Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Mac the Knife

Mac Mighty Santoku, that is. If you cook and you don't have one of these, you're missing the best prep experience ever.

I bought mine about three weeks ago on Amazon, after having read about their prep prowess in a favorite publication, Cook's Illustrated, who rated this knife ($90) and the Forschner Victorinox chef's knife very highly. (If you think that the Victorinox name sounds familiar, that's because they make the very famous Swiss Army Knives, the pocket knives known for their unrivaled sharpness and gadgetry. And the nice thing about Victorinox knives is their price...cheap! The chef's knife is about $35 with shipping.)

But back to the Mac. It's so sharp it cuts like a great pair of scissors through thin paper. I was so surprised when I went to bias-cut a carrot (which is typically a chore with any of my other knives) and it just sailed through the task. Onions, tomatoes, celery...throw a fruit or vegetable at this knife and it breezes through it like nothing. Just amazing. You can slice cucumbers so thinly you can see through them. Last week, I sliced a Valencia orange to eat it. The knife was so sharp it sheared right through the seed, without even moving it from the orange flesh. Phenomenal.

If you cook, you will love it. But beware...you could slice off a hand if you're not careful.

Idol Gives Back

Seeing Simon and Ryan trekking through the horrors of Africa and seeing Simon's reaction to it, you learned that Simon does indeed have a heart. Even if you thought he was a cruel wretch (which he's not, he's just realistic), you couldn't think that after seeing him tonight.

Somehow, I am thinking that they won't be dumping anyone this week. This show is about generosity. That would be a cruel giveback.

That said, this was all set to be a really depressing show in terms of message and music. The singers were supposed to choose a song that fit the theme of tonight's show. Most chose melancholic, introspective songs.

Chris' rendition of Change the World was quite mediocre. Pitchy, out of his range, and out of his league, with an unnecessary flourish at the end, I thought it was horrible. I was so surprised at the judges' very positive reaction. It was a trainwreck. I am glad Eric Clapton wasn't the mentor tonight. He would have cried.

Melinda was positively fabulous tonight with a riveting performance of There Will Come a Day that should have earned her the title of American Idol tonight. It was just amazing. She is truly a magical performer. The judges loved it, as well they should. Now the dress wasn't that great, but the hair and the jewelry were beautiful. This girl is headed for stardom.

Blake's ultra-safe performance of Imagine didn't do it for me. I didn't think it was that great. It seemed an honest performance, though, and the judges agreed.

I also wasn't crazy about LaKisha's version of Fantasia Barrino's I Believe. The song sent chills down my spine when Fantasia sang it three years ago for the first time. But this didn't chill me or thrill me. It didn't feel genuine. It's too bad, too, because LaKisha was one of those who, in the beginning, had me convinced that she could win it. I don't think she can win it now, and I am beginning to wonder if she will make the top three. She doesn't have the depth of expression and pure vocal quality that Melinda has, and she doesn't have the beauty that Jordin has (even though Jordin is no match vocally), and she doesn't have the creepy factor of Phil, who, every week, surprises me with his vocals (even though I can't stand to look at him).

Speaking of Phil, The Change, a cover of Garth Brooks' tribute to the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing, shocked me with a slick but powerful all-out performance. It sounded nothing like Garth, which was a good thing...because he needed to sing the song his way and not Garth's. I didn't watch the tube while he sang, I just listened...and I couldn't deny that it was really quite good.

Jordin's performance of You'll Never Walk Alone was moving and powerful and delivered a punch. I've always liked this song, but this was glorious. I thought it was her best performance ever, easily. Simon said he thought she could have a hit record with it, now that's a vote of confidence.

So, who will be among the lowest vote-getters? Chris, Blake, and LaKisha are my picks.

UPDATE: Can I call them, or can I call them?! Nobody had to leave tonight. What a bunch of hype..."the most shocking result ever." Uh, over here? I wasn't shocked. I had it figured out before the show started last night. You don't do a show on compassion and then kick people off. No ma'am. No sirree.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Restaurant woe

Don't you hate it when someone raves to you about a restaurant and then you go there and have a not-so-great experience?

I do.

