Sunday, December 24, 2006

On Christmas Eve eve...

We spent Saturday in the city: we had tickets to see Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me, and then we planned to go get something to eat after that. Jeff joined us.

None of us are big Martin Short fans, but we had all seen pretty good reviews of the show, and we had an opportunity to see it inexpensively (less than a third of the usual ticket price), so we went.

The reviewers, on the other hand, must have loooved Martin Short. The show was okay, but it was only worth what we had paid for it. It was a series of fairly unrelated vignettes narrated by Short, starring Short, even poking fun at Short. But what could have been rollicking comedy was only modestly funny. The audience responded politely, but the show just didn't have the punch it needed to make it really good. Perhaps that's why it's closing in two weeks.

At any rate, his ensemble case was quite good, and one of them, Capathia Jenkins, was fabulous. Broadway should be so lucky to see a lot more of her.

One of the funniest, but unoriginal pieces was the ad-libbed portion (it was ripped off from Dame Edna), where Short, as Jiminy Glick, interviews an audience member on stage. Our audience member, a nice guy and personal trainer named Matt Green, played along well. But having seen the Dame Edna show twice, my non-expert opinion was that Short's ability to ad-lib paled in comparison to Dame Edna's; she ruthlessly skewered guests with pithy, well-made observations and back-handed compliments.

Followng the show, we were trying to figure out where to eat. I was voting for Via Emilia, since pinknest had recommended it and her recommendations have been good. But unfortunately, it didn't open until 5:00...and the time was 3:45. We didn't want to wait an extra hour and fifteen minutes in a city full of last-minute-shopping-obsessed tourists and locals; we needed to eat and get back home, because Jess has a terrible cold and wasn't feeling great.

So we chose one of our many standbys for good food, Veselka, in the East Village at 2nd Ave. and 9th. At 42nd Street (ugh...Times Square at Christmas), we picked up the S line to Grand Central, caught the 6 to 14th Street, and then took the L over to 3rd, where we walked from 3rd over to 2nd, and then down to 9th. This area of the East Village is known as The Little Ukraine, and is full of Ukrainian-owned businesses. On our walk there, we passed now-extinct 2nd Ave. Deli at 2nd Ave, and 10th, which is now completely boarded over, as if something new is preparing to open in its place.

If you never ate at the 2nd Ave. Deli, you missed one of the city's best kosher delis...perfect pastrami; chopped liver that would convert a non-liver lover; amazingly crispy latkes; scrumptious stuffed cabbage; and challah that was outstanding (but for a Jewish mother, only Bruce's makes better challah).

It was depressing to walk over the "star walk of fame" on the sidewalk in front of the place, with Yiddish names of distinction from the theatre as well as other disciplines. Original owner Abe Lebewohl, a master of food-crafting from the Ukraine, had opened the place in 1954, and turned it into a New York institution. Tragically, Abe was murdered in 1996 on his way to make an early-morning bank drop, and his death is a mystery that has never been solved. His son took over the place after his death and ran it for nine years, but unfortunately, 2nd Ave. didn't make it.

Surprisingly, there was no wait for a table at Veselka. It's also a Ukrainian place, popular for its pierogies and Ukrainian meatballs over noodles. While the food is wonderful, it's not known for its snappy service. On a scale of 1 -5, (5 being best) I'd give it a 4 for food, but a 2 for service.

For an appetizer, I had the simply remarkable Christmas borscht, which made me wish that they served it year-round. The earthy flavor of fresh beets was perfectly complemented by the deliciously tasty beef broth. Freshly chopped dill spiraled around two mushroom dumplings. I ordered a cup, and I wished I had ordered a bowl by the time I had finished it - which was about 90 seconds after I'd started. But I'm glad I didn't get a bowl, because I wouldn't have been able to finish my meal. Jess had a cup of chicken noodle soup, which was sans noodles, but looked delicious. He needed the chicken soup, my poor sick puppy.

Jeff and I had the always-wonderful beef stroganoff, with tender roasted beef and large pieces of sautéed fresh mushroom prepared in a sauce of beef juices and fresh sour cream and ladled over tender egg noodles. Jess had the baked macaroni and cheese. It was all delicious comfort food that warmed us before our venture into the oh-so-slightly chilly evening air.

