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*veggie table.

Even in the smallest provinces, it is usually possible to find someone with a passion for food. If you're lucky enough to live in a metropolis where one of those people is on every corner, you can probably pick up a baguette or bánh mì that someone has just pulled out of the oven or assembled according to your specifications. Those of us in smaller locales have an entirely different sense of what it means to "have it your way." (Side note: MAJOR props to the BK for purveying a veggie burger. Not that I really needed any fast-food encouragement, but the prevalence of cow was all that was really standing between me and the drive-through window before. Now? Obstacle-free!)

That said, there are some terrific restaurants in the vales surrounding the Woodside. The local celebrity is one Frank Stitt, and because I am wily, I was able to snag a galley of his newest cookbook from our food editor.

It's hard to know where to start, really, what with the café macaroni and cheese and the inventive pizzas all clamoring to be crafted, but JBSH asked if I wanted to try the veggie lasagna.

Get this: I did not know what I was in for.

Shocking, right?

Luckily, it turns out I am not alone in my lack of grace, attention span, and attention to detail in the kitchen. JBSH had procured all of the ingredients for the feast ... except for the lasagna noodles.

Whilst he scooted to the market, I grated cheeses.



Fontina, pecorino, and parmigiano across the top, oozy fresh mozz below.

Yeah, that mozzarella was from the SECOND trip back to the greengrocer. JBSH no read-y so well. While he did that, I mandolined zucchini



and managed not to lose any fingers in the process. The fluted blade was already on the contraption, and I didn't want to hunt for the flat one, so I decided to just call it an artistic choice. Yet again, the light at 11 Bonita was miraculous. It could make John McCain look youthful.

The process was a strange combination of both simple and labor-intensive. None of the steps were particularly difficult, there were just a lot of them. Blanch and puree the peas, roast the zucchini, grate the cheeses, sauté the onions and leek, mix together the ricotta and lemon zest, and ... drum roll, please ... make the bechamel.

This did not go precisely as planned. I finely chopped some onion, threw in a bay leaf and some garlic, and stewed it all for the requisite 15 minutes in 2 cups of milk.



Then I dutifully strained it and put the appropriate amount of butter and flour on to cook together (no lumps, natch). Then, according to the recipe instructions, I whisked my little heart out while I added the infused milk back to the mixture. At which point it seized up like glue. Instant wallpaper paste.



The recipe said it needed to cook for 20 more minutes. JBSH took one look at it and went to talk to the neighbors. He'd already turned the lasagna noodles into pasta ribbons, so I think he was ready to wash his hands of the whole business.

Bravely, I soldiered on. I stirred the cayenne and nutmeg into the bechamel and called it done. Then I started layering (the natives were getting restless. And even though I was happy to see the Republicans getting the brunt of their ire, I knew the tide could turn when they got hungry enough). "Bechamel," noodles, roasted zucchini, pea puree, leek/onion mixture, and ricotta mixture—three layers of each, then topped with the grated cheese and drizzled (in this case, glopped) with more bechamel. Into the oven to bake, and then ...



It's official. You absolutely cannot mess up anything with that much cheese on top. It was creamy and delicious, with all those green things distracting your brain while your cardiovascular system sopped up the buttery, cheesy goodness.



Artistic plating courtesy of JBSH. I believe the purpose of the extra-large serving dish is to allow you to eat the entire elephantine portion without guilt. Which I did, gluttonously.

There was radioactive red velvet cake for dessert, but one bite was enough for me. There was a shortening aftertaste I couldn't stomach, but I'm picky about my sweets.



Jenny, ask Dean where I went wrong with the sauce. Just, you know, anonymously. Tell him it's for a "friend." I don't want him to know that on an average day I'm liable to get halfway through an egg salad recipe before I realize I don't have any eggs. I save that shame for the Interweb at large.
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*cat a logical.

The blood vessels above my neck were not my friend today, so I bring you a place-holding post. J and I had an adorable visitor this weekend.



J thought perhaps it and some ketchup would make a lovely lunch.



I thought perhaps it should learn that the plinth outside my door is not a litter box.

Warmed up to, then shat upon. Oooooooooooold trick, strange kitty.
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*sidewalk sale.

