Monday, June 25, 2007

Her Line's a Chorus Line (Sometimes)

Jasmine Guy was the Mystery Guest on What's My Line Live on Stage on June 24. Until she was interviewed by J. Keith Van Straaten (who came dangerously close to being taken out by that kick in the photo above), I had no idea she was a dancer before being cast in "A Different World." I didn't watch "Fame" on television, so I missed her there.

She was a most delightful guest on the show. She did stump the panel, which had a bad night over all--they only got one guest's occupation. But it was a very funny show.

My husband, Len Wein, will be on the panel next Sunday, July 1.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Happy Birthday, Gloria Benson, Wherever You Are

Today is June 22 and it is Gloria Benson's birthday. She was my best friend--and competitor--when we were little kids, especially from kindergarten until fifth grade, after which they closed the smaller elementary school in town and merged us with the larger, newer one. (This is still kind of funny, since the entire town was only about 4,000 people.) She lived across the street and across a field from my house--about a block away--until my parents moved to another house across town. Again, no big deal for a place with 5 stop lights. Nothing was more than about 2 miles away in town. She moved away when we were early teens, and I lost track of her during college.

I've got what a friend once called "great birthday database." I rarely forget when a friend's birthday or anniversary is once I learn it, and I've discovered that people are thrilled to be remembered, even if they don't actually want to remember how old they are getting to be.

I have no idea of what happened to Gloria Benson after college, but, wherever she is, I wish her a very happy birthday.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Evan Almighty Promo?

Yesterday I waxed nostalgic about reading on the porch when it rained in the summer.

Today the news is all about the horrendous rain which fell less than 30 miles from my home town: 5-6" within a 4 square mile area within a very short time. Six people are missing, one body has been found, houses and cars were swept away, and the road is out in places because of an 8' wall of water rushing through.

When I hear the name "Cat Hollow," which my father told me was named for bob cats found in the area, I've got a pretty good idea of what the little streams in that part of the Catskills look like. That's not what the photographs show: swollen rivers and mud, mud, mud.

I don't remember flooding like this when I was a kid growing up, but this year and last year have been devastating to the county in which I was raised.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Long, long ago in a Galaxy far, far away, I lived in a small town in upstate New York. Thank goodness it was in the past, because if there was a bright center to the Universe, my home town was its farthest outpost.

Setting aside George Lucas, or whoever wrote that for him, I used to say my home town was founded in 1785 and lost in 1786, much like Brigadoon. I do have great fondness for several things about it, even if I haven't been back for a visit in 13 years.

First and foremost is the Ogden Free Library, a wonderful slate building which was only a very large block (it included the elementary school and all playgrounds and sports fields) from my house. It was my refuge from many things and I would use any excuse to spend time there. I do not remember the name of the very patient librarian who managed to order books from other places to satisfy my curiosity and who let me read Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire when I was in grade school (there were age limits on sections of the library.) It was there I first met authors I would actually come to know and photograph, like L. Sprague de Camp and Andre Norton. It was there I managed to find the basis for the "Frodo Lives" button I saw Micky Dolenz wearing in a 16 Magazine photograph, thus changing my life forever. The Lord of the Rings is still my favorite book to re-read, and the copy that my college boyfriend gave me for Christmas is in beautiful shape for all of the times it has been read (not so much the box for the set, which has suffered from so much packing and unpacking over the years when I moved a lot.)

That brings me to the second thing I've begun to realize I miss: sitting on the porch reading during summer rain. We don't get much in the way of rain in the summer here in Los Angeles. But in New York, it was as likely to rain as to not rain in the summer and spending such a day with special books like The Lord of the Rings was definitely a plus. Our house had a front porch, a back porch and an upstairs porch. The last was my favorite hang-out, away from the traffic of the back-door, which was the one we actually always used for entering and leaving the house.

I know I'm feeling depressed when I give any long-term thought to moving back to my home town, because I wouldn't do well being that isolated from my friends and the life we live out here. But I do think about all of those large Victorian homes for sale for a fraction of what our tiny slab house is worth out here or of the farms with many acres we could afford to buy and have a place for Ace and any other horse or dog we might want to take in. Then I think about winter, snow, closed roads and the flood pictures I've seen on the Internet and good sense returns.

