Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Book Report--The Maltese Falcon

"Samuel Spade's jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of his mouth. His yellow-gray eyes were horizontal. The v motif was picked up again by thickish brows rising outward from twin creases above a hooked nose, and his pale brown hair grew down--from high flat temples--in a point on his forehead. He looked rather pleasantly like a blond satan."

What can I say other than this is the BEST detective novel ever written? The Maltese Falcon is book number 60 for me for 2008. Somehow in all these years, I've skipped over reading this little masterpiece and only seen bits and pieces of the movie. The Maltese Falcon easily moves to my top ten list of all-time favorite books.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Double Your Pleasure! Two Book Reviews!

#58 for the year is The Devil In The White City, by Erik Larson. What a way to wrap up my 2008 book list! The Devil In The White City is a must read. It's the nonfiction account of simultaneous historical events: 1) The 1893 Chicago World's Fair and 2) a charming, but deadly serial killer who used the fair to lure victims into his macabre web. Both stories are equally fascinating and equally spellbinding. The Chicago World's Fair was a monumental effort of architecture and invention and human will triumphing over circumstance. The story of H.H. Holmes is virtually unknown, and horribly dark, but mesmerizing nonetheless. The book reads like a well-written suspense thriller. Buffalo Bill, Calamity Jane, Theodore Dreiser, Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Edison, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, all make cameo appearances.

#59 for the year is a classic. The Years was Virginia Woolf's final book before her suicide. The Years follows an upper-class London family for three generations through their changes--births, deaths, marriages, love affairs, as well as the changes of the society (from the late 1880s through the 1930s) around them. Virginia Woolf isn't for everyone and her stream of consciousness writing style may get on your nerves. In this case, though, I think it works particularly well. The Years details lives that go on and on with seemingly nothing monumental happening in them. The overarching theme--the struggle to find meaning in an individual life is universal. Look for "sub-threads" like feminism, utopia, the rise of fascism, the limits of social classism, that were somewhat daring for the time.

Friday, December 26, 2008


I was a junior in high school when I made my very first quiche. I had to do a demonstation in French class and my mom told me to make a quiche lorraine. Voila! This one isn't a real quiche lorraine because it has ham in it, but c'est la vie. Making a quiche is a great way to use some of your holiday leftovers. Tres magnifique!


One pie crust {I use Pillsbury, but you can make your own}
4 eggs
3/4 cup half-and-half
3 cups total shredded cheese (I used about one cup each gruyere, fontina and swiss)
4 leeks sauteed in about 3 tablespoons butter until soft

Roll out the crust into a pie plate. Spread 1 cup of cheese on the bottom, followed by diced ham. Evenly distribute leeks.
{did you notice I put it together in the wrong order? No worries, tastes the same.}

Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the ham and leeks. Whisk eggs and half-and-half with salt and pepper, put quiche onto a baking sheet, then pour over the filling. Bake at 350 degrees for 60-75 minutes, or longer.

The quiche is done when you can gently shake the sides of the pan and the inside giggles without appearing liquidy. Cool for at least 20 minutes before you slice it. The eggs will continue to cook during this period, and the inside will firm up, so don't cut too early or your quiche slices will look messy.

Serve with a nice green salad, crusty bread and real butter and your family will love you so much!

Si bon!

P.S. This is my new Southern Living pie plate. Isn't it beautiful?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Pondering the puffer

We've had record low temperatures across the U.S. this month. This has brought out full winter regalia, including an abundance of the beloved "puffer coat."

There's a fine line with puffer coats. What can be trendy can move into bag lady territory very quickly. To keep you looking fashionable, here are some observations I've made about wearing puffers:

~~Go easy on the puffs. More puffs do not mean better. No, more puffs often mean you look less streamlined and, well, puffier.
Too many puffs:

Fewer puffs:

~~Look for a puffer with diagonal stitching rather than horizontal. This would be the basic rule that horizontal lines make you look wider. BTW, diagonal stitching should point down to the ground. Also, if you go the horizontal puff route, look for narrower puffs.
Wide, horizontal puffs:

Diagonal puffs:

~~If you're a woman, don't buy a coat that looks like a man's coat. If you buy a gigantic (albeit warm) puffer, you run the risk of looking like Nanook of the North. If you're interested in a full length puffer, try to find one with a belt to feminize it.
Man coat:

Feminine puffer:

~~It is possible to buy a full length stylish puffer that doesn't move into Michelin man territory. Take a look at this streamlined version. Puffer Perfection.
Streamlined puffer:

~~Hoods. This is a case by case situation. I had lunch with a friend yesterday who said he prides himself on not owning a coat with a hood. I actually like the convenience and versatility a hood offers. I don't like removable hoods. I think they're tacky and never really look right. I'm partial to those cute fur-trimmed hoods.
Fur trimmed hood:

~~Length is tricky. Just a tad too long and you need to complete the look with a shopping cart for your empty cans. Go too far below the knee and you'll look like you're wearing a sleeping bag. Most flattering full length hits just below or right at the knee. Try to keep your jackets right at the top of your hip or the middle of your thigh for the most flattering look. Mid rear end is the worst possible landing spot.
Perfect length long puffer:

Perfect length short puffer:

Here's what not to buy:
Bad color; either too long or too short (depending on what you're going for); fat, horizontal puffs, man styling.
Here's what to buy:
Good color; flattering length; tailored; flat, diagonal puffs; feminine.

