Thursday, July 31, 2008

Slowdown

Nearly every blog I read has been going through a slowdown period as of late...and now I have to include myself in these numbers. I'll be away again next week, this time at a state conference, but will be back late Wednesday night/early Thursday morning. I'm not sure when I'll return to blog, as I've had little to write about lately. Don't take it as a sign that things are bad, just as a sign that things are quiet.

If anything, I should be back sometime during the second week of August. August already?!?! I can't believe how fast the summer's gone...

New bookstore is coming! New bookstore is coming!

I was on the Middletown Eye this morning, and learned that my hometown IS FINALLY GETTING A BOOKSTORE!!! SQUEE!! I mean, we already have a bookstore, Broad Street Books, but that mostly caters to the Wesleyan kids. It's not a general interest bookstore like Borders.

But this new bookstore, the Book Bower, is a general interest bookstore--and it's an independent, local business!! DOUBLE SQUEE!! I am so, so excited. According to The Eye, it's scheduled to open by August 18th--and you can bet I'm gonna be one of their best customers!!!

The owner of the bookstore says that she'll have a website, but it's not up and running yet. Her husband's still putting the bookcases in. And where there's bookcases, you know what else there is!!!

Oh, I am so, so happy! I can't wait for it to open! When it does, I'll let y'all know what I think!

This just makes me giddy!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Thoughts at the Y

This afternoon I went to the Y for my workout, and entered the treadmill room, as usual. I walked over to the magazine rack and picked up an issue of Newsweek. Then I selected a treadmill, turned on the portable TV attached to the machine, channel surfed to find a program, found on, and turned the closed captioning on. Finally, I turned on my iPod and programmed a playlist in there. Then, and only then, did I start my workout.

After I finished exercising, I had to wonder, "Why do I need all of this stimulation when I get on the treadmill?" I hardly read the magazine in depth, because I pay too much attention to the closed captioning on TV. I stop paying attention to the TV when a good song comes on my shuffle. And when there's a song I don't feel like hearing, I just look at the picture on the screen.

I guess all of this is due to the fact that I don't want to look at how much time I have left to exercise.

So why do I exercise, when there are some days I dread it? Well, for one, it's good for me, and I feel amazing after a workout, like I can conquer the world. It gives me something to do other than watch TV, read a book, or check E-mail. (Although I can do two of those three things while I'm working out). Finally, it just makes me feel like I've accomplished something. Plus, I sleep better and eat better when I move and groove.

Still, I wonder what it would be like to work out with no music, no magazines, and no TV. Would I focus on my activity better? I'm not sure if this is something I wanna try.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Kitten Confessions, Part Five

My name is Kitten, and I adore infomercials.

Before I continue, I just need to add that I rarely purchase items from informercials. I purchased some fitness videos from the FIRM several years back, but that's about the extent of it. I just enjoy watching informercials for their sheer entertainment and production values. Some of them make me laugh, and it's not laughing with the participants--it's laughing at them.

Let's start by going over the history of the infomercial. We all have President Reagan to thank indirectly for this bastion of American advertising. How so? Well (to borrow a classic Reagan catch phrase), before 1984, the FCC had a rule stating that, in 60 minutes of a television time slot, there could be no more than twelve minutes of commercials. That's right, twelve. To make a long story short, in 1984, the television industry was deregulated, and stations could show as much commercial activity as they pleased. This is the main reasons why TV stations no longer have sign-offs, and broadcast infomercials whenever their audience is asleep. (That having been said, I know of one station in Springfield, Massachusetts that signs off every Monday morning at 12:30 and goes back on the air around 5:00).

So now the industry has been deregulated, and all of a sudden there's all of this unused, cheap airspace in the wee hours of the morning, when most people are assumed to be sleeping. One of the first people to take advantage of this opportunity was Ron Popeil, who became one of the pioneers of the infomercial industry. Ron Popeil was the head of Ronco, the company that invented and produced such gadgets as the Veg-O-Matic, the Showtime Rotisserie, and hair in a can, among others. (Interesting bit o' trivia: Popeil's father, Samuel Popeil, invented the Veg-O-Matic.)

The invention of another Ronco product, the Chop-o-Matic, is probably the reason for Ronco's entrance into the infomercial industry. Ronco salesmen had a difficult time carrying and finding vegetables for Chop-o-Matic demonstrations, so Ron Popeil came up with the solution: why not tape a demonstration, then sell it to various TV markets?

But wait, there's more! That's a bit of infomercial language that we can thank Mr. Ed Valenti for. Who is Ed Valenti? Why, he's the man responsible for bringing us Ginsu knives! I hope I have some readers who remember Ginsu knives! Not only that, but Ed Valenti is responsible for the whole direct response advertising industry. You can read more about that here, right on his very own website.

Ginsu's advertising success included the use of such language as, "If you order now, we'll send you a ___________ absolutely free!" and "But wait, there's more!" Ron Popeil employed this language into his own informercials, and...well, you've seen the result if you have either stayed up late at night, caught yourself watching CNBC on weekend afternoons, or have watched any of the old PAX TV stations up till they officially started their programming at 5:00 PM.

After the success of Ginsu and Ronco, many other businessmen jumped on the infomercial bandwagon, like Richard Simmons, who has successfully used the format to sell his Deal-a-Meal plans and Sweatin' to the Oldies videos. The fitness guru has filmed his productions in various locales such as malls, cruise ships, and clients' houses, complete with before and after photos and heartfelt customer testimony. I really enjoy his informercials because they seem really genuine. You can tell he really cares about his clients, and that they adore him, for the way that he's changed their lives. I must admit I've gotten a little teary-eyed at some of them.

And then there are the infomercials that are so unbearably fake, you wonder why they were even produced. I'm thinking here about the "fake talk show" infomercial format, complete with studio audience, satellite feeds with special guests, and the "take the 'Miracle in a Bottle' challenge" to remove wrinkles. There are two current infomercials that pop into mind here: Sheer Cover, with Leeza Gibbons, and Meaningful Beauty, with Cindy Crawford. First, I think to myself, "How do they find people for a studio audience for an infomercial?" Secondly, I think, "How do they make this so damn entertaining? It's a fake talk show; I shouldn't be watching this!"

By the end, I'm sorely tempted to make the $29.95 monthly investment to make my skin look better. I resist every time, since I really like my current skin care regime, but the temptation is there.

Then there are the informercials with the actors and actresses that are being so serious and passionate about the products they're plugging. I saw one this morning with Melissa Gilbert, who was pitching the Wen Hair Care System. It's a system that totally eschews shampooing, and the inventor claims that the detergents in many supermarket shampoos are as strong as those used to wash our clothes, and "why should you damage your hair with such harsh detergents?" His product is a cleansing conditioner that contains no lathering ingredients, no harsh detergents that "will strip away your hair of its natural oils." At the end of this infomercial, Melissa Gilbert appears again, on the verge of anger, pleading, "This morning, you damaged your hair! Every time you shampoo, you damage your hair!"

I used good ol' Pantene shampoo and conditioner this morning, and my hair feels--and looks--fine. Yet I kept wondering, "Would Wen make my hair even silkier than it is now?"

What the hell is it about infomercials that make me wanna buy their products? I never do, but still, they're so convincing! I don't know that much about marketing psychology to analyze the reasons for my behavior, but I have to give myself credit for having the discipline not to reach for my Visa card...

...until last night.

I got home around 11 PM, flipped on the TV, and started to channel surf. I happened upon the last five minutes of an infomercial on the Comcast network:

"Get The Carol Burnett Show: Collector's Edition for your own home, only $19.95 for the first volume! We'll send you a new volume every 4-6 weeks. And if you call within the next three minutes, we'll cut the price in half!"