S and I spent the weekend touring the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival, the local film fest now in its 10th year. I'm embarrassed to say I've never been before, and even more embarrassed to admit I officially don't have the stamina for it. Grand total amount of time spent in the dark? 11:20. That'd be 11 hours, over the course of two days. It's remarkably exhausting for such a sedentary endeavor.

But we wrapped up the cinemastravaganza with Pageant, which was fun and fascinating (the scaffolding under those dresses makes you glad God did the work for us biological ladies, but I now want to wear false eyelashes as an everyday accessory).

This grandma came packing snacks in her purse ($3 for movie popcorn? No thank you. I'm all set with my Ziploc of Walgreen's Cheez-Its). But S was hungry, and we'd passed this



on the way in. Outside the Alabama College of Barber Instruction, these smarties had sensed the Sidewalk business opportunity and were purveying their barbecued wares.



That smidge of an orange in the lower right-hand corner was the most ingenious idea: A box fan, strategically placed to send the smoky aroma down the block. The line was all glazed eyes and drool.

Most of S's and my pre-movie conversation went like this:

S: So ...

K: Hm?

S: I wonder if they'll still be there when we leave ...

K: Mmm.

[5 minutes later]

S: Hey.

K: Hm?

S: Did you see those baked beans?

K: Ha!

S: Seriously, I hope they still have beans.

[5 minutes later]

S: Hey, K?

K: Hm?

S: Do you mind if we stop for barbecue when we leave?

Et cetera.

The portions were nothing if not generous:



Lots of people were opting for the more-portable hot dog offering, but S was determined to have her ribs. They came with the coveted baked beans, some cole slaw, and the ubiquitous stick-to-your-palate white bread, suitable for sauce sopping.

I watched it all good-humoredly. I was never a barbecue person even when I was a carnivore. But cruise past 4th Avenue between 17th and 18th. If you see the men in red, stop for some tasty pig in the 'ham.

The view ain't bad, either.

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*judgment day.



There you have it. This week's message from Jesus: egomania = shrinkage.

Thanks, near-Woodside place of worship!

I hope everyone's having a terrific weekend. Me? Well, it's 68% humidity. I'm wilted.
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*fish food.

Sometime in the distant future (MARK YOUR CALENDARS), currently estimated to be June 2009, newsstands will once again be graced with my prose. And by "graced with" I mean "warily anticipating." I'm tasked to write a food story, which means I don't have to compose anything long; most of the story's real estate is taken up by what the peeps really want—recipes.

That's fine by me, because my writing process generally consists of last-minute panic and paralyzing self-doubt, coupled with desperate need for validation. Witness now: Do you love me yet? Do you? DO YOU?

Ahem. That was unseemly. You can just leave your love in the comments.

This week I got to attend a photo shoot for said food story, the benefits of which are threefold: it's not what I usually do, meaning it eased some of the recent weighty burnout feeling; it was outside, which in this weather I find almost bearable; and it was boisterous, a change from the ear-popping silence in cubicle town.

Story subject: Fish-and-chips. I tend to ask for stories that require deep-frying. (I also had a seafood-for-brunch story slated for this year, but the executive editor kiboshed it because she thought it sounded nasty. I dare say the wonders of smoked salmon escape her ... but less work for me!)

We shot the food outside at the SPC building, hoping to take advantage of the dappled natural light. In the absence of dappled natural light, however, one must improvise.



Our publication doesn't go for glossy, advertising-style food with lots of trickery and toothpick scaffolding. The most we do is spritz some cooking spray to give drooping food a little life. That means we have to shoot immediately, and shoot fast.

Someone from the test kitchen (TK) comes down with the prepared foodstuffs. In this case, panko-crusted halibut with wasabi aïoli.



The best news is that the prettiest of the bunch get chosen as models. The remainder get chosen as SNACKS. Our food editor unfortunately warned me that the fish would play the starring role here. That means the poor potatoes were essentially sidelined, but they were universally the favorites among the snack eaters. Fish shmish. Gimme dem fries.

The prop stylist had already pared down items for styling.



