Sunday, October 31, 2010


I never follow recipes exactly. I find a couple, sometimes a few, and use them for inspiration to make it my way—modifying a little here and there, to taste, and based on what I have (or don’t have) on hand. Jill cooks the same way. She and I share recipes over the phone without ever giving measurements. Isn’t that the fun of cooking as an art? (I commend Amy and Chris for inventing dishes while keeping track of measurements so they can post the recipes later. Seriously.) Baking is the science. (And, oddly enough, not for me.)

Deanna, on the other hand, follows recipes to the exact letter. When I tell her I tried a new Ina (Barefoot Contessa) recipe, she gets excited…until I say “I modified a bit.” Last night I texted her that I planned on making a butternut squash and apple soup today. Her sour reply? “I’m sure you’ll alter the hell out of it so what’s the point?” She was kidding, of course, and not. I explained to her today during our weekly Sunday chat that I usually make notes of my modifications, and that the issue with the soup is that Ina has two recipes, and I couldn’t decide between them, so maybe I’d combine elements. But after discussion I decided to go with the roasted vegetable version and accept her challenge not to modify. That way she could make it on my recommendation if it was good—sans modifications.

So cooking today was all about multi-tasking: using some of the free apples from the eight or so bushels in my parents’ garage (which incidentally my mom picked for free), ditto a butternut squash from my mom (also free but not one in a lot of bushels, just one from a bag), and following a recipe exactly so that Deanna could use it if I liked it without making note of modifications.

Success, success, success…further substantiating that I’m as frugal as my mom and becoming more and more like her with every dip in my estrogen...and as good a friend as I have been told I am?....

cubed squash and apples

roasted and caramelized squash, apples and onions

roasted butternut squash and apple soup

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Search for a Slip Ends...

or: "My Mom Rocks"

After a fruitless journey last Saturday to find a full slip, I thought of a couple more places I could look. So I set out again on Sunday, determined still to find one. But I actually forgot to stop at Sears and came home only with the few things on my grocery list. (Does that count as a Freudian slip? Ha!) Clearly my memory—or lack of—was protecting me from another day of frustration. One wasted weekend day was enough.

Monday after work I resumed my quest. First I went to Cohoes (well, Burlington Coat Factory), but that was a bust. From there I remembered to stop at Sears, and they had a few, but again none were the right size and color combination. Finally, I went back to Macy’s and reluctantly bought one for thirty dollars. I suppose I wouldn’t have minded paying that much if it was perfect, but it wasn’t. It could have been a size bigger and an inch longer. Still, at least I actually had a full slip to wear with my new dresses. No cling for me, ladies. I was set. Sort of.

Then the slip sat in the bag, with the tags still on it, for a couple of days.

And then, I called my mom.


I know. That’s where I should have started my search, because that’s where it ended. Well, actually it ended at Macy’s a couple of hours ago when I went to return the slip I bought under duress. But yeah, she had two for me to choose from. (Of course she did. She also just bought an extra coffee urn/”party perk” at a tag sale for 2 dollars. Not that my slip came from a tag sale or anything. Anyway.) The one I picked fits perfectly and was free.

I’ll never get that time back, but I did get my money back. And I was reminded that sometimes, there’s no place like mom’s.

Monday, October 25, 2010


I am a creature of habit. To some extent we all are. Which is a good thing, I guess. Of course some habits are detrimental, but most have their benefits. Setting your alarm before bed gets you up in the morning and showering before work gets you there without odor. Getting there at all pays the mortgage, and....well, you get the point.

But lately I feel like I've been in a rut. Or digging one anyway.  I live my life in two parts. Monday through Friday I feel like all I can manage to do is work. When the weekend comes I run errands, I do laundry, I go grocery shopping and I cook...And when I cook, I've been cooking the same things. Summer ended and I went straight from Greek and Caprese salads to comfort food.

Chili. Tortilla soup. American Chop Suey. French onion soup. Chili. Cream of broccoli soup. Tortilla soup. Chili.