Maybe I can build a porch on the side of my house or a gazebo in the back by the pool to curl up in when it rains. Or maybe I should stick to curling up on the couch in front of a fire in the winter with a good book.

P.S. All eclairs should taste like the ones from the home-town bakery of my childhood. They don't.

Monday, June 18, 2007

What's His Line? A Great Steve Jobs Impression

We lost most of Father's Day waiting for the carpenter who never showed up, thus denying Len his Father's Day brunch. Finally, we realized we needed to head over to Hollywood to do a day-late birthday get together with J. Keith Van Straaten (who was filming a still-secret project on his birthday), make a drop off to my friend Karen, and then head over to the Acme Theatre for What's My Line Live on Stage.

This week's panel is shown sitting in the photograph above: Teresa Ganzel (the "Tea-Time" hostess for Johnny Carson), Jimmy Pardo, Annie Wood, and Andy Zax. Standing is this week's Mystery Guest, Fred Armisen from Saturday Night Live, and WML host J. Keith Van Straaten. The other guests were the announcer for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the Los Angeles Kings, J. Keith's father who is a forest ranger in Colorado (it was Father's Day, after all), and a dance instructor who did a demonstration of "The Hustle." When guessing the "Dance Doctor's" line of work, Andy asked "If you do this on Saturday night, do you get feverish?" I just keep asking "do people still dance 'The Hustle'?")

For information about next Sunday's show, click here. My husband Len Wein will be a panelist on July 1 along with the hysterically funny Ms. Ganzel, so don't miss it.

Out of the Kitchen and into the Back Yard

My husband's birthday was last week, so I tried to come up with something different to celebrate. I had sent Len and my son off to a cooking lesson--actually, a knife-skills lesson--earlier this year and they both had a great time. Since Len enjoys cooking but isn't the most adventurous eater and would probably not sign up for a class on his own, it seemed like a good idea to hire someone to come to the house and lead a cooking lesson. To keep things manageable, I was only able to invite eight other people, so I hope our left-out friends aren't too offended.

I asked Tory Davis if she'd be willing to do the cooking lesson at my house. We met Tory at a party a few months back and I've been enjoying her food blog since then (it's linked in the list on the right side of the page.) Tory writes for Bon Appetite, teaches cooking classes, and works as a kitchen coach. She's wearing the red and pink apron in the pictures.

The theme we went with was "You Can Grill That?" since all men like to cook outdoors. She put together a great menu, which included grilling pizza, salad, fish tostadas, and dessert. In the third photo, you can see the pizzas being grilled on one side. After they were turned over, the chopped topping, consisting of tomatoes, basil, feta cheese, kalamata olives, oil, and a few other things, is laid over the top and the grill is closed just long enough to melt the cheese. It doesn't take very long to make pizza this way.

Two kinds of pizza dough were provided, courtesy of my friend Karen who is a recovering attorney planning to open a bakery. She brought the freshly rising dough on flat sheets from her house in South Cathay and it smelled wonderful. After we made the pizzas with the topping Tory directed us in preparing, Karen experimented with some other toppings, including oil with herbs and different kinds of cheeses from the appetizer platter Tory set out. That's Karen at the grill in the cap with Tory and Kathy the doctor's wife (in red) and our friend Darla in the background in the middle photograph.

I think all ten of us were amazed that the dough didn't just drip onto the burners, but it didn't. If I ever have an opportunity to do some Indian cooking (Len has a bad reaction to the spices in it, so it's not likely), this is clearly the way to make naan.

The party was a huge success. The guest list consisted of the friends who come over to watch the Amazing Race and other friends who are foodies and love to cook. I invited everyone to bring their own aprons, knives and cutting boards, and most of the guests did. Tory provided for those who didn't.

I didn't tell Len what was going on before hand, only that I had something planned for Saturday night. I sent him to the back of the house until everyone arrived, then I brought him out, everyone yelled happy birthday and we explained what was going on: that everyone would participate in making dinner. He said "cool," and was particularly thrilled when I presented him with a toque and bistro apron to wear. He loves hats and costumes. He's working on chopping skills with our friends Michael the lawyer and Michael the doctor/movie producer in the picture where Tory is in the background in the first photograph.