We were going for rustic, fish-shack images. Gingham prints, brown boxes, and—in this case, thanks to the panko and wasabi—chopsticks for an Asian point of reference. A condiment bowl sneaked the back corner up for perspective, and a gardenia from the big boss' yard softened the modest setting (thank heavens, too, because while styling is a matter of personal preference and I am far from an expert, I was tempted to "accidentally" shove those hideous S&P shakers underneath some pine straw somewhere).



Then the photographer gets her groove on.



This is where it gets pretty tedious. Everybody looks through the lens, and everybody has an opinion."The chopsticks look too pointy." "That one piece of fish is too round." "Move the lemon a little to the left. Less left. No, now I can see too much peel." "Can someone PLEASE get rid of the bees?" "I have to cut this box. It's too ... straight."



But by far the least predictable aspect of a photo shoot is its most important: LIGHT. That's where interns come in. They deflect



and reflect



until the photographer gets just the right amount of cheerful sun bouncing off the increasingly cranky food. It can start to look really manhandled and unappetizing by the end, when it's all too tempting to try wacky, off-the-wall staging. The prop stylist attempted one shot with the chopsticks coated in aïoli that was a little too ... suggestive.

Everyone gathers around the computer and makes adjustments until we have a couple of options we think we can use (oh S&P shakers, why must you taunt me with your ugliness?).



Then it's on to the next setup. In this case, it was fried salmon. A challenge, we all knew, because we'd seen them at taste-testing, when the TK first makes adjustments to the recipes, and they were tasty. And INCREDIBLY ugly.



Then it was discussion time again. The tea didn't have enough ice. Now it had enough ice, but it was too watered down. Which direction should the mug's/pitcher's handle face? Did the French fries look gross? (Answer: Never.)



Fork upside down or right-side up? Napkin to the left or right? Cut into the fish, or leave it whole?



Luckily, I adore minutiae. And fried stuff. I'd make a horrible photographer, though. Which is why I was pretty excited to find this, written by someone who is obviously far more successful at the endeavor than I.

But it doesn't matter, because you love me. RIGHT???
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*clothes call.

I am loving this dress.



Credit: Splash News Online

Even though the styling above the neck is a little Royal Tenenbaums, the color is incredible, and the fit is flawless. The black bag is too much, proportion-wise, and it mucks up what the dress attempts to show off—her shoulders. But I love the Gothic fingernail polish. It's a better way to inject a sense of mischief into the look without making it too Halloween.

(Incidentally, People has a link from this image to a poll that illustrates how NOT to pull this off.)

And I was so glad to see SJP out and about looking adorable recently.



Credit: Daniel/INF

Love the hair pulled off her face, love the glasses, love the jewel tones, J'ADORE the boots. Not so sure about the man candy. I'm suspicious of M Broderick for reasons I can't particularly put my finger on. But I know I hate the cardigan. It makes him look breasty. But maybe it's mostly the smile. She seems happy and healthy and not bronzed to death. She also looks like she can accomplish the Pat-Field-oh-I-just-threw-on-whatever-was-on-the-floor-this-morning-but-don't-I-somehow-look-effortless-and-uncommon? style without veering into these-are-the-only-four-clothing-items-I-own-and-I-have-to-wear-them-all-at-the-same-time-because-I-do-not-have-a-home territory.

Or not.



Credit: INF

I will dare to dream, Sarah Jessica, if you will wake up from this sartorial nightmare. Regardless of the ugliness of those boots and my suspicion that that pea-soup top? jacket? is satin, I must tell you that, Katie Holmes be damned, you CAN NOT MAKE PEGGED JEANS HAPPEN. UNROLL YOUR PANTS, YOUNG LADY, RIGHT NOW.

See what you made me do? Now you've made me raise my voice, and I was determined to be breezy today.

I pass along this message because I know a thing or two about fashion. I wore flip-flops to work today, people. Do not question my unqualified opinions.
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*pantry raid.

Sometimes it feels like you're at work, and you're all, "I'm in demand! People need me! I could be in the circus I'm such a good juggler! I multitask like a pro! Holy CRAP where did all this water come from and how am I supposed to keep my head above it?"