[insert sound of tires screeching to a halt]

[insert conversation with self] My god, Joanne. It's only October. Snap out of it!

I wanted to cook. But I didn't want to make more soup. And I didn't want to thaw soup I've already made and stored in the freezer. (For that cold and snowy day I won't feel like cooking? Oh, okay, that'll happen.) I needed inspiration.

I found it in this package of snow white mushrooms. A quick inventory of my freezer rendered some sirloin cut for stir fry. Every thing else I needed to make this beef and mushroom lo mein I had on hand, including the last minute additions of carrot and broccoli for color.

Tomorrow? I'll let baby spinach be my guide.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

In Search of a Slip

Not of paper. Not a record of a sale. Not for my boat. (I don't have a boat.) I am looking for a full slip, that elusive undergarment worn under dresses, and would prefer that it not cost as much as one of my new bargain dresses. But, apparently, after spending an entire Saturday afternoon looking in vain at at Kohl's, and Macy's (both of which deserve their own "I Love it, I Love it NOT" entries), and Lord & Taylor and JCPenney, that may be my only option. If I can finally get my hands on one.

In every Intimates Department I visited yesterday I walked by thousands of bra styles and racks (no pun intended) in dozens of colors and patterns, but when I got to the little corner where slips were relegated, only a few slips hung. The woefully inadequate selection of camisoles, half slips and full slips, in white, tan and black totaled twenty. I drove to Westfarms for this?...

I may not have had very much growing up, but there were certain things I learned from my mother, certain rules of dressing that were reinforced by example every Sunday before church. A woman wears a slip under skirts and dresses. You should not be able to see through a dress. Moreover, slips prevent cling. Dresses shouldn’t cling to your thighs like pants. They shouldn’t cling to your underwear either. And you have to have a nice coat. If you can’t have one for every season, you have one good “all-weather” overcoat. That is, never throw on a windbreaker (or a fleece jacket) over a dress. Or dress pants. (It seems some of my colleagues never got those lessons growing up.) Which should be hemmed and ironed. (That one either.) And your shoes shouldn’t ruin the effect of the rest of your efforts.

But I digress.

Why can’t I find a slip? Have slips gone the way of modesty? Is it okay to throw on a bra and a thong, slip on your dress, and go? Apparently. I can’t remember where I was recently, but as I write remember seeing a woman, wearing a dress, who clearly had on a thong and no slip. The fabric of her dress was stuck to the tiny triangle of fabric above her ass crack and it looked awful. I don’t even remember if it was a nice dress because it was upstaged by her undergarments—or lack of therein. And that’s not my goal. My goal is to find a slip.

Day Two of my Mission to Find a Slip begins.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Giving New Meaning to Guinea Pig

Caveat: In telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth—in order to poke fun at myself ultimately—I may offend people. So let me say up front that I’m sorry. I just can’t see a way around it.

Once upon a time, I was career driven. I had assistants. I supervised people. I submitted budgets. I was respected. I got big salary increases just by changing jobs. I stayed in nice hotels and expensed room service. I had lots of suits—pant suits, skirt suits—and shoes that cost as much as the suits. (ohmygod I just remembered that right before I resigned as Director of Programs at a non-profit, I bought the cutest Ralph Lauren high polish calf loafers in navy with silver hardware for a ridiculously discounted price of like 120 dollars and Liz said, as I prepared to make $50 a day as a sub, “I hope you can eat those shoes for lunch.” Touché.) And then I became a teacher.

I took a salary cut but I still had nice suits. And I wore them. Then I lost weight, then I gained weight, and then I decided that—regardless of my weight—I didn’t need to wear suits when some of my colleagues wore velour “pant suits” [read: sweat suits] and corduroy jumpers. Meanwhile I had that issue with my foot for which I ultimately had surgery but which temporarily left me without dress and skirt-worthy shoes. So I started wearing pants. Lined pants, mind you, from Lord & Taylor, but pants nonetheless. With nice sweaters and blazers. And even though I rebooted my cute shoes collection (pun intended), I just never went back to skirts and dresses for school. I felt like I still made a good, professional impression, and dress pants were easier. No searching for hose without holes in the black of night (when I wake up). (Did you know you can buy a decent bottle of wine for the price of stockings?)