We had a very pleasant evening to do this outside and each course proceeded at a leisurely pace. Except that I had gotten up early to make sure that all of the outdoor furniture was cleaned up, the lawn was clear of dog debris, and we had all of the paper and plastic ware we needed to eat on, I didn't have to do any of the prep. Tory did the shopping and brought just about everything necessary to pull this off. She even cleaned up afterwards and didn't complain about the half-finished state of the kitchen. (The unfinished shelves provided handy temporary storage for items that needed to be close-by but not yet needed. Karen was thrilled to have a place for the dough to safely sit while rising.)

I hated to limit the number of friends I could invite, but the size of the group worked well together, and I didn't get in each others ways. The feedback from everyone has been just great. Everyone liked the concept and the execution. I'd be more than willing to do another evening like this at the house if everyone who wanted to do it paid for themselves--that is, once my kitchen is finished. It's like going to a cooking lesson at Sur La Table or Williams Sonoma without the parking hassles.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

What's New on What's My Line?

Over the past three years, a group of people we know have put on a stage version of the old television series "What's My Line?" at the Acme Theatre in Hollywood. The latest run is scheduled for five weeks and started on Sunday night, up against the last episode of both "The Sopranos" and "The Tudors," as well as the second game of the NBA finals (I'm rooting for the Cavs, in case anyone cares.)

My husband was a guest during the earliest run of shows. No one guessed him, but lots of people in the audience knew who he was. Afterwards, one of the audience members came up to tell him what a big fan he was and invited him (and me) out for drinks. That was Drew Carey (again, go Cleveland!) Len was then invited to be on the panel. And again, and again. He usually gets one slot a month when the show is in production and he's very good at it.

After we'd been in attendance for a while, the host and producer realized that I was taking extremely good photographs of the show and the post show groups (well, duh.) They finally asked me to be an official photographer, instead of just taking photos for fun. I wish it paid, but it doesn't. Fortunately pixels are cheaper per frame than film is to process, that is, once you pay for the camera, computer, software, and so forth. This year I've made a huge investment in a MacBookPro and Adobe software and now I've got to upgrade to CS3. I'm getting quite good at Lightroom.

Anyway, even though Len was out of town being a guest at the Superman festival in Metropolis, Illinois, I had to go to the show on Sunday night. This involved avoiding the lingering traffic from the Gay Pride festivities and skirting the traffic jam at the exit off the 101 for the Hollywood Bowl. It was easier than trying to get to the theatre on a Wednesday night, which is when the show used to run.

As always, the host was J. Keith Van Straaten. This week's panel was Beth Littleford (formerly of "The Daily Show"), Eric Mullegan of "Bones," Elaine Hendrix (the mean mom-to-be in the Lindsay Lohan version of "Parent Trap"), and Gary Anthony Williams of "Boston Legal" and "Boondocks." The mystery guest was Sharon Lawrence of "NYPD Blue" and Broadway fame. You can see them all in the photograph at the top of this entry.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Lights! Camera! Fire Alarm!

Dick Van Dyke stepped out of a golf cart in front of me this morning when I strolled back from the Freudian Sip to my office.

Pierce College is often used for filming television episodes, motion pictures, and commercials. This time it is "Murder 101: If Wishes Were Horses," starring the afore mentioned Mr. Van Dyke and Barry Van Dyke. According to IMDB, it will air in August.

A couple of years ago, hackles were raised when Playboy filmed something here. Girls wearing bikinis played baseball. The reaction of the then president to the uproar was to call it "easy money." That hit the wire services and it was all over the country in hours. Obviously, a slow news day.

One evening, the Arabian Prince stopped short in his tracks as a missile ran up and down a wire track supported by a crane. That was something not seen in the natural world for 45 million years. It was for the season ender of "24" a few years back. Pierce also served as Camp David for the same show.

