Monday, October 31, 2011

Mozzarella Cutlets

Secret Recipe Club

For a few months I have been following a couple of blogs that participate in The Secret Recipe Club.  It is a private group of bloggers who are each assigned a blog to make a recipe from.  Everyone posts the recipe they chose at the same time on the same day as the rest of the group.  It looked like a lot of fun and a great way to find new food blogs with great recipes.  This is my first time participating and I have to say it was a lot of fun!

The blog I was assigned is called Enriching Your Kid and it is full of wonderful recipes that taste good and are good for you and your family.  The author is writing about her journey as she makes her mother's recipes and nourishes her family.  Her recipes range from nourishing pasta dishes loaded with delicious veggies to fruit salads and tips about packing great cold lunches.  I have quite a few of her recipes marked to make soon but I chose the Cheese Cutlets to make first because they were calling to me. Yes I know it sounds strange but once in a while a recipe, especially those made with cheese and potatoes, call out to me and I am literally forced to make it.  

The term cutlet has many meanings depending what part of the world your recipe comes from.  I am used to a cutlet that is a piece of meat pounded thin and lightly fried with a delicious sauce.  These cutlets are entirely different.  I did a little research and found that potato cutlets are common in Indian cuisine and can be flavored with a variety of spices and herbs.  This version is very simple and appeals to all the flavors my family loves. I didn't have any fresh coriander so that was left out but I am sure it would only make the dish even better.  I made one version with mozzarella cheese as per the original recipe and also a batch with cheddar cheese.  Both were delicious!  The outside was light and crispy with a wonderful smooth and cheesy filling.  We served our's with a sour cream dipping sauce flavored with garlic and herbs but the original post says to serve them with a tomato-chili dipping sauce.  I think either one would be amazing.  I hope you ENJOY!

Mozzarella Cheese Cutlets
Recipe Source: Enriching Your Kid

3tbs grated mozarella cheese
3 potatoes 
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp oregano
1tsp cumin
1/4 tsp chilli powder
2 tbs chopped fresh coriander
salt to taste
fine semolina or bread crumbs to cover cutlets
Oil for frying

Wash clean the potatoes, cut them into quarters and boil. Cool the potatoes enough to handle and peel. Mash the potatoes and add the grated mozzarella cheese, and herbs and salt. Mix well. Roll into balls and form into cutlets. Roll the cutlets into the semolina or bread crumbs and press it in. Fry on all sides over medium heat (I would recommend a non stick skillet). Serve hot with a sauce of your choice or just plain.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Spaghetti with Codfish, black olives and Capers (Spaghetti con Merluzzo)

Ingredients for 6 people
One pound Spaghetti
4 tablespoons olive oil
6 - 4oz fillets of Codfish
One 12oz can black olives in brine / pitted/ drained and cut up
2 teaspoons of capers
2 cloves of garlic chopped fine
One cup of white wine (Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay)
Salt and pepper to taste
optional tablespoon of butter
squeeze of fresh lemon to taste and additional for garnish.
Parsley for garnish~
I adore this very satisfying  Pasta dish and make it quite often.  I think it's because the texture of the codfish stays so firm  during the cooking process.  It's the perfect fish to serve tossed with this pasta as it holds up very well.
Place your olive oil into a large enough skillet that will accommodate your fish and ultimately your Pasta.
Salt and pepper your fish
Heat your olive oil to medium and sear your fish on all sides and remove from pan. Into the same pan place your garlic/cut up olives and capers.  Cook until fragrant on medium, smashing some of your olives in the pan. This should not take more than 3 minutes or so, as the small pieces will be fragrant quickly.   Add your fish back to the pan, cup of white wine and let evaporate on medium heat. ( I like to add a tablespoon of butter to add some additional creaminess to the pan).   This should take about 6-8 minutes.  Set aside to rest.   Set your water to boil for your pasta.  Cook until al dente.  You must taste the pasta while its cooking as cooking times will vary depending on the quality of your pasta.  Looks for something imported from Italy if you can, as package cooking directions are more accurate.   This will ensure perfect texture as you do not want it to over cook.   Drain you pasta.  Remove your fish to a serving platter.   Squeeze some lemon on your fish and toss your pasta in the same pan with your remaining  sauce.  Serve a piece of fish over your pasta or serve your fish as a seperate course. Garnish with fresh Parsley.  Serve with a crisp, dry Pinot Grigio.  Which ever way, its all delicious. Buon Appetito.

Seth Doud at The Last Turn

Quote of the Day:  Thriller by Michael Jackson
It's close to midnight
Something evil's lurkin'in the dark
Under the moonlight
You see a sight that almost stops your heart
You try to scream
But terror takes the sound before you make it
You start to freeze
As horror looks you right between the eyes
You're paralyzed

'Cause this is thriller
Thriller night
And no one's gonna save you
From the beast about to strike
You know it's thriller
Thriller night
You're fighting for your life
Inside a killer
Thriller tonight, yeah

You're singing it in your head, now, aren't you?

The gal with the blue hat is dressed as a golf bag - hilarious!
My vote for best costume of the night

I was out with the ghosts, ghouls, guys and gals on Saturday night. I went to hear local talent, Seth Doud. The interesting costumed customers were the bonus.

I first heard Seth at the Dreams concert this spring. A completely different venue, the bands were on the biggest stage in our town, each one doing two numbers. Seth was at the end of the show. I sat up from my sleepy seat and paid attention. He came on with such energy that I woke up. His rendition of America gave me chills. He had the same energy at The Last Turn on Saturday, but it was harder to hear him, and concentrate on the music. I think the sound system distorts the vocals - something they could work on.

I was with a nice group in a booth. Here I am with Krista. I grabbed a couple hats on my way out the door and said we were going as Royal Wedding rejects.  We tried to listen to the music and listen for songs that were originals vs. cover songs. In the end, we learned that Seth does mostly his own stuff, and when he sings cover songs, he puts his own style into it so much that it seems like his own.