One of my employees attended a business dinner at Gabrielle in Rockville Centre, and came in raving the next morning about how fabulous it was: the ambiance! the decor! the food! So because the rave was so strong, I decided to take Jess there last night to celebrate his finding a new job (on the island, no less! Yay!) and so we went.

The ambiance was as promised. Set in a narrow but deep storefront along one of the nicer avenues, it was very Manhattan-ish. High ceilings were moderated by a set of 10 stained glass arcs that hung side-by-side above the rear seating areas. A large aquarium split the space in the restaurant and was nicely, if not originally, lit. chair-rail-to-ceiling beveled mirrors added depth to the narrow railroad-car space. There was a long bar as you walked in that was flanked by six cozy 2-person canopied dinettes.

The elegant hostess was quite warm and friendly, and led us to a banquette table in the corner. We sat and perused the menu, which was strictly prix fixe. There were some interesting choices, but nothing that really called to me, and Jess apparently felt the same way. He looked at the menu quickly and then laid it on the table. Thinking he was done, I asked, "what are you having?"

"I don't know," he said, with look that was half puzzlement and half agitation. "There was nothing there that really hit me." Not a good sign.

My whiskey sour arrived. It was not great. How can you screw up a whiskey sour?

A server appeared with a breadbasket bearing two small, very hard baguette rolls, which were overdone on the bottom. No butter was served. No oil was offered by the server, either, and we wondered why. However, there was oil in a carafe in the center of the table which had whole rosemary and other spices in it, and we decided to use. it.

Problem 1: the restaurant made the very annoying mistake of choosing dinner china that didn't work with the rolls. The rolls, as I said, were very hard, so they slid all over the glossy plate surface The sides of the small dish were angled and the lip was also angled, sufficiently so that when the oil was poured into the center of the plate, the bread slid down the side and into the middle of the oil, so that what you wound up with was a hard roll bathed (and I do mean bathed) in olive oil. There was no way to rest the roll on the edge of the plate as the angle was just too steep, so the bread just kept sliding back into the oil.

Problem 2: The herb-infused oil was terrible. It was bitter and long-lasting on the tongue.

When we ordered our appetizer and first course, Jess chose the corn chowder and a hanger steak with creamed spinach. I opted for a roasted beet salad with goat cheese in a balsamic vinaigrette, and risotto with chicken and white cheddar cheese.

Problem 3: Jess' chowder was creamy but had little flavor; the corn was more an additive than the main ingredient, and although there were pieces of carrot, celery, and some spices in it, there was almost no trace of their flavor. It was as if they had been cooked to death...but the didn't appear to be overcooked. It was strange.

Problem 4: My roasted beet salad wasn't that much about roasted beets, to my disappointment. A heap of rocket covered the 6 thin slices of ruby and golden beets, sprinkled with perhaps a teaspoon of finely crumbled goat cheese. I don't like goat cheese, so the amount was fine, but it was so finely crumbled that I couldn't pick out the pieces, and that annoyed me. It wasn't a terrific starter.

Problem 5: Jess' steak was charred too heavily for a steak cooked to medium, the mark of an inexperienced or inattentive cook, which was too bad, because the flavor was robust. The glaze over it was sweet and piquant, and I really liked it. The creamed spinach didn't appear to be that creamy at all, and Jess said that it was forgettable.

My risotto with chicken and white cheddar was as stated: more risotto than chicken. It was nicely spiced, but the risotto was not creamy, which was disappointing; it was very firm, a touch before al dente. Something else that annoyed me was the very strong and unwelcome taste of horseradish I kept picking up about every third or fourth bite; I finally narrowed it to the white cheddar.

Finally, the dessert: Jess had what was described as passion fruit cheesecake with mango whipped cream. it had four tiny pieces of mango no bigger than a fingernail decorating the plate. He said it was okay. I opted for the warm apple crisp with "Tahitian Vanilla Ice Cream". Probably the poorest excuse I have ever had for an apple crisp...it was barely on the crisp side, more crumbly...and the apples were dull, almost flavorless. This is a dish that should be prepared with tart apples and appropriately sweetened, but they had obviously used sweet apples. And the ice cream was practically devoid of any rich vanilla taste. They should have used Haagen Dazs or Double Rainbow, it would have been much better.

