undergone a definite shift. I no longer count quality in hours spent away from my house, the number of people met or shows played. My pursuits have taken a turn for the quiet, the mindful, the small events warmed with the comfort of home.

I have a lot of kitchen weekends. Every two weeks I bake bread, one loaf for the breadbox and one for freezer. At least once a month I make a stock pot worth of vegetable broth to keep in the fridge. I also like to take advantage of the longer evenings to make more complicated meals, or try out new recipes.

kitchen chaos

This weekend I filled my kitchen with creative anarchy. I brewed 8 cups of veggie broth and baked my usual loaves, but I also put together some wonderful meals.

Friday dinner: tofu simmered in homemade BBQ sauce, served with roasted cauliflower

Saturday dinner: chickpea-seitan cutlets and mashed potatoes served with mushroom gravy and a spinach salad

I invented a lovely vinaigrette for the salad which I suspect will become my go-to dressing for the foreseeable future. I also gave more thought to my off-again-on-again daydream of putting together a little booklet of recipes I have devised. It might be a good winter project.

rising bread

I love to cook for a million different reasons. I love the creativity. I love recognizing the harmony in a dish, and learning to taste for what is there and what is lacking. I love knowing how to do something that is both a necessity and a luxury at the same time. I love to feed my friends and family. I love to eat. But most of all I love the quietness of the activity, the solitude and quiet mind it affords me, the chance to remember, or plan, or just look out the window and watch the juncos gathering on my neighbor's eaves.

Fall has definitely come to Tennessee. The trees are giving up their leaves reluctantly, one by one. Each day the ginko outside my office blushes with a little more yellow. The mornings are cold and I shiver at the bus stop, unsure if I will be carrying my jacket home or puffing icy breaths at 5:30pm. I have begun looking forward to the holidays. I bought two sets of airline tickets: one to visit my family for Thanksgiving and the other to stay with Matt's family for Christmas. Riding a bike now requires gloves. Hot tea sounds good but wine sounds even better. When the cat curls up she buries her nose in her tail like a little fox.

fall 2010

The only dark mark on the weekend was Daylight Savings ending with the usual floating discontent. It's hard to leave work in the darkness, to feel the cold creep in a little earlier, but the darkness heralds more then just the specter of winter.

It means cozy afternoons in the kitchen.

It means sharing body heat and a collage of blankets on the bed.

It means crisp walks from point A to point B and hoisting a pint with our winter coats hanging off the back of chairs.

It means seeing family I don't see enough.

It means turning another year older.

It means many more good weekends.

Friday, November 5, 2010

In which I admit my ignorance

There are a few subjects in which I consider myself an expert: rat and mouse fancy, the life and times of P.T. Barnum, and script inconsistencies in 1992's Batman Returns. In a broader sense my trivia knowledge seems to be clustered into the green pie wedge: Science and Nature. That is why what I have to share with you today has rocked me to the very core.

I'm sure you are all familiar with a certain scene from the movie Big, in which Josh Baskin, in his new 30-year-old body, has his first run in with the phenomenon of 'baby corn'.

We saw that and we all laughed. How silly! He was eating baby corn like it was regular corn! Baby corn is not regular corn! Laughing! Laughing! And yet, a sinister question perched in the back of our minds...

What exactly is baby corn?

Somewhere between 1988 and now I got the idea in my head that baby corn, despite its appearance, is actually a distinct species. It is some kind of exotic swamp plant like a water chestnut, found only in Asian groceries and Chinese dishes, with only a superficial resemblance to good old 'merican corn-on-the-cob maize. The same plant? Pah! No way! It would just make too much sense.

Well, I think you know where I'm going with this.

Sunday evening, to my utter bewilderment, I learned that baby corn is actually nothing more than literal BABY CORN. It is immature corn harvested as soon as the silk starts to peek past the husk, just as the little niblets have begun to form. You can learn more about baby corn and its weird powers with this downloadable pamphlet from Washington State University.

I hope that by admitting my shameful ignorance of baby corn, I can help those that read this to life fuller lives, free from embarrassing gaffes regarding tiny vegetables. So please, never forget,

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Halloween Recap

Matt and I threw a little Halloween party last weekend. The day started out with an auspicious omen: a double-yolked egg!

double yolk

It went into the kitty-litter cake I baked for the party.

Here I am in my costume as 'Little' Edie Beale:

Little Edie Beale

For those playing along at home, this was the scene from Grey Gardens I was inspired by:

Here is Matt and Dave chatting before the main event. Matt is dressed as himself circa 15 years ago. Dave is dressed as a dead cosmonaut, as inspired by a certain blog post.

1993 Skater and Dead Cosmonaut

The party was a lot of fun and the witching spirit was all around us. I wish I had action pictures, but whenever stuff gets cooking I'm the first person to throw the camera into a drawer and forget about it.

However, below is the sign I posted on the back door. I think it proves that "the devil is in the details", particularly when it comes to party planning...

Baphomet sez

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

it makes the blood run cold

There is a certain attraction to that which terrifies. Nothing chills me to the core like learning about something so twisted, so heart-breakingly bleak and appalling, and then finding out that it is purportedly true.