Like I said, the bar atmosphere doesn't really work for just listening to a performer. It also hinders conversation, so we resorted to old-fashioned texting.

Texting - the old-school way, with paper and pens.

Since we're all middle-aged and hearing and vision challenged, we resorted to writing notes and yelling at each other to communicate. To make it even more difficult, none of us brought our "cheaters" (reading glasses). Naturally, the writer at the table (me) provided the notecards and pen.

They say that The Turn is haunted.
Here's proof of a phantom fan.

Seth's style is soulful. His voice is gravely, at times, and his guitar playing is bold. He has a talent for making it sound like more than one instrument - steel, accoustic, even some rock beats are in there. He said that he loves so many kinds of music and artists and uses parts of all of them in his work. I had one minute to talk to him and off the top of his head he named Bob Dylan and Martin Sexton -R&B, Blues, Rock, as favorites. Oh, ya, I can hear it all. I asked if he had CDs to sell. He did, but I didn't get back to him to see if he had any with him. But, Seth, I'd really like to buy a couple. I love listening to your voice, your guitar, and your style. Click here to read more about Seth Doud and have a listen.

Thanks for the fun night, Seth, Amy (owner of the Last Turn), all you creepy customers, and the spirits that float through the rooms.

He somehow reminded me of Edgar Allen Poe

Every good party needs a pirate.

Outside the Turn

Queen Elizabeth?

Go. Create. Inspire!
And, beware the creepy caped kiddos invading your neighborhoods!

Journaling Prompt:  What's your favorite Halloween costume?

Chicken Tuscan Style~Pollo al Forno

I have so much Rosemary in my yard,  I could probably start selling it at the local market.  For this recipe, plenty of fresh Rosemary is always on hand. In "the style of Tuscany" usually refers to something grilled.  This "oven baked" chicken will remind you of that due to the abundance of fresh Rosemary.  Your house will be infused with the smell of fresh Rosemary.  Reminds me so much of those long walks in the Tuscan countryside.
 A cut up chicken works very well for this recipe. Any combination will do. I will normally add the chicken breast about 30 minutes into the cooking time. For this recipe,  I had two small packages of chicken thighs  which was plenty for us.  Even had some chicken leftover  for chicken salad the following day.
Ingredients for 4 people:
I cut up chicken (About 4-5 pounds) or
2 small packages of chicken thighs (about 8 pieces)
2  good handfuls of fresh rosemary
3 cloves of garlic cut up
7 small -med red potatoes cut up thin sliced into a bowl/ rinsed/dried and set aside
2 tablespoons of olive oil for your potatoes
2 teaspoons of salt/
2 teaspoons of pepper
One cup of dry white wine

Clean and dry your chicken pieces.  I like to leave about half the skin on the chicken for baking.  You can remove your skin completely if you like.  I do not.  It is not necessary to add any additional fat to your pan for your chicken. You can always remove your skin before serving.
Salt and pepper your chicken with one teaspoon each of salt and pepper and set aside.  Add your rosemary, garlic  and toss. Reserve several sprigs for garnishing your plates.
Preheat your oven to 400 bake.

Prepare your potatoes.  Toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil.  Add one teaspoon each of salt and pepper.
Place your chicken in a large baking pan, skin side up.  Spread your rosemary sprigs over your chicken pieces.   Turn your oven down to 375 bake.   Cook for 30 minutes.   Add your potatoes  and spread them around your chicken.  Cook for an additional 30 minutes. 
Carefully remove your pan from your oven to your stove top.  Add your cup of white wine.   Carefully place your pan back into oven.
Bake again for an additional 30 minutes.  Your wine will evaporate but leave your chicken and potatoes with great flavor.  Your chicken and potatoes should be golden.  Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes before serving. Discard the Rosemary and add some fresh Rosemary for garnish before serving.   Buon Appetito~

Special hint:  If your chicken is not golden, remove your potatoes (they should be golden but soft and somewhat crisp), put your oven on low broil for 5 minutes to crisp up your chicken.   Let cool before serving.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Lasagna Soup

Fall is here and I'm ready for soup.  Warm, steamy, comforting, soup that warms you from the inside out.  I can't think of a better meal on a crisp fall day than a bowl of delicious soup and warm bread.  When I found this recipe on Pinterest I knew it was a recipe I would make right in that VERY day.  The clencher was a little something called "Cheesy Yum," a mixture of ricotta and parmesan cheese that rests in the bottom of the bowl as you ladle up the soup. It creates a cheesy, gooey delight to enjoy with each bite.  I highly doubt that anything topped with a concoction of "cheesy yum," could be bad.

As it cooks this soup fills your home with the lovely smells of Italian food.  It will make your children run to wash their hands in anticipation.  If you are lucky, you will have a dinner table filled with the sounds of clinking spoons and comments like, "wow," "this is amazing," and my all time favorite "you are the BEST mom ever!"  Serve with some warm French bread, bread sticks, a bread bowl or any carb of your choice.  ENJOY!

Lasagna Soup
Recipe Source: Adapted very slightly from A Farm Girl's Dabbles via Pinterest

2 tsp. olive oil
1-1/2 lbs. Italian sausage or burger
2 large onions chopped onions
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 T. tomato paste
1 28-oz. can fire roasted diced tomatoes
2 bay leaves
6 c. chicken stock
8 oz. mafalda or fusilli pasta
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Cheesy yum:
15 oz. ricotta
1 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. salt
large pinch of freshly ground pepper
(The original recipe called for 8 oz of ricotta and 1/2 c. of parmesan cheese but because my family LOVES cheesy lasagna I double the amounts)

2 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 c. finely chopped fresh basil leaves

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add sausage or buger, breaking up into bite sized pieces, and brown for about 5 minutes. Add onions and cook until softened, about 6 minutes. Add garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Cook for 1 minute. Add tomato paste and stir well to incorporate. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the tomato paste turns a rusty brown color.
Add diced tomatoes, bay leaves, and chicken stock. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add uncooked pasta and cook until al dente. Do not over cook or let soup simmer for a long period of time at this point, as the pasta will get mushy. Stir in basil and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

While the pasta is cooking, prepare the cheesy yum. In a small bowl, combine the ricotta, Parmesan, salt, and pepper.