P.S. Be sure to buy a down-filled puffer if you're looking for warmth.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Wrapping up the year

Time for an "Eight in Oh-Eight" resolution update.

1)Take golf lessons.
2)Pay cash.
3)Learn to knit.
4)Make a trip to Italy.
5)Have 8 dinner parties: Easter; paella with Ed & Nancy, Rodney & Amanda, Paul & Alicia; 3rd Annual Ribfest; ice cream social wedding shower for Melissa & Quain (not really a dinner party, but I'm counting it); Labor Day BBQ with family; beef tenderloin with Jayson, John & Cindy, Sean & Wendy; Kingsley & Diana, Audrey & Rick; cheese and wine with the girls and Joey; and our Sunday night church buddies for a Christmas celebration. If you're counting...that's 9.
6)Learn Italian.

Not completed:
1)Try 8 news restaurants: So far...Monarch, Revival, La Gra, Rasoi, and Wapango. Five down. Three to go. (Only counting new restaurants in our own city)
2)Go to 8 movies. We've seen seven.

Dinner and a movie. And dinner. And dinner. That sounds good.

Book Report: March

#57 book, for the year, March by Geraldine Brooks is the imagined story of Robert March. March is the long-absent, Civil War fighting, father of Little Women fame. If you like historical fiction and/or Little Women or you just always wondered what father was doing all those years that Marmie and the girls'll probably like this book. I found it just okay, alternating between juvenile and gratuitous.

Friday, December 19, 2008

5 Overrated Christmas Carols

* The Twelve Days of Christmas
* The Little Drummer boy
* Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time
* Santa Baby
* All joke Christmas carols (eg. Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer, I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, All I Want For Christmas, anything sung by Muppets or chipmunks, etc.)

5 Overrated Cities

* Phoenix
* Los Angeles
* San Francisco
* Orlando
* New Orleans

5 Overrated actors

* Ben Affleck
* Kate Hudson
* Gwyneth Paltrow
* Julia Roberts
* Tom Cruise

Thursday, December 18, 2008

5 Underrated vegetables

Beets: real ones, oven roasted {Cut the leafy end off of the beets, but don't peel them. Put the beets on a large sheet of aluminum foil. Sprinkle with a tablespoon of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Wrap the foil up tightly around the beets. Roast at 400 degrees for 45 minutes. Peel}
Sweet potatoes
Butternut squash

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Random things floating around in my head

1) Why don't I like oatmeal anymore?
2) I'm very ticked off that the printer sent me way more envelopes than Christmas cards. What's the deal??
3) I think I was the big winner at the annual office Christmas ornament swap. I got two frogs. The man frog is wearing a Hawaiian shirt, the girl frog is in a bikini top and grass skirt. Thank you, Intern Tammy.
4) I'm sad that most of my family lives out of town and we're never together on Christmas.
5) I wrapped more than 30 presents the last 3 nights, but there's nothing under our Christmas tree since we had to put it all in the mail {see #4}.
6) Work is unusually difficult this year.
7) Loving how my son only tells me what he wants for Christmas after I've bought his gifts. Smart kid.
8) Our dog has an eating disorder. She would literally eat herself to death if she could. She needs an intervention.
9) Today I read that praying regularly adds seven years to your life.
10)Not only don't I like Katie Couric's new haircut, I don't really like Katie Couric.

Changes coming to American Idol

American Idol returns January 13 and you can expect some changes this year. Just enough to re-energize the show, not so much to shake you out of your comfort zone.

* Return of wild card finalists picked by the judges. You may remember Season 2 when runner up Clay Aiken made it through to the finals as a wild card choice.
* You'll see fewer bad auditions.
* More contestants will hear "you're going to Hollywood, baby." Yep. 36 guys and gals are getting the golden ticket, up from 24.
* New judge! Singer-songwriter Kara DioGuardi joins Simon, Paula and Randy. Here's her official bio:

"Kara Elizabeth DioGuardi (born December 9, 1970) is an American songwriter, record producer, and singer who has contributed to a long list of internationally successful popular songs. She writes music in the light pop-rock genre. She will be a judge on the eighth season of American Idol. DioGuardi is a long-time collaborator with Hilary Duff and Kelly Clarkson and has also worked with Celine Dion, David Archuleta, Pink, Carrie Underwood, and even Paula Abdul, the other female judge on America Idol."

