Wednesday, May 27, 2009

(Almost) A Week With Mike and Lesley

So it's hard to believe that Mike and Lesley's trip has come and gone already! (And that I started this blog post 6 days ago and am only just now getting back to it--sheesh!) We had an absolutely amazing time. I can't even say how fantastic it was. Unfortunately, I didn't get too many pictures, but oh well! I was too busy having the time of my life.

I picked them up in Richmond on Thursday morning. Leah and I went down early and we made a little flag that said, "Welcome Uncle Mike and Auntie Lesley!" to greet them with when they came through the security gate. Of course while we were waiting, Leah held court with the many passersby who admired her, but once Mike and Lesley arrived, all bets were off. They had packed light and so had all their gear with them, although Lesley ran afoul of the TSA by packing contact lens solution AND shampoo (naughty!).

We got back to the house before 11:00 and decided to get some Chinese food for lunch. We just hung around and caught up. It had been a year and a half since we'd all been together (seriously!? WTH?! That sucks! Never again!) and they needed to get acquainted with their new niece. Michael rolled in around 5:30 and we got to talking about dinner and decided to go to the new Fredericksburg Pub. Apparently we don't have enough shopping here in F'burg because outside our mall, a new shopping area is going in, and the Fredericksburg Pub is the premiere eatery and is actually open! Mike had sent me a list of restaurants he was curious about in the DC area, and I mentioned the pub to him, and he was sold. I knew Lesley and I would enjoy it and Michael loved it when we went the previous weekend, so we were off! We wound up sitting outside under some stereo speakers playing "Name That Band" and enjoyed the heck out of ourselves. We got home and discussed plans for Friday. Michael and Leah were both under the weather, and Lesley and Mike planned to go to DC on Saturday to meet Lesley's family who were visiting from Canada. We also planned to go to DC on Monday, so we decided we'd try to go to Charlottesville on Friday.

Leah chose Thursday night to throw one holy hell of a temper tantrum. Seriously, I called my mom at 11:00AM and I was like, "What am I going to do with this demon who has invaded my baby!?" Eventually Leah wore herself out, but it was rough going. Consequently, I didn't get a whole lot of sleep, so I wound up sleeping in a bit on Friday, which put us off to a late start. Happily, Mike and Lesley totally understood and were just ready to roll whenever we were. Michael decided to stay home, so the other 4 of us piled in the car and headed for Charlottesville--or so we thought.

We talked about where to eat lunch, and Mike said he'd like to go someplace where we could sit and relax. I thought about it and suggested a little place in Culpeper I know called It's About Thyme. Culpeper is on the way to Charlottesville if you don't take the backroads, and it seemed like a perfect spot to stop en route to Monticello, our ultimate destination. We got the restaurant and it was packed, so we wound up waiting about 20 minutes for a table. Mike amused himself by having Lesley pose making various gang signs and laughing his butt off. We were there for over an hour, and thoroughly enjoyed our lunch. But when we got out, we realized it would be kind of dumb to go to Charlottesville, as we wouldn't get there till at least 4:30 and there was probably a limited chance we'd get to go on the Monticello tour. Fortunately, flexibility was our name, and we decided to wander around Culpeper. Lesley and I found a tea shop and bought some raspberry curd (waaaaaaaaaaaaay better than lemon curd!) and we went to the visitor's center and various local shops. It was fun!

On the way back, we stopped off at the store so we could get the supplies for the 80 Plates: India dinner, and that was how we spent our Friday evening--cooking Indian food, hanging out, and relaxing.

Saturday morning, Lesley and Mike got ready and we drove them up to Springfield to get on the metro to go visit Lesley's family for the day. We had talked about the need to rent a car because we weren't sure that we would all be comfortable in the Kosiormobile with Lesley and I squished in around the carseat. But it worked out fine. And at first, I offered to let them take the car for the day on Saturday, but they didn't really feel comfortable leaving us without a car "in case something happened". So thoughtful, just one more reason I love them.

So Mike called a couple places--Enterprise didn't have anything. The second call was hilarious and went a little something like this:

Mike: I'd like to get a car for today.
Car Co.: It has to be back by noon. (it was 9am and they planned to be gone all day)
Mike: Ok, I'll keep it till tomorrow.
Car Co: We aren't open tomorrow.
Mike: Can't I drop it off?
Car Co: If you are near a major airport.
Mike: Ok, how much to have it till Monday?
Car Co: Monday is a holiday, we are closed.
Mike: How about this? You tell ME when I can drop the car off.