To serve, place a dollop of the cheesy yum in a soup bowl, ladle the hot soup over the cheese and top it all off with mozzarella cheese and fresh basil.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Edge of Our Bodies Review

Quote of the Day: No play, not even a classic text that has been performed for centuries, is a static work of art...Theatre is an ephemeral art, and it can only be conjured in a moment of witness....we have created a place to focus on new work, a signature space of risk and discovery...By joining us tonight, you are a companion in the development of the next generation of stories.  Benjamin McGovern, Associate Director of Studio Programming and director of The Edge of Our Bodies, writing about the Dowling Studio at The Guthrie theatre in Minneapolis, where I watched The Edge of Our Bodies last night.

The correct answer is "Yes!" That's what I learned from The National Players on Monday during our improv workshop. Whatever your scene partner throws at you, the answer is, "Yes!" Then, you go for it. To be succussful in your art, the correct answer to opportunities and requests is always, "Yes!"

I "Like" The Guthrie on facebook, because I like the The Guthrie, and I'm embarassed to say that I hadn't been there in so long, I didn't even know where they built the new theatre - five years ago! (Among other excuses, I thought I lived too far away.) One day last August, they posted via facebook that they were "Calling all Bloggers" to come watch shows at The Guthrie then write a review on their blogs. Without hesitation, I said, "Yes!" clicked on over and signed up. Low and behold, they invited me and a guest to attend first, The Burial at Thebes, which I had to turn down, then The Edge of Our Bodies, which I was determined to go see. If I lived in the cities, I would have gone to it, easily, even without the invitation. So, I started asking around for a travel/theatre companion. Dawn, singer-songwriter-theatre major-writer-friend, said, "Yes!"

Cheers, Dawn, to a daring, new adventure!
A quick dinner at The Level 5 Cafe'
Cheeseburger, fish cakes, fresh bread, and wine.

The Edge of Our Bodies by Adam Rapp is a one character play, with a brief appearance of a maintenance man. Bernadette sits on the set of The Maids as we enter and take our seats. When the play starts, she holds her journal and reads to us her journey. I didn't realize that the set was for the play within a play until a little ways into the show. Bernadette tells us that she needs to talk to her boyfriend. We learn of her feelings of isolation and abandonment, and her fears and frustrations. Her parents are so wrapped up in their own coping lifestyle, that they leave her to stumble around, a teen thrust into an adult world. Ali Rose Dachis plays the part superbly. She comes to life when she describes conversations she has along her journey, her boyfriend's dying father, her mixed-up mother, a bartender, and a lonely man. She also acts out bits of The Maids, a show she auditioned for in her prep school. At one point the Maintenance Man says, "Tomorrow, this will all be gone."  It was fascinating to watch a single actor bring the story to life in an hour and 20 minutes, non-stop. I feel like I need to watch it again to catch more of the details. Did she take her journal with her as she exits the final scene?

The use of lighting kept us focused. They threw us a few surprises, and told the story in raw, graphic language. I would not bring my young sons to this show. It has adult themes about someone who isn't quite ready to be an adult. It brings to light the darkness of life, the difficult choices, and the way people get trapped inside their own lives. The Edge of Our Bodies are those moments when we step outside ourselves and take a hard look. Who is that person, and how could she (he) be me? 

If you look closely, you can see the edge of my body in this photo.
The lighting in the lobby was tricky.
Beautiful, but hard to photograph.

Next time I go to The Guthrie, I'll plan to get there earlier so I can look around. It is an amazing place. Huge. They have three stages and shows going on at the same time. The Dowling Studio is on the 9th floor. The windows along the wall offer a fabulous view of the Mississippi River, the city lights, and - watch your step! - a window in the floor where you can look all the way down to the bottom floor. I didn't dare stand on it.

Dawn and I were funny "farm" girls. We were exploring and discovering the theatre with wide-eyed wonder. We laughed as we went the wrong direction, rode the longest escalator, and found our way in and out of the theatre, and in and out of the city, which was somehow easier to get in to that out of. I-94 in, 394 to north 494 out!  We live over two hours away from The Guthrie, Blogger Night invitations are for week nights, I have four busy boys at home, and I don't drive in the city. And, yet, I said, "Yes!" to the invitation to be a guest at The Guthrie and write this review for you today...And, it was worth it.
Look how happy I am to be saying, "Yes!"
All I need is a hat to throw into the air, and I could do my Mary Tyler Moore impression.

Go. Create. Inspire!
And, say "Yes!" to the next artistic opportunity.

I think I'll check out Adam Rapp's movie, Winter Passing, this weekend, a 2005 drama starring Zoey Deschanel, Will Ferrell, and Ed Harris.

Journaling Prompt:  When is the last time you said, "Yes!" to an opportunity? Any regrets from a no?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fluffy Pumpkin Muffins with Coconut and Pecans . . . Get a Handle on Your Pumpkin!

A few weeks ago rumors circulated that there might be a pumpkin shortage again this fall. Did you hear that, too? I'd expected that might be true for some of the storm-battered eastern states, but I decided to check the Michigan State University agricultural extension service site and here's what it said, "Reports of lower than average yields of pumpkins are coming in, but the quality of the fruit and 'handles' is excellent." 

Isn't it cute how they refer to the pumpkin stems as "handles"? Pumpkin farmers must be fairly whimsical folks, don't you think?

Anyway, whenever I happen to meander down the baking aisle this time of year I try to remember to grab one or two of the plump orange cans. Can't let October slide by without producing at least one batch of really good pumpkin muffins.

