Sunday, February 27, 2011

Live Blogging The Oscars From Dedham, Mass.; Wrapped In A Blanket And Sweats, I Critique Hollywood's Hottest Stars

Published from time to time 
during the evening.

7:00: Red Carpet Segment. Red is the color of the evening.

Loved Anne Hathaway's (right) Red Valentino and the traditional tuxedos worn by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush
Gwyneth Paltro in Calvin Klein: dress A-plus,

Christian Bale is British? I didn't know that! He looks like the Fonz tonight.

Scarlet Johannson, didn't love the purple lace dress.

Jennifer Hudson looked amazingly skinny in her tangerine dress by Versace. Jealous!

James Franco had a one-on-one live interview and looked extremely nervous.

Love GMA host Robin Roberts look.

Blush dresses are also pretty popular: Halle Berry (below, left)  in Marchesa and another Halle, Halle Steinfield (young actress from True Grit) in a tea length blush gown.

8:30: Opening movie was fun but I think if they'd burst onto the stage in the time machine car, it would have worked better. Hathaway, lovely in bejeweled white gown, first of many dress changes.

8:42: The awards start. Tom Hanks (nice tux) announcing Art Direction winner: Alice in Wonderland. Acceptance speech gets a 5 out of 10.

Cinematography winner: Inception
Acceptance speech: 9 out of 10

8:51: Kirk Douglas (looking very old, did he have a stroke?) with a cane, awarding best supporting actress award.
He's very funny!!
Winner: Melissa Leo from the Fighter
Acceptance speech: Rambling and emotional. Curses. Time's up!

9:01 Justin Timberlake and purple dress lady
Best animated short film winner: The Lost Thing
Acceptance speech: Nice and fast.
Best animated feature film winner: Toy Story 3! yea!
Acceptance speech: Nice and fast too.

9:12: history segment introduces Josh Brolin and Xavier Barden in truly awful
Tuxedos awarding Adapted Screenplay award
Winner: The Social Network
Acceptance speech: too long, piano playing him off.....
best Original Screenplay: The King's Speech
Acceptance speech: Fabulous!

9:20: Anne sings. Not bad.

9:25: Helen Mirren and Russell Brand, too funny!
Awarding best foreign film: In A Better World from Denmark
Acceptance speech: sweet and short,'s getting longer

9:29: Reese Witherspoon looking very 'angle dickenson' like
Awarding best supporting actor: christen bale from The Fighter
Acceptance speech: funny, longish.... I'm still confused by the accent!

9:40: Anne is back in a grey gown (i like!!)and introduces Aussies Hugh Jackman and
Nicole Kidman
Best original score winner: The Social Network
Acceptance speech: Perfect

9:45: Scarlett Johannson and Matthew McConeghy introduce nominees for
Achievement in sound winner: Inception
Acceptance speech: good one
Achievement in sound editing winner: Inception
Acceptance speech: perfect

9:54: Marisa Tomei (left) introduces nominees for tech awards, awarded earlier this week.
I like her short hair. Dress: not so much

9:55: Cate Blanchette ( don't love the dress) announces awards for achievement in make-up
Winner: The Wolfman
Acceptance speech: nice and short, perfect.
Costume Design: Alice in Wonderland
Acceptance Speech: reading it, really?? Boring, hopefully short. Lose the black gloves,

10:00: Historical Movie Music interlude. Kevin Spacey can sing!! Pres. Obama makes a taped appearance to announce he loves 'As Time Goes By', from Casablanca , our wedding song.
Best Original Song:TBA

10:11: Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhall announce award for Best Documentary Short Films Winner: Strangers No More
Acceptance speech: good short inclusive speech
Live Action Short Film winner: God of Love
Acceptance speech: fast talker but too long!

10:16: Anne wears a flapper style long dress.

10:17: Time waster, putting music to movies that didn't have music. Clever but unnecessary.

10:19: Oprah Introduced not loving the dress or hair.
Announces outstanding documentary winner: Inside Job
(Note: Waiting For Superman was not nominated allegedly because it was perceived as anti-union)
Acceptance speech: gets political, give me a break!

10:27: Anne introduces Billy Crystal, standing ovation. What does that mean?
Historical moment: Trip down Bob Hope memory lane.

10:31: Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr., funny repartee
Introduces award for achievement in Visual Effects
Winner: Inception, winning lots of tech awards
Acceptance speech: uh, oh, lots of people on stage. Not too bad, only two spoke.
Achievement in Film Editing. Winner: The Social Network
Acceptance speech: Hug. Cute. Good speech.

10:41: Anne is back in a fabulous red dress.
Two more best song nominees introduced by Jennifer Hudson.
Gwyneth Paltrow (right) looks like Mary Travers from Peter, Paul and Mary.
Best Song Winner: Toy Story 3
Acceptance speech: funny, humble. Good one.

10:52: Celine Dion in a segment about stars who passed this year. Halle Berry pays tribute to Lena Horne, who also died this year.

11:01: Anne back in royal blue, really nice dress!
Hilary Swank introduces Kathryn Bigelow (last years winner) who announces Best Director winner: The King's Speech
Acceptance speech: man love? What about Helena Bonham Carter? Hmmmmmm. Closes with. 'mum' talk.

11:05: Annette Benning introduces award for lifetime achievement in film, taped previously.
Kevin Brownlow, Francis Ford Coppola, Eli Wallach. Standing ovation, well deserved.