We were all cracking up. It wound up they'd have to keep the car till Tuesday and it would have been a lot of money, so we just said we'd drive them, not that Michael and I were especially worried about not having a car.

After we dropped them off, I needed a Starbucks run after another particularly late night and early morning with my WW weigh in. Then we headed to Judy and Lucas's for lunch at Bugsy's and then went home, where I was promptly sick as a dog from something I ate at lunch. I spent much of the afternoon in the bathroom, and we really didn't do much for dinner.

Because we'd decided to have a BBQ on Sunday for Memorial Day, and because we thought it was kind of crazy to have me drive all the way back to DC, Judy offered to drive Mike and Lesley to Woodbridge. So I decided we could meet at Wegman's so I could grocery shop for the BBQ. Mike had put in a special request that I make "coney sauce" for our hot dogs, a special chili sauce that Michael's mom is famous for. I needed to get the stuff for that as well as other items, and I wound up getting everything EXCEPT the stuff for the coney sauce. But I was too tired to go back through the store and get back in line, so I decided to go to Giant on Sunday.

We got home and everyone chattered for a while before turning in early.

Sunday was fun! Lesley and I did our book shopping excursion in the late morning and got the Mikes some fudge on our way back (which was promptly placed in the freezer and forgotten until Mike and Lesley were safely at home). Lesley got Leah a Beatrix Potter tea cup, which is now proudly on display in our china cupboard. I went to Giant and got the stuff we needed for the Coney Island sauce, came home and promptly lost the recipe card from my mother-in-law. Consequently, I started guessing what went into it, since I'd read the recipe so many times and had a fair idea. Finally Michael called his mom to find out the real deal, and I had only messed up a little bit by adding 3 tablespoons of vinegar instead of 3 teaspoons. It was also supposed to simmer for 2 hours, but we didn't have that kind of time. We were hungry!

We had our little BBQ with Judy and Lucas and Dottie down to visit. They arrived mid-afternoon bearing dessert (Smores pie) and I sparked up the grill. Soon we were all gathered around the table munching on dogs and burgers, corn on the cob, macaroni salad, cole slaw, coney island sauce, chips, the works. It was GOOD. For dessert, Judy broke out the Smores pie, which had melted all over the place and was threatening to take over. Fortunately she'd had the foresight to put a cookie sheet under it before driving it down here or I don't know what she'd have done for her car! Melissa stopped by while we were all sitting around outside on the front porch--it was a gorgeous day. We hung around into the late hours of the evening and then Melissa departed, Leah finally fell asleep, and we all turned in to prepare for our DC excursion!

It was at this point I realized how quickly time was flying and how badly that sucked. Back just after we got home with Leah, I remember thinking that she filled a hole I didn't even know existed in our lives--we knew we had wanted children, but we didn't know or were nervous about how she would fit in or we would change to fit in with her, and it turned out she just sort of slid in and completed us. Well, the same sort of feeling happened with Mike and Lesley. When they first got here, we were hanging out downstairs and Mike said, "Your house just feels like home. It's so comfortable." (What an awesome thing to say about someone's house, by the way!) and having them here made it feel like everything was full circle. So we started joking about them moving in, but it was only half a joke. At least on my end. (Although Mike started looking at apartments in DC when they got back :-D)

So anyway, Monday we all got moving a little later in the morning--everyone was so laid back that we just didn't care if we didn't leave the house at 9:00 or at noon. We left around 11:30 and Lesley and I decided our first stop was to go to the Library of Congress. What an amazingly beautiful building! I had never been there before, and I was blown away by it. We just walked around, saw the Gutenberg Bible, looked in the exhibit halls. We did not take the tour, but I plan to next time. They had a beautiful room with Thomas Jefferson's library in it, which made me feel like such a dumbass--the guy had some very high brow reading selections--with amazing curved shelves that Lesley and I immediately coveted. It was actually the only room where we saw any books!

Afterwards, we went to the LOC store and I got Lesley a T-shirt that said, "I cannot live without books. --Thomas Jefferson" So cool! We went outside to take some more pictures.