Too...good...to...be...true...was it really?

There...at the end...Harvey and Tim were sitting in folding chairs, and the figure in the middle...Carol herself, thanking us for buying the Collector's Edition of her DVDs.

I got out my Visa and picked up the phone.

Picnic Hangover

I adore picnics. There's no better way to spend a summer afternoon than with good friends and family, hot dogs and hamburgers fresh off the grill, juicy watermelon, buttery corn on the cob, generous portions of potato salad, and iced tea to wash it all down.

Yesterday my parents and godparents had their annual July picnic to celebrate the summer birthdays and anniversaries. The event always begins at noon with appetizers of bruschetta, fresh tomato slices and basil, and fresh mozz. Then we graze on crackers, beer, more cheese, and crudites before my dad brings out the meat around 5 PM. Then we wrap up the evening in my parents' fire pit, sitting around a nice brisk fire for a couple of hours. We all leave around 10 or 10:30 PM.

I don't eat too many heavy things anymore, so my body's not used to such excess of sugar, carbs, and fat. I went to bed last night with some major heartburn, but didn't have any Tums in the house, and sure wasn't about to drive to the 24 hour CVS across town to get some. So I went to bed feeling crappy and bloated. Things didn't improve much towards the morning hours, as a severe thunderstorm, complete with bright flashes of lightning, came through the area and seemed to perch itself on top of my condo. I was finally able to get back to sleep an hour later, when the storm went away, but almost slept through my alarm, and it was a church day.

I woke up, still feeling like crap, and was very sluggish and bloated.

So today is a detox day. I mention this after we had a child dedication today, and there was cake and cookies afterward. (Yeah, I was bad). Then I made a brief detour at an Italian festival in Southington on the way home, and had a scoop of gelato.

OK, now that I'm home, NOW is the time to start detoxing. The rest of the day, as well as the ones that follow, will involve lots of water, tea, and vegetables. Oh yeah, and a lot more exercise too. Anything to get rid of the junk that's still pumping through my veins.

But it was worth it. Oh Lord, was it worth it.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Once More, With Feeling

This morning, the city of Middletown was treated to something we don't get to see here very often--a film shoot. The makers of a new independent movie, Once More, With Feeling, were searching for a typical American Main Street to shoot some scenes, and wouldn't ya know, they chose Main Street in MY city, where I live?!?! How exciting is that? First Barack Obama speaks at Wesleyan's commencement in May, and now Drea DeMatteo and Chazz Palmenteri make a movie here?!? God, I love where I live!!!

You can find out more about the shoot over at the Middletown Eye blog. Click here for a direct link to the post.

The Wasp Saga: Round One to Kitten!

Around 8:30 this morning, I put on my sweatpants, sweatshirt, and took my Walgreen's Wasp and Hornet Killer outside to do some damage. There were already three wasps hovering around the grill, confused as to why their access was blocked. I decided to test out the potency of this wasp killer and sprayed directly at the flying yellow jackets.

Dead on contact. I watched 'em die. Success!

Then I gingerly opened the lid of the grill, and the wasps were already at work on their nests. I stood back three feet, aimed at the first one, and sprayed. The wasps all fell out and were dead within ten seconds. I did the same thing with the second nest. Finally, once I was assured that all of the wasps were dead, I took my broom handle and knocked out each nest.

I celebrated a small victory. Now I have to wash my grill to get rid of the insecticide residue. That should be a helluva lotta fun.

Wasps

The other afternoon, I was in my office, looked outside the patio door leading to my deck, and found that the cover to my grill had blown off during one of the thunderstorms we had during the week. It was full of water, so I shook out the excess and laid it carefully on the balcony to dry.

And then I noticed something else--a little insect crawling through the hole that you use to light the grill with a match.

It was a wasp.

I knew it wasn't good if there was a wasp going into my grill. And then another crawled in. And another.

Today I finally took a peek under the lid to see how bad it was. There were two small nests there, and the wasps were not at all thrilled at my presence. I dropped the lid and got back inside the house as soon as I could.

There was no question that I had to get rid of these wasps ASAP. I quickly went online and did some research. I learned that it's actually very common for wasps to build nests in gas grills. However, that didn't make me feel better at all. There were wasps living in my grill, and wasps STING! The question was, "How do I get rid of 'em?" I wanted to use something natural and organic so I could keep cooking with my grill, and something that left behind little residue so I wouldn't burn down my condo complex next time I grilled. (Keep in mind that a lot of insecticides are tres flammable.)

I called the natural food store in town. They didn't sell any wasp killers. I then called Home Depot, which is down the street. The guy I spoke with was very helpful. Since the nest was in the grill, he told me to take a long handle, like a broom, knock the nests out of the grill, then spray with the wasp killer once they were knocked down.

Easier said than done. With my luck, I'd be at Middlesex Hospital recovering from full-body stings.

After I got off the phone, I decided to try and suffocate the bastards by putting the cover back on the grill, albeit very, very carefully. Almost as soon as I put it back on, a wasp flew by, attempting to get inside the grill. Then another came around, and I went back inside as soon as I could. By the time I shut the door there were three wasps circulating the grill, trying to find a way to get inside.

Fast forward to midnight. I had just gotten home from a party, armed with a can of Walgreen's Wasp and Hornet Killer. I turned the patio light on. I learned that the best time to kill wasps is either in the early morning or early evening, since the colonies are sleeping then. However, most of my neighbors were sleeping, and I didn't want to possibly awaken them with bloodcurdling screams on the chance that a dozen wasps decided to sting me. That, and I had to take the grill cover off.

I plan to get up early in the morning and attempt to rid these unwanted guests from my grill. Wish me luck; I'll let you know what happens.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Something To Be Happy About...

I went to the local Gulf station today, all prepared for paying $4.09 with the cash discount, and guess what? The price for cash dropped 10 cents! So I only had to pay $3.99 per gallon! (Oh God, did I just say only?)

I never thought I'd see the day where I'd be happy about the $3.99 price of gas...and I'm even happier that I don't own a diesel fuel vehicle!

Rain, Rain, Gone Away

...and the humidity has disappeared too. Thank heavens for that! Last night was the first time in almost two weeks that I didn't sleep with either a fan or the A/C on. It was nice, dry, and comfy. I slept very, very well, needless to say.

And now today is the best sunny day all week, with the clearest blue sky and nice warm 80 degree temps. And I'm spending most of it indoors...:P

Today I have to go to Borders to pick up a book that a friend of mine recommended to me, plus I have to pick up a gift card for my dad. Yesterday was his birthday. When I get home, I have to prepare a batch of macaroni salad for a retirement party I'm attending later. Fortunately, this party is at a house with a big backyard, so at least I'll be spending a little bit of time outdoors.

But enough talking. Time to get my day started! I slept in really late this morning (I won't tell you how late, but it was the latest I've slept all year), and have been really slow about starting my day. So away I go!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Announcing...My New Cooking Blog!

I've been posting so much about food and recipes lately that I decided to start a new cooking blog. I'm still going to post here about the arts, culture, books, and whatever else comes to mind, but for future foodie posts, visit my new cooking blog. It's called Cooking With Kitten, and I hope you like it!

Cooking With Kitten: Very Green Dressing

Here's another recipe from The Moosewood Cookbook. It's a salad dressing that's made with no oil and lots of green leafy produce.