In light of that, I thought I'd take the opportunity to try out a slightly adapted version of the pumpkin muffins in Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours, by Sarabeth Levine. Even if I've mentioned this book to you in the past, I have to say again how sumptuous it is. It's a large, lush book with recipes that are not only well written, but simply-structured. Nothing real way out and exotic, just page after page of enduringly appealing recipes. And even if you never bake one thing from it (but why would you not?), it's pretty enough to live on your coffee table.

For these muffins, I followed Levine's basic recipe but decided to omit the raisins and sunflower seeds altogether (my younger son, Nathan, heaves a pathetic sigh whenever I add raisins to anything), added in some chopped sweetened coconut and pecans instead, slightly increased the amount of salt, and reworded the instructions. The assembly process is not like that of a typical quick bread, but more reminiscent of the way you'd assemble batter for a butter-based cake. You'll definitely need your mixer. These muffins puff up beautifully and aren't overly sweet. They call for pastry flour, which can be tricky to find though I see it with increasing frequency in gourmet markets and in health food stores, and superfine sugar, which seems to be more readily available now in regular supermarkets (the kind I buy comes in a paper carton). I assume these muffins would still be really good even if made with all-purpose flour and regular granulated sugar.

Pumpkin Muffins with Coconut and Pecans

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Yield: At least 12 generous regular-size muffins, or at least 24 minis

Preheat oven to 400. Grease, butter, spray with vegetable spray, or use paper liners in a 12-cup muffin pan or a 24-cup mini-muffin pan. (I just used paper liners for mine, but I sprayed the top of the pan--not the cups--so the muffin tops wouldn't stick.)

3 and 2/3 cups pastry flour, sifted
1 Tbsp. and 1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. fresh ground nutmeg
scant 1/2 tsp. fine sea salt (Or use kosher salt.)
1 stick unsalted butter, cold and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1 and 1/3 cups superfine sugar
4 eggs, large, at room temperature, and lightly beaten
One 15-oz. can of solid-pack pumpkin
1/2 cup pecans
1/2 cup sweetened, shredded coconut

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt. Set aside.

Mix together the coconut and pecans. Roughly chop them on a cutting board, not too finely. Separate out 1/4 cup to sprinkle over the unbaked muffins.

In the large bowl of your mixer, beat the butter on high speed for approximately one minute, until it looks creamy. Slowly add in the sugar, still on high speed, and beat until its color lightens and it looks kind of fluffy; this should take about 5 minutes. Be sure to stop and scrape bowl and beaters periodically.

Add in the eggs gradually, beating until well combined. On low speed, add in the pumpkin. Don't worry if the mixture looks curdled. Still on low speed, add the flour in thirds, beating just until smooth. Pour in the 3/4 cup of chopped coconut and pecans pieces and blend just until evenly combined.

Using a portion scoop (an ice cream type scoop), divide the batter evenly into your muffin cups, mounding it high. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup coconut-pecan pieces over the tops.

Bake at 400 degrees, on the middle rack of your oven, for 10 minutes; lower the temperature to 375 and continue baking--perhaps 10 to 15 more minutes--until the muffin tops are nicely golden and a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the muffins comes out clean.

(If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, please click on the purple COMMENTS below!)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Of Mice and Men Review

Quote of the Day:  John Steinbeck was born in Salinas, California, in 1902. His first three books were financial failures, and he worked at various kinds of jobs to surive, including fruit picking. - from the "About the Author" at the back of my yellowed copy of Of Mice and Men, which was in its 72nd printing when I bought my copy for a college course 25 years ago.  The story is still powerful and relevant today. With three failed books, and who knows how many rejections, and working at hard labor, unfulfilling jobs, do you think he ever felt like his dreams were as hopeless and unattainable and George and Lenny's?

I watched the show with my 13-year-old son, Zach. I had a ticket for my oldest son Bobby, but he wasn't feeling well so didn't attend. He was the first one I thought of bringing when I saw the advertisement. He's a senior in high school. He's read the book. He's ready for these heavy themes and dark look at life. I decided my 11-year-old twins weren't ready. When I told them a little about the play, that it ends sad, that it's a tragedy, they said, "We like shows where the good guys win."

So, I found myself sitting next to my 8th grader, wondering how he was handling the content and emotional impact of this story. He told me afterwards that watching a play is way more intense than watching a movie. You're right there. When the actors' voices get louder, you can hear that. When they get emotional, you can feel that. While the movie makers might try to manipulate the volume, it's not the same as being in the same room with the actors.

Wow. My work here is done. That's exactly what I want him to know about live performances. I want my sons to know that there is life beyond the screen. That to be in the presence of gifted and emotional performers is more powerful than anything they'll experience. Zach and I agreed, the screen creates a barrier. We have an easier time telling ourselves that it's not real.  Even though the set is representative of the time and place and the actors are playing parts, it becomes real through their words, actions, reactions, their very breath...and ours, the audience. The actors I spoke with on Monday said that each show is different. It takes on a life of its own. Each time they perform, it's a little different. The audience has a different chemistry. A Tuesday night performance in Brainerd, MN is going to feel different from a Friday night performance in Nothern California. I wonder how the folks in California react to this play?

Marcus, who played Crooks with amazing depth, told me that their director Jason King Jones wanted their performance of Of Mice and Men to be unlike any the audience has seen before. And it was. I believe it's because he allowed himself as a director to interpret the play, to bring it to life as he sees it. Then, he got out of the way and allowed the actors to create their characters. I felt like the actors and their characters were one.

As Eryn O'Sullivan, Curley's Wife, was talking about leaving this place and joining the traveling show, I couldn't help but think of how all these young actors did just that. They left the comfort of home, of a "regular" life and hit the road in a traveling show. Aren't they also beating it from one town to the next, looking for work, seeking connection, discovering more and more about themselves, and wondering if they dare to dream of something more?