"The Pretender" did a lot of location work here, says my friend Lorien who was a second AD on the show. "Toys," the debacle with Robin Williams, was shot here as well. I've seen the wannabee Foster Farms chickens ads that were shot along El Rancho Road. A pilot for a show about horses was partially filmed here at a riding class I was taking. With 400+ acres and buildings which range from mid-century to brand new, it's a fine place to shoot in L.A.

Of course, the call I took from their production head this morning wasn't a happy one. We're busy trying to get our fire alarms tested during the few days between sessions and they were making noise where the crew was filming. Could we put it off or move it? No. We can't. It's not like it was going on continuously. I didn't hear a one as I walked across campus or talked to the head of the English Department. They definitely could shoot around it.

I wonder how long they'll be here. With a TV movie, it shouldn't be too many days.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

This Old House, Part 8

This photograph of the kitchen gives a better idea of how much stuff is crammed in everywhere. There's a lot of wasted space that collects dust and cobwebs that putting in a few doors would help.

In an ideal scheme of things, we'd move the wall that's on the left about 10 feet out into my garden. The carpenter has suggested moving our refrigerator (that chrome thing on the left) to the place where the cabinet is on the back wall, next to the built-in oven. The entire wall of cabinets would have to be reconfigured, but that's o.k. There is a very narrow area between the sink and the refrigerator, so moving the refrigerator would be really nice.

Currently, a lot of interior space in the back upper cabinets is lost to a lint vent from my dryer and I just found a lint vent that goes out to the roof tucked up in a hall closet that used to hold our heater. (When we switched to central air, that all went up on the roof.)

You can see the microwave sitting on the dryer and the water dispenser. I'd like to move the microwave to a space above the wall oven and get rid of the water dispenser. Now that we've got a filtered water dispenser in the refrigerator, that's an expense in space we no longer need.

Oh, yes. We've already gotten rid of the terrible track lighting you see here. The new fan and light unit on the counter has been installed over the dining room table on the other side of the wall on the right.

This Old House, Part 7

Here's a better look at the useless corner of the kitchen. Underneath all of that clutter is a utility sink, a washer, a dryer, and a microwave oven. That bit of blank wall backs a closet which is accessed from the hallway to the bedrooms, across from the putative dining room which is my home office. If it was deep enough, we could consider putting the washer and dryer behind doors opening on that hallway. I'm not sure Len would go for that. It makes a great deal of sense, though.

On the upper left, you can see the containers we use for storing little used items. Better we should go through them and just get rid of stuff.

This Old House, Part 6

Here's a look at what's being done to the kitchen. This is the partially demolished and partially rebuilt cabinet which will hold the sink. You can see where the upper cabinets used to be. They will be replaced with higher cabinets (they go to the top of the white wall, so I should be able to get one more shelf in each unit--three on the sides and two in the middle. There is now a window to the living room in the center of the wall. I'm still unsure of what the final drawers in the bottom of the cabinet will look like. I was confused when I spoke to the carpenter today. What I do think it means is that I will have less space and I'm not happy abut that.

The whole thing is almost 100 inches long. You'd think that would be plenty of space. Hah!

If you look at the left side, you'll see the clutter going to the utility sink. That's where we may put a stacking washer and dryer. Since the clutter's been put outside, it is so much nicer in that corner. Frankly, taking down all of the storage boxes makes everything feel a lot airier and bigger.

This Old House, Part 5 (I Think)

I had intended to show some pictures of the work in progress, but Blogger doesn't want to let me post pictures right now. I'll try again later.

We now have one upper cabinet and drawers at the bottom of the two base cabinets either side of the sink cabinet. I moved my pots and pans last night to get a sense of where the other drawers should go. I need to talk to Bill today about these things, but it is going to be so much easier to get to the heavy equipment than when I had to sit down on the floor and dig to the back of the cabinet under the old counter-top range. I also won't have to scrub the rust off my cast iron skillets which were damaged when the cleaning lady used too much cleaning fluid and it dropped onto the things below.

I'm trying to figure out what else will be moving where to make up for the fact that I no longer have room for the cd cabinet which held our liquid flavorings. I need to put rarely used items in less accessible places and oft-needed items close by.