VERY GREEN DRESSING

INGREDIENTS:
  • a handful of fresh parsley
  • a handful of fresh spinach
  • 1/2 a small zucchini, cut into chunks (don't peel it before cutting it)
  • 10-15 basil leaves
  • 1 medium clove garlic, peeled (you may want to cut it in half)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • OPTIONAL: a few chunks of avocado; moderate amounts of other fresh herbs, such as chives, dill, or cilantro

Combine everything in a blender and press the liquify button. Makes over a cup of dressing. Put it in a Ball jar with a sterile lid and put it in the fridge.

Reality Bites

I've wanted to write about this for a while now, and finally have the time--and words--to articulate what I want to say.

There is nothing good on television anymore. I think we can all agree that TV has become a huge wasteland.

Now there are some exceptions--and only some. Oprah still produces a good show, but sometimes her topics verge on the sensationalistic. However, she hasn't, and will not, stoop as low as Jerry or Maury, her counterparts who rely on catfights and paternity tests to bring in their ratings.

I used to enjoy watching the news on CNN, but I don't always know what to focus on when I look at the screen. Not only do you have the crawl, but lately, you've had radar graphics in the corner of your screen of Hurricane Dolly. I know that hurricanes are major news and should not be ignored, but do we have to look at the same graphic for 20 continuous minutes?

(Oh God...I'm starting to sound like Andy Rooney. And I'm only in my early thirties. Help!)

Anyway, the worst part of TV nowadays occurs in primetime and its sensationalist "reality" shows. Note that I am putting "reality" in quotes. Most of the situations on these "reality" shows are staged. What is so "real" about staged situations? And how does one really, truly know someone's true personality on a "reality" show? How does one know that they're actually hamming things up for the camera? When Survivor first aired, the "reality" genre was so new, people actually thought that the game was actually about who could really survive successfully out in the wild, who really had the best skills needed to do so. We soon found out, through Richard Hatch's manipulations and mind games, that this was far from the truth.

To me, "reality" shows really bring out the worst in people. Big Brother is one of the worst of these offenders. This show just goes to show you how low people will go to win half a million dollars. It really saddens and sickens me how grown adults can act two-faced around people, pretending to be their friend when they are not, all for the sake of winning some cash.

What bothers me most about these "reality" shows are how celebrities are jumping on the bandwagon. Yes, I'm talking about some of these same celebrities who complain about the paparazzi chasing them and invading their privacy, yet they leave their homes, and lives, wide open on a "reality" show. Dina Lohan complains constantly about how the tabloids are hurting her daughters, yet her she is, on a "reality" show, letting the world see into her private life. Celebrity reality shows, I think, may be only partially to blame for taking families apart. I have no doubt that Newlyweds contributed to the demise of Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson's marriage. Please also note that I said partially previously because celebrity marriages often have many issues before they decide to air their dirty laundry on a reality show.

In spite of all of this, "reality" shows are bringing in the ratings. What is it about voyeurism that makes people want to watch? Is it so people will feel better about themselves, so that they'll feel that their own lives aren't so bad after all? Or is it that there are groups of people who enjoy laughing at others' misfortunes?

I don't watch that much TV, but some of the shows I watch, such as Dirty Jobs and Mythbusters, are considered reality shows by some. Note how here I don't put the word reality in quotes. That's because there's nothing staged about these shows. The people portrayed in these shows are real, honest, and true. They're not playing things up for the camera, and in some cases, are very uncomfortable being on camera.

There was once a Bruce Springsteen song that went something like "57 channels and nothing on." That's how I feel about TV today. I once had almost 100 channels when I had digital cable, and couldn't find a decent program to watch. And the channels I do have on standard cable are decreasing, as Comcast takes at least one channel per month and moves it to its digital lineup.

If the 1950s was known as the Golden Age of Television, what age are we in now?

Adding Some "Perk" to the Morning

I had to drive down to Guilford today for an appointment, and the most direct route to there from Middletown was Route 77, which actually starts in Durham. So I picked up 77 in Durham and settled in for a fantastic, beautiful ride.

Route 77 winds its way through farmland--glorious, undisturbed, pristine farmland. There are very few retail stores; the ones that exist are years-old mom-and-pop businesses. You go past lakes, marshes, and underneath some wonderful green canopies of trees. Mostly, however, you drive by acres and acres of open, green farmland. I was enthralled by this ride--well, as enthralled as I could be while driving a car. I took in as much of the scene as I could while focusing on the road in front of me. The best part about the ride was that I got to repeat it on the way home.

The way home from Guilford also encompasses a part of Route 17 going through Durham, one of my favorite Connecticut small towns. I love Durham because it's quiet, scenic, and has just the right amount of retail business without selling out to the major chains. In fact, the only chain stores in town are Curves and the gas stations.

On the way home, I stopped to try out the restaurant Perk on Main, about which I have heard raves. Perk on Main is a local restaurant known for its wonderful Perkuccinos, but is more widely known--and deservedly so--for its wonderful crepes. At Perk on Main, not only can you get the traditional sweet crepes, you can also get some very filling savory crepes, which make a terrific lunch. I originally was going to purchase a Nutella crepe, just a simple, basic crepe, until I read the full menu of savory crepes. It was 11:30 AM, and I asked if the savories were available yet; I was told that the full menu was available all day.

An all-day menu?!? Score!

Anyway, I decided to go with the Nathan Hale crepe, which contained fresh basil, diced tomato, fresh mozzarella, and balsamic vinegar--essentially a caprese crepe, and you know I can't resist caprese. For an additional charge, you can get either chicken or shrimp with your crepe; I went with the chicken.

I ended up paying $7.35 for the whole crepe, a little on the expensive side, but it was worth every penny. The chicken was moist, tender, and flavorful. The tomatoes were oh-so-fresh, firm, and perfect. There was just the right amount of basil and freshly ground black pepper, and this delectable delicacy was enrobed in just the right amount of sweet, tangy, tasty balsamic vinegar. I savored every delicious bite.

Each savory crepe comes with a pickle and two slices of fresh melon. I passed on those because I dislike both of these foods. Yet the crepe was wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. Yes, I know that I've used that word multiple times throughout this post, but I don't know how else I can articulate my feelings without cracking Mr. Roget's thesaurus.

Perk on Main has an open mike night every Friday at 7 PM. They've got a concert going on tomorrow, but I am not sure that it's a regular thing.

One of the best things I liked about Perk on Main is that it's a green coffee shop. They have paper cups for coffee to go, but they're biodegradable and made of recycled materials. They brew organic, fair trade coffee and serve it with hormone free milk. Their produce comes from local growers.

I'm definitely making this a new favorite place to go. Next time, I'm ordering that Nutella crepe! Wait a minute...I'm looking at their menu right now, and their breakfast burritos look pretty good, too...and they come with potatoes!! Arrgh, decisions...

Rainy Day

This morning I awakened to a sound that I haven't heard in a very long time--thunder. I can't remember the last time it rained here. I was talking to a friend of mine last week and we both agreed that this summer has been great for nice, dry sunny days. That is, until this week, when it was hot and humid, and scattered/isolated thunderstorms were predicted each day. Yesterday it was so overcast that I got impatient for the rain to arrive.

And now, finally, the rain has materialized.

There is a small thunderstorm occurring right now. I use the word "small" because I haven't seen any lightning. There haven't been really heavy downpours, just enough thunder to let you know that the rain is here.

The Wadsworth Mansion postponed tonight's concert to August 6th, but it doesn't really matter to me. We really needed this rain. I'm enjoying hearing the sounds of the water beat against my condo, as well as listening to the cars on the road drive through the puddles.

Tomorrow's forecast is for more rain, much more, particularly if you live in the western half of the state; Mark Dixon, one of the meteorologists over at Channel 3, predicted as much as 4 inches of rain for some towns in the Litchfield Hills. And where there's 4 inches of rain, there is flooding.