Ode to Joy

How nature will kill you depends on where you live

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Super, duper kitchen items

This would sure come in handy.

Here's a perfect instant-read thermometer for the one that just quit working:

And who wouldn't want one of these new ceramic knives? {Probably the 4 1/2" utility knife that's half the weight of a regular metal blade and stays sharp ten times as long!}

Monday, December 15, 2008

Picture perfect

Would I take this for Christmas?

You bet I would.

"The love of truth has its reward in heaven and even on earth." Friedrich Nietzsche

I read that people lie once or twice a day and deceive about 30 people per week. I don't know the distinction between lying and deceiving, but regardless, I like to think I'm an exception on that statistic.

What's really upsetting to me isn't how often I lie, it's how often other people are lying to me. A psychologist from the University of South California says we're lied to about 200 times each day. That comes out to someone telling us a lie approximately once every seven minutes.

Are you kidding me?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Book Report--Charming Billy

#56 Charming Billy by Alice McDermott is the story of Billy Lynch an Irish-American, living in Queens, New York. The story begins at Billy's funeral with his friends and family reminiscing and wondering why lovable Billy's life turned out the way it did. In his twenties, Billy had fallen in love with an Irish girl, and planned to marry her. That marriage never took place and Billy lived the rest of his life drinking himself to death.

McDermott's writing style reminds me of Thornton Wilder's work in Our Town. The seemingly mundane conversations are very real, very wise in their simplicity.

The same extended family and friends who enabled Billy Lynch to live his life the way he did, pitied him for the choices he made. The same family and friends who came to his rescue night after night, played a part in his demise. McDermott never romanticizes Billy's life and eventual death, but his family and friends do.

Charming Billy has a cadence that's different than most popular fiction. It sounds a lot like real life. As such, you'll read overlapping stories of the same incident told in different voices. You'll hear the same story approached from different angles by different characters.

Check it out.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

Something to think about

"We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are." Anais Nin {1903-1977}

Getting to know you. Getting to know all about you.

Interesting facts about Rahm Emanuel:

The name "Rahm" means "high" or "lofty" in Hebrew.

Rahm-bo has two brothers. Ezekiel J. Emanuel, is an oncologist and bioethicist at the National Institute of Health. Ari Emanuel is an LA talent agent who is allegedly the inspiration for Jeremy Piven's character Ari Gold on the HBO series Entourage. Rahm-bo is said to be the inspiration for the character Josh Lyman on The West Wing.

Rahm-bo's right middle finger has been partially amputated. While working at Arby's in high school he cut his finger on a meat slicer, an infection set in, and it had to be amputated.

Rahm-bo participates in triathlons.

Rahm-bo made his political reputation in Chicago as a fundraiser. He was chief fundraiser for Mayor Richard Daley. He worked for Prez Bill Dawg Clinton as the head of his finance committee.

After leaving the Clinton administration, Rahm-bo worked as an investment banker.

Rahm-bo was named to the Board of Directors for Freddie Mac by President Bill Dawg Clinton in 2000. The position paid $31,060 in 2000 and $231,655 in 2001...a 646% increase. While Rahm-bo was on the board, Freddie Mac was plagued with scandals involving campaign contributions and accounting irregularities. The Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight accused the board of having "failed in its duty to follow up on matters brought to its attention." Emanuel resigned from the board in 2001 when he ran for congress.

In 2002 Emanuel ran for the U.S. House seat in the 5th District of Illinois previously held by Hot Rod Blagojevich, who chose not to run for re-election, but instead ran for Governor of Illinois.

In 2006 Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass reported he had a newsroom confrontation with Rahm-bo over Kass' speculation that Emanuel only won his 2002 election because convicted former Chicago water department boss Don Tomczak sent in his employees to work for Emanuel. Kass also said that Mayor Richard Daley’s “underlings” who were sentenced to federal prison for organizing “patronage armies” also helped Rahm-bo in his campaign.

On November 6, 2008, Rahm-bo accepted the position of White House Chief of Staff for Barack Obama.

Rahm-bo is considered a tough, but effective, brawler, who has a hard time stringing together a sentence without an expletive.

Rahm-bo has a liberal arts degree from Sarah Lawrence College and a masters from Northwestern. He trained as a ballet dancer in high school and was offered a scholarship to the Joffrey Ballet, but turned it down.

Rahm-bo earned his nickname for his ruthless determination and take-no-prisoners approach. Rahm-bo has been called a "rageoholic" by people who have worked for,with, and against him. He once sent a dead and rotten fish to a political enemy.

Related post: John Podesta vs. Rahm Emanuel

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Gorillapod of my dreams

I'd like this for Christmas. Yes, I would.


Here it is in action:

It comes in pink, too.