Then I need to convince my husband that we only need a maximum of two of most kitchen tools and only one will do in many cases. If you can't find something, ask, don't buy another one. I think we have six or so sets of plastic dry measuring cups. Do you have any idea how much room that takes up? I'm going to do a big cull on Tupperware that's gotten yucky. That also takes up much too much space. I put many of our coffee mugs away last year and an amazing number have grown to replace them. It's hard to avoid the accumulation of coffee cups as keep-sakes and gifts. My current favorite happens to be one of the "Trail of the Painted Ponies" over-sized mugs, which I confess I bought for myself.

My own sin in all of this is that I've got a thing for dishes. Our everyday dishes are plain white Correlle, which I've owned for more than 30 years. Contrary to advertising, it isn't unbreakable. When it does break, it shatters terribly, just like glass. But it does put up with a tremendous amount of abuse. Len really likes the divided grill plates to keep the different parts of his meal from mixing together. I could easily give them up.

We have a pretty set of dishes which have a sun, moon, and stars motif. This grew from Len's collection of moons with faces or figures on them. This is an "informal" set of dishes, but we have 4-piece place settings for 16 in it, plus some serving pieces. It gets used most often during the Christmas holidays, but I'd like to start using the it for everyday, getting rid of the Correlle.

I have a huge set of Noritake china in the Adagio pattern. I have place settings for 24 people (in case, god forbid, I ever have that many people at the Thanksgiving table again), and cups, saucers, and dessert plates for 36. Early E-bay was very good to me, since the pattern was discontinued before Len and I got married. I scored a great find at a flea market where I paid $225 for 11 place settings (adding to my original 8) plus some serving pieces about 10 or 12 years ago. At the time, the same china would have cost me almost $1200 from Replacements, Ltd. The only pieces I'm missing that I really want are the tea and coffee pots, but they are so very expensive that I can't justify the purchase. It would be nice to have the salt and pepper shakers and the candle sticks, but I have a lot of cobalt glass items which look just smashing with the dishes so they aren't a necessity. I've never liked the matching etched glassware, so that's not an obsession. The Noritake is not kept in the kitchen, since I use it so rarely, so I don't have to find a place for it in the new configuration.

I have been collecting pieces of a Stangl pattern called "Country Garden." Stangl was made in New Jersey until mid-century and my mother used it for her every-day dishes. She had two patterns: Thistle and Fruit. My sister took up the Thistle and I had no interest in the stuff until I ran across "Country Garden" which uses different flowers for different pieces. It's pottery, with carved designs which were then hand painted, so every one is slightly different. It is much easier to find on the East coast than out here, but I've had a lot of luck and E-bay has made things easier (though shipping costs have soared from the early days.) I particularly like the snack or luncheon plates which have a spot to hold a cup (or soft-drink can.) It's a very cheerful pattern and I like to use it when I eat outdoors in my garden. When I had a garden. I'll have one again soon. Really.

I also have a collection of milk glass in a pattern called Orange Blossom. That started when I discovered them in a snack set that had a triangular plate. Snack sets were very popular in the fifties, as near as I can tell, and I just love them. I'd probably have a room filled with them if I could get away with it, but I can't. I'm certain the cups were originally intended to hold punch, but I use them for tea parties and dessert, where it is quite convenient to be able to hold your food and balance your cup in one hand and eat with the other. If it weren't for the stack of dishes that would result, I'd use them for most of our big parties because they'd be ideal for the finger-food I usually serve.

After Christmas, I picked up some pieces of a Lenox pattern with holly on it. (I am the queen of after-season, discontinued, and scratch and dent shopping.) I think I was first attracted by the cups and saucers which can also hold cookies or cake--kind of like a smaller version of my snack sets. We always do Christmas brunch at home with our friends Karen and Michael, and these dishes will be perfect for that.

Finally, I have some serving pieces of Aynsley china called "Cottage Garden." This is bone china, far more delicate than the Stangl. It has flowers and butterflies on it. It's very pretty and I couldn't resist it. I'd like to find a snack set in the pattern, but the closest I've come is an Asian knock-off which is similar. I've got four plates and cups in that. I have a fantasy of locating the pieces I need for a breakfast in bed set of this pattern just for me. Unfortunately, it's really hard to come by, even on E-bay. I did get a beautiful cake plate and a cheese & cracker server last winter when everyone must have been out celebrating rather than bidding.