It must suck to be the woman in this fountain and get smacked in the face by water all day long

After we left LOC, we decided to go to Union Station for lunch. We all wanted something light because we had plans to go to Elephant and Castle for dinner. Plus, you can park at Union Station for a dollar. So all in all, it is the smart choice. We had lunch at Johnny Rockets, where Mike ordered the chicken fingers and got a whole 3 of them. Ha! But we made up for it by going upstairs to the Godiva chocolate shop, where I got my traditional chocolate covered strawberry and we got truffles to share with the men. It was then that Leah needed to be well and truly changed and I decided to put her in some clothes that actually fit. I thought that for Memorial Day, I would put her in a "Born in the USA" shirt that my sister had given us as a hand-me-down from Dottie. However, the entire outfit was waaaaaaaaaay too small! How'd Leah get so big already!? Still, you gotta love that belly hanging out.

I had decided it would be fun for us to go to Madame Tussaud's Museum. I took Michael to the Times Square one when we went sightseeing in NYC a few years ago and we had a blast, so I thought it'd be fun to go to the new one in DC now that it is open. Unfortunately, we couldn't get a parking spot over there, so the 2 Mikes decided to circle while Lesley, Leah, and I went in and had fun with the wax figures.

I've been to the original museum in London, which is FABULOUS, and the NYC one is great. Honestly, I think they need to keep working on DC, there's not too much in there. We got stuck behind a big group of Indian tourists, so we kind of skirted around them and then went back through when things got quieter.Lesley met a hunky dude while we were there and he seemed to like her too.

She was also strictly interrogated by J. Edgar Hoover about her possible activities in the service of Canada, but she told him, "You'll never take me alive, flat head!" and he let her go with a warning.

Meanwhile, Leah and I hobnobbed with the Kennedys and President Obama.

Finally, we all partied with Brangelina and then it was time to find the men.

(Sorry, Ange, this is one baby you can't adopt!)

Lesley bought Leah a little sign in the gift shop that says "Leah Way"--as in, it's Leah's Way or No Way! So cute--I put it up in her room. Then we found Mike and Mike sitting in the car, they had found a parking space right outside the museum, but decided to sit and gossip catch up while we were inside.

Then it was time to head to Elephant and Castle for dinner. We had a wonderful meal there--Mike and I both got the fish and chips to compare to the fish and chips we got at the Fredericksburg Pub. I can't claim a preference either way, both were outstanding. We shared some appetizers, and just had a wonderful time. Mike and I took pictures of each other--the other half of this series is on his Facebook profile. Lesley tried the stuffed Yorkshire pudding that I had when Michael and I went before the Christopher Guest concert. She agreed with me that it wasn't a traditional Yorkshire, but was still pretty darned good!

Then it was time to head back to the 'burg, our DC day ended. Time was going way to freakin' quickly! We got back around 8:30 and then Lesley and I printed out our 40% off coupons and headed to Borders. Borders was having a pretty decent sale, plus all their steeply discounted books were Buy One Get One, so I got 2 books for $3 and then 2 more, one of which was 40% off. I walked out with 4 books for $23. AWESOME!

We came home and watched the season premiere of Intervention and the series premiere of Obsessed, both of which were fantastic. A&E's documentary series are top notch. And then it was bed time!

Tuesday morning dawned way too quickly--the day Mike and Lesley were leaving. *SIGH SIGH SIGH* They packed up in the morning and then we drove to Quantico, where we were harrassed by the guard at the gate for having a "faded decal". BFD, buddy. The General was waiting for us and we grabbed him and went down to Jimmy The Greek's restaurant in Stafford for lunch. YUM. I had the chicken souvlaki and it was fantastic! We took Michael back to work and then we headed to Fredericksburg with an increasingly cranky Leah to do a little geocaching. We managed to find one cache before Leah had a total meltdown and then we went home. Lesley used the time to research and buy Leah a high chair (THANKS AGAIN!) and then we headed out to Richmond to the airport. SIGH SIGH SIGH.

It was a tearful (on my part at least) good-bye! I was so sad to pull away from the airport and watch them head inside. Fortunately, Leah was good almost all the way back home, until about 3 miles before our exit when she started crying. When I got home, I started blubbering again, but managed to regain my composure after a little while. It was such an amazing visit. I am determined not to let another 18 months pass before we see each other again. We are talking about getting a beach house in Myrtle Beach next spring, but I hope Michael and I can get to Atlanta before that.

Thanks, Mike and Lesley, for totally spoiling us rotten during your visit. We love you so much and are so thankful that fate threw us all together in New England!!!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Danger! Book Buying!

