Monday, September 28, 2009

And now - how NOT to spend a weekend...

Let me begin by saying that I enjoy a rather lovely life.  I have a lovely husband, a lovely home, a job that I love (mostly) and lovely family and friends.  Frankly, there aren't too many bumps in the road these days - but when they happen...they definitely make up for lost time.


So - we headed up to Vermont this weekend to celebrate my mother-in-law's birthday; see my brother-in-law who is a merchant marine ship's pilot who we haven't seen in a year and a half; and to enjoy Dame Nature's spectacle of the foliage of the Green Mountain State ablaze in fiery golds, reds, ambers and deep purples.  We knew the first frost was coming and we eagerly anticipated drinking in those Autumnal hues like fine art at an exhibition, breathing deeply of that sharp and uniquely tangy Fall scent.

As we headed north on Friday, we encountered the usual annual influx of lumbering "leaf-peepers" in their oversized retirement cars- Oldsmobiles and Cadillacs and Chevrolets, all with license plates from the Southern US.  Most featuring overly patriotic or inflammatory conservative messaging in the way of bumper strickers and decals, leaving Brian with his hands full, what with having to declare 'Jihad' on them and making that call-to-worship "lee-lee lee-lee-lee!' tongue noise at them. (it passes the time and we love the confused looks you get when you declare Jihad on a redneck).

We made terrific time and were thrilled to see the changing landscape as we headed north into colder climes.  As we climbed out of the Catskills and into Southern Vermont, more gorgeous leaf hues emerged.  A cold front  that had moved in cast a chill to the air, giving it the slightest 'nip' when you cracked your window.

Some four hours later, as we left the back roads we normally travel to avoid Burlington traffic, we jumped onto Highway 89 for the final 45 minutes of our journey.  And then it happened......

Sput -- vroooom - jerk!  jerk!  - vroom - sputter - vrooooOOOOOOM!

The car was jerking forward and back like a spastic cow - lunging and falling back and slipping in and out of power as I tried to accelerate - I eased it over to the shoulder of the highway and turned off the ignition.

I turned the key again - the engine purred.  I pressed the accelerator with the car in Park.  Lunge!  Spastic cow syndrome returned.

I tried driving forward a few feet - sputter! - miss! - jerk!

I quickly shut the car off to avoid further damaging either the engine or the transmission.

And as I did so, night began to fall.

I quickly dialed our insurance carrier through whom we have roadside assistance service.  They have always been prompt and adept at dispatching help when we needed it for dead batteries, flat tires, or the odd tow-to-the-mechanic, when required.

In New York....

We were in Vermont, however, where cellular service is spottier and harder to catch hold of than a cheetah in pursuit of its prey.  You know - because it's much more important to keep the mountain ridges pristine and without a cleverly disguised cell tower than to enable someone to avoid freezing to death on a highway verge in the winter months - or prevent someone from being eaten by a nomadic inbred family of Quebecois refugees who wander the grassy slopes looking for unfortunate tourists with the wrong cell phone plan.

 But I had found that if I pressed my face towards the driver's side window, holding the phone at exactly a 105 degree angle up from my ear, I could maintain the barest two bars of service.

I reached my roadside assistant, Shawnelle or Lucerne or Raylene --- or some equally WTF? name.

I was asked if we were safe? - check.  Nobody injured? - check.  Were we safely out of traffic? - check.  What is your policy number home zip code social security number mother's maiden name the name of your last pet make, model and color of your vehicle and the name of the first  boy you kissed in 7th grade?....

Through gritted and anxious teeth, I answered all the 'necessary' security validation questions, thinking "now we get to the easy part!!!"

You see - from a findability perspective, we were the goose that had laid the golden egg.  There are, like, only TWO major interstate highways throughout Vermont, each with the merest handful of numbered exits - and we had just entered the easiest to reach - just outside of a major metropolitan area!!  We simply could not have broken down in a better place!!!!!!   Or so we thought.  

I mean - seriously - Google 'Vermont Interstate 89 Richmond Exit' and you get a PDF map from which I grabbed this little screen shot as one of the top hits:


And if I tell you that I am on I-89 - having just entered via the Richmond on-ramp - headed Southbound towards Waterbury at Exit 10...

HOW #$%^& HARD IS IT TO FIND THAT?

We spent a half hour with Brunelle or whatever the hell her name was asking me if I was on or near (insert road name no-fucking-where near us) or did I see a sign for (insert another road name no-fucking-where near us).  She named roads that we knew but which were also way the hell and gone in terms of distance from where we were.