Over the years I have collected tidbits of this nature, stories and rumors and theories that have make the pit of my stomach drop out. Many fall under the realm of outlandish conspiracy theory, like The Philadelphia Experiment. Some are bone-chillingly true, like Vladimir Demikhov's experimental head transplant surgeries (highly disturbing video here and here). As shocking as these ideas can be, after some time the brain becomes inured to them, and one begins the search for something novel.

A came across the article Lost in Space via The article outlines how, in the late 50's, two Italian brothers built an amateur "mission control" station to track the beeping of satellites during the space race. However, one day they intercepted a different kind of message:
Then, on 28 November 1960, the Bochum space observatory in West Germany said it had intercepted radio signals which it thought might have been a satellite. No official announcement had been made of any launch.

“Our reaction was to immediately switch on the receivers and listen,” said Achille. After almost an hour of tuning in to static, the boys were about to give up when suddenly a tapping sound emerged from the hiss and crackle.

“It was a signal we recognized immediately as Morse code – SOS,” said Gian. But something about this signal was strange. It was moving slowly, as if the craft was not orbiting but was at a single point and slowly moving away from the Earth. The SOS faded into distant space.

That is not the only mysterious communication they intercepted:

At 10.55pm on 2 February 1961, the brothers were scanning Russian frequencies as usual when Achille picked up a transmission from an orbiting capsule. They recorded the wheezing, struggling breathing of what they thought was a suffocating cosmonaut. The brothers contacted Professor Achille Dogliotti, Italy’s leading cardiologist and recorded his judgement. “I could quite clearly distinguish the clear sounds of forced, panting human breath,” said Dogliotti.

Two days later, the Soviet press agency announced that Russia had sent a seven-and-a-half-tonne spaceship the size of a single-decker bus into space on 2 February, which had burned up during re-entry. No further information was forthcoming.

Just as a reminder, the first manned flight was still several months away at this time.

Over the years the Judica-Cordiglia brothers recorded several transmissions that did not correspond to any publicly known flights. These included a female cosmonaut, with strain and anxiety clear in her voice, stating "I feel hot... I feel hot... I can see a flame! thirty-two.... thirty-two... I going to crash?... I feel hot..." This was recorded, once again, two years before Valentina Tereshkova became known as the first woman in space. The recording can be heard here. For a rundown of all the supposed "lost cosmonauts", take a little trip to wikipedia.

It is easy to dismiss the whole idea as an exaggeration of leaked information, a play for attention on the part of the brothers, or even as bald-faced anti-communist propaganda. However, pause for a minute to consider:

1. Would a government struggling for respect resort to dangerously experimental flights in order to win the space race?

2. What impetus would a government have for publicizing a failed flight? Particularly a government with a history of making troublesome people disappear?

3. What would it be like to sit in a metal capsule, careening through space, as you realize that you overshot your orbit and the signal from home gets fainter and fainter?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Spotted on the Vanderbilt Campus

Serotonin Boston

Judge Joe Brown

Sorry the first picture is blurry. It's hard to shoot while you are giving devil horns and headbanging.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Catching Camel Crickets

Over the past few weeks at least three camel crickets have met their end under the pillow paws of Jules Verne.

Catching crickets

Catching crickets

Catching crickets
Good Kitty.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Making Something from Nothing

I have to come clean; I am a thrifty soul. And not the glamorous coupon-clipping kind. More of the second-hand socks, curbside coffee table, wash-and-reuse-ziplock-baggies kind of girl. Why pay more if you can get it for cheap? And why pay at all if you can get it for free?

When I discovered the basics of homemade broth, my heart sang. Something to do with kitchen scraps! That made something delicious! For free!

You can find directions for homemade broth all over the internet; however, here is my technique.

Step one: Every time you cook, throw your vegetables scraps in a tupperware in the freezer. You can be as picky or as lax as you want to be. Mine varies from season to season, but usually is a combination of onion and carrot tops; scraps from trimming celery, peppers, and tomatoes; garlic, potato and squash peels; corncobs; apple cores; and anything else that has a nice flavor but doesn't make it into the pot.

Step two: When you have a good collection of scraps going (about 1 quart), dump it into a big soup pot and add whatever is in the fridge and about to go bad. I usually end up adding wrinkled or excess greens (spinach, mustard and turnip greens, cabbage) and any leftover vegetables that are largely unseasoned. Add a chopped up onion or two as well, and the wimpy little center stalks of celery if you have them on hand.

Here you can see my collection from my last batch:

Broth 1

As you can see some beet tops made their way in. Beets are super in broth because they give it a lovely sweet taste and a gorgeous pink color.

Step three: Fill the pot with water and add seasoning. I usually throw in 2 bay leaves and about a teaspoon of whole peppercorns. If I'm feeling saucy I'd throw in a half-teaspoon of turmeric. Add whatever you want! I don't salt until the end so that I can add the minimum necessary to make the flavor pop.

Broth 2

Step four: Bring to a boil and simmer for about an hour. Unlike meat-based broths you really don't need a very long simmer to get a deep, complex taste. This step also makes this a great kitchen-warming activity for a chilly winter morning.