Being a drone is difficult.

Then sometimes you get home and you think, "My stars this is quiet. What's happening to my life? Did my belief system just implode? Why are all the things that are 'good for me' so goddamn unsatisfying? Did I just tear up because a 'Jon & Kate + 8' rerun is on?"

Being melodramatic and hormonal is also difficult.

So you strap on your big girl shoes and you take your dog for a walk. And you potentially offend L Sis' neighbor who asks if her daughter can pet your dog by screaming, "OH NO, MA'AM" because you are horrified by her insinuation that said dog might poop in her yard. Which she did not insinuate, you just happen to be 84% deaf.

Then you go raid your larder for bribes to make the marrieds hang out with you. I am not above being a third, fifth, or any other odd-number wheel. I threw all the too-much-salt-having, meat-containing items into a bag, then added lots of hooch for good measure. Also novelty snack items and "chikn" nuggets, because after all—I have to eat, too.



Some people have their Prozac. I find the better part of a bag of fake chips and half a box of fake meat is at least a temporary mood elevator. Plus, it's hard to stay too left of perspective when you're getting the stink-eye.

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*wed and wild.



Thank you, Gwinnett Daily Post.

Thank you.

Best wishes to the happy couple!
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*i wordled myself.

No, like this:


courtesy Wordle

Don't be dirty.

P.S. Click on it. It's prettier up close. And it makes a wicked desktop. You can do any chunk of text—you don't have to have a blogspot (or three). Meaning this:


courtesy Wordle

was just inevitable.
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*courses of distraction.

I rarely entertain on the Woodside. Well, that's not precisely true. I rarely have greater than two people on the Woodside. It's a lovely château, generously (and beautifully, if I do say so myself) furnished by T and the Man. But it's not exactly spacious. Just enough square footage for a girl and her pup, whose bum you can see skittering out of frame in this shot. Probably sprinting away from evil, dangerous pillows and/or galumphing toward evil, dangerous squirrels.



It suddenly occurs to me that that room has a rather masculine feel about it. Does that look like a boy's house? Do I need a pink chandelier or a feather boa or a painting of a uterus? I'm worried. Although I did, in a fit of pique at what may have been my most anal-retentive, do this:



That's pretty girly, right?

So the other day, L Sis asked if I wanted to cook. I consider that a rhetorical question, but I was doubly grateful because it caused me to miss the anxiety train that was pulling into the station. She lets me make dinner for her AND she refuses to allow me to get mired in my neurosis.

My sister is better than your sister.

Menu: Monterey Jack, Corn, and Roasted Red Pepper Risotto and Chicken with Lime Sauce

JLB and M were joining us, so I picked up these two



and hurried home to begin a feverish cleaning process that attempted to remove six months of dog hair, K hair, and dust from various surfaces by terrifying the dogs with my smelly and nonfunctional yet loud vacuum cleaner.

I did not, however, notice the who-knows-how-many-months of mildew growth behind my guest room clerestories, but L Sis did!

My sister is more observant than your sister.

This post demonstrates keenly my missing attention span. Here are the ingredients:



Well, except for the roasted red bell peppers, which are IN THE TITLE OF THE RECIPE. They're in the refrigerator door, hell-bent on causing panic late in the process when I realize I've forgotten them. That'd be cumin, coriander, hot sauce, olive oil, vegetable stock, arborio rice, Monterey Jack, green onions, minced garlic (pinch bowls ROCK), and corn. A little less than 2 cups of water went on the stove to warm with the vegetable stock, but it didn't make an appearance in that photo becau ...

Oooh! Shiny things!

Sorry, I'm back.

The rice, garlic, cumin, and coriander went in to toast in a little olive oil. The recipe says the coriander is optional—I suppose because some wacky folks out there don't like the taste of cilantro—but it's crucial. It gives the dish a depth it wouldn't have otherwise. So if you're in the market to stand over a hot stove and stir for 25 minutes, don't leave it out!



Then there was stirring, followed by some more stirring. Carefully followed up with further stirring. I won't bore you with the ordeal, because I've already documented it here and here. That's right, ordeal. JLB and M and L Sis, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE FOR ME LATELY?