And, that is the theme of the play. Zach asked me what I thought the theme was. I hesitated. I thought I'd lost my English teacher eye for literary elements. But, when he asked me, I was still in shock over the ending. Of course, I knew what was coming. I've seen this play done a couple time, read the book, studied the story, but I couldn't answer that the theme was the death of a dream.  I wanted it to be more hopeful than that.

I asked Zach, "Why do you think John Steinbeck wrote this story?" He said, "Because he wanted to show how hard some people had it, especially during those times."

I have such a smart son.

I am feeling grateful for the experience of the theatre, the improv class, the emotional and powerful performance by The National Players, and a great night out with my son, who sheds light on life and literature for me.

(Brian Vaughan who played Slim, and Patrick Hogan, as Carlson)
Go ahead, Play off the Page!
I dare you!

Go. Create. Inspire!

Close the screens, and experience life and art in real time. It's waiting for you to show up with your own creative energy.

Journaling Prompt:  What do you think is the theme of 'Of Mice and Men'? Why do you think John Steinbeck wrote this story? Where would we be if he gave up on his writing life and accepted the death of his dream? Where would you be if you gave up on your dreams?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Improv with The National Players

Quote of the Day:  Our mission is to tell the story. Marcus Salley, 2010-2011 member of The National Players

Marcus and Brian
showing us the "two heads are better than one" improv technique
(photos a little blurry because I didn't want to use my flash)

I'm doing it. I'm stepping out of my comfort zone and taking the time to embrace (remember my word for the year) new experiences, and my authentic self.

The National Players are in town to perform the Steinbeck classic, Of Mice and Men, one of my favorite stories, despite it's tragic ending. Maybe it is the tragedy, that we feel so deeply, that connects me to this story. Maybe it's something more, but I'll reflect on that tomorrow, after I've seen the show, which is tonight at 7:30 at Central Lakes College.

I am on the emailing list for the CLC theatre, and last week, Patrick Spradlin offered a one-hour improv workshop with The National Players. I said yes, then got nervous. What if I don't know what to do? What if they ask me to do something that makes me feel like a freak? What if I'm the only person over 20? What if I look like a foolish middle-aged mom trying to recapture her youth?

What if I don't go, then regret it?

So, I went, middle-aged insecurities and all. I've been wanting to do more with improv, drama, theatre, and coaching kids, so I knew this was my invitation. Plus, it was free. And, not only free, but in attending, I also got a 60% discount on my tickets for the show. Bonus on top of the bonus.

It was fun.

Player Alex and some of my classmates

I learned some great warm-ups and theatre games to do with kids when I start my Play off the Page theatre workshop next summer. (There, I've announced it, now it has to happen.)

We practiced greeting strangers by pretending they were long lost friends.

We partnered up for the "Two-headed" storytelling game.

My partner, Cody, was great. He looks a little scared here, but when he started the dialogue, he came to life.  For our "Two-headed" story, we broke into dialogue from the start. He played along great, threw me a couple curve-balls, and in the end we hit a "home-run." Seriously, it was about a scary bat in the corner, that we hit with a baseball bat, and scored. The teachers told us we were "advanced." (giggles and grins) And, I thought I wouldn't fit in.

I asked Cody if he was at CLC for the theatre program. He said, "No, I'm here for the computer classes." I asked if he was a writer since he came up with the story line so well. He said, "No, but my sister is." So, we played the part of older sister/younger brother and a controvesial operation. 

Afterwards, I chatted with a couple cast members, Marcus Salley and Patrick Hogan. They said that being in The National Players is like being in the "military of acting" because they have to learn all the rolls in theatre, from the parts they play on stage to how to set up and run their own lights and sound, haul in the props and set, construct it in a short amount of time, and be ready to strike it as soon as the curtain closes, pack it up, and move onto the next venue.

Hey, diddly dee, the actor's life for me... They must be humming that tune as they travel from state to state, performing in large and small communities and trying to meet their creature comforts all along the way. I have to admire, and envy ever so slightly, the freedom of the young actor, to be able to live on the road and have adventures.

I asked Marcus and Patrick what their goals are as actors. Patrick said he'd like to get back into film. He'd done a bit before he got this job, so once the year is up, he's back to Hollywood, I suppose. I hope I see him up on the big screen, or on my television some day. Marcus has his teaching degree. I asked if it was theatre or English. He said, "No, history." That's great. We have a huge need to bring history to life through theatre. He'd like to work with middle school. I applaud him and wish him well. I asked if he has done any writing. He said that he has. Oh, ya, another connection. Then, I let it slip that I'm a playwright. I said that I feel sad that there are almost no rolls for middle-aged women, and only a few for older women, where they only play the aging mother.  All the rolls are for the beautiful young woman coming of age and falling in love.  I said I was tired of that, so I sat down and wrote a play that I'd like to see or be in, or that my friends could do. And, those young guys encouraged me.

See what happens when you step out of your comfort zone and are willing to "Play off the Page?" Creative energy, new friends and experiences, and courage to do the next thing that makes you sweat.

Go. Create. Inspire! And, step out of your comfort zone today!

Learn more about The National Players here, or The CLC Theatre, here.

Thanks Patrick and National Players for a great afternoon! I'm looking forward to your performance tonight.