I can make do with rain. Flooding, however, I can do without.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Cooking with Kitten: Fresh Corn Chowder

This morning, after having gone for bloodwork at the outpatient center, I was delighted to come upon the local farmers' market, here in town every Tuesday and Thursday till October. I ran home, got one of my resusable shopping bags, and headed back to the south green.

There were only three vendors there today, selling, among other things, baked goods, zucchini, scallions, tomatoes, and corn on the cob. The corn on the cob was freshly picked this very morning! I bought six ears, psyched, because last week, I found a recipe for fresh corn chowder as I was reading The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, Mollie Katzen's sequel to The Moosewood Cookbook.

I took the corn home, husked it, and carefully used my santoku knife to scrape the kernels off each cob. I had enough fresh corn to make the chowder.

And without further ado, here is the recipe, which can be found on page 10 of The Enchanted Broccoli Forest.

FRESH CORN CHOWDER

INGREDIENTS:
  • 1 medium-sized potato
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons butter (I use Smart Balance)
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 medium stalk celery, minced
  • 1 small red bell pepper, minced
  • about 5 cups corn (5-6 ears or a one-pound bag frozen/defrosted)
  • fresh black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 cup milk (lowfat or soy OK; I use soy) at room temperature

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Scrub or peel the potato, and cut it into small dice. Place it in a small saucepan with the water. Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer, and cook until tender but not mushy. Set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a soup pot or Dutch oven. Add the onion and salt, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring. After 5 minutes, add celery and keep cooking. About 5 minutes later, add the cooked potatoes with all their liquid, the red bell pepper, corn, black pepper, and herbs. Stir well and cover. Reduce heat and let it cook about 5 minutes more.
  3. Use a blender or food processor to puree about half the solids in some of the soup's own liquid. Return this to the pot, and let it rest until serving time.
  4. Stir in the milk about 10 minutes before serving. Heat the soup gently--don't cook it any further. Serve as soon as it's hot.

KITTEN'S NOTES:

  • Once you add the corn, bell pepper, potatoes, black pepper, and herbs, it will look as if you need to add more water to the pot. DON'T. The veggies will give off liquid in the pot, and the puree will add liquid, too. I made the mistake of adding 4 additional cups of water the first time I made this, and it resulted in very watery chowder.
  • This is really good served with a side of crusty bread.
  • When it's in season, use fresh corn. It's really, really worth it, and you can really taste the difference over the frozen variety.

"Thou Must Do Thine Own Elizabethan Thing"

Let's try posting this again. I went to add labels to the original post last night, and the video disappeared.

Anyhoo, here's my entertainment idol's take on all things Elizabethan. This is from a 1974 episode, I believe.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Big, Big Boxes

I was just over at the Middletown Eye when I read a post about a documentary film shot here in the city. The film is about the demise of the locally-owned, independent record store and one former Middletown business, the Record Express, is featured. The store shut down in 2006, and was one of the places I used to go whenever I took a walk down Main Street.

That same year, there was huge buzz about town that Target was going to come to the city, but planning and zoning rejected their plans to build a multi-level parking garage.

Earlier this year, residents of the town of Simsbury showed up in droves to P&Z meetings to protest the plans for Target to come to their town.

And in the past seven years, in my old hometown, Stop and Shop, TJ Maxx, CVS, Dunkin Donuts, and Starbucks have all moved in.

Big Box stores. Ya can't live with 'em, and nowadays, ya can't live without 'em.

Take Target (which I pronounce Tar-ZJAY), for instance. I absolutely love that store for its low prices and merchandise diversity. I go there to buy detergent and certain dry goods whenever they're on sale, because often the prices are better there than at my local Stop and Shop. I go to Stop and Shop for its convenience, but their prices aren't always the greatest. For good food prices and quality, I shop at Trader Joe's, but the nearest one is 20 miles away. And I buy my gas at the local Shell station.

That having been said, we all know now that Big Box stores are destroying local businesses. Middletown's businesses, like Record Express, are no exception. Whenever I can, I try to support the local vendors. I enjoy going to the natural food store, It's Only Natural, and buy various groceries there. When I buy a cup of coffee, I go to one of our Main Street coffee shops, either Javapalooza or Brew Bakers. I'm not perfect about going to local business, but like I said, I make efforts where I can.

My local business efforts increased recently when I signed up for my BThrifty card. I first encountered BThrifty at one of the Memorial Day parades I attended this year. There was a guy in a bee costume handing out environmentally friendly business cards. The cards advertised the new BThrifty website, and you could plant the card in the ground to grow wildflowers. I haven't planted my card yet, since I have a lousy record with plants.

Anyhoo, when the BThrifty ads appeared on TV, I decided to sign up. I'm still waiting for my card in the mail. The site doesn't officially go online till this Wednesday, but I'm looking forward to when it does. BThrifty has two goals: to reduce coupon printing and save trees, and to support local businesses. Hey, I appreciate saving trees and businesses!

And that's not all...BThrifty's giving away several hybrid and fuel efficient cars per year. Yay contests!

By the way, I am not being paid to advertise BThrifty; I'm just commenting on something interesting I just learned about. It'll be interesting to see what offers come about when it finally goes live.

I know that this won't help reduce the number of Big Box stores around, but it'll be nice to see the Mom and Pop businesses improve.

The Books That Changed My Life

When I was in high school, studying biology, we learned about the terms "herbivore," "carnivore," and "omnivore." However, it wasn't until last May that I learned about the term "locavore."

Barbara Kingsolver's wonderful book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle can be almost singlehandedly credited with bringing greater awareness to the local food movement. She really made me aware of not only what I was putting in my mouth, but where it came from. I wrote a brief post about the book last year, but now that I've finished, and had some time to reflect, feel that I can go into greater detail about it.

Whenever I went grocery shopping, I was conscientious of buying as much organic produce as my budget could possibly afford. However, it wasn't until after reading Kingsolver's book that I became aware of where those products came from. My organic gala apples, for example? Direct from Chile. While no pesticides were used to grow these delicious fruits, the petroleum and fuel burned to transport them to the United States was not worth it. The same goes for other produce that we get during the winter, such as tomatoes, when nothing grows in here in Connecticut.

Fortunately for Kingsolver, she lives on a large farm in Appalachia where she can grow most of her produce. She has the space in her kitchen to can fruits and veggies during the winter. She even raises her own chickens, not just for the eggs, but for the meat. Same goes for her turkeys. Anything she can't raise, she buys locally. Kingsolver doesn't have any cows, so she purchases her milk from local dairy farms.

As for me, I live in a two-bedroom condo in a mid-sized Connecticut city. I don't even have a full-sized kitchen, let alone a basement with a large refrigerator. We have farmers markets by the dozen scattered throughout the state from May till October, but during the winter, nothing grows here except for ice. It's easy for me to get local produce during these months, but there aren't many--if any--places to get local meat. Even if I can't get local meat, I want to be sure that the meat and poultry I buy is hormone free and was treated humanely when it was alive.

So between Barbara Kingsolver and Mollie Katzen, I should have a good diet. My goal for this next school year is to try and maintain my diet as well as I do during the summer, when I have more time to cook and really pay attention to my food options.

On another random note, it is now 8:45 PM here on the East Coast, and it's now officially dark. We're already losing more daylight! Arrgh! I shouldn't let this get me down, but still...as you will discover later in the year, I don't do so well in the winter months, physically, emotionally, or mentally...