As I banged my head against the window glass, I calmly and patiently repeated to LeShayne (or whatever) that:

"Listen carefully, now - there are exactly two interstate highways - I have told you which one we are on, the exits we are between, the direction we are heading, and the fact that there is an overpass right in front of us.  Even if you come from the other direction - there is a scant fifteen miles between exits - you CANNOT miss us!"

"We are in a gold colored SUV with hazard lights flashing, headlights and taillights on for maximum visibility, and a bitter and annoyed-looking Irishman in the passenger seat."

And you can't find this?!?!

After ten more minutes on hold - followed by another ten or so - pitch blackness enveloping us as speeding motorists whizzed by, mere inches away - and then ....

...she returned and announced that she had FINALLY found our location!!

It then took her another twenty minutes to find and contact a towing company.

By the time the tow truck showed, we had been sitting on that highway shoulder for more than an hour-and-a-half, waiting to be ambushed and eaten by those inbred Quebecois.

And Brian was convinced we should be seated with seatbelts on in case we were rear-ended by some inattentive and reckless Vermonter who had trouble spotting a large SUV sitting on the verge with flashers blinking (see above - bitter Irishman).

The rest was a whirl - we were whisked away to the closest appropriate car dealership in Burlington  by the most polite and charming (and way cute, in a punk-Amish type of way) tow truck driver, were met by Brian's brother who came to rescue us, left a pleading note (after being largely ignored by the extremely unhelpful and possibly inbred Canadian desk clerk at the dealership) with the service department, and departed with promises of many martinis and food at my sister-in-law's inn.

And close - end of Act 1.

Fanfare and Intermission

Begin Act 2

Instead of enjoying a sunny and crisp Fall Saturday with family, Saturday found us in Burlington negotiating with the Service department about what REALLY needed to be done and what could wait - while Brian found at least a half-dozen new cars he thought we should trade in ours for because "they were pretty."

That session at the dealership brought news that:

a) approximately $1400 US in engine work was required to repair the car - JUST TO GET IT HOME- with another thousand or so needed for other work that, along with the engine issues,

b) our own personal mechanic had failed to forestall by taking or even recommending preventative measures.

I mean, we found out the car had its original timing chain - something you are supposed to replace every 60,000 miles - with 165,000 miles on the car.  The transmission fluid was black, even though our fluids were being "checked" by our stalwart mechanic with every periodic oil change.  Even my air filter had been chewed through by some rodent and was filled with seeds and nesting materials, apparently for the long winter months ahead. (or past?)

And oh yes - they needed to order parts.  My car wasn't coming home with us this weekend.

So I had to pay to rent a car for a week - so that we could come home for the week and then drive the 4.5-5 hours back up with the leaf peepers again - to pick up the car, return the rental, and turn around and make the trip home all over again.

We were the unhappiest people in New England at this point.

At one point on the way back to Brian's sister's place, I saw a sign for a new antique shop just outside of Stowe and I wanted to find the shop, confront the owner for having the audacity to name it "The Whimmel Nook"and punch him/her in the throat simply for being aggressively and inappropriately quaint.


After arriving 'back home,' Brian planted some 40 strawberry plants in his mother's garden and fronted the porch of the Inn with what will become a hedge of blue globe thistles in summers to come.

He then passed out in his mother's guest room after killing a couple bottles of champagne, and I watched 'Brigadoon' with her while whittling away at a bottle of Svedka.

And on Sunday, it rained.  And rained.  And rained and rained and rained.

But we're home and we're safe.

And on this coming Friday...I'll be heading back up to Vermont.  A whole lot poorer and a lot less optimistic that I'll enjoy the trip when it's done.

It's Monday morning right now - my work demands are already overwhelming me, and I can barely stand to hear the phone ring or see the instant messaging window flash.

But, in the immortal words of Debbie Reynolds, the patron saint of all things hopeful:

"Head back, boobs out, girls - it's show time!"

On with the show...

Monday, September 21, 2009

le week-end fabuleux


What a fabulous weekend it's been here!  There's a tang of Autumn in the air - the nights are cool and the days are sunny and blue.  Simply gorgeous - my favorite time of year.

Of course, the weekend started the requisite Saturday morning visit to our Uptown Farmers Market - there were literally hordes of people enjoying the weather and filling the stalls.