And then, recently, I was shopping on line and saw a dress, with a sort of Pucci-inspired print. Very geometric. Bold. Very cute, I thought. And when it arrived, very forgiving. Before I even wore it, I thought, okay, I’m going to wear dresses again. To heck with the rest of the faculty that has, collectively, as much fashion sense as prairie skirt. So I ordered a couple more. Even though I have two skirts, hanging upstairs as I write, that I haven’t gotten around to wearing yet.


Well I wore the Pucci-esque shift dress today. With black opaques and black boots. (So groovy.) And I got a lot of compliments. But I also remembered one reason I stopped wearing dresses when I walked around for eight hours as a human experiment in displacement.


That shit stuff matter that gets squeezed on my thighs and my belly has got to go somewhere. And frankly I need no help creating muffin top. The alternative? Hiking the tights up higher, high enough in fact to reach just under my bra? Well that created the effect in my mid-section of hiding an over–inflated effect Mylar balloon under my dress. Put a stick up my butt and fly me around the room.There was no winning.

I probably should have just taken the tights off, but I didn't. But now I know better. And I'll look cute over cocktails or dinner. But not in the classroom.

Congratulations to Amy and Chris

Amy and Chris, A Couple in the Kitchen bloggers--and good friends--just won another recipe contest!

If you have not already linked there from here, check them out. Their list of great--and award-winning--recipes grows.

Go, Couple!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Two Delicious Dollars

Friday afternoon, when the last period bell rang, I was on a mission to get home and get on the couch. I wanted to stop at Big Y for a couple of slices of pizza, which would be dinner later on with a glass of Cabernet (and which cost only $1.28 each with the silver coins Amy spotted me), and find my way home as quickly as possible. I ended up making a couple more stops and buying a couple more things—like this chicken pot pie, which only cost $1.98 with a gold coin I had in my wallet.

Okay. I can’t say it was the best 2 dollars I have ever spent in my life—since I pride myself on being a bargain shopper who has had a fair amount of success finding good deals in my life—but I can say it’s the best two dollars I have spent in recent memory.

I bought it in the prepared food section, but bought it cold. The inside mixture of chicken and vegetable was fully cooked, the nice woman explained, but the crust was uncooked. It was up to me, when I was ready to eat it, to bake it to my desired doneness of the crust.

So today, when my mission was to make meatballs and get a pot of sauce going before the Patriots game, I popped it in the oven. After 30 minutes at 350 degrees, I could tell I was on my way to deliciousness. I turned up the oven to 375 and kept checking every few minutes until the flaky layers of crust separated and rose a bit and it was perfectly brown. I let it sit a few minutes while I finished making the meatballs and eventually dug in to my lunch.




                                          Two dollars never tasted so delicious.

Friday, October 15, 2010

I Love it, I Love it NOT… Trop50…

...and artificial sweetener in general.

There was a time in my life that lunch consisted entirely of a Tab or Pepsi Light—both saccharin brands of soda that no longer exist. On the rare occasion I drink soda these days, I prefer ginger ale or root beer to diet soda, but will drink diet Coke or diet Pepsi on occasion. That’s as far as I go with artificial sweeteners in beverages—or food.

I have never enjoyed artificial sweetener in desserts or yogurt or iced tea. Crystal Light? Yuck. I admit I don’t always get moderation right, but I believe in it as much as I believe in the fact that artificial sweeteners and chemical foods are worse for me than the real deal….which leaves me looking for other ways to cut back calories.

For example, I have given up mimosas as a Sunday ritual, but last weekend was due for a little bubbly, so when I was at the grocery I thought I’d take a look at Trop50. “No artificial sweeteners” it said on the label. “50 percent less sugar and calories.”