We walked back up 2nd Ave to 11th, where we stopped in at a favorite of ours (and one of the city's best bakeries), Black Hound New York, where we couldn't resist the coconut cake with lemon curd filling, the outrageous banana custard in an edible dark chocolate cup, covered in whipped cream designed to look like marshmallows, and my personal favorite, the German Chocolate cake, which is, in my opinion, the best German Chocolate cake you will ever taste. It even beats my mother's, who holds the rank of goddess in the cake world. We were too stuffed to eat it, and because it's a "pick-up only" place, that was fine...we happily exited with stash in hand.

If you have the opportunity to go to the Black Hound, you will be torn between the many choices. Besides the aforementioned, the fabulous triple chocolate mousse cake is wonderful; the carrot cake is probably the best version of that cake I have ever tasted (I don't usually like carrot cake); the chocolate white chocolate cake is divine; and the chocolate raspberry cake, sinful. And there are an assortment of cookies and truffles as well. Cakes here aren't light, they are heavy, dense, buttery creations. Thanks to our friend Aaron, Photoshop and SwishMAX genius, for turning us on to it. Mwah. That's a gift that has kept on giving!

Following the bakery, Jess and I caught a cab to Penn Station for the railroad ride back home, and Jeff was off to run some errands.

Have a very merry Christmas, everyone.

Friday, December 22, 2006

An observation...

So, watching P. Allen Smith's Garden Home on PBS, it brings us to muse:

For friends of Rob like us, watching P. Allen on TV is almost like having Famous Author Rob Byrnes with us...except he's sober. :)

Famous Author Rob Byrnes

P. Allen Smith

Discuss amongst yourselves.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The week in review

What a week. Sunday, I flew home, leaving Mom in the hospital. Her back was still in considerable pain, which had me worried. I worried about injury due to the way she had twisted it.

Monday, I started the new job. No boss, no predecessor, no real guide to show me the ropes of my own position; and the phone calls started the first day:

"We need to meet to discuss the marketing of my department. When can you see me? Wednesday is good for me."
I just started today, and you know I have no boss to ask for background. Could you give me a week or two to acclimate before you start asking for things, you pushy ass?

"Your boss was reviewing a brochure for us that she had on her desk for three months. We need to get it printed next week!"
Um, if this was such an emergency, don't you think you should have been asking my (ex) boss for this two months ago?!

"The marketing strategy for 2007 hasn't been developed yet, and needs to be completed by next week."
Oh, yes, I'm sure you want me, a novice to this work discipline, to be creating a strategy in a week that would have required my predecessor several weeks, according to other staff, and I have just stepped into this position. Brilliant.

But there were some high points. My first day, there was a holiday evening out for all the management team. It was fun meeting a lot of new people and the food was good...when I finally was able to eat, an hour and a half after the thing started. My drinks were really working on me, having had no lunch that day.

The second day, more phone calls, more emergencies. And my mom called to tell me that they read the MRI that was done on her back on Sunday, and that she had a compressed vertebra due to a large fracture. She could either see if she could stand the pain, or have a relatively new type of surgery to try and correct the situation. She quickly said "no more surgeries!" Jess and I tried to talk her into it.

By the end of the Wednesday, my mom's back was hurting so bad that she decided to listen to Jess and me and have the surgery. I was worried since this kyphoplasty procedure hasn't been around all that long. She was, too.

On Thursday, they came in the late afternoon to take her into surgery and worked until about 7:00, when I got a call from my sister to say that she was doing very well and that they thought that it would be very successful for her. Whew.

Friday, she was dismissed from the hospital and my sister took her home, where she is recovering now. She will have to use a walker for about 6-8 weeks, though, knowing her, she will try to rid herself of it as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, she can't sleep in her bed because it isn't firm enough and sits too high off the floor for her to now get into and out of comfortably, so she has to sleep in her recliner, which isn't that terrific.