One of the greatest things about the cooler weather is that the freak show of flesh normally on display at the market is becoming increasingly covered and less visible.  Mind you - there's still plenty of freakishness on display, but not so many 400 lb people wearing crop tees with hairy bellies hanging out or going bra-less. 

Cycling shorts worn without undergarments by non-cycling types are too, thankfully, on the decline.

So, of course, I occupied my usual position at the very social HUB of the market - Lesleigh and Danny's booth.

The Just Like Mother Used to Bake booth is the social, political, psychological and emotional heart of the market.  If you want good, old fashioned desserts made with real, quality ingredients - served up with a side of social justice and a pinch of reality-based indignation, this is the place to be.

But it's the desserts that keep 'em coming back.  This weekend a new fan was born after discovering that Lesleigh understood the importance of balancing great cake with just the right amount of frosting vs. slapping 50 lbs of frosting on substandard fare.  She'll be back!

After the market, we retired to our front porch  for cocktails and conversation - where Lesleigh digitally captured this little slice of 'Americana' from her seat near the railing.  It evokes a number of elements - the dappled  shade of the ancient trees, the Colonial charm of the architecture, and the balmy breeziness of a lazy Saturday afternoon. 

And more importantly, it captures the fact that the City Public Works Department, when they replaced the street signs that were stolen by some high-spirited teen-agers last year, mispelled the street name 'Merilina.' 

Bozos.

Brian and AerialPJ joined us later in the day after a psychotic day of setting up four weddings across the river.  Many things had gone askew - but nerves were quickly balmed with lashings of champagne and vodka-tonics. 

I then whipped up a flavorful chicken and potato soup, and accompanied it with a salad of romaine leaves, Parmesan and a balsamic vinaigrette.  Served with candle light, sparkling conversation and second helpings all-round, we concluded with coffee and one of Lesleigh's fresh fruit tarts with a cream-cheese base.

Sunday morning was an experiment from my new Nigella Lawson cookbook- a baked Croque Monsieur casserole for breakfast.

The rest of the day was spent enjoying the weather and working in the garden for Brian and cleaning up and cooking even more (!) for moi.

I'm a sucker for cooking when the weather starts to cool down.  So I whipped up a killer beef brisket, slow cooked over four hours, alongside some incredible local fingerling potatoes, and accompanied by fresh ears of sweet corn, purchased the day before.

But I did spend some time outside - it would have been criminal not to soak up some of the late summer/early Fal ll weather. 

Although overgrown with weeds, the garden is still quite beautiful this time of year (click to enlarge-ez-vous):





The September Flower is in full bloom and covered with busy honey bees...



The Japanese Anenome is a dazzling profusion of lavender pink and yellow...




The cheese pumpkins are ripening in readiness for this winter's pies and possibly a Christmas pudding...




Goose neck gourds will provide decoration throughout the fall season...





...and five of these Butternut beauties will ensure a winter full of hearty soups and stews.

It's a shame that weekends only last two days...this was one that could have lasted forever.

Here's hoping that your weekend was as lovely and as much fun.  Cheers!

Friday, September 11, 2009

It's a wrap

Oh my gawwwwwwwdddddd - what a week...

Have you ever just felt like you've been shot out of a cannon?  When it's pointed at the floor?

Well - that's how I feel today, which is infinitely better than yesterday where I simply retired to bed early and watched a Dolly Parton biography because that was what was on when I switched the TV on.  I didn't have the energy to do little more than lay there and drool, never mind changing the channel.

Part of it had to do with the amount of work I'm buried under right now while another part, I'm certain, had something to do with the Chinese food of THE DEVIL that we had for dinner. Even worse - it was GOURMET Chinese Satan food - meaning we paid double what we would at the perfectly lovely Chinese take-away around the corner from us.

But Satan delivers.  And we were tired.

Now, I've had bad Chinese before - bland, pasty, glutinous and sometimes just downright smelling and tasting like you're licking a dead fish.  But this was NASTY Chinese food.

We orded green scallion pancakes that tasted like they were made in dish soap; sesame beef that had so much sugar and sesame oil, I felt like my liver would eject from ny body; and the potstickers that we ordered somehow magically turned into tofu cubes so saturated in green pepper that they would make the Baby Jesus cry.  The only edible dish - for me - was the Cashew chicken, because it was mostly celery.  However, celery is on Brian's "no f*cking way" food list - especially hot celery. 