But let's worry about that when January comes, shall we?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

My Next Trip to New York

I'm most likely returning to New York in the fall, once the weather's cooled down a bit, to visit the New York Public Library. I got the inspiration from PeaceBang's latest post. I didn't know there were exhibits at the New York Public Library, like the Gutenburg Bible.

But what really makes me want to visit? It's not the Gutenburg Bible, but the REAL, AUTHENTIC, ONCE PLAYED WITH BY THE ACTUAL CHRISTOPHER ROBIN Winnie the Pooh and friends!!! Go to the link above and you'll see a picture!!!

A day at the New York Public Library, then a trip to the Strand bookstore, and finally, a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge...yep, it sounds like the perfect fall day in the city!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Twelfth Night at Art Farm

Just when I was complaining about being bored, my E-mail box dinged. I had E-mail! And the E-mail was from a friend of mine: "Call me! Do you want to come to 'Twelfth Night' with us?"

Would I ever!

One of the things I like about Connecticut is our abundance of outdoor Shakespeare. Middletown is a fairly new entrant into the summer outdoor Shakespeare plays, with the wonderful organization Art Farm. Art Farm is a local theatre company, not only dedicated to quality performances, but to sustainable living and protecting our environment. You can find out more about them here.

For the past three years, Art Farm has produced and performed outdoor Shakespeare in the pine grove at Middlesex Community College. This year, their production was of the Shakespeare comedy "Twelfth Night," a comedy of mistaken identity, cross dressing, confusion, and love. Viola and Sebastian are twins separated after they are shipwrecked, and each believes the other to be dead. The play takes place in a time where it's dangerous for a woman to be alone, on her own, so Viola disguises herself as a man and is hired as a page by the Duke Orsino.

Viola, now known as Cesario, is sent by Orsino to the castle of Lady Olivia. Orsino tries to make Olivia fall in love with him, and uses Cesario as an intermediary. However, Olivia is not in love with Orsino--she's in love with Cesario, and has no idea that Cesario's a woman in disguise.

And that's just the beginning of the many plots involved in "Twelfth Night." You can find out more about them here.

It was a wonderful night for Shakespeare. There was a nice breeze, and we brought a picnic. We listened to a jazz duo before the show began. One of my friend's daughters is a cellist, and was psyched to see that one of the musicians was a double bassist. We ate our picnic dinner, listened to some jazz, and enjoyed the cool breeze in the pine grove. Then the show began, and we all sat on our blankets for two hours, riveted to the performances. We decided, after the show, that we liked it so much, we'd catch it again, or see more outdoor Shakespeare in the state.

Middlesex Community College is perched on a hill high enough that you can see the city of Middletown and its environs. On a clear day you can see all the way to Farmington and the UCONN Medical Center. Obviously, we didn't see that at 9:30 at night, but you know what we did see? Fireworks! Yes, I FINALLY SAW FIREWORKS!!! They weren't directly in town, but we could see them over towards Farmington, and closer to us, in either Portland or East Hampton. (We couldn't really tell). But we got a good, clear glimpse of fireworks going off, and while I did not get any pictures, it was truly exciting. We parked the car in an empty section of the parking lot, got out, and watched the fireworks for almost half an hour. What a perfect way to cap off a terrific evening!

I will have some "Twelfth Night" pictures up soon.

And to think I was complaining about boredom earlier today!

100th post!!!

Right now I'm bored--bored because it's a hot, sticky, humid day here on the Eastern Seaboard, and there's an air quality alert till 10 PM because of it. I'm asthmatic, and even though my asthma is well-controlled, I'm confined indoors because the pollutants and particles can still get to me.

I've tidied up a bit--put things away, washed dishes, and am now here. I baked my bittersweet mocha coffee cake this morning, and it was the best batch I've baked in a while. (That, and I had the proper ingredients this time). I substituted half of the required flour with soy protein powder to boost the nutritional content. I had a small slice and it made a nice breakfast.

And now I've just realized that this is my 100th post!!! Yeah!!! And if you look to the left of the screen and scroll down a bit, you'll see where my readers have been coming from. I'm getting readers from some places I never thought I'd see! This makes me happy. :)

That, and I just started a new book: On Mexican Time, by Tony Cohan. I'll post more about it once I've gotten farther into the book.

Now I'm going to tidy up some more...my condo's a mess! Ciao!

Four Things

Here's my version of a meme I found on another blog:

1. Four jobs you've had in your life: babysitter, checkout girl, ice cream scooper, teacher.

2. Four movies you could watch over and over: "Bedknobs and Broomsticks", "Beauty and the Beast", "The Wizard of Oz", " "Mary Poppins"

3. Four places you've lived: South Salem, New York; Paris, France; Fairfield, CT; New London, CT

4. Four TV shows you love to watch: Well, I don't make time to watch many TV programs these days, since most modern TV is crap, but if the reruns were still on, I'd say Carol Burnett, Carol Burnett, Carol Burnett, and Carol Burnett

5. Four places you've been on vacation: the Mexican Riviera; Long Beach Island; Lake George, NY; Disney World

6. Four websites you visit daily: CNN; The Hartford Courant; The New York Times; Pearls Before Swine

7. Four of your favorite foods: pasta, cheesecake, ice cream, chocolate

8. Four places you'd rather be: the beach, Paris, by the pool, or any outdoor summer festival

Friday, July 18, 2008

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Arrgh...

I realize that there has been a dearth of book posting lately, and I am embarrassed because I started this blog to review all the books I read. Well, I have barely read a book since my trip to Washington DC two--almost THREE!--weeks ago, and I am not sure what I should read next. That, and for someone like me, who is obsessed with books (my dad says I never met a bookstore I didn't like), this is a catastrophe.

Anyhoo, I'm hosting book club next month, and we're each reading a book of our own to report to the group, since we couldn't decide what to read. Two of the ladies are reading these deep, intellectual books, and that led me to change my original choice--I was going to re-read Anne of Green Gables, in honor of the 100th anniversary celebration. I'm not sure if the ladies in book club would laugh or praise my choice. Arrgh, I'm giving into peer pressure and self esteem issues here!!!!

Maybe it's best to read Anne of Green Gables in a group setting to discuss it. So I guess I'll pass up on that.

*SIGH*...back to the bookshelf we go...

Cooking with Kitten: Yogurt Cheese

I don't like mayonnaise, either the texture or the flavor. That, and it's not very good for you. So, in search of a healthier alternative, I discovered yogurt cheese, and I often use that instead of mayonnaise or cream cheese. I think it's also tastier than either mayonnaise or cream cheese.

This recipe came from The Moosewood Cookbook. Yogurt cheese is very easy to make.

I've adapted the procedure from the original to fit my own needs.

Here's what you do:

1. When you make yogurt cheese, you drain all of the water out of the yogurt, so you need to start with double the amount of yogurt that you want to end up with. For example, if you want one cup of yogurt cheese, you need to start off with two cups of yogurt. For two cups of yogurt cheese, you need to start off with four cups of yogurt.

2. I use plain yogurt, any kind will do--whole, lowfat, or nonfat.

3. Take a small sieve or colander (small is the key word here) and line it with paper towels or cheesecloth. Put the colander over a clean bowl, and then put the bowl in the sink. Spoon the yogurt into the lining. Fully wrap the yogurt in the paper towels or cheesecloth.

4. Take a can of beans, vegetables, or any other heavy can and place it on top of the cheesecloth. This helps the water drip out of the yogurt.