All in all, a disappointment, even at only $25 per person. I won't be asking that person for future any dinner suggestions!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Idol lowlights

Well, that's actually what tonight's show was full of - lowlights, not highlights. It was country night, and the Idols proved that country wasn't really their neck of the woods...all of them except one.

Phil sounded okay on Where the Blacktop Ends, but I am just over the dead-man-walking look. He can't do anything to get me past the creepy factor. He looks like he should be on a slab somewhere.

Jordin sang screamed Broken Wings, and as usual, the judges fawned over her. I found the performance lackluster and forced, and was appalled that Simon told her she had a chance at winning. Puhleez. Even if she does make it to the top three, which to me is plausible, she will not trump Melinda or LaKisha vocally. It's not possible.

Sanjaya the weasel lazed through Let's Give 'Em Something to Talk About, a vocal mess. It was all over the map as far as pitch, and he blew every opportunity to growl and make it gritty. He said at the beginning that he "wanted to do Bonnie Raitt proud," which, if he meant that, meant that he should have left her song alone. When I remarked that there was no growl to it, Jess quipped, "Oh, please. Bonnie's more butch than he is." How true, how true.

LaKisha totally turned me off with her half-baked attempt at the cheesy Jesus Take the Wheel, which was a vocal car wreck...and a very transparent attempt to work her Lord and Savior into her repertoire. Y'know something, don't get me wrong...I am all for faith and conviction, but honestly, let's get real...you're on a show called American Idol, dressing like you're going to take up hooking, and you're going to preach Jesus to the masses? Climb out of the pulpit, girl.

Chris' performance proved his vocal limitations as well as his inability to go effortlessly from genre to genre. He sang the whole song through his nose and just sounded terrible. How he stayed on past Stephanie and Gina is beyond me.

Melinda was the brilliant, shining star of the evening with Trouble is a Woman. Gritty, sassy, and perfectly delivered, she tore it up with looks, moves and vocals that rivaled Tina Turner.

Blake's horrible performance of When the Stars Go Blue, with its bad falsetto notes and terrible breath control, threatened to make Tim McGraw cry and my dogs howl uncontrollably. It may be a country song, but was not delivered in a country style (because Blake is all about changing things up) and every time he managed to finally hit the pitch correctly, he was off of it within seconds. He was visibly uncomfortable and so he was making faces that were really hard to watch. It was baffling to me that the judges liked it. I found it horrendous.

So tomorrow, we will have the final six. Sanjaya "the weasel" Malakar better not be among them. He has to go.

UPDATE: Praise Jebus! Sanjaya is NOT in the top six!!! And I found it verrrrry interesting that LaKisha was in the bottom three (good call, Cincy)...girl better get her act together or she is off soon. Last night that she was behaving like such a primadonna diva when the judges were ripping her performance.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Latin Idol - blecccch!

Okay, the rundown on tonight's Latin night with Jennifer Lopez as the master class instructor:

Melinda was original, sounded great, but looked 50. She was very sultry, going out of her element. I liked her. The judges didn't, for the most part.

LaKisha was okay, but tired. The dress was not a good choice. Paula loved the outfit?! Paula was on drugs tonight, that's what Paula was. She looked stoned, and her commentary was even stupider than usual.

Chris was terrible. He couldn't keep up with the music. Rob Thomas he ain't. The facial expressions were painful to look at. Randy thought it was great.

Haley, honey, you have to have the beat before you can turn it around. And please don't paint yourself up like a dimestore whore to cover up for a bad vocal. The outfit with the shorts was laughable, the makeup was overdone, and the false eyelashes made her look like a plastic doll.

Phil's vocal was very strong, better than Chris' by a mile, but the judges didn't think so. The guy still gives me the creeps, but his vocal really was better than any of the guys tonight. (Sorry, Cincy!)

Jordin, the rhythm didn't get you tonight. Speed it up, girl!

Blake had no passion in his Rob Thomas vocal. And the outfit - Boca Raton at the Senior Center. Ugh. But for some bizarre reason, the judges loved his performance. Why??!!