So we both had a lot of rice.

So - sick...tired..I packed it in.

But I have to tell you - part of the fatigue is from the absolute BLAST I had over the holiday/birthday weekend.  I spent more time laughing, eating and drinking with my hubby and some dear, dear friends than we have in months.  From Friday through on day, I accomplished NOTHING at home, but was out drinking, dining and laughing every single day. 

Brian took me out for lunch, cocktails AND dinner on Friday - the day itself.  Which ended up with us celebrating at the dinner restaurant's bar with friends buying my rounds of chilled lemoncello.  Saturday - we had no plans - but an after farmer's market visit by our friends Lesleigh  & Danny, turned into an all day party when my colleague and friend Kieran and her husband Matt from Maryland showed up as well.  Sunday was a PHENOMENAL brunch at Lesleigh and Danny's - complete with the best breakfast casserole I've ever had AND - fasten your seat belts - a hot, pecan french toast casserole prepared like a dry bread pudding.  HEAVEN!   Monday brought lunch with Kieran and Matt and their two boys (the three girls were with the grandparents) in New Paltz before they headed north for a wilderness getaway.

The weather was beautiful - breezy blue skies, moderate temperatures, lots of sun and just a hint of Fall in the air.  Some cheeky leaves are already beginning to turn.

But enough of the Thomas Hardy vernal gleam on the mossy stone - I know what you're wondering about....the swag!

(P.S.  I hated Tess of the D'urbervilles)

Well - this year was the year of appeasing my inner hostess.   Brian outdid himself in making sure he's fed and amused through the Winter months because, as anyone who knows me will tell you, I love to cook and entertain year round, but especially in the Fall and Winter.

So he did us all proud and gifted me

 
A GORGEOUS retro - buffet  warmer and warming tray

 
A TRIPLE Crock-pot  - in which I can cook, warm and serve at those buffet dinners.
COULDN'T YOU JUST DIE?!?!?!?
I know!  I nearly plotzed!
 
A new piece for my vintage Autumn Leaf Hall serveware collection.
(he's good, I'm telling you - this is stuff I actually WANT.) 
I got a great new market bag from Lesleigh and Danny, featuring two of my favorite food groups - Eggs and Bacon!

 
And finally, from Kieran and clan -  a gift bag of assorted gourmet foods and teas from Hansen's Caviar and Gourmet Foods of Woodstock.
However - there was one item, in the bag I'm not sure how to deal with just yet.

Suggestions?  Advice?  Do people really eat these?
I mean, Hell, people in the American South eat pigs brains.
But eels?  Ew.
I think I'd rather take another trip in the cannon.
Thanks for all the great birthday wishes - you guys rock.

XOXO

Friday, September 04, 2009

And another year passes.

Some 40 odd years ago - in a brand new, largely vacant hospital on Cleveland's northeast side - DuPree made his entrance onto the world stage.

A month late (I could NEVER have been a Leo) and weighing in at a Juno-esque 10 lbs, 11 ozs., my mother barely speaks to me to this day.

I kid.  I'm a kidder.

Anyway, that time of year has rolled around again.  The birthday.  That annual celebration of your continued presence on the earth.

But each year, I realize more and more that it's a great time to stop and celebrate not just your life, but the lives of those around you - friends and family - and co-workers and bosses and even the people who drive you nuts and challenge you to stay sharp and in the game  - or simply the nice people you encounter on the street or in shops.

Life should be celebrated every day - birthdays just remind us that the clock is running.

I love the fact that my birthday falls generally on or near a U.S. holiday weekend.  I mean, really - it's Friday morning still, and I'm already on my second third vodka and orange juice (if it has juice in it, it counts as breakfast - it's the rule).  Four days to rock and roll while the spirit and the body are both still able.

I've had a lovely morning - received exactly the gift I wanted from my adorable hubby plus a bonus (!). There's dinner tonight on the waterfront, new bedroom furniture being delivered (YAY! just arrived), and tons of good wishes coming to me via phone calls, cards, e-mails and Facebook.

I even got a birthday card from "the kids", delivered to me tucked into Eddie's collar this morning.  With personalized greetings from all five of our fuzzy little children.  Perhaps the most endearing sentiment expressed, though, was from Eddie herself with the birthday greeting, "I eat filth - Edwina."

My heart is full.

So - yeah - I'm basking in the day.  Hope you're all having a wonderful day and enjoying life.  My best birthday gift would be to know you're all doing something fun with someone you love over the next few days.