5. Let the yogurt sit overnight. I get the yogurt started before I go to bed.

6. In the morning, unwrap the lining and spoon the cheese into another container. It will keep for about a week.

I have made a yogurt pie with yogurt cheese before, and it is quite yummy. When I make it, I use vanilla yogurt to make the yogurt cheese, as opposed to plain. I spoon it into a pre-made pie crust, then refrigerate it overnight. I take it out in the morning and will either spread blueberry preserves on top, or, if I'm feeling really creative, arrange fresh blueberries in concentric circles on top.

You can also use yogurt cheese in place of sour cream when you make Mexican layer dip, or when you serve quesadillas.

I'm sure there are other uses for yogurt cheese, but I can't think of them now. Leave your suggestions in the comments area if you think of any.

Cooking with Kitten: Macaroni Salad

This afternoon I went to a pool party with some friends from work, and prepared this, one of my mother's summer specialties. It is ridiculously easy to make.

Macaroni Salad

INGREDIENTS:
8 ounces of cooked macaroni
1/2 onion, minced
1 celery stalk, finely diced
1 can salad shrimp
black pepper to taste
mayonnaise, to taste (I use plain yogurt, and I drain the water from it overnight to make it thicker...see the next post for instructions)

DIRECTIONS:
1. Boil macaroni until it is al dente. Cool completely.

2. Dump cooled macaroni into a large bowl. Add onion, celery, shrimp, and black pepper, and mix well.

3. Add the mayonnaise/thickened yogurt immediately before serving. If you make the dish in advance and add the mayonnaise before you put in the refrigerator, the pasta will fully absorb it, and you'll have to add more. So it's best to dress the salad right before you put it out.

It's a really good side dish, and also makes a nice light lunch/supper during the summer. I ate a LOT of pasta salad during the summer as I was growing up!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Summer Music

In lieu of an iPod playlist this week, I'd share some of my live music experiences this summer with you.

This evening I had the pleasure of attending one of the Wadsworth Mansion's free July concerts. Tonight was a get-up-and-dance kind of night with the music of Motown, and the fabulous band Souled Out. They opened with an energetic version of "Get Ready," sang an awesome cover of "My Girl," had the crowd on its feet with "Love Train," and finished with a cover of "Hearts Afire" that made you think that you were listening to Earth, Wind, and Fire. Check out their website when you get a chance; if you live on the East Coast, they may be playing somewhere near you soon.

If you're into a more mellow groove, head on over to Acts of Hope and Jane Redmont's recommendations for a soothing summer evening. She's got a couple of YouTube clips to some catchy Brazilian tunes, one of which will pleasantly stay in your head for a while.

Finally, when I was in DC, I went to a party one night that had this awesome band: Sound Connection. They're a really tight, funky party band that had everyone out on the floor. If you're ever in the DC area, check them out!

Cooking with Kitten: Tabouli

Here's a recipe for tabouli, which comes from The Moosewood Cookbook, my all time fave. I made it this afternoon and it involves a lot of wait time, but the results are worth it! There is so much flavor going on. I savored every bite.

But enough blab from me. Let's get to the good stuff.

Tabouli

INGREDIENTS:
1 cup uncooked bulgur wheat
1 1/2 cups boiling water (I just put the tea kettle on, and have a cup of tea while the bulgur soaks)
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (the juice of 2 lemons)
2 medium cloves garlic, crushed
black pepper, to taste
4 scallions, finely minced (whites and greens)
1 packed cup minced parsley
10 to 15 mint leaves, minced (or 1 to 2 tablespoons dried mint)
2 medium-sized ripe tomatoes, diced
OPTIONAL:
1/2 cup cooked chick peas
1 medium bell pepper, diced
1 small cucumber, seeded and minced

NOTE: Mollie Katzen advises that you throw the scallions, parsley, and mint into a food processor and let it go. That's what I did, and it made life easier. The salad looks better this way too.
And I added all of the optional ingredients to boost the veggie and protein content.

DIRECTIONS:
1. Combine bulgur and boiling water in a medium-large bowl. Cover and let stand until the bulgur is tender (20 to 30 minutes, minimum).

2. Add salt, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, and black pepper, and mix thoroughly. Cover tightly and refrigerate until about 30 minutes until serving.

3. About 30 minutes before serving, stir in remaining ingredients (including the optional ones) and mix well. Serve cold with warm wedges of lightly toasted pita bread. You can also serve it inside the pita bread.

NOTE: Mollie says you can prepare steps one and two "as much as a day or two in advance."

I need to add that this recipe was taken from The New Moosewood Cookbook, and not the original. The original one may have had a different tabouli recipe, but it still remains a mighty tasty dish, perfect for summer.

This recipe has officially become one of my Moosewood Mainstays!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Books That Changed My Life

I wasn't planning on adding another post to this series, but as I was making my weekly shopping list this afternoon, I thought that I should, given that my list was based on recipes from this book.

I've always loved to cook. When I was a kid I'd help my mom stir the tomato sauce, and eventually progressed to making desserts (my specialty as a teenager) and then full meals. Then I went out on my own and had to cook everything for myself. About six months after I moved out I got bored of making the same thing again and again.

I had been collecting cookbooks for a while, and one day found myself at my favorite used book store, perusing through the cookbook section to look to add to my collection. I came across one cookbook that was different from all of the others, mainly because it was handwritten and had some gorgeous black and white drawings of food.

The drawings and hand lettering were enough to make me buy the book, but I knew I had to examine its recipes. I soon discovered that this was a vegetarian cookbook. It had recipes for some very yummy dishes--lentil soup, chutneys, raita, falafel, and some other dishes that I never grew up experiencing, but was ready for my adult palate to try.

That book? The Moosewood Cookbook. Its author? Mollie Katzen.

I bought the book, took it home, and read it some more, dogearring the pages of the recipes that I wanted to try. I later found out that this was based on recipes served in the Moosewood Restaurant, a now-legendary vegetarian restaurant in Ithaca, New York, where my sister attended Ithaca College. I asked my sister if she ever dined in this restaurant, and she said she never did. So there was another justification for me to buy this book.

I was terribly excited to make a recipe from this book, and my first endeavor was "Perfect Protein Salad", an intriguing combination of soybeans, wheat berries, garlic, cottage cheese, scallions, carrots, cucumbers, and bell peppers in a dressing of cider vinegar, black pepper, mayonnaise, and parsley. (I substituted the mayonnaise with plain yogurt for a healthier, and zippier tasting version). It was very tasty, but my co-workers thought it was un peu bizarre. It didn't stop me from making it, though, and the natural food store became one of my favorite destinations on the way home from work.

As is the case with me, once I find an author I like, I scramble to get all of the editions of his/her books as soon as I can. There was no exception to this situation, when I learned that the Moosewood Collective had published a few other cookbooks. I eventually bought them all, and every time I make a Moosewood recipe, my guests and friends keep asking for more. I did the same thing with Mollie Katzen; a few years ago she published a book called Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Cafe, which has become one of the top 5 cookbooks I use in my kitchen. I got my recipe for Bittersweet Mocha Coffee Cake from this book, and it has become one of my signature dishes.

Today, I own many cookbooks, but The Moosewood Cookbook is the one I keep coming back to, time and again, whenever I want a change of pace. The recipes for lentil soup and minestrone have become two of my mainstays during the winter months. I also enjoy the recipes for gado gado and falafel. I'm planning to try the tabouleh recipe this week.

What is gado gado, you ask? I guess I'm going to have to post the recipe sometime soon so you can find out!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Brooklyn Bridge

It's become my tradition to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge whenever I go to the city by myself. And yesterday was the perfect day to do it.

I was pleasantly surprised to see the Waterfalls public art display, and even heard one of the installations underneath the bridge as I walked to Brooklyn.