So storing the china is a big issue. I'm thinking of getting rid of some of my less used things, like the Duncan "Caribbean" glassware I tried collecting for a while. The problem is, we live in southern California and glass breaks when the earth shakes. I just can't bring myself to use pieces that are worth as much as this glassware sells for. It stays wrapped up and out of sight. I've got two tiny liquor stems in Blue Caribbean. According to one of the collector books, they're worth about $250 each. I may just take the stuff to an E-bay seller and put the money to some other use.

Less stuff. That's the answer.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Dinner Party as a Status Symbol?

I love to cook. I really do. I started collecting recipes when I was in high school--I still have the note books. I used to take great pleasure in having friends over to my house for a good meal and conversation which lasted for hours. This goes back to college, where I'd go off campus to borrow my aunt's place to cook. I impressed the hell out of my first boyfriend when I researched and gathered the recipes to do a complete Greek meal, starting with the lemon-egg soup and ending with home made baklava (a sure-fire winner at parties I held for years.) My roommates at the New York apartment I where lived after Hofstra and before Columbia decided that they would clean up after me so I would cook most meals. That was an excellent arrangement, since neither one of them could cook.

Some of my more memorable parties include the chocolate party I gave for painter Michael Whelan when he was in the D.C. area for a gallery opening, the one I gave photographer Corson Hirschfeld the night after he had an exhibit of his hand-colored "Places of Power" open at the National Museum of Natural History which was mostly mezze, the dim sum brunch I did for friends on a challenge, and the night out here in L.A. when screen-writers Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, and Paul Guay wanted to have dinner with Harlan Ellison and I cooked Italian (Marcella Hazen is my kitchen goddess.) That dinner for ten is the closest thing I've had to replicate what I used to do all the time in D.C., except for cooking Thanksgiving dinner, one of my least favorite things in the world.

I did try to do a big Christmas dinner one year. It was our first anniversary (yes, Len and I were married on Christmas) and we had to get Michael to the airport for a trip back east to his father's late that evening. I did invite friends and, although the food was very good, it was a rushed evening and I've vowed never to do it again.

Len's idea of entertaining is to throw hot dogs on the grill and watch TV. That's not entirely fair. He's in love with Rachael Ray, so dinner (at least in winter) will often be something from 30 Minute Meals, which always take at least 90 minutes to make. It's an improvement, but his reason for having friends over is to watch television. Therefore, dinner never takes place on the dining room table, even when friends are present. Except for Thanksgiving.

I hate Thanksgiving because it involves the least imaginative cooking and no one wants to mess with the traditional turkey, stuffing, two kinds of potatoes and all other manner of starchy foods like green bean casserole. Thanksgiving's only redeeming points are baking pies and the fact that people sit around a table and talk to each other for hours. And that the television is turned off once guests arrive. In all the years Len and I have been together, I've never had fewer than 12 people at the Thanksgiving dinner table and I have had as many as 23.

So, as I said above, I used to take great pleasure in having people over for dinner or to come to my place when I make a party. The point is, I enjoy cooking for my friends who appreciate what I've done. I don't waste my time cooking for people I don't like. Cooking has always been one of my hobbies. I have deflected any suggestions that I turn to catering as a profession because I've already turned one hobby (photography) into a business. I am considering opening a bed and breakfast artists' retreat someday, though.

Today's New York Times had a terrifying article entitled "Dinner at the Foodies': Purslane and Anxiety" by Katherine Wheelock. First off: what the hell is purslane and why do I need it? (It's an herb from India, said to be Gandhi's favorite, and is used in salads raw or as a cooked vegetable. It looks a little like one of the succulents I've got potted in the garden.) The gist of the article is that dinner parties are becoming a status symbol like a good car or a great lawn, which aren't things to be had in Manhattan. Some people in New York are going nuts giving dinner parties, jumping on the latest trends and traveling hours to get just the right ingredients, or trying to avoid looking like they are responding to a trend instead of being on the cutting edge of new trends. One woman, in the midst of a divorce, talked about throwing a first birthday party for her child and ordering pizza and then having her husband go out and buy $1000 worth of food to serve. There is apparently a one-upsmanship competition going on among foodies in New York. I knew there was a good reason I didn't want to live there any more.