They didn’t even get the grammar right.

I knew something was amiss when I tried it and it tasted like Tang. Hm. Well, maybe it’s better mixed, I thought. So I mixed a mini-screwdriver and it just wasn’t right. In fact, it tasted like diet Tang. I looked again at the label. There I saw it: “Reb A, True Via™ brand.”

Interesting. There’s no patent on sugar. I’ve never seen “Sugar ™.” I’ve never heard of the Stevia plant. Even if I had, as far as I’m concerned, if a sweetener has a patent, or a patented name, it’s not natural.

Looks like next time I buy orange juice, it’ll be another brand. Simply Orange orange juice, perhaps. Which really is.

Rise and Shine

I used to be in awe of my college roommate, Ashlyn, who could wake up when she needed to before the alarm went off. Did I mention this was in college? I, on the other hand, could sleep through an alarm, and did--the morning of my Molecular Biology final. Yeah. Not good. Especially since it was my major. When I finally got there, my professor had left a copy of the exam on the table in the front of the room. I found a seat in the back corner and got started. A little later she came in and, not seeing me in the corner, asked, "Did Joanne ever show up?"

Jill still laughs about my response to a doctor who asked me if I was tired. I think I was in my twenties at the time, and though I don't recall why I was there I remember exactly what my answer was. "Tired? What do you mean 'tired'? I've been tired since high school!"

Obviously in the decades that have passed my sleeping habits have changed. I rarely have any occasion to stay up after midnight and in general I try not to push myself beyond my limits. I'm a better and more patient person and teacher when I'm well rested. And despite often waking in the dark for school, about which I have lamented more than once, I--like Ashlyn now-- can often beat my alarm clock in the morning.

But not today.

I woke up to the Nor'easter that had been forecast days ago. When my alarm clock went off, it was pitch black and I could hear the rain ticking away on the sky light over my bed. I got up and hit snooze. Five minutes later it was still black out. And still raining. I hit snooze again. Somehow I eventually made it out of bed, but I'd rather be back there. "Not gonna lie," Jill. I'm tihed.

Some days it's hard to rise without the shine.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I Love it, I Love it NOT...Frost

Okay, I said I was ready for fall. I celebrated. I’m good with the smells, the colors, the cooler temperatures, the accompanying nesting. But frost? I’m not ready for frost on October 13. In fact, while I’m venting, let me say I’m never ready for frost. There’s nothing worse than getting out to my car—just barely on schedule—and having to wait for the car to defrost. If I try to hurry along the process and squirt windshield wash, I end up with what looks like a blue Slurpee--or like a Smurf spit up--on my window. Frost is nothing but a nuisance.

I do not [heart] frost. I hate it.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Pumpkin Palooza

 It happens every year. After a long and wonderful summer vacation, I go back to school. Wearing Capris and sandals, I watch what remains of summer from my classroom window, wishing the school was air-conditioned. A few weeks later, it becomes imperative to watch the weather, not knowing from day to day how to dress, while New England waffles on whether or not it wants to change seasons.

While the weather undergoes its identity crisis, I start slowly making my transition. One week I might make chili. I buy apples. I buy a pumpkin spice candle. I start wearing fuzzy socks. My favorite fleece blanket comes out of storage. I wear closed-toed shoes. (Reluctantly, I might add.)(Begrudgingly.) I go to Vermont with the girls and get inspired by the foliage. I find myself in a long-sleeved t-shirt and pajama pants and said fuzzy socks while watching the evening news. Fall blooms fill my vase, and pumpkin decorations find their way onto my coffee table. I finally light the pumpkin spice candle. Eventually there is no turning back. Even the warmest of days won’t warrant sandals, despite a new fall pedicure, and I embrace fall.

Yesterday I celebrated. As I watched TV and read in the late afternoon, enjoying the scent of my pumpkin spice candle while I sipped a pumpkin spice martini, I decided to bake some pumpkin bread. From scratch. Garnished with pepitas.