All in all, between Bastille Day and the Brooklyn Bridge, it was a great day to be in the city.








Bastille Day on 60th Street, New York, July 13, 2008

Yesterday I attended the Bastille Day celebrations on 60th Street in Manhattan. 60th Street is home to the New York branch of l'Alliance Francaise, the largest world language school in the United States. The FIAF has lots of cultural events, movies, and goodies to sell, in addition to language lessons.

The FIAF was selling tickets to a "Wine and Cheese" tasting all day, which took place in their building. By 3:00 they had crossed off the word "cheese" from their signs. Malheureusement, I did not purchase a ticket, since my tummy was full on a chocolate crepe and some pommes frites. These weren't as good as their Parisian counterparts (the crepe was made with HERSHEY SYRUP--or at least it tasted an awful lot like it!), but it was still a noble effort, and made me want to return to La Belle France in the worst way. Time to save my pennies!

Anyhoo, enjoy these pictures from the event. This was the first thing I saw when I got off the subway.

Crepe makers were the first chefs I saw when I stepped onto 60th Street. My mouth started watering--it had been years since I had a good chocolate crepe!

Here's my crepe in its finishing stages...

...and here's the finished product, une crepe a la americaine. For it to be authentically French, it would be served in paper and not on a plate.

There were lots of yummy pastries along the way.This could very well be one of the next books I read. I'm a foodie, and I speak French, so that would be perfect!

In addition to the great food, there were lots of beauty treatments along the way, such as mini facials.

Here are some more French goodies, made with monoi and tamanu oils. According to the brochure I got, Tahitian women use these oils for hair and skin ailments.

I saw this little French tea party set at one of the vendor booths.

At the end of 60th Street, right at the entrance to Central Park, there was a car show full of antique Citroens...

...and Peugeots. My mom had a friend who drove a model similar to this one.

No French street fair would be complete without a mime...

...or can-can dancers!

Passez Une Bonne Fete de la Bastille!!

Bonjour mes amis et francophiles! Ca veut dire, les personnes qui parlent et lisent le francais.

For those of you who aren't a part of the Francophone community, today, July 14th, is Bastille Day, the French independence day. This is their "Fete Nationale", or National Holiday. The French also refer to this day as "le quatorze juillet." Here's a primer for those who aren't familiar with this oh-so-French of holidays.

Back in 1789, King Louis XVI was the monarch of France. France was in the middle of a major financial crisis, and had a taxation system that favored the upper class, leaving the middle and lower classes with the majority of the debt. (Sound familiar, kids?)

On May 5, 1789, the Estates-General was called into session to deal with this issue. The Estates-General was a general assembly that consisted of three segments of the French population: the First Estate (clergy), the Second Estate (nobles), and the Third Estate (the middle classes, or as they were collectively known, "la bourgeoisie"). Members of the Third Estate carried the majority of the tax debt. The First and Second Estates represented merely 3% of the total French population.

Keep in mind that France, in 1789, was in the middle of a revolution. The French were inspired by their American friends and their success in 1776 that they decided to have one of their own, rebelling against high government spending, high food prices, and lots of debt. (This sounds so familiar!)

Back to the Estates-General. Each one of the Three Estates had their own grievances against the king, and the rules that were established for parliamentary procedure in 1614 were seriously outdated. The Third Estate, the largest one, wanted their group vote to count as much as those of the First and Second Estates. Long story short, the majority of the Estates-General meeting was more of a battle over which estate held the most power, as opposed to settling the tax issue. Eventually, the First and Second Estates got their way.

The Third Estate was so frustrated that on June 17, declared themselves independent of the Estates-General and formed a legislative group of their own: the Assemblee Nationale (National Assembly), which exists today as France's main legislative body. Members of the First and Second Estates were invited to be a part of the Assemblee, but the Assemblee made it clear that it would conduct business with or without them.

The main goal of the Assemblee Nationale was to create a national constitution. The King was none too thrilled about this latest development, but was forced to recognize the Assemblee's authority.

The bourgeoisie then started sporting rosettes in the tricolore: blue, white and red. This became a symbol of the Revolution, and is France's national flag today. They were getting a lot of support from their countrymen, which made Louis XVI furious.

And things started going downhill from there.

On July 11, the King dismissed his finance minister, Jacques Necker, who had been sympathetic to the needs of the Third Estate. When this news reached Paris, citizens were upset. Crowds started marching through the streets of Paris, brandishing busts of Necker and the King's son, the duc d'Orleans. At one point, they stormed the Hotel des Invalides to acquire weapons. But they needed more weapons, and decided to storm the Bastille, a prison, for its large quantities of ammunition.

At this point, there were only seven prisoners in the Bastille, and the government had decided to close it. However, many Frenchmen viewed it as a symbol of royal tyranny.

Here's an image of the Bastille. Negotiations for the ammunition started early in the morning and continued into the early afternoon. The crowd became impatient, and around 1:30, stormed the outer courtyard and began to fire. This continued for another four hours, and only then did the crowd go inside.

Parisians anticipated a counter-attack, and built themselves barricades of stones, and armed themselves with whatever weapons they could to defend themselves.

When news of this reached Verseilles, the King knew that he couldn't fight against the bourgeoisie anymore. He recalled Necker, withdrew troops from around Paris, and returned to the capital city.

That wasn't the end to the complex relationship between the King and his people, but I'll stop there. I've gone on long enough. Special thanks to Wikipedia for helping me out with the Bastille Day history. Meanwhile, enjoy these images from previous Bastille Day celebrations in Paris. I'll be back later today with pics of a Bastille Day street fair I attended in New York yesterday.

Au revoir!




And the Icon Is...

If you read my previous post about my jaunt to Camden Yards, I posed a trivia question at the end. In case you didn't read it, let me repeat the question: Esskay Meats, one of the sponsors of the Orioles, also sponsored a five-minute kiddie show on WRC-TV in Washington DC in the late 1950s and early 1960s. One of the stars of this show went on to become a major international icon. Who is it?

If you guessed Kermit the Frog, you are correct, sir!

Jim Henson got his start by producing the show "Sam and Friends" as a five-minute program on WRC-TV. Here is one of those episodes, starring Kermit and a couple of other characters. There is a live Esskay ad at the end.

Enjoy!
video

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Visit to Birdland: Baltimore Orioles, July 2, 2008

Exactly one week after I paid my New Britain Rock Cats a visit, I found myself in Oriole Park at Camden Yards for a game between the O's and the Kansas City Royals.

You can tell that Baltimore is really proud of its team. The ballpark is almost smack dab in the middle of downtown, not far from the Inner Harbor. The streets around Camden Yards are full of stores and restaurants like this one:

There is so much detail in the planning and design of the park. Take a look at the Eutaw Street gates. All of the gates around the ballpark are like this one, with the orioles facing one another. I just thought it was a neat little detail that made you feel like you were at an old-fashioned ballpark (which was exactly what the designers of Oriole Park at Camden Yards were going after).

Here are some more examples of the thoughtfulness and care that went into the design of this ballpark. Here's one of the seats. The original logo of the first Baltimore baseball team is built into the seat.

Signs like this one were posted all over the stands. We didn't have to worry about batted balls in our left field section, at least not in this game. By the way, that oriole you see? It's taken from the logo from the 1983 team, the last Baltimore team to win a World Series.

Here's a wide shot of the outfield, with a great view of the old B&O warehouse behind right field. The warehouse now houses restaurants, team offices, and some apartments.

This was my favorite feature of the jumbotron--the Baltimore Sun clock and logo right above it. It added a really classy element to the ballpark. The orioles you see on either side of the clock are weathervanes, and they kept spinning in the breeze all night.