Very few people I know are particularly competent or interested in the kitchen. What does the well-educated woman make for dinner? Reservations. I'm good at that, but I was raised in the time when girls took home ec, not shop. I was raised in a kitchen where one grandmother made pasta by hand (when I think of her I smell flour and eggs) and the other could make a translucent strudel pastry stretched across the dining room table (I have her mother's Hoosier kitchen cabinet with an enamel top in my kitchen for a prep area.) Dining out, except for Sunday breakfast after church, was a rare occasion, reserved for The Little Venice restaurant in Binghamton (some 60 miles away) although the women in my family were excellent Italian cooks. The nearest pizza place was Molinari's in Oneonta (30 miles away), so we made pizza at home. I learned by watching and reading. I firmly believe that anyone who likes food can learn to cook if they are curious, know how to read, have a decent set of taste buds, and a sense of adventure.

I probably have four or five women friends out here who are as good or better than I am in the kitchen: Laurie, Suzenna, Karen, Gillian, and Suzanne. I've recently made friends with someone who writes about food for a living, Tory (connect to her blog on the right.) Karen's taking up baking as her third career (she was a second-career trademark attorney) and she's turning out fabulous breads. Laurie and Suzenna are phenomenal cooks and make a party's food, no matter how complicated, look totally effortless. Either one of them could be a professional caterer. Laurie works as an editor for the same company that produces Gourmet and Bon Apettite. Suzenna has a cookbook and food magazine collection which puts my considerable library to shame. (I've often said that my goal is to have as many cookbooks as Phyllis Richman had in her office at the Washington Post.) We've met many interesting people at Suzenna's house on those Sunday evenings when she does her dinner parties. While I do find Laurie and Suzenna's skills admirable, I know that I would have nothing to be embarrassed about when they come to my house, if left to my own devices.

O.K., so I do like to show off in the kitchen but remember: I only cook for people I like. I'm hoping that the remodel will make working in the kitchen easier so I spend more time there. I'd like to have people over for dinner and conversation, without the television on. If I intimidate some of the people in our circle of acquaintances, that's not really the intention (unless its a new way of counting coup, in which case I'll make notches in my new counter.)

If you don't think you can compete with me in the kitchen, you can reciprocate for dinner by taking me out to a good restaurant. I'd be happy to suggest one.

Monday, June 4, 2007

This Old House, Part 5

Our carpenter finally returned to work on Saturday. His idea of "first thing in the morning" is a lot later than mine. Ditto on Sunday, when I drove to Malibu for a swap meet of horse tack and such, and got back two hours later (at almost noon) after which he showed up. He's a very nice man, but clearly, time challenged.

I now have my window between the kitchen and the living room. I took advantage of it last night to work on part of our meal while everyone else was watching television--and I could watch while I worked. Hooray. Everyone who came by last night loves the way it looks. I think that's stressing Len even more. I wanted the window to be a few inches bigger by making the bottom lower. Len didn't want the top of the faucet to be visible from the other side. I could have gotten at least another inch or two, because the frame closes the space, but I'll live.

Problems right now include the fact that there is no water pressure for the cold water and the spray nozzle must have an air bubble or something because it isn't working with the cold water although it will with the hot.

The carpenter has suggested we could gain a lot more space by purchasing a stacking washer and dryer and tucking them into the spot where we now have a utility sink, which I've never found particularly useful. Our current units are almost 15 years old (when Len and I were first married, we took the laundry out to be done every week and then he reluctantly moved on to the pay laundry when we were up to about $60/week for the wash), so replacing them wouldn't be out of line. I went to look at stacking units and it will set us back something along the same order as our refrigerator did. We can probably afford it.

If we do that, the next thing will be moving the refrigerator and redoing the wall that's on the north end of the kitchen with cabinets and possibly counter space. It would be nice to have enough storage and work-space in that room. The new lighting has been enough to make me quite cheerful even if the rest of the place isn't done yet.