Friday was also a fun day at work. They had an all-staff party in the cafeteria (they actually have restaurant-quality food at our cafeteria - seriously!) and so we were treated to a free lavish lunch...a table of traditional fare such as turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, crusty bread, and cranberry sauce; a table of Italian fare, with lasagna, eggplant rollatini, sausage and peppers, plates of different antipasto, mozzarella and tomato/basil salad, breadsticks, and more; an entire station with nothing but salads - green salad, mesclun, potato salad, cole slaw, three-bean salad, etc.; an Asian station with freshly-rolled sushi (not for me), spring rolls, spicy chicken, pepper steak, lo mein, tempura shrimp skewers, and kim chee; and a Jamaican station, with spicy beef patties, a cabbage dish, a potato dish, and jerk chicken. There was even an eggnog station (no booze, of course). And then for dessert, there was a dessert station: home-made rice pudding with raisins; ginger cake rolls, chocolate cake rolls, and white cake rolls; Snickers pie; a decadent deep-dish apple pie with a caramel glaze; pecan pie; a chocolate fountain with marshmallows, strawberries, and pineapple pieces; and an amazing chocolate mousse cake. There was a deejay, and top management staff all lined up shaking everyone's hand as they came in, and of course, management people were also serving the hungry diners. It was all pretty amazing. It kind of made up for the back-breaking week. Kind of.

I'm still trying to figure out if I like the new place. There are many things about it that aren't as good as the last place. My computer, which I live by, is one of them. The computer is slow and clunky, and the CD drive doesn't even work. And from my understanding, the place runs on such an austere budget, I won't be getting a new one anytime soon. Hmmm. But I do like almost everyone in my office.

At any rate, I hopped a train into the city last night to meet Jess, and we went to BLT Burger (thanks, Anita, it's a regular haunt now!) and then uptown to see the revival of Stephen Sondheim's Company, which I really enjoyed. I have liked Raul Esparza since seeing him in tick, tick...BOOM! off-Broadway, and he didn't disappoint. The entire cast was pretty good, some were amazing, and I loved that the cast also acted as the orchestra, all playing instruments. It was quite a feat. And of course, the music is all Sondheim, so it's really top-notch. I recommend it highly!

Okay, so that's the week and the catch-up. Today, I have to bake cookies for a family holiday party this afternoon, and later, we have to go pick up some of Jess' prints I had framed for work. Fun!

Friday, December 08, 2006

All is well

Hey, just a quick note to say that my mom came through her surgery fine last night (they didn't finish until after midnight) and they are giving her physical therapy today. She's in great shape for her age, but I still am concerned about how much of her original mobility she will regain. I am hoping for all of it, but that may be asking too much.

At any rate, thanks for the comments and e-mails. Jess and I are exhausted from the late nights and early mornings. And I start my new job on Monday, oh joy. Nothing like showing up for your first day of work feeling spent and worried!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Not my idea of a vacation...

Yesterday was the first real day of our visit to Atlanta. I was planning to spend some quality time with my mom and get some much-needed down-time in between the old job, which ended Tuesday, and the new one, which begins Monday.

So yesterday, at lunch, as we prepared to clear lunch dishes from the table, my mother got her foot caught at the leg of her chair. The dining room chairs are rather lightweight and ill-balanced, and so the chair toppled one direction and sent my mother head-first into a cabinet in the other direction.

She wound up with a bad bump on the head, a twisted back (she already had some back problems, so this is not good), a bruised tailbone, and a broken leg near the hip.

Needless to say, we spent hours in the emergency room yesterday and then in a hospital room.

Today, she is scheduled to have surgery to place screws into the broken leg because it is so near the hip and carries so much of her weight. I am worried about the surgery. I worry about her ever returning to the same degree of mobility that she had. I am concerned about her extreme sensitivity to anesthesia and most medications. She is so active for her age, and I worry that this is really going to slow her down a lot, and make her depressed. I worry about the fact that, having just started a new job, I have no sick time accumulated like the 70 days I had at the other job, so I don't have the luxury of being able to take time off to be with her. It's just a lot to cope with.

At any rate, probably no more blogging this weekend, save for a progress report on today. Please keep my mom (and Jess and me) in your thoughts.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Off to Atlanta... visit my Mom before I start the new job on Monday. I doubt that I will blog much from there. I'll hopefully post on Sunday when I return.

Sitting at LaGuardia, blogging from my phone. Waiting for my delayed flight, big surprise...I loathe LaGuardia, but to get to Atlanta it is the only way.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Hunting in the woods

With the title of this post, you might be inclined to think you had pulled up the wrong blog. Just a play on words, I haven't gone lumberjack on you.