11:11: Jeff Bridges introduces nominees for Best Actress winner: Natalie Portman, no surprise, probably well-deserved, not having seen the film.
Acceptance film: Humble, emotional, a bit long.....

11:19: Anne introduces Sandra Bullock, last years best actress winner announcing for
Best Actor winner: Colin Firth (left) 
Acceptance speech: Classic! A bit long....but I could listen to him forever.

Coming back for best picture award and the PS 22 Chorus (right) from Staten Island!! Could they be on any later??

11:31: Ok Anne dons another dress....maybe too much already? Not loving this one. Stephen Spielberg introduces best picture of the year. Kind of telling since they use the 'speech' as the soundtrack for all of the ten nominated movies.
The winner: The King's Speech
Acceptance speech: Perfect. It's good to be king.

Finally:  the Staten Island part of the show. 
OK, I'm prejudiced.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Ricotta Cake: A Palatable Pastiera That Reminds Me of My Mother-in-Law, Brooklyn and All Good Things About Easter

I had a lot of ricotta cheese left over this week from making my homemade manicotti and I decided to try Ricotta Cake, a dessert usually popular around Easter. I know, I'm rushing the holidays again (only the warmer weather ones, I swear!!) but my not-so-great experience with ricotta cheese and the cannoli is still fresh in my mind. I figured if I gave this a try early on, I might perfect it by Easter and can bring it for a dessert to my sister-in-law's house for the holiday. (though if she reads this, I might be uninvited!!)

So once again, leafing through my old Martha Stewart Living magazines (April, 2003) I came across a recipe that was exactly what I was looking for. This is not a cheesecake, no crust is involved, but a moist, light cake with a slight cinnamon flavor that actually is called a 'pastiera' in Italian circles.

My mother-in-law who was Italian introduced me to a lot of Italian baked goods and it was a learning and growing process for me since some of the flavors were not to my liking (anisette comes to mind!) but she did make a version of this cake at Easter and I became a fan right away. I remember the savory scent of cinnamon coming from her oven in Brooklyn and the lemony color of the cake as it was placed on the dessert table.

I made some changes to the recipe and as a result, the cake was probably more moist than it should have been. It smelled amazing while baking and tasted great. The substitutions I made were small but the rice substitution probably was the reason for the extra-moistness. I'll be sure to use the right ingredients next time around. Just a note: I looked up the recipe online yesterday as I was cooking (having misplaced the hard copy version) and I was dismayed to see a bunch of negative comments posted on the recipe page about this cake. So it was with a some trepidation that I awaited the final product. My fears were misplaced. Except for the wetness of the cake it was pretty close to perfection. Give this one a try.

Ricotta Cake
Serves 8
1 quart whole milk (I substituted 1%)
3/4 cup arborio rice (I used Minute Rice, eek!!)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (I used vanilla extract. Where do you get a vanilla bean?)
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
Unsalted butter, for pan
All-purpose flour, for pan
3 pounds fresh ricotta cheese, drained 3 hours or preferably overnight (don't forget this step) 
3 large whole eggs plus 3 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting
Strawberries, blueberries or raspberries for garnish (or a combination of all three)

  • Bring milk to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in rice, cinnamon, salt, and vanilla bean (or extract). Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until rice is very tender and has absorbed all liquid, about 30 minutes.
  • Remove pan from heat. Stir in 3/4 cup granulated sugar. Cover; let cool, stirring occasionally. Discard vanilla bean(eliminate this if you used extract).
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour an 8-inch springform pan. In a large bowl, combine the rice mixture, ricotta, whole eggs and egg yolks, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Pour into prepared pan. Bake until golden on top and almost set in the center, 65 to 70 minutes; cover with foil if starting to brown too much. Transfer pan to a cooling rack.
  • When cake has completely cooled, run a knife around edge to loosen. Gently remove ring; transfer cake to a serving platter. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar, and serve berries.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Carrot Soup Redux; I Give Another Recipe a Try For This Deliciously Healthy Vegetarian Fare

The newest Carrot Soup 
My husband and I had carrot soup this summer on our first night in Ireland and we've been dreaming about it ever since. I made one version in September not long after we returned from our trip. I decided to give another recipe a try just to taste the difference, or to see if there even was one. I'll compare the recipes and repeat the first one as well.

When we were kids we ate a lot of carrots - happily. Our mother and grandmother made their case intimating that our ridiculously straight hair would curl and that carrots would improve our eyesight. That was all the encouragement we needed being adoring fans of Shirley Temple and her glorious string curls and glass-less eyes. It was all a ruse but one that I used on my own family as well, also 'blessed' with lifeless hair. I should note that my hair situation hasn't changed since childhood and that I wear glasses! It could be worse. The 'real' benefits of eating carrots are many and so much better than having curly locks...really!

Carrot is a root vegetable that actually originated in Asia. One stalk contains carbohydrates, protein, a very small amount of fat, calcium and iron. Also, it is a good source of fiber, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium and thiamine. It's main claim to 'healthy fame' is that carrot is an excellent source of beta-carotene, actually the highest amount of beta-carotene among the list of vegetables we eat every day and as such has an outstanding role in cancer prevention. Research shows that people with lack of beta-carotene are more likely to have 2 times higher risk of cancer than normal people and it's wise to eat an appropriate amount of carrots every day to prevent cancer.

Chinese doctors agree that the sweet carrot is good for the health of spleen and stomach. It is also believed to improve impotence (lower sexual drive), sexual dysfunction, night blindness, (maybe that's where the eyesight claim came from??) and long term cough besides strengthening kidneys.