Enjoy!  And cheers!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

More doggie tales

Cousin Hugo

We recently hosted Brian's brother (T) and his partner (R) for a weekend overnight. Brother T was in town to see an old chum who had played in a heavy metal in the 80's at a reunion show at our uptown performance spot. T and R are former Manhattanites who have relocated "upstate" to the leafy suburban charm of Westchester County - where every home owner is required to own at least one Range Rover and to shun anyone who makes under half a million.

Accompanying them was their recently adopted rescue pup, Hugo. Hugo is ADORABLE. He's the cutie-pie to the right in the photo, where I managed to capture him and Eddie during 'bed crazy time'.

Hugo is an amazing mix that includes Rottweiler, possibly dachshund or basset hound or some other amazingly low and long canine - and a bunch of other stuff. So he has this large head, ample paws and stocky stubby legs. And his coloration - I can only say he reminds me of those gorgeous vintage mink stoles and furs you see in your grandmothers closet or vintage clothing boutiques.

This was Hugo's first encounter with his white-trash hillbilly girl cousins, and they got along marvelously. I'm concerned that - since T and R are first time puppy dads and are trying to give Hugo the best training possible - his weekend in Honky-tonk-ville with his big old donkey girl cousins may have set his training back a few weeks. Or months...

Anyway - a great time was had by all, but after R&T departed, we realized they had left a partial can of dog food behind in the refrigerator. I began to read the can and was amazed by what I saw.

Apparently, some brilliant mind saw a hole in the market for yuppy puppy folk and has created a line of holistic, organic, and - hang on - gluten-free dog food. The can also promotes the fact that the food includes blueberries for anti-oxidants. To fight those doggie free radicals, no doubt.

Gluten. Free. Holistic. Organic. Anti-oxidant....

Um.

Patsy and Eddie are still laughing - while continuing to eat rocks, slugs, stuff that falls under the stove, and out of the cats' litter box.

And we're saving the can to show off at dinner parties.

Note: T and R - you know we love ya more than instant pudding and I'm just yanking you. But really...gluten-free? Giggle.

----------------------------------------------------------------

Boris

I was reminded today of the world's best and most amazing dog. Boris.

Boris was the first dog we rescued together, back in 1994. He came from a high-kill shelter and he began our life-long love of the Shar Pei breed.

We had nearly 12 wonderful years with him and he was the best dog you could ever have. And he had a personality that wouldn't quit.

He became such a big guy in his later years - 65 lbs. - that once, when we were entering the veterinarian's office for a check-up, the receptionist laughed and called out, "Dr. Stevenson! Boris has turned into a sofa!"

Today - listening to our local National Public Radio station coming home from work, a veterinarian forensics specialist was describing how dogs don't really bruise - they lack the blood supply to the skin that we humans have. They have evolved that way as hunters, running through forests and fighting each other.

It explained a lot as Boris - as his breed is wont to do - has inserted himself between me and an attacking dog twice. And he was bitten both times, but the wounds were nearly bloodless.

But the memory it evoked was of a time when he was bitten on the butt - just above his tail. And it became severely infected - I won't even go into what the initial discovery of that was like but will say it involved being firmly petted followed by the bleaching of our entire kitchen.

Anyway - we had to administer Betadyne, an antiseptic that includes iodine, twice daily into the ... um .... cavity left behind. Using a hooked but needle-less hypodermic.

The memory - that makes me laugh to this day - is the image of that adorable clown face smiling up at me - his tail wagging, knowing that he is loved and cared for and that we will always do what's best for him.

Smiling.

Wagging.

As just above his tail, Betadyne is jetting 4-5 inches into the air in time with his pulse.

Good times.

----------------------------------------------------------------

The Goat

Patsy got some air-play yesterday, so today is Eddie's turn.

Eddie has a new nickname. Goat.

It used to be Chunk, since she has all the grace and mass of an NFL linebacker.

But Goat came about due to her unbelievable ability to eat - well, pretty much anything.

Her most recent - and perhaps highest achievement thus far includes eating an entire Double Delight rose - thorns and all. Down to the ground. Finito.

Needless to say, cleaning up the back yard or during walkies - it's like a game show with nasty prizes.

"Look! Styrofoam!"

And once, Brian thought someone had thrown dolmas into our yard - till he realized his orchid leaves had been devoured.

Anyway. Goat. There you are.