My very own Pumpkin Palooza.

Happy Fall!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

[Heart] Fresh Ground Coffee

My first Krups coffee grinder was a Crate and Barrel employee purchase, back in the late eighties. I LOVED it. The difference was night and day.

Yet somehow I got away from it. Maybe it was when I started teaching and took a 50 percent pay cut and couldn’t justify the splurge, or maybe it was because for a brief time at the beginning of my teaching career I lived with my parents who, although they drink coffee says mine puts hair on their chest. I had found a canned brand that I liked enough, and had a stove top espresso maker for the occasions I wanted something other than mediocre coffee.

And then the price of canned coffee increased while the size of the cans decreased. I’m not sure if there were ever 16 ounces in one, but the average size now is 10.5 ounces. Reading flyers and clipping coupons and stocking up on canned coffee when it was on sale seemed, well, wrong. Ridiculous. Trader Joe’s offered an alternative, their own brand of joe that came whole bean in a 16 ounce container—which they touted in big letters on the poster that caught my attention. I used the grinder in the aisle and was on my way. Take that, [National Brand]! I thought.

And then, the second time I bought my coffee at Trader Joe’s I decided it was time to find my grinder, or buy a new one. The third time I bought my coffee and noticed the container was only 14 ounces, I got good and pissed off and stopped making the trip to TJs for coffee. I’ve been experimenting with different brands of whole bean coffee, grinding it home ever since.

There really is nothing like scooping my medium roast Colombian coffee beans into the grinder, pushing the button, and taking off the lid. I don’t think the coffee ever makes it to my coffee maker (cone drip, of course) without stopping in front of my nose for a nice, long whiff. Ever.

I really love fresh ground coffee. In fact, I [heart] it.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Great Equalizer

Donna has a regular schedule of chemotherapy treatments: Tuesday, Friday, Tuesday, Friday, then an off week, then Tuesday, Friday, Tuesday, Friday, and an off week, etc. On Tuesdays she gets one IV bag of chemotherapy and one IV bag of the clinical trial drug;on Fridays she gets chemotherapy only. In between the two weeks of chemotherapy she gives herself shots to boost her white blood cell production. On the off weeks between chemotherapy cycles, she usually has scans to measure the progress—so far the success!—of the treatments.

Not everyone at Infusion on Tuesdays and Fridays is on the same drug or in the clinical trial as Donna, but we have come to know, or at least recognize, the regulars. There is the African American woman in her late fifties whose Jewish husband accompanies her. Another African American woman, who is an employee of the hospital, has coworkers stopping by all day for a few minutes at a time. There is the woman, Indian I believe, also probably in her fifties, who is accompanied by her sister--who could be her twin, they look so much alike!  And there is the woman Donna’s age, also Caucasian, with whom Donna shared stories and is now friendly, who has a 7 year old and a 10 year old at home, and who drives herself there from New York, on the exact same schedule as Donna. Yesterday I was so glad to see that she had a friend with her. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone there with her! And I don’t know how she does that drive herself. Sadly, there was a newcomer yesterday, ten years younger than Donna and I, from the Bronx. She was with her mother.

So I stand corrected that potty humor is the great equalizer. Cancer is. There are people out there, although I don't know many (any) of them, who would not get a laugh out of a whoopee cushion, who go through life thinking that one of the things that separates them from people like me is immaturity/being crass/potty humor, Blah Blah. I say, go ahead, then, think we're different. But in the end we're not. Stop by Infusion someday at a cancer hospital, where I hope you never find yourself on the receiving end of an IV line, where despite differences in race or class or age or favorite brand of humor, every one is the same: human beings fighting cancer: the great, but evil, equalizer...where a whoopee cushion--or the laugh that follows--might be the best thing a person hears all day.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. I encourage you to reach out to someone with cancer, to share a laugh. And make an appointment for a mammogram if you’re due.
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