So off I went in search of another carrot soup recipe and I came across one that seemed different enough to give me a comparison. This one is from the Moosewood Cookbook, 1977 edition. Moosewood is a collectively owned business that has grown from a small health food restaurant to become a large and diversified company. The restaurant located in Ithaca, New York, has been opened since 1973. A link is provided for their impressive cookbook collection available through Amazon.

Carrot Soup
from the 1977 edition of Moosewood Cookbook
2 pounds peeled or scrubbed, chopped carrots
4 cups stock or water
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 medium potato, chopped (optional, for heartier soup)
3-4 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped onion
1-2 small cloves crushed garlic
1/3 cup chopped cashews or almonds (I used almonds)

Choose one:
1 cup milk
1 cup yogurt or buttermilk plus a little honey
1/2 pint heavy cream ( I used this one)
3/4 cup sour cream

Seasoning choices:
2 pinches of nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon dried mint, dash of cinnamon (I used this one)
1 teaspoon each of thyme, marjoram and basil
1 teaspoon grated ginger

  • Place carrots, liquid and salt (and potato if you are using it) into a medium sized soup pot and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer it for 12-15 minutes. Let it cool to room temp.
  • Saute the onion, garlic and nuts in the butter until the onions are clear. You can sprinkle in a little salt to help draw the moisture out of the onions. Towards the end of cooking, stir in the seasoning combo of your choice.
  • Puree everything together in a blender until smooth (I deviate from her recipe at this stage. I dump the sauteed onions, garlic and nuts into the pot with the cooked carrots and use an immersion blender to puree. It saves dishes and energy).
  • Whisk in one of the dairy products. As I mentioned in the beginning, I often leave this step out until I'm just about to eat a bowl of soup. I'll stir in a little milk, a spoonful of yogurt or some cottage cheese just before serving (and just after reheating, if I'm using the microwave).
  • Garnish with toasted nuts, some toasted bread crumbs or eat just as it is.

Carrot Soup from September blog.

My original carrot soup recipe:

Carrot Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds carrots peeled and cut into small pieces
i small onion minced
6 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon chopped parsley minced
4 cups vegetable broth
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup capers
salt and pepper to taste

  • Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add carrots, onion, garlic, and cloves and sauté until onion is translucent, about 8 minutes. Add 3 1/2 cups broth. Cover and simmer until carrots are very soft, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.
  • Remove cloves from broth and discard. Puree soup in batches in blender. Return soup to same saucepan. Mix in lemon juice, dijon mustard, capers and sugar. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Thin to desired consistency with more broth. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
  • Whisk cream in medium bowl just until slightly thickened, about 10 seconds.
  • Stir soup over medium heat until heated through. Ladle into bowls. Drizzle cream over. Top with parsley.

My opinion:
The new recipe had a nice consistency (I think it was the addition of almonds) with a slightly nutty (again the almonds) flavor. I added more nutmeg to the recipe than originally noted but it was a thick, rich soup and very easy to make. I liked the choices this soup gave.

The original soup was more tangy but just as rich. I noticed liquid separation when I served the soup back in the fall and had to keep stirring to eliminate that.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Azzedine Alaia: Couturier To The Stars

The pink Alaia dress worn by Kelly Ripa..
Watching Live With Regis and Kelly yesterday, I spotted a pink dress that was high necked and fitted. I didn't see the opening of the show where Kelly walks onstage so I was unaware of what the whole dress looked like. It appeared to flare out a bit and I was intrigued enough to try to find the dress afterwards. Logging onto the the Live Website (where I don't think I've ever ventured) I noticed a feature called 'Kelly's Fashion Finder', this was going to be easy!

It was. In a strip running at the bottom of today's fashion story was a photo of the pink dress. I clicked onto it and the designers name appeared at right; Azzedine Alaia. The name was unknown to me proving that I have a lot of fashion left to learn, apparently he's been dressing the rich and famous for many years and lists our fashionable First Lady as one of his admirers and customers.

After focusing so much on dresses from the Fall Fashion shows last week, I was also pleased to find a designer who truly loves a dress like I do. I like the fit, the ruffles and the length of his clothes.

Michelle O. at the Nato Conference...
Searching for a bit of information about him I summarized the following from a Wikipedia entry.
Azzedine Alaia was born in Tunisia in 1940. His parents were farmers but he had a twin sister and a French friend of his mother who inspired his love of fashion. He began studying sculpture in Tunis where he learned about the human form helpful to him as he progressed toward fashion design. After graduation, Alaïa began working as a dressmaker's assistant an was so talented that he began dressing private clients. He moved to Paris in 1957 to work in fashion starting at Christian Dior as a tailor, but soon moved to work for Guy Laroche for two seasons. He moved up and around Paris over the years gaining experience and dressing well-known clients and produced his first ready-to-wear collection in 1980. The rest as they history.

...and at the American Ballet Gala.

So besides Kelly on TV, Michelle Obama wore Alaia's formal black knit sleeveless dress with a ruffled skirt to a NATO dinner in April of 2009. Also that year, she wore an Alaïa dress to the American Ballet Theatre Opening Night Spring Gala in New York breaking the tradition of American First Ladies wearing styles by American designers to official public events. French First Lady Carla Bruni also wears Alaia as does Gwyneth Paltrow,Heidi Klum,Jennifer Aniston,Jessica Simpson,Katie Holmes,Megan Fox and Victoria Beckham....I mean who's left?