Journaling Prompt:  Describe a time where you pushed yourself to try something new and step out of your comfort zone. What happened? How were you changed?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Merluzzo alla Siciliana~(Codfish with Black olive paste in Red potato Crust)


I set out Saturday evening to have something a little different,  something I haven't had in such a long time, a visit to Sicily.  I started thinking about those wonderful oil cured olives you could only get in Sicily.  That wonderful fresh, fish. Those fabulous capers from the sunny Island of Pantelleria, south of Sicily.   How could I get that feeling again in Tupelo, Mississippi?   I had ordered some Sicilian oil cured olives sometime ago by mail order and stuck some in the back of the refrigerator.  What a nice surprise to find them hidden in the corner, ready for me.  How could I forget such a wonderful thing?
 Olive paste requires, a few olives, some garlic, parsley and a little olive oil.  I have even made olive paste without garlic.  The best part of all  is it requires very little effort.  Spread over some  Cod fish fillets,  it adds wonderful flavor to a very bland fish.  Setting out to do the impossible, duplicating something I had long ago, seemed impossible.  I must admit, I got pretty close.  
Olive paste:
1/4 cup Sicilian oil cured olives/ pitted
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
One clove of garlic (optional)
1 cup of flat leaf parsley
salt and pepper (optional)
1 teaspoon of Capers (optional)

Into the food Processor place your  olives, olive oil, garlic, parsley and about a teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Salt is optional as the oil cured olives have some salt in them.  I always add just a little.    Pulse everything  until your parsley is processed fine.  You will have a beautiful thick paste.
Pour into a bowl and set aside

Potato crust:
5 -6 red potatoes sliced like chips.  Set your oven to 375 bake.
Place sliced potatoes into a bowl filled with water.  Set aside for 10 minutes. Your water will turn cloudy.  This means your potatoes are releasing their starch.  Drain, dry, and set aside in a bowl.  
Toss your potatoes in Olive oil, salt and pepper and place them in a hot skillet.  Place them in your oven for 15 minutes.   Your potatoes will cook and become slightly crisp.  Remove from oven and let cool.  Set your oven now to bake 400. 

In a large,  flat  oven proof skillet enough to handle your four pieces of fish,  begin to line your pan with potato slices in the shape of your fish, as if you were creating a blanket for your fish.   Lay your fish on top of each potato blanket.  Squeeze some lemon over each piece of fish.  Spread your olive paste over your fish. Cover with remaining potatoes to create your blanket.  Bake in a  400 degree oven for 20 minutes.  Turn your oven to broil for 5-7 minutes more.   Being careful not to burn your potatoes.   Codfish is quite thick and requires longer cooking time when it's inside the potato crust. 
Serve with salad and wonderful dry Pinot Grigio~ Buon Appetito

Saturday, October 22, 2011

James Keelaghan

Quote of the Day:  I have a dream, and I gave it a name, and the name that I gave it was your name. - James Keelaghan, lyrics from the song he used for the audience participation part of his concert. It set me to dreaming.

James Keelaghan is a singer/songwriter from Winnipeg, Canada, with roots in Calgary.  His folk songs are often historical ballads, rich in story, soothing in tone. His guitar is part of him, which he plays masterfully and musically. I'm pulled into the song with the first chord. He kept tweaking and tuning it throughout the concert and explained that with his extensive travel, his guitar was suffering from "tune-lag."

In fact, Keelaghan sprinkled humor throughout the show, which is good because many of the subjects of his songs are dark - death, tragedy, loss.  He shared stories of people and places he's been.  And, that's what I love - the stories.  He has a story about where he got his inpiration for a song. The song itself is a story, and how the song goes out into the world and takes on a life of its own, is a story.  Hillcrest Mine is a tribute to 189 men and boys who died in a mining accident near his hometown, long before he was born. (I don't remember what year he said it happened.) One of his most famous songs, Kiri's Piano, is about the Japanese internment camps in Canada during WWII. (I thought it was just us paranoid Americans who did that. But, our neighbors to the North were just as afraid.) This song then became part of a family's story and they shared it with him - about a young man, a miniature guitar, Pearl Harbor, 1941, a sunken ship, a dead serviceman, and a gift.  You'll need to attend one of Keelaghan's concert to get the full details. I wouldn't be able to do the story justice from a one time hearing.

Which brings me to the main reason I was at this concert in the first place. It took place in a new kind of church building called Live Well, also a Nightclub and Coffee Bar. My friend and I were up for some local entertainment. We'd walked into a bar that smelled like beer and popcorn with way too many guys oogling us. So, we went to the town's best pizza place then headed over to the concert. We left our dollar in the basket and helped ourselves to a sparkling water, lime flavored, and settled into the rocking chairs.  Yep, this church has a variety of seating, including loveseats, couches, and soft chairs. I sat down, kicked off my clogs, put my feet up on the automan and commensed to giggling. What a hoot! I've never been so relaxed at a concert.

I'd spent the previous day baking a variety of goodies to bring to a funeral, which I'd worked at all morning. It was good fellowship, a celebration of the life of a wonderful woman who was dearly loved by her family and communities where she lived, taught, and worked to make this a better world. Evelyn was 93.

So, when I got to the concert, I was tired. I felt relaxed in my rocking chair and soothed by the music.

Thanks, James Keelaghan, for coming to little Nisswa, MN for their Grassroots concert series. Thanks for your gift of music, writing, and storytelling. As he said, "That's why I write. Because we need to share our stories." I gave an "Amen." He certainly made a connection with me.

Mary relaxing at a folk concert

Photo by Joey Halvorson who didn't have her nice camera with her, but happened to be sitting behind me at the concert. (I thought I felt a nudge from back there.)
So, she took the pic from Wadeen's phone, who sent it to Joey, who emailed it to me, where I saved it to my computer, and pasted it onto my blog, so that you could see what a wonderful and relaxing time I had on Friday night.
I think this shot captures the mystical feel of the evening.

Go. Create. Inspire! And, attend live shows. They are so worth it!!
For more shows at the Grassroots Concert series in Nisswa, MN, click here.
Next stop for James Keelaghan, the United Kingdom. Perhaps, he's bringing a bit of our Minnesota spirit with him. Seems like his guitar is handling the "tune-lag" just fine.

Journaling Prompt:  What is the story behind a song, or group, that you like?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Brand New Smile

Favorite Photos Friday

Quote of the Day: You make me dance like a fool, forget how to breathe, shine like gold, buzz like a bee...oh, you make me smile. lyrics from Smile by Uncle Kracker

When his young lad was 13 and a half years old and just about to enter the 8th grade, he got his braces on.