Sanjaya the weasel really played up to the camera, but the vocal, as usual, wasn't great. One of his better vocals? Maybe; but that's a low standard to live up to.

UPDATE: I wasn't surprised by Haley's departure, but it looked as though Phil Stacey was. He thought he would be the one, apparently. Sorry, Sanjaya should have been in the bottom three and Phil should have never been there this week. Phil's performance, in spite of its vocal "crackiness", was better than Sanjaya's. It's down to seven and I will be shocked and appalled if the weasel makes it into the top six next week. It's just wrong that he's survived this long.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Just driving along minding our own business...

...and we got the bird.

A robin, that is.

Yesterday, on a drive home from a fruitless trip to Huntington (the store we wanted to go to wound up being closed, as were many of them...you would think it was Christmas), we spotted a small robin in the middle of the four-lane divided road that we were driving home. He was just sitting there, cars whizzing past him at 50 miles per hour on either side. He wasn't moving, and we were worried about him being run over.

It's a busy, busy road.

When we passed him, Jess said, "did you see the bird?" Yes, I had seen him, but I worried about whether he was sick. What if he had bird flu? Why else would he be standing in the middle of the busy road without moving? Jess wanted to go back. I told him I didn't think it was very wise, given the heavy traffic on the road.

But y'know something? My baby is an animal lover, just like his dad. And this was an animal in trouble.

A side note: we are a no-kill house, for the most part. Nothing is killed except pests, and only a few things qualify as pests: gnats, houseflies, roaches, silverfish, ants. Everything else is not a pest, including spiders, so either we get it out of the house without killing it...or it stays.

So after a few seconds of "should we?" Jess turned the car around and we went back to the spot where the bird was. He was still there, and cars were still speeding past him. As we parked on the side of the road, they were speeding past us, too: speeding at such a pace that the car would rock from the wind created by the cars moving at such a clip. It was not a place you'd feel safe going out into the middle of the road.

Then, much as his father did many years ago, Jess ran out into the middle of the busy road to save the bird.

But unlike in his dad's adventure, the bird saw Jess coming. There was no way he was letting Jess grab him.

The bird suddenly came to his senses and jumped from the pavement into the grass on the median, and the day was saved.

Apparently, little Robin Redbreast had flown into traffic and been grazed by a car, leaving him stunned. He was so overwhelmed by the gigantic cars zooming past that he wasn't going anywhere; at least, until he saw Jess heading for him, napkins in hand.

But it was enough that Jess had turned around and went back for him, because that action indirectly resulted in the bird's life being spared. The bird chirped loudly from his grassy spot in the median.

I'm proud of my baby. He's got one of the most tender, caring, generous hearts I know and it's why I love him. Every spouse should be so lucky to have such a caring spirit looking out for them.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


Tony Bennett gave tonight's master class, and so the Idols were forced to do old numbers. I was prepared for a yawner night (except for LaKisha and Melinda, of course).

Winning vocals:
Melinda Doolittle's I've Got Rhythm. Fabulous, and she looked positively stunning in that skin-tight dress and 4-inch stillettos. The flat-ironed hair was a great look for her! She kicked ass.

Jordin's On A Clear Day. Well-suited to her voice and range. Not a big reach vocally, but she covered it very well. She put a nice, jazzy edge to it that really worked.

Gina Glocksen's Smile. She did a lovely cover and looked great tonight.

LaKisha's Stormy Weather wasn't as good as Melinda's number vocally, but was very jazzy and strong nonetheless.

Now let's sit back and watch while Sanjaya survives another round.

UPDATE: The little weasel managed to stay in for another round and Hayley survived, but Gina didn't? Oh, no, no, no. This is utterly wrong. That the weasel gets to stay while real talent is kicked off is beyond maddening. This is the end of the show for me.

I must say that Gina's exit was completely classy, and the song Smile was such an apropos choice for what turned out to be her last week:
Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it's breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you'll get by...
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You'll see the sun come shining through for you.

Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That's the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what's the use of crying?
You'll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile...

It was a tearjerker moment. Good luck, Gina. You didn't deserve what was done to you tonight, but you will be fine...you have a talent that will take you places.