Dresses are in the $1000-$2500. range.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I Try Bolongese Sauce And Homemade Pasta: Is There An Award For Honorary Italians? (Er, That'd Be Me)

I know I'm not Italian but I've eaten in enough Italian restaurants over the years to at least earn an honorary title. I thought I knew most of the dishes, at least the most common ones, and I've made quite a few over the years. Today, I though I'd try Bolognese Sauce which I thought was regular red sauce mixed with chopped sirloin. Surprise! It's way more than just a mere meat sauce.

My other plan today was to make my own pasta. With purcased semolina flour and the barest of recipes, I set out to make manicotti stuffed with a mix of ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, topped with the bolongese sauce.

Making pasta wasn't that hard. I followed the instructions on the package of Hogson's Mills Semolina flour  and not having a pasta machine, I got a great upper body workout rolling out the dough to a very thin consistancy. I chose manicotti mostly because I didn't need to make thin cuts of pasta (though I did so with the extra) and was pleased with the results. I also didn't have a pasta drying rack but my multiple pants hanger, covered with parchment paper, worked just as well.

The bolognese sauce was another matter though it turned out great in the end but what I thought was a simple mix of meat and sauce turned out to be more involved than that. In fact, when the sauce first came into being in Bologna, Italy in the 5th century, tomatoes weren't even in the recipe. What is standard, is the mix of ground meats: pork and veal and the inclusion of milk in the sauce. I used neither and I thought it came out fine. I based my recipe on the one below from the Luna Cafe in Portland, Oregon. I've included their website because it was a good one and you can see the changes I made. Here is my adjusted Bolongnese Sauce.

My Unauthentic (But Nevertheless Delicious) Bolognese Sauce
¼ cup cold-pressed (extra-virgin) olive oil
2 large onions, chopped (4 cups chopped)
2-3 stalks of celery finely chopped
2-3 carrots, chopped (1 cup chopped)
4-6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed (2 tablespoons minced)
2 teaspoons dried crumbled basil
2 teaspoons dried crumbled oregano
1½ pound ground beef
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 cup dry red or white wine
four 14½-ounce cans petite diced tomatoes in juice
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1-2 teaspoons sugar, if necessary
¼ cup minced fresh parsley


  • In a large stovetop casserole, heat the olive oil, and sauté the onions and carrots over medium-low heat until softened but not browned, about 15 minutes.
  • Add the garlic, basil, oregano, and continue cooking without browning for 2-3 minutes.
  • Raise the heat and add the ground meat. Sauté, stirring and crumbling the meat, until the meat is well browned.Drain any excess oil from the skillet.
  • Add the balsamic vinegar and reduce to almost no liquid.
  • Add the wine if using and reduce by half.
  • Add the tomatoes and simmer slowly, partially covered for about 45 minutes, until most, but not all, of the moisture has evaporated.
  • Taste, then season with salt, pepper, and sugar if necessary.
  • Remove from the heat and stir in the parsley.

Makes 4 cups sauce.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Take This Presidental Quiz: 20 Questions That Will Test & Tease Your Historical Knowledge of Our Nation's Leaders

1. George Washington became enraged when his political opponents claimed that he left retirement to assume the presidency to 'please his vanity.' Why?
a. he could have assumed the title 'Emperor'
b. he could have assumed the title 'King'
c. he could have assumed the title 'Supreme Executive of the First Republic'
d. he could have assumed the title 'Prime Minister'

2. The earliest U.S. presidents were born British citizens. Who was the first president born an American citizen?
a. John Quincy Adams
b Andrew Jackson
c. Martin Van Buren
d. John Tyler

3. Most people know that teddy bears were named after Teddy Roosevelt. Which president had a fairly popular sport named after him?
a. George Washington
b. Grover Cleveland
c. Herbert Hoover
d. Harry Truman

4. Who is the only president to hold a patent?
a. James Buchanan
b. Abraham Lincoln
c. Woodrow Wilson
d. Jimmy Carter

Who is the artist who painted 'Washington Crossing the Delaware', shown above?
a. John Singer Sargent
b. Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze 
c. Grandma Moses
d. Picasso

5. Who was the first president to get a divorce?
a. Dwight David Eisenhower
b. John F. Kennedy
c. Ronald Reagan
d. George H.W. Bush

6. Who was the first commander in chief to have a presidential airplane?
a. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
b. Harry Truman
c. Dwight David Eisenhower
d. John F. Kennedy

7. Which president did not get married while in office?
a. John Tyler
b. Millard Fillmore
c. Grover Cleveland
d. Woodrow Wilson

8. How many presidents have been assassinated?
1. Two
2. Three
3. Four
4. Five

9. Most people know that, at 6 foot 4, Abraham Lincoln was the tallest president. Who was the shortest?
a. John Adams
b. James Madison
c. Jimmy Carter
d. George W. Bush

Where can you see this sculpture of Abraham Lincoln at right?
a. New York City
b. Illinois
c. Washington D.C.
4. Richmond Va.