A phrase I never want to hear again

Pay to play

Click here for phrase #1 I never want to hear again

Click here for phrase #2 I never want to hear again

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"God Bless Us, Everyone"

On our first night in Chicago, we went to The Goodman Theater to see A Christmas Carol. It was the best production of the Charles Dickens' classic I've ever seen. This is a very traditional rendition, and who doesn't want tradition during the holidays? I loved that actual passages from the book were read on stage to transition between scenes. Yep. By the end of the performance we were definitely in the Christmas spirit.

Saturday we had breakfast at the Walnut Room at Marshall Fields. {I know, it's Macy's now, but I want to call it Marshall Fields. See above sentence about tradition.} We were hoping the Fairy Princess would sprinkle her fairy dust on us, but we had to settle for bacon, scrambled eggs, pancakes, and orange juice from our server Florence. The Walnut Room was beautiful with its huge tree decorated with Christmas toys and wood mullioned windows framing the snow falling outside. Loved it.

Also loved the sales we got. You'd never know there's a recession by the size of the crowds on State Street and Michigan Avenue.

Sometime during the weekend we visited the outdoor German Kris Kringle market. It was really, really cold! Even the pigeons were huddling together to stay warm.

We shopped for a new nutcracker for my son's collection, drank hot chocolate with extra whipped cream and sat on Santa's lap. He asked us what we wanted for Christmas and we told him Peace on Earth. He reminded us that starts with each of us. Santa's a pretty neat guy.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

So far it's 8-2 against Theme Sweaters in our poll.

You might want to check out these photos. Then vote.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Afternoon at the Drake

Another fun thing we did in Chicago was enjoy Afternoon Tea at the Drake Hotel. According to The Drake:

"Afternoon Tea is a tradition that began in 1840 by the Seventh Duchess of Bedford. Due to a long period between the meals, the Duchess experienced a sinking feeling that afflicted her between 3 and 4 o'clock. One afternoon she requested a tray of tea, bread, butter, and cake to be brought to her room.

Gradually, she became accustomed to this habit and invited her friends to partake in her daily ritual. Within a short period of time, this affair, known as Afternoon Tea, became an elaborate social event. During this time, the Earl of Sandwich invented the sandwich, enhancing the overall experience of Afternoon Tea."

The Drake serves Afternoon Tea (accompanied by a live harpist) 365 days a year, but the hotel is especially beautiful during the holidays.

Looking good

Chicago is always such a fun city. This weekend was no different. Here's a photo of me with my friend Terri. Notice how stylish she is? Matching scarf and hat, the identical blue of her gorgeous eyes?

Now, just for fun. Count up how many different patterns I'm wearing. If you guessed four...Ding. Ding. Ding. You win. And that's just counting what you can see. I like to make my friends look good.

Book Report: How To Steal A Dog

#55 How To Steal A Dog, by Barbara O'Connor, is a sweet, little book you can read in a day. Young Georgina Hayes is determined to do something about her family's homelessness. She concocts a plan to help her mom and younger brother get the money needed to rent a real apartment. Unfortunately, all doesn't unfold smoothly and Georgina is faced with questions of conscience: Is it okay to do something wrong if you're in a really desperate situation? This would be a great book to read with a child (probably appropriate for 4th grade and above) and discuss together.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

E Harmony For My Mom

While we were in Chicago we ate at a very cool tapas restaurant, Cafe Iberico on LaSalle Street. Cafe Iberico's specialty is cuisines of Spain. We had a few small plates and some delicious paella with chicken, seafood, and sausage. The restaurant had a great warm and cozy family vibe. We sat by the window and watched the snow fall.

A really special thing happened at Cafe Iberico. I found a man I think would be perfect for my mom. I didn't want to bother him Saturday, but I took his photo hoping that some of you folks in the Chicago area might know him and can give me the 411 (as they say) on him. Send me an email if you've seen this guy:

If you know my mom, you can see why he'd be perfect for her. I might even break down and call him "dad" some day if it all works out.

P.S. Click the photo for a really good look at the mystery man.

Book Report--The Memory Keeper's Daughter

#54 for the year is this month's book club book: The Memory Keeper's Daughter. I know a lot of people who have not only read this book, but raved about it. Well, I read it and I think parts of it were very, very good. I love the premise of the book. Twins are born to a woman--one healthy and one with Down's Syndrome. At the moment of birth (and unbeknownst to the mother), the father gives the baby with Down's Syndrome away, presumably to never see her again. The rest of the book tells the story of what follows after this momentous decisison.

Good or bad, right or wrong, impetuous or thoughtful...decisions we make can affect us and those around us for the rest of our lives.

Technically speaking I liked the first half of this book much more than the last half. I felt like author Kim Edwards lost her way with the plot, introduced unnecessary characters and subplots and never really resolved the central issues presented in the first few chapters.