Here's a shot from where I was sitting, right above left field:

PLAY BALL!!!

Here's a better shot of the action:

And here are two O's outfielders, warming up before the inning starts:
And how did the O's do that night?
It was an incredible game. The pitcher, Daniel Cabrera, had pitched a complete game. He went 0-3 in the month of June, with a 7.06 ERA, and really needed this win. He retired 14 straight batters between the fourth and eighth innings.

And that's not all! Aubrey Huff hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the first. Nick Markakis had an RBI double. I'm pretty sure there was a triple somewhere in there, but orioles.com didn't have that listed in the game's recap (which helped me tremendously in reviewing the game's stats.) And what a feeling it was to hear "Orioles Magic" play in the stands as the crowds left the ballpark.

That game left me a fan of Orioles baseball. They're not quite up there with my love for the Mets yet, but they'll get there. (Remember, the O's played the "Miracle Mets" in the 1969 World Series--and no Met fan who was alive then will ever forget that year. Me? I'll always remember the '86 Series. I was alive then).

Finally, I leave you with this photo. Take a look at the Esskay Meats logo to the left of the scoreboard. Between innings, Esskay sponsored a "hot dog race" on the jumbotron, a computer-animated race between Mustard, Ketchup, and Relish hot dogs. Three hot dogs, each with their condiment of choice, ran, or should I say, bounced around the bases. The first hot dog to completely circle the bases was the winner--and tonight it was relish.

I mention this because Esskay, back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, sponsored a brief, five-minute kids show on WRC-TV in Washington, DC. One of its stars went on to become a major international icon.

Who is this superstar? Find out in the next post!

Ms. Kitten and Mr. Roosevelt

While I was walking along the Tidal Basin, I came across the FDR memorial, a memorial that was long overdue in Washington, but well worth the wait.

The memorial is divided up into five "rooms", four representing a term of FDR's presidency, and a "Prologue Room." The Prologue Room starts with the presidential seal, with the first year of his tenure in office, 1933, carved below it:


Then we are introduced to the man himself. President Roosevelt had polio, and was wheelchair-bound for the duration of his term.


For some reason I never took pictures in Room One, but I took a few in Room Two. In Room Two, sculptures depict some of the hardships of the times. This first sculpture depicts a man listening to one of FDR's Fireside Chats on the radio.


This next one, and the one that follows, symbolize the poverty and unemployment of the times. The quotes in the walls, which didn't come out well in the photos, talk about some of the New Deal Programs like the Works Progress Administration, which helped the unemployed find jobs.



These relief sculptures are supposed to depict some of the conditions that inspired FDR to create his New Deal programs. Unfortunately, you can't see too much detail in the photos, and I haven't figured out how to "click and enlarge" for detail. (Jane Redmont is an expert at that in her blog.)


One of the organizations that FDR created under the New Deal was the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The TVA created many jobs for a region hit particularly hard by the Depression. A large series of dams and a few fossil fuel plants were built provide electricity and flood control to the citizens of Tennessee and some parts of Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Kentucky. This water sculpture, one of many in the memorial, symbolizes the creation of the TVA.


Room Three has a marvelous sculpture of FDR and his beloved dog, Fala.

There's another terrific water sculpture adjacent to FDR and Fala. These water sculptures, according to the brochure supplied by the National Park Service, are meant to give the memorial more of a relaxed garden feel, as opposed to a monstrous building.

Room Four begins with a statue of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, which honors her work with the United Nations and human rights issues.

The monument ends with a sculpture of FDR's funeral cortege, which hangs in a small alcove just before you walk out.

This was a truly beautiful monument, and there really is nothing like it in Washington. You really get a feeling of peace as you walk through it, and you don't feel intimidated by imposing sculptures. While I was there, many tourists took the opportunity to pose for pictures of themselves sitting with FDR and Fala. And this memorial is adjacent to the Tidal Basin and the cherry trees; I can only imagine how beautiful it must be in the spring.

I think this has replaced the Lincoln Memorial as my favorite monument in Washington.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

A Beachy, Beautiful Weekend

I have just spent two glorious days on the beach--two separate beaches, that is. I cannot remember the last time I spent two consecutive days on a beach. Needless to say, this is the first time I have sunburn in a long time--even though I lathered up with the SPF 45. Still, it was all worth it. Yesterday I spent some time with some girlfriends from work, and it was great to spend time with those gals. Then I got to spend more time with some girlfriends at book club, where we discussed The Devil in the White City. One of our members brought us each bags of Cracker Jack, since this confection was invented at the World Columbian Exposition in 1893.

At book club, most of us agreed that The Devil in the White City was not one of those books you could really get into and plow through; there were so many facts, you had to read a little, pause, and take some time to absorb what you had just read. Many said that the print in the book made it hard to read, it was so small. (As the book club's youngest member, I didn't have a problem reading the print).

Then today, I spent the first half of the day at Ocean Beach Park in New London, a return to my old stomping grounds. I discovered that Ocean Beach was just as nice as it was when I left, if not nicer. They're sprucing up and rebuilding the boardwalk and raising funds to renovate the arcade and the Sandbar Cafe. I wish I had taken pictures, but it felt so good to just relax in the sand. The one bummer, however, were the sporadic jellyfish that were in the water, a feature which is not all that common to Ocean Beach (at least the times I've been there).

From Ocean Beach, around 2 PM I headed to Sailfest. I stayed there for about two hours, then returned home, bummed that I didn't feel like staying for the fireworks. To be truthful, there were many Sailfest veterans who had come prepared to stay for the fireworks: they set up camp along the City Pier during the wee hours of the morning. They arrived with their beach chairs, food, and even pup tents to take naps.

And Sailfest organizers were prepared for these people! They took blue painter's tape and they taped a line along the center of the pier! Signs were posted that directed people to put their beach chairs, blankets, and pup tents at the waterfront side of the pier. Safety first, according to the signs!

And I especially wasn't prepared for the parking situation. New London is a city with an area of only six--that's right, six--square miles. There were areas with very limited parking, and it wasn't cheap. I parked in the cheapest lot, at $7.00, which was also the lot farthest away from the action. And I was wearing my flip flops from the beach, not the wisest choice of footwear. (My blisters from last week have healed, but now my left heel is bothering me beaucoup). These lots were actually the parking lots of various corporate buildings around the area, and they charged between $10 and $25 for parking.

I had gotten there at 2 so I could hang out for a while, then drive to Mystic for a while to spend some time there before returning at 6 to secure a place for the fireworks. However, the combo of expensive parking, sore feet, and crowds led me to return home. I know I could have caught the fireworks from Conn College or the Crystal Mall, but I didn't have much to occupy myself for the hours in between. That, and I was by myself, so it wasn't like I could ask someone to hold my place for me.

So, now I have experienced two occasions coming so close to seeing live fireworks, but barely missing out. I watched the DC fireworks from my hotel room, but could hear them, in full stereo, because my hotel was a couple of miles away from the Mall. I am bummed...but determined to see fireworks sometime this year!

Still, I've gotten more time at the beach this summer than I did last summer...and that makes me feel pretty good. :)

Friday, July 11, 2008

The New Symbol of Our Nation's Capital

Everyone who went to DC for our convention was amazed at the sheer number of Starbucks stores on every block. There must have been at least three or four within walking distance of our hotel.

I was originally going to go as far as saying that the double-finned mermaid was our new national symbol, but that would be going too far.

Ironically, on July 1st, the second day of my stay, Starbucks announced it would close 600 stores across the country by the end of the year. I'll bet you that 1/5 of those stores will be in DC and NYC.