10.Which president is not on Mount Rushmore?
a. George Washington
b. Thomas Jefferson
c. Andrew Jackson
d. Theodore Roosevelt

11. Which of these presidents did not win the Nobel Peace Prize?
a. Theodore Roosevelt
b. Woodrow Wilson
c. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
d. Jimmy Carter

12. An early president invented the decimal system of coinage currently in use, and proposed a bill prohibiting slavery '...from all future new states...' that, if it had passed, would have most likely prevented the Civil War. Who was he?
a. Thomas Jefferson
b. James Madison
c. John Adams
d. James Monroe

13. Which President was known as "Old Hickory?"
a. Ulysses S. Grant
b. Abraham Lincoln
c. Andrew Jackson
d. Martin Van Buren

14. One early president enjoyed a positive, productive administration after serving as governor of Virginia and Ambassador to France. Yet, after leaving office, to quote John Quincy Adams, 'His life for his last years has been one of abject penury and distress, and have brought him to a premature grave..' Who was he?
a. John Adams
b. Martin van Buren
c. Andrew Jackson
d. James Monroe

15. This president distinguished himself by preparing the Bill of Rights amendments to the Constitution and much of the legislation forming various departments of the new government. His name?
a. Thomas Jefferson
b. James Madison
c. James Monroe
d. John Adams

16. This president had an impressive career in foreign relations prior to assuming the Chief Executive' role. He served as Ambassador to the Netherlands, Portugal, Prussia, Geat Britain and Germany; he was the first 'Minister' to Russia. Who was he?
a. William Henry Harrison
b, John Quincy Adams
c, Millard Fillmore
d. Martin van Buren

17. This early president grew up as a poorly-educated orphan, a boy-militiaman in the Revolutionary War, a 'wild teenager', fought countless duels, lost thousands on horse races, and was a slave-owning plantation owner. His name?
a. James Polk
b. Andrew Jackson
c. Franklin Pierce
d. Millard Fillmore

18. This president served the shortest term in American history. Who was he?
a. Franklin Pierce
b. Millard Fillmore
c. Wiliam Henry Harrison
d. James Polk

19. This president almost made Cuba one of the United States of America! Who was he?
a. John Quincy Adams
b. Franklin Pierce
c. James Polk
d. John Adams

11. One president took office burdened by tragedy and grief. Shortly before his election, this president and his wife were traveling by train with their only remaining child (two prior children had died as infants) when their railroad car toppled off of the tracks. The President-Elect and his wife received minor injuries; their son, aged 11, was killed as they watched. Who was he?
a. Millard Fillmore
b. James Buchanan
c. Andrew Johnson
d. Franklin Pierce

1. b
2. c
3. c
4. b
5. c
6. a
7. b
8. c
9. b
10. c
11. c
12. a
13. c
14. d
15. d.
16. b.
17. b.
18. c.
19. c.
20. d.

Copyright, All Rights Reserved.
Some questions from U.S. News and World Report

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Cream of Asparagus Soup and Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits: A Hearty Meal For A Lazy Sunday Afternoon

We had a rare quiet Sunday and of course our thoughts turned to ...eating!! Last week I purchased some thin and really healthy looking spring asparagus, a favorite vegetable of mine, and they were still sitting in the refrigerator begging to be cooked. Asparagus soup came to mind.

This past week we had two days of relative warmth but as the fickleness of late February would have it, we quickly transited back to a cold and windy weekend. Soup sounded like the perfect fare for the waning days of winter.

A word about asparagus: this vegetable has so many health benefits that I wondered why I didn't cook it every day! It reminds me a bit of the tiny but powerful blueberry, jam packed full of all good things. Here's a list of some asparagus pluses.


  • Can detoxify our system
  • has anti-aging functions
  • can protect against cancer
  • reduces pain and inflammation
  • can prevent osteoporosis and osteoarthritis
  • reduces the risk of heart disease
  • lowers cholesterol
  • Is antifungal and antiviral
  • cleanse the body and prevent kidney stones
  • Prevents bladder and urinary tract infections
  • lowers blood pressure naturally
  • stimulates hair production and is one of the best super foods for balding.
  • help prevent birth defects

Often we use pills as food supplements to get some of the benefits I listed above but eating healthy whole foods is so much better. Asparagus contains loads of potassium, folates, Vitamin K and fiber. For optimum health benefits it is suggested that asparagus be eaten raw.

So now that we're all feeling guilty about pill popping our vitamin and mineral supplements, get out your cooking equipment and prepare to make a very easy soup. If you don't have asparagus, you can make this with broccoli or cauliflower. The buttermilk biscuits have really no redeeming qualities but they are so delicious especially when just removed from the oven. Was this simple soup meal easy to make? Yes and yes. The soup took about a half hour, the biscuits about fifteen minutes.

Cream of Asparagus Soup

1 pound fresh asparagus
3‑1/2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light cream or half and half
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

  • Trim and discard ends of asparagus and cut into 1-inch pieces. Combine asparagus and 1 cup broth in medium saucepan; cook 12 to 15 minutes or until tender.
  • Set aside 1 cup asparagus. Purée remaining asparagus pieces with broth in blender or food processor.
  • Melt butter in large saucepan. Stir in flour. Gradually add remaining broth and cook stir until slightly thickened. Stir in cream, salt, pepper, puréed asparagus mixture and top with reserved asparagus pieces.

Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits
2 cups flour
1 TBS baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
6 TBS cold butter
1 cups cold buttermilk


  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  • Whisk all of the dry ingredients together. Place the flour mixture into a food processor and add the butter cut into small pieces. Pulse the flour a few times until the flour looks like coarse crumbs or use 2 knives or a pastry blender. Work with cold butter and stop when your flour resembles coarse crumbs.
  • Form a well in the middle of the flour mixture. Add the cold buttermilk. Add the liquid into the dry ingredients slowly and gently. Combine all the dry with the wet ingredients. Add more buttermilk ½ TBS at a time if needed. The dough should be sticky.
  • Flour a large board or use your counter. Place the dough on the board and spread it out using your fingers. Flatten it until it is about ½ inch thick. Cut your biscuits using a biscuit cutter or a large glass. Repeat the process until you have cut all of your biscuits.
  • Place the biscuits on a baking sheet close to each other. This will let them get taller. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until lightly browned.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Fall Fashion 2011: An Amateur Fashion Wannabe Blogger (That'd Be Me) Spots Some Trends. Well, Maybe.

So as Fashion Week draws to a close I'll wrap up my very novice fashion reporting by calling out a few trends I think I spotted (from the comfort of a seat in my kitchen using a MacBook Pro) during the Mercedes-Benz Fall Fashion 2011 Week held at Lincoln Center in New York City.

Black, black and more black for fall. No surprise there but as I mentioned the other day, I noticed a lot of blues in the shows I looked at. Isaac Mizrahi rounded out the week with some orange and yellow. But the darker shades prevailed as far as street clothing and most evening wear went. Yellow dress from Isaac Mizrahi is at right.

I thought most were longer arriving at knee length or just below. L.A.M.B had some really cute short skirts, unfortunately not for me, but I love the look. Mini from Gwen Stefani's L.A.M.B. is at left.

I still see a trend toward chemise or flapper style dresses (a.k.a. the screen siren),  long or short, and wonder why it wasn't noted by other reviewers (I mean, really!!) . There are lots of free-form clothing being shown by designers like Proenza Schouler but I still love classic shapes. Take a look at Oscar de la Renta, he never disappoints. The dress at right from Alice + Olivia.

A wide variety from cloche, Russian, fedoras and burka-styles were all over the runways. Perhaps our cold winter was instrumental in influencing this look? Insert detail from Oscar de la Renta.

I had to go back and look for handbags which led me to believe the big bag look is over! There were a few larger bags but most were more reasonable in size or not shown at all. Lots of belts though, boots and booties. The belted look at left from Badgley Mischka.

I thought the coats were fantastic. The short cropped fur was in almost every collection as were capes or caplets. Furs came in black, white and vivid colors which makes them so much fun. A colorful combination from Luca Luca at left. Cape below, from Halston Collection.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Fall Fashion 2011: The Best of the Dress; 'Mad Men? Michelle? Who Do We Have To Thank For The Resurgence?

A couple of years ago AMC premiered the 60s drama 'Mad Men' and our fashion sense has never been the same. It became apparent after a few episodes that the dress, so popular back then, would be making a spectacular comeback banishing the Hillary pantsuits to the back of the closet, hopefully forever. I admit I had a love affair with separates, they seemed much more useful and interchangeable than a dress. My dresses were limited to a few black formal type frocks that were uninspired at best, predictable at worst.

Oscar de la Renta
Elie Tahari

Then came actresses January Jones, Christina Hendricks and yes even the frumpy Elizabeth Moss ...and we were once again in love with the dress. Michelle Obama, during the President's campaign and now as First Lady has placed an exclamation point on the style donning sleeveless and sweatered varieties. I became hooked and looked to stores like Banana Republic, Ann Taylor and Zara for some reasonable purchases. For more serious dresses Nordstroms, Lord & Taylor and Macy's ( but only the NYC store) can add some fabulous dress silhouettes to your wardrobe.

Tory Burch

Isaac Mizrahi
So as I went through the runway photos, I had my eye out for dresses that appeal to me. Most of the ones I've detailed in the last two days have been formal. Today I'll highlight daytime and shorter evening wear from some of the greatest designers. Hopefully a less pricey version of some of these will appear in my favorite stores.

To be sure there are lots of separates still on the runway but I think the dress has more appeal. This past Tuesday, I was watching the latest episode of 'The Good Wife". Alicia, the main character played expertly by Julianna Marguiles is usually outfitted in a lawerly suit. To see if she can shed light on a romantic voicemail left her by her boss Will, she decides to approach him.....wearing a dress....finally! The dress, by Michael Kors, was purchased at Saks Fifth Avenue.

Oscar de la Renta
Jason Wu

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Fall Fashion 2011: Feeling a Little Blue? Designers Choose A Cool Accent Color

Badgley Mischka
I thought I'd read somewhere that orange was the color for 2011 so as I was scrolling through this week's runway pics I thought I see a lot of the carroty hue. Instead I noticed a cool and vibrant blue popping up in and amongst the traditional winter black, grey and beige tones.

A couple of years ago, while working for the Journal, we did a story on the Pantone colors of the year. That year (was it 2008?) the colors were blue and brown. As the year went on, and even beyond that, those two colors in combination with each other not only showed up in fashion wear but also in a big way in home decor. This year, Pantone has chosen the color honeysuckle (see link) but I didn't see much of that color in the shows either.

Douglas Hannant

When you read Pantone's press release (and I suggest doing just that since it makes a compelling case for the pinkish color choice) I noticed that last year's color was turquoise. Perhaps the designers are just catching up? I'd find that hard to believe but there it is in black and, er, blue.

So a vibrant blue it is, a happy choice for me since I have a lot already in my wardrobe. I'm a bit disappointed on the lack of orange but maybe it'll appear in more of our summer wear maybe paired with the cheerful honeysuckle....a color scheme reminiscent of the 'late 1960s'.