Step five: Once you are happy with the flavor cut the heat and let the broth cool. I always rush this step and burn my mouth here while tasting to salt.

Step six: Strain the broth. I pour the soup through a colander to get out all the now mushy and disgusting vegetables. If the soup is very cloudy I'll strain it again through cheesecloth. This batch was pretty clear, so I didn't bother to strain it a second time.

Step seven: BEHOLD! BROTH!

Broth 3

This stuff is seriously 100 times better then anything you can buy in the store, and loaded with nutrients. And you made it for free!

I like to freeze it in (reused) ziplocks and old yogurt tubs in 2-cup quantities, so I can defrost one to make rice or defrost the whole lot and make soup. Tomorrow a bunch of this batch is going to be made into crockpot potato-garlic soup. Yum!


Hey, you should probably make some bagels. I made some bagels on Sunday. Do you want to see?

Sunday Bagels

Oh? Not impressed? Maybe you'll be impressed by... MOODILY LIT FILM NOIR BAGELS!

Moody Bagels

The film noir adaptation is apt, since these are not ordinary run-of-the-mill bagels, but rather fancy Parisian bagels. I made them using the recipe found here: JO GOLDENBERG’S PARISIAN BAGELS

My thoughts on the recipe:

1) Don't add too much flour. This is a sticky dough and it's easy to keep adding flour, which will cause your bagels to fall in the oven. Add the minimum amount of flour and keep a big wooden spoon handy to scrape your kneading surface clean.

2) Keep an eye on the dough during the first rise. My dough was ready to go after only 40 minutes (then again, I am blessed to live in a climate that is still fairly warm).

3) 400 degrees seems way to hot for these little guys. I would set the oven for 350 and adjust from there.

These bagels are delicious, have a strong yeasty taste and freeze well. Make them and enjoy - they are a fun, quick yeast bread and well worth the time spent.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

last weekend in pictures

First Oktoberfest, in lovely Germantown.


Dave and Matt

Carrie and Matt Feet

My favorite sign in the city: KING FISH

KIng Fish, Nashville TN

The lovely Miss Jules Verne.


Two fresh loaves of San Francisco style sourdough.

San Francisco Style Sourdough

Whites Creek, Tn

Whites Creek, TN

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Art Museum Caper (aka Party at the Parthenon)

To set up this story you have to know a little about the Parthenon.

Parthenon from Southeast

No, the Parthenon in Nashville.


There we go.

By day the Parthenon is a small and quirky art museum located in the middle of Centennial Park. However, by night it occasionally becomes ground zero for a certain kind of city event, namely pricey and/or exclusive receptions.

By a stroke of luck my friend Dave and I lucked into an invite to the Nashville Scene's Best of Nashville Party. This meant free food from the winning restaurants, an evening at the Parthenon and a little something called "drink tickets". The only catch was that we had to pull off a bit of subterfuge to get in the door: I had to pretend to be a famous and award winning baker.

While waiting in line at the will call, I envisioned the 100 little things that could go wrong. They can be summed up nicely in this scene from a Simpsons episode entitled "Cape Feare":

FBI Agent 1: I'll tell you what sir, from now on you'll be uh, Homer Thompson at Terror Lake. (Homer nods) When I say hello Mr. Thompson you'll say "hi."

Homer: Check.

FBI Agent 1: Hello Mr. Thompson (Homer stares blankly at him.).....remember now, your name is Homer Thompson.

Homer: I gotcha.

FBI Agent 1: Hello Mr. Thompson (Homer stares blankly at him. Agents look at each other.)

(Much later, the conversation is still going on.)

FBI Agent 1: Urrrh, now when I say, "Hello Mr. Thompson" and press down on your foot you smile and nod.

Homer: No problem.

FBI Agent 1: Hello Mr. Thompson (FBI Agent 1 presses down on homer's foot.)

Homer: (leans over to FBI Agent 2.) I think he's talking to you.

However our caper went off without a hitch. Within minutes we were drinking plastic cups of Crown Royal while staring at the huge statue of Athena inside the Parthenon.

Oh hai. I am 42 feet tall. The dude in my hand is 6'4".

I has been hearing a great deal of praise for the statue of Athena since I moved here, and this was my first time seeing it in person. And while she is, well, very very tall, the statue itself is pretty gaudy and soulless. Apparently this is a fairly accurate depiction of what the original statue looked like; it has been revealed that almost all ancient Greek marble sculpture was painted. I give her a thumbs down. However, I will admit that her shield and giant golden snake are badass.

The rest of the night was a blast. We stuffed ourselves with tiny plates of delicacies and mini-mini-cupcakes. My favorites included an awesome down-home plate of burned-on-top mac&cheese and a cracker piled with silken, salty goat cheese, cracked pepper and honey. Dave took it as a personal challenge to investigate every variety of ham that crossed his path. And, oh yes, lots of buttercream. Our BBC (Blood Buttercream Content) was a 0.15. We would have failed a buttercream breathalyzer.

We left the scene of the crime with an ear of corn in each pocket (courtesy of the farmer's market) and our ears ringing from the all-90's cover band. Just another night in Nashville.