Oh, that. Carry on.

In went the corn, onions, cheese, and fugitive bell peppers, then into a 200˚ oven to stay warm.



The best part? The recipe called for no additional salt, and it didn't need any. Which, for a Cooking Light recipe, is something of crap shoot. M needed more salt, I thought it was perfect as-was. C'est la vie—as I reminded L Sis this morning, one man's corn tortilla is another man's damp sandpaper.

I'm just saying.

All that concentrated stirring was pretty exhausting. I didn't lose focus for a moment. Seasoned cooks know that even a minute's distraction will only lead to rice stuck to the bottom of the pot, and that amateurs who take time off to Hassle the Hoff on America Has No Appreciable Talent will find that rice both glued-on and burned. Not I.



Hey, eyes over here.

Next up:



Chicken stock, salt, Dijon mustard, lime juice, water, brown sugar, butter, cooking spray, and olive oil. Also cornstarch, but who needs to be prepared? The wine was for the chef. It's good for my blood pressure.

Now wait ... there's something missing. What is it?

OH YEAH. The chicken.



I Tom Sawyered JLB into berating the breasts (hee!), because I'm timid. Shut up, or I'll kick your ass.

A mixture of cooking spray and olive oil went into the pan, followed by salted and peppered chicken pancakes.



When they were browned, lime juice, cornstarch, water, Dijon, butter, brown sugar, and chicken broth went in to deglaze the pan and thicken into a passable sauce.



The thickening didn't so much happen, for one of two reasons. Either a) the cornstarch is old and has lost some of its prowess (is that possible?) or b) I decided it wasn't a good idea to scrape too enthusiastically at the carcinogenic bottom of my 20-year-old nonstick skillet with a wire whisk.*

But pretty, no?



And tasty, I think. It's possible everyone waxed lustily about it. I probably wasn't paying attention.

*As this post went to press, all of the meat-eaters attending this dinner party remain alive. Still, if you eat on the Woodside, regular check-ups are advisable.
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*math thematics.

If I've learned anything lately, it's that the recipe for a perfect storm really only requires two ingredients. Certain things simply can't sustain in combination, and no amount of agitation—however well intentioned—will calm the seas.

Basically, it's a case of bad math. Though technically that's the only kind I'm acquainted with. Just ask Ms. Terry, who allegedly taught me calculus in high school, which in her mind consisted of multiple screenings of Stand and Deliver and student-run guessing games about the odds of her living in her car (67%).

Here are some examples of things that do not balance:

Old Dude + Crazy Lady



Funny Guy + Screaming Liar



Tacky "Actress" + Classy Shrew



Cheesecake + Burrito



Yes, that is the culinary stylings of Hacienda Mexican Grill—where the decor is trippy,



the waiters dress like gay cowboys, and the guacamole tastes like rubber cement. But it boasts proximity, and the Woodside has nothing if not its fair share of inertness. I am always looking for suggestions of places to eat that I can grace with my particular brand of pajama patronage. (You know, it's like the Bush Doctrine, but not confusing or anything.)

M wanted something sweet, so he ordered this concoction. It's an awe-inspiring confection of artificially flavored cheesecake filling wrapped in a cinnamon-sugar tortilla and flash-fried before being topped with aerosol whipped cream and chocolate sauce. I hate cheesecake, so I only tasted the fried shell, but I could just imagine the cloying chalkiness that lurked inside.

L Sis did that psychological dance wherein you taste something, can't believe it could possibly be that strange, and keep tasting it, hoping that its mysteries will somehow be revealed.

Alas, they never were. Proving once again that you can put two things together, but you can't always make them add up.



Note: I've added a new sidebar to the right of blogs I read. I'll keep adding to it over time, but for now these are ones I love for sentimental reasons.

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I am a work in progress. I perpetually need a hair cut. I'm totally devoted to my remarkable nieces and nephew. I am an elementary home cook and a magazine worker bee. (Please criticize my syntax and spelling in the comments.) I think my dog is hilarious. I like chicken and spicy things. I have difficulty being a grown-up. Left to my own devices, I will eat enormous amounts of cheese snacks of all kinds.

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