A couple of 'cool' examples are illustrated here all images are from

Carolina Herrera

Oscar de la Renta

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Fall Fashion 2011: Dresses Ready For Their Closeup; The Return of the Screen Siren

Jason Wu
I haven't paid too much attention to this year's fall fashion shows being held in New York this week and last. Today was kind of a 'sick' day, me being a bit under the weather and my daughter being felled by a serious stomach virus. I decided to distract myself and take a look at what we'll be wearing (or not) come autumn.

Tracy Reese
A couple of years ago, the goddess dress was all the rage and with good reason: most women, should they need to be formally dressed, look great in a goddess dress. Last August, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City had a major exhibition called American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity. Chemise or flapper style dresses took their place in the history of American female dress and I noticed a trend as I was scrolling through the fashion shows: the screen siren is back!

Actresses Rita Hayworth, Hedy Lamarr, Lizabeth Scott, Veronica Lake, Lauren Bacall, Jean Harlow, Gene Tierney, Lana Turner and Greta Garbo evoke sultry and sophisticated images of movies back in the 30s and 40s and fashion designers are showing siren-inspired dresses, long and short. for next fall during New York's Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. Badgley Mischka, Jason Wu, Tracy Reese, Carolina Herrera, Monique Lhuillier have all signed onto the trend and of course the look is spectacular.

Embellishments, fringe, kicky bottoms and shimmery sheers falling easily from the neckline are reminiscent of the era. I easily found a few samples in my search today. All of the photos are from and I consistently refer to that site for up-to-the-minute shows and analysis.

Badgley Mischka

Monique Lhuillier

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day Tutorial: Cooking Up A Plan To Hook A Husband; French Food? Whatever It Takes To Get The Job Done

When we were in our very early twenties, my sister and I had a great idea on how to hook a husband. We weren't desperate to get married but somehow the old chiche "the way to a man's heart is through his stomach' got hold of us and we began cooking with a vengeance. Coq au vin, strawberry tart, quiche and crepes Suzette were our specialities...very doubt inspired by Audrey Hepburn in the movie 'Sabrina'. We tried out our French fare on my boyfriend (now husband of 30+ years) and a succession of my sister's boyfriends (she being more popular than me) culminating with her husband (also of 30+ years). So I suppose you could say we were successful! Seriously, what male college student wouldn't jump at the chance of a home-cooked meal, experimental though they were, prepared by two ambitious sisters on a mission. Of course they didn't know what the mission was but ....details....details......

Audrey Hepburn at a Paris cooking school
in the movie 'Sabrina'.
Once we walked down the aisle, the cooking didn't stop through there were quite a few uninspired food years when we were busy raising our families. But we did marry men who loved to eat and that brings me to my post today. I really couldn't say what my husband's favorite food item is but something he's ordered consistently over the years is New England Clam Chowder. We've enjoyed it in the best (and sometimes worst) of places including the source, having sipped the swarthy soup at Boston's Faneuil Hall Marketplace where preparing it truly comes from the heart. I don't believe I've ever made it from scratch so today, Valentine's Day, I decided to prepare the soup for dinner.

The recipe I'm following is pretty basic, no need to mess with a classic, and I'll serve it tonight with oyster crackers and pumpernickel bread.

Classic New England Clam Chowder

Makes 8 servings
4 slices bacon, diced
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 1/2 cups water
4 cups peeled and cubed potatoes
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
ground black pepper to taste
3 cups half-and-half
3 tablespoons butter
2 (10 ounce) cans minced clams

  • Place diced bacon in large stock pot over medium-high heat.
  • Cook until almost crisp; add onions, and cook 5 minutes.
  • Stir in water and potatoes, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, and cook uncovered for 15 minutes, or until potatoes are fork tender.
  • Pour in half-and-half, and add butter.
  • Drain clams, reserving clam liquid; stir clams and 1/2 of the clam liquid into the soup.
  • Cook for about 5 minutes, or until heated through. Do not allow it to come to a boil.

I should not, in all fairness, implicate my other two sisters in our culinary chicanery. Actually they were too young back then but they eventually married and today are talented and inventive cooks. Food preparation might be in our genes: our great-aunts were cooks and domestics when they arrived on these shores from Ireland many years ago. My mother was great in the kitchen as well though truthfully most of our soups came from a can. I'd be remiss not to mention that there is a brother in our family and as far as I know he's not much of a cook. He did however marry well: my sister-in-law makes a mean sweet-potato casserole.

But it all ended well and our many years together as couples gives legitimacy to our original plan. I love it when a plan comes together.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Will the Real Saint Valentine Please Stand Up? A Holiday Where All You Need is Love

There used to be a game show show on TV called What's My Line. Running on CBS from 1950 to 1967, it has the distinction of being the longest running game show in the history of U.S. prime time TV. The show had three persons of some notoriety trying to stump a panel of celebrities. The panel would ask pointed questions in their attempt to root out the true person. At the conclusion the host would say "Will the real __________ please stand up."

Perhaps if he were alive, St. Valentine might have been a worthy guest on the game show for his real identity is a bit of a mystery. It appears that there are at least three different martyrs named Valentine all listed with a feast day of February 14th. Two appear to have lived and died in the second half of the third century, buried in Rome. The third Saint Valentine seems to have died in Africa. Confusing? Yes! According to the Catholic Encyclopedia the three contenders were a priest in Rome, a bishop in Terni and that third mysterious St. Valentine who met his end in Africa.