We've been trying to scout a place (any place!) that has firewood at a decent price that will also deliver. The combination is a difficult one! The business of trying to buy the small $7 bundles at the supermarket and carry them home is crazy; the wood isn't always dry enough, plus you would need about three bundles to have a fire that burns nicely for the length of an evening. But places that deliver are hard to find for some reason.

At any rate, we went down to our favorite nursery in Oceanside and found wood that was both suitable and deliverable, as well as a rack that could accommodate the bundle.

At the end of the transaction, realizing that we didn't have any wood for our fire that night, we told we'd need a small bundle of wood. They were nice enough to give it to us for nothing!

So we sat in front of the fire last night and enjoyed the quiet of our library, Jess with his tea and me with my hot chocolate.

Friday, December 01, 2006

House party

So I am sitting here this morning waiting for the chimney repairman to show up, and thinking, "I need to blog." Our chimney flue damper came out of its housing last weekend and we haven't been able to get it back where it belongs. So we had to call the chimney repair people to fix it. I hate waiting on repair people, and it seems like I am doing it often.

So this being my last full week at the old job, I threw a little house party for the management team and my department. None of them had seen our house since the makeover, so they were all interested. I decided on a chip-and-dip Mexican theme, and began prepping Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Jess helped me do the prep, as well as cleaned the whole house like a fiend. Everything looked great!

So I made Sangria, shredded beef nachos, shrimp ceviché, guacamole, and sour cream and corn dip. For dessert, I had already made candies and cookies in preparation for the holidays, so I had those on hand in the freezer and in the garage (read: giant refrigerator). Unfortunately, the garage hasn't been a great refrigerator the last week or so, because the daytime temps have been way out of normal range. But at any rate, there was crushed cherry layered fudge, regular fudge, chocolate-covered peanut-raisin clusters, and cashew brittle, as well as my famous peanut butter cookies, chocolate chip cookies, and oatmeal-raisin-ginger cookies.

I went a little overboard on the ceviché. I didn't realize how much it would make, and I wound up with ceviché for thirty instead of thirteen. Holy cow. It was good, though.

Everyone loved the house. It was a nice party, but let me tell you, we were exhausted at the end! Sorry I didn't have the presence of mind to take pictures or engage Jess to take them, but we were both busy entertaining.

Fabulous Sangria (Best made the night before)
2 bottles Cabernet Sauvignon
4 ½ c. orange juice (preferably not from concentrate)
2 ¼ c. Monin® Red Sangria syrup*
9 oz. Corbel® Brandy or Courvoisier® cognac
pinch cinnamon
Fresh fruits: orange slices, red seedless grapes, pineapple chunks, lime slices

Put all liquid ingredients into glass or other non-reactive container (makes about 1 gallon). Add fruits and cinnamon and stir gently. Easy and wonderful.

*May be available at coffeehouses, but I usually have to buy online.

Shrimp Ceviché

1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 limes, juiced
2-3 cloves fresh garlic, pressed
4 roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/2 red onion, finely diced
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 avocado, peeled and diced
4 serrano peppers, seeded and minced
1/2 Tbsp. cumin
2 Tbsp fresh snipped cilantro
3 scallions (with good tops), chopped
1/2 Tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. worcestershire
salt and pepper to taste
Splenda or sugar to taste - 1-2 tsps max
1 Tbsp. hot pepper sauce

Dice shrimp finely and place in a mixing bowl with the garlic and cilantro. Cover shrimp with lime juice until completely immersed, about 4-6 limes. Cover, and refrigerate at least one 1 hour-longer if shrimp is not "finished" (shrimp should be opaque, not translucent, but will not change to pink color). Stir in remaining ingredients. When ready to serve, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as needed. Serve with scoopable white corn chips.

Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies

1 stick butter
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ½ cups flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of ground cloves
½ teaspoon salt
3 cups old-fashioned or quick cooking oats
1 cup raisins (I like Trader Joe’s brand best)
½ tsp powdered ground ginger
2 Tbsp. candied ginger, chopped
1 Tbsp freshly grated ginger

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Add remaining ingredients and beat until well-blended. Although not mandatory, I refrigerate the dough at least 4 hours or overnight – it improves the flavors. Drop by heaping teaspoonsful about 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake in a 350° oven 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove immediately from baking sheet to wire rack; cool completely. Makes about 3 1/2 dozen cookies.