Four year, two months, 20 days, and a few major life changes later, he got them off.

Now, he's a senior in high school, 17 and a half years old, and applying to colleges for Engineering.

Next up, Senior Pictures.

(*confession* When I listened to that Uncle Kracker song and started writing, I shed a few mom tears. What can I say, my first-born, my right-hand man, is growing up and moving on. Send Kleenex, graduation day will come way too soon!)

Journaling Prompt:  Did you ever have to wait a really long time for something to change? And, even though it was for the better, you had to go through some discomfort to get there?  If any of your chicks have left the nest, please send advice. Thanks.

Go. Create. Inspire! and Smile!!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Quote of the Day:  Good Hope owes its culture and progress in religion and education to the Scandinavians, who flocked into the community. Fond of music and deeply loyal to the Lutheran doctrine and practice, they established parochial and public schools and trained the children in the elementary teachings of the Christian faith. In the "History of the Church" section of the Bethany Lutheran Church Centennial Celebration book.

This is an aerial photo of the little country church and school house in Good Hope Township, Norman County, Minnesota, where I grew up.  My family's farm is about a mile south of the church.  Going to church on Sunday mornings was part of our weekly routine. I was Baptized here, attended Sunday School, and started playing piano for worship services when I was 13 years old. I remember sitting next to my Grandma Ida during services when I was young.  She wore a knitted shawl with long fringes. I would spend the quiet sermon time braiding the strands together. I didn't think she really noticed until one time, I didn't start braiding right away, and she nudged me and whispered that I could braid her shawl. 

Now, she's buried in the cemetary behind the church along with other relatives.

Our Faithful Moms group watched a short video by Rob Bell titled Sunday. It got us thinking, and talking, about what Sundays are like for us.  I came up with the journaling topic: What were Sundays like for you when you were young? What are they like now? And, how would you like them to look in the future?

Whether you're a church goer, or not, how do you spend your Sundays? Are they a day of rest?  If not, do you set aside time to rest and renew?

Sunday mornings have felt hectic to me most of my life. The beginning of the day has people trying to get ready at the same time. Some don't want to get up and go. Others have jobs to do. I am still a church pianist and will be playing nearly every Sunday now that the pastor and his wife are leaving.  So, really Sunday mornings are a day of work. But, Sunday afternoons have usually been very relaxing, including two of my favorite "activities" - reading and napping.  Also, we have some sort of delicious food. Mom usually made escalloped potatoes with ham or meatballs. We often make brunch.

Go. Create. Inspire! And, find a way to have at least a half day of rest.

Journaling Prompt:  Write about Sudays, resting, and family time.

Chocolate-Almond Filled Coffee Braid . . . and that Music in the Distance

A few days ago, as I sat in the same spot where I am now, windows open and the cool autumn air breezing in, I could hear my younger son's high school marching band practicing in the distance. They were already outside the school at 8 a.m., their band class well underway, polishing things up for their next performance. Though at least half a mile east of my house, I could clearly hear the telltale thump of the percussion players and the brassy wail of the trumpets.

I love this kind of thing.

I love the fact that I live in a city small and compact enough that this is even possible. From the other direction, to the northwest just a couple of blocks, I can also hear little kids squealing at recess later in the day, outside of the elementary school my boys attended years ago. Then, each evening precisely at 6pm, bells reliably ring out from a church nearby. It's a cozy feeling.

This comparatively tiny community that we occupy just north of Detroit is, in fact, remarkably unlike the huge suburb where I grew up, which was sprawling and seemed to me, back then at least, to be a rather characterless place that had no discernible center.

It's comforting living in a small place, especially when bigger cities and all they offer aren't far away. You never have to feel lost here, either literally or figuratively. It's practically impossible to go outside without seeing someone you know well enough to chat with or, at the very least, someone you recognize. This little metropolis isn't fancy by any means but, as corny and cliche as this must sound, it's loaded with heart.

And what does that preamble have to do with today's recipe? Well, if I hadn't been alone in my kitchen with the windows open, working quietly on this chocolate almond braid, I wouldn't have heard that music or the joyous shrieks and squeals later in the day. Nor would I have had yet another opportunity to experience the simple satisfaction of actually liking where I live.

And, so, once more I realize that baking offers benefits beyond the obvious. It can be calming and contemplative, sort of like gardening or taking a long walk. I don't think it would be stretching it to say that I find the activity of baking restorative. I seem to turn to it for all sorts of reasons.

Is it like that for you, too?

About this recipe . . .

Remember the collapse of that giant bookshelf I told you about in my last post? That event catalyzed my husband and I to do long overdue sorting, discarding, and reorganizing. (Let's just say the garbage man must be wondering what the heck happened around here, and my paper shredder is considering joining a labor union.) Anyway, while sorting this and that, I found a faded magazine clipping bearing this recipe among a pile of stuff I'd saved in an old file cabinet. From the February 1989 issue of Good Housekeeping magazine, this is the kind of baked good that many such magazines don't seem to print anymore. It's beautifully old-fashioned, like something one of your favorite aunts would famously bring to big family parties when you were a kid. It's a not-too-sweet yeast bread filled with a mixture made of cream cheese, almond paste, and semi-sweet chocolate.

I changed very little in the recipe, but substantially reworded it to reflect exactly how I customized its preparation. I used an instant yeast specifically designed for rich, sweet doughs vs. regular active dry yeast (though I have no doubt it would be fine with the latter). Part of my almond paste was homemade vs. purchased, because I only had about 5 oz. of the store-bought stuff on hand. (I do think professionally produced almond paste tastes better, is more concentrated, and has better texture and color than most homemade versions. I haven't yet perfected making the stuff at home.)

Beware: This makes a really large loaf! You will get at least 16 very generous slices out of this baby, easy. And it's not shaped into a real braid--it's just a faux braid, so don't get scared; it's really easy to make. The loaf I made was probably 18" long and 7" wide, after baking. Next time, I might cut the dough in half and make two smaller loaves, though the big loaf is certainly impressive in its own enormous way!