St. Valentine, the priest 
He lived around 270 AD in Rome and fell into disfavor of the Roman emperor Claudius II. Catholics and Protestants agree that he was beaten with clubs and eventually beheaded because he refused to renounce his faith. 

St. Valentine, the bishop
He was a bishop who held secret marriage ceremonies. These marriages were made to soldiers in opposition to Claudius II who believed that the best soldiers were unmarried soldiers. Claudius subsequently gave the order of execution for Valentine. Folklore says that just before he died, Valentine asked for a pen and paper from his jailer, and signed a farewell message to a friend signed "From Your Valentine,” a phrase that has lasted to this day.

St. Valentine, from Africa
Other than the fact that he died in Africa, not much else is known.

So February 14th became a day for all who love and Valentine became its Patron Saint. It began to be observed each year by young Romans who sent handwritten notes of affection, known as Valentines, to the women they admired. With the coming of Christianity, the day came to be known as St. Valentine's Day.

And then there's Cupid. Where does he fit in? In Roman mythology Cupid is the son of Venus, goddess of love. Cupid is often said to be a boy who causes humans to fall in love by wounding them with his arrows. Cupid is often used to illustrate a Valentine card.

There was also a belief in Europe during the Middle Ages that birds chose their partners in the middle of February. The day was dedicated to love and people wrote love letters, sending small gifts to the ones they loved. According to legend, Charles, duke of Orleans, sent the first real Valentine card to his wife in 1415, while imprisoned in the Tower of London. The first American Valentine's Day greeting cards were created by Esther A. Howland (right) a native of Worcester. Mass. Howland, known as the Mother of the Valentine, made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures. When Howland began Valentine's cards in a large scale the tradition really caught on in the United States.

The Catholic Church no longer officially honors St. Valentine.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Free Stuff, Part Deux: Cream Cheese. Breakfast Sausage From Pathmark and a Bagel or Two From Panera!

A couple of months ago I wrote about deals advertised on store receipts. These are traditionally supermarket receipts but have eked over into drug and department stores, food establishments and sometimes just on your computer. About three weeks ago I signed up for Pathmark Online Advantages (mentioned at the bottom of my weekly food receipt) through the Pathmark Supermarket website. Almost immediately I received an email with a coupon for a free cream cheese. Last week another came, this time for Brown & Serve Breakfast Sausage. From their website:
Introducing electronic coupons conveniently linked to your Pathmark Advantage Club Card so there's no more paper coupons to clip, print or carry.
The catch is the expiration day is quick, maybe three days to redeem, But hey, it's free, it shouldn't be that easy!

Similarly, a couple of weeks ago, the cashier at our local Panera Bread store where I occasionally purchase a bagel and soda, alerted me to their new Panera card. This one comes with a plastic key chain token like ones from drug store and supermarket chains. Just for signing up I was offered a pastry. Maybe a week later I earned my choice of an espresso or smoothie followed as the weeks progressed by a free bagel, free soda, a dollar off my order, another espresso an now I have $1.00 off on any of their breads waiting for me to redeem....a great deal!

What I like about Panera (in addition to their rewards cards) is the staff and atmosphere. We have two Paneras on Staten Island and both have workers who are friendly and efficient. The bakery-cafes are generally immaculate with classical, soothing background music. I notice a lot of business people holding meetings, making calls or using the Internet available in the store and I like the fact that the Panera chain is tolerant of this.

I'm sure most of us who use the Internet to shop get discount emails all of the time. They can get annoying but many times there's a great deal lurking behind the hyped-up come ons. Snapfish sent me one yesterday that would give me a $25.00 restaurant card if I spend $5.00 on photos. Not clear which restaurants are included so I'm mulling that offer over.

If I come across any others, I'll do a follow-up report.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

I'm Stuck On You: A Valentine's Day Project You Can Make By Hand; Pincushions To Love and Cherish

Before I left my job, I was lucky enough to score a copy of Martha Stewart's Encyclopedia of Sewing and Fabric Crafts. It's a 400 page beautifully photographed and illustrated book that comes with a CD with printable full sized patterns, templates and easy instructions. Many of the projects interested me but one in particular seemed perfect to do while watching TV and I'm just getting around to it.

Making a pincushion involves a small bit of fabric, needle, thread, embroidery thread and scraps of  ribbon, felt, contrasting fabric or buttons. There is lots of room for creativity here, there is no wrong way to construct your pincushion.

The other day I mentioned some sites that I like. One of them was Schmaltzy Craftsy,  created by a woman who seems to have dedicated her life to making beautiful pincushions. OK, that's a bit dramatic but she certainly corners the market on the small fluff-filled pin depositories.

Here's my step-by-step for making a small pincushion, a perfect, thoughtful Valentine for a friend or family member. I mean seriously, who doesn't love a pincushion?

If you didn't take a minute to check out that it is again.


  • Cut a rectangle out of fabric on the bias 3 inches x 6 inches.
  • Sew ends together on to form a ring.
  • With double thread, use a running stitch at ends to gather into a tight circle.
  • Stuff before closing one end, forming a ball.
  • Using six-ply embroidery thread to make 5 tucks, almost like the lines of a tomato, running the thread through the center of he ball. Secure with a tight knot.
  • Cut a small circle out of felt or use a button to cover raw end on bottom. Sew in place
  • Cut a larger circle of felt, make a rosette or use a large button or pom pom to cover top raw edge. Glue or sew in place