Chocolate-Almond Coffee Braid
(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Makes one large 18" loaf (at least 16 thick slices).

For the dough:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt (I used coarse kosher.)
1 and 3/4 tsp. instant yeast (I always use instant, but it's fine to use 1 pkt. active dry yeast instead.)
Approx. 5 cups all-purpose flour (I used unbleached.)
3/4 cup milk (I used 2 percent.)
5 Tbsp. butter, unsalted
2 eggs, large

1 egg white (to mix with water and brush on the unbaked loaf)
2 oz. semi-sweet baking chocolate (to melt and drizzle on the baked loaf)

For the chocolate-almond filling
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
7 to 8 oz. almond paste (not the same thing as marzipan, just fyi!)
1 egg yolk
3 oz. of semi-sweet baking chocolate, chopped into very small pieces

For the streusel topping: 
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
3 Tbsp. sliced almonds

To prepare the dough:

In the large bowl of your mixer, using the paddle attachment on low speed, combine the sugar, salt, yeast, and 1 cup of the flour.

In a microwave safe bowl, or on the stove top in a saucepan, slightly warm the milk, butter, and 1/4 cup of water until just lukewarm. You don't need to fully melt the butter. With the mixer on low speed, pour the liquid into the dry ingredients; beat only until blended. Now at medium speed, beat for about 2 minutes, stopping to scrape now and then. Beat in the eggs, along with 2 more cups of the flour; blend for 2 minutes.

Remove the bowl from the mixer, and add in 1 and 1/2 cups more of the flour, stirring by hand with a wooden spoon or a dough whisk (I love my dough whisk). The dough will be pretty soft.

Flour your work surface and dump the dough onto it.

Keep 1/2 cup of flour close at hand. Knead the dough until its texture is smooth and elastic, adding more flour to your surface and to the dough as needed; this could take up to ten minutes. (If you decide to do this step on your mixer, using the dough hook, cut the kneading time in half. Be watchful, in any case, not to overwork the dough. You'll know you've gone too far if the dough suddenly seems slack, lifeless, and lacks elasticity; if this happens, the dough can't be salvaged and there is nothing to be done but to start over. Over-mixing is more likely to occur with a rich dough like this than with a lean dough like that for a simple white bread.)

Round the dough into a ball and place it into a well-greased or oiled bowl, or spray the bowl with vegetable oil spray, like Pam--that's what I use. Turn the ball over in the bowl so it's coated. Spray/grease a sheet of plastic wrap on one side and put that, sprayed side down, over the bowl.

Cover the whole thing with a lightweight dish towel and place it in a warm, draft-free spot to rise. The dough should approximately double in size within about one hour.

While the dough is rising, make the chocolate-almond filling and the streusel. 

To make the chocolate-almond filling:
Put the cream cheese, almond paste (broken into chunks), and 1 egg yolk into the large bowl of your mixer. Using the paddle attachment, blend together until on low speed until the mixture smooths out. Add  the chopped chocolate and blend it in. Store the filling in the refrigerator until you're ready to use it.

To make the streusel:
Mix the flour, sugar, and butter together in a small bowl using your fingers. You want the streusel to look like big, coarse, uneven crumbs. Add in the sliced almonds last, being careful not to break all them into bits. Store the streusel in the fridge until ready to use.

When the dough has doubled in size: 
Dump the risen dough out onto a very lightly floured surface and press it firmly but gently with the palms of your hands. You are just trying to deflate it (or "de-gas" it as a baking teacher would tell you!). Lightly cover the deflated dough with the greased plastic wrap and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes.

Prepare your workspace for rolling out the dough. You can roll it right on a large baking sheet if you prefer, but I wanted to roll out my dough on the piece of parchment on which it would actually bake (you can then just slide the whole thing, paper and all, right onto your baking sheet). To keep the parchment from sliding around, I clipped the edge of it to my worktable with a big, strong, binder clip.

Flour your rolling pin. Put the rested dough onto your surface and roll the dough into a rounded rectangle about 16" long and 12" wide.

Remove your filling from the fridge, give it a good stir, and spread all of it in a 4" strip down the center of the dough, lengthwise.

Using a pizza/pastry wheel, cut slits in the dough on each side, almost up to the point of the filling (the strips created by the slits can be narrow or wide, as you prefer; my strips were slightly over 1/2" wide).

Then, starting at the top, lifting the strips one by one alternately from each side, fold them over the filling. Do this for the whole length of the loaf, then pinch the two far ends tightly closed with your fingers.

Cover the loaf again with greased/sprayed plastic wrap and cover it with the dish towel. Let it rise again (ie., let it "proof") in a warm spot; this time for 30 minutes. It will expand, but not necessarily by much. Don't wait for it to double in size.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Mix the egg white in a little bowl with a tablespoon or two of water. Using a pastry brush, gently and lightly coat the unbaked loaf when it's done proofing (that is, when it's done with its final rise).

Sprinkle all of the streusel evenly in a strip down the center length of the loaf.

Bake the loaf on a large sheet pan (it will expand in the oven, so plan accordingly!) for about 30 minutes, until it's golden all over. Check it about 20 minutes into the baking time and, if it's browning quickly, cover it lightly with foil. Also, reverse the pan from back to front for more even heat and color.

When the loaf is done, let it cool on the pan for a few minutes, then move it to a cooling rack. When the loaf is cooled, melt the semi-sweet chocolate carefully in the microwave (chocolate burns really quickly), and pour it into a zip-lock sandwich bag. Using a sharp pair of scissors, cut an extremely tiny hole in one of the corners of the bag. Cut it just enough to let a dinky little stream of chocolate flow through when you squeeze the bag. Drizzle the chocolate back and forth over the entire loaf.

 (If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, please click on the purple COMMENTS below!)