So over the weekend, Lesley and I decided to leave the men at home with Leah and do a little book shopping. Fredericksburg is home to two great independent bookstores, Riverby Books (used books in a great old store) and The Griffin (a newer place to buy mainly new books--they have a coffee shop within AND a book club I am considering joining). We also both had a 40% off coupon from our Borders Rewards memberships, and they were making our palms itch, so Sunday we hit Riverby and Griffin and Monday we hit Borders.

Lesley was kept honest by the constraints of her suitcase. I, on the other hand, have not been book shopping in a long, long time and am only constrained by my husband's feigned crabbiness over the number of books in the house (I know he doesn't mean it!). So I picked up a good number of books and to make matters worse, Melissa showed up with one for me on Sunday!

So here's what I picked up:

1*. Imagined London (Anna Quindlen). Best-selling novelist and Newsweek columnist Quindlen has always been an "indefatigable" reader, and British novels set in London, "indisputably the capital of literature," have been a particular passion. Quindlen acquired a vivid impression of the city from absorbing Dickens, Eliot, Galsworthy, Doyle, Woolf, and Lessing, writers for whom London was as much a living character as their indelible protagonists. But she admits she was reluctant to travel there and obliterate the imagined with the actual. Finally, a book tour sends her to this fabled place, and she does revel in London's evocative complexity as she undertakes pilgrimages to literary landmarks. Deftly contrasting "the London frozen in the amber of great fiction" with today's city, Quindlen discerns the key lesson of English literature: the "unvarying nature both of social problems and personal dramas."

2. So Long, See You Tomorrow (William Maxwell). On an Illinois farm in the 1920s, a man is murdered, and in the same moment the tenous friendship between two lonely boys comes to an end. In telling their interconnected stories, American Book Award winner William delivers a masterfully restrained and magically evocative meditation on the past.

3. At Large and At Small (Anne Fadiman). Fadiman begins her second essay collection by quoting her father, the waggish intellectual of page, radio, and television Clifton Fadiman, lamenting the impending demise of the "familiar essay." Decades later, Anne is happy to report that the essay has survived, even if the familiar essay is now less, well, familiar than the critical or personal essay. A familiar essay is a confiding, inquiring, and witty reflection on a passionately considered subject. This intimate form was perfected by Charles Lamb, a writer Anne adores. With Lamb and her father serving as muses, Fadiman writes funny and keen essays that seemingly without effort mesh the personal with the literary and historical to surprising and edifying ends. Fadiman finds lessons for living in the contemplation of ice cream and coffee, the adventures of an Arctic explorer, and the collecting of butterflies. A master of the tangential, a close observer, and a lover of language, Fadiman is blithely brilliant in her pursuit of beauty and meaning as she wrestles with questions of life, death, and rebirth.

4. Gone With the Wind (Margaret Mitchell). Many novels have been written about the Civil War and its aftermath. None take us into the burning fields and cities of the American South as Gone With the Wind does, creating haunting scenes and thrilling portraits of characters so vivid that we remember their words and feel their fear and hunger for the rest of our lives. In the two main characters, the white-shouldered, irresistible Scarlett and the flashy, contemptuous Rhett, Margaret Mitchell not only conveyed a timeless story of survival under the harshest of circumstances, she also created two of the most famous lovers in the English-speaking world since Romeo and Juliet.

5. Dear American Airlines (Jonathan Miles). This crisp yowl of a first novel from Miles finds despairing yet effusive litterateur Benjamin Ford midair in midlife crisis. Bennie is en route from New York, where he shares a cramped apartment with his stroke-disabled mother and her caretaker, to L.A., where he will attend his daughter Stella's wedding. He gets stranded at O'Hare when his connecting flight—along with all others—is unaccountably canceled. In the long, empty hours amid a marooned crowd, Bennie's demand for a refund quickly becomes a scathing yet oddly joyful reflection on his difficult life, and on the Polish novel he is translating. Bennie writes lightly of his dark years of drinking, of his failed marriages, about his mother's descent into suicidal madness and about her marriage to Bennie's father, a survivor of a Nazi labor camp. Bennie's father recited Polish poetry for solace during Bennie's childhood, inadvertently setting Bennie's life course; Bennie's command of language as he describes his fellow strandees and his riotous embrace of his own feelings will have readers rooting for him. By the time flights resume, Miles has masterfully taken Bennie from grim resignation to the dazzling exhilaration of the possible.

6*. Foreign Correspondence (Geraldine Brooks). The leap between dreamy child living in a provincial Australian neighborhood and journalist hopscotching through war zones is massive. In Foreign Correspondence, Geraldine Brooks unravels the rope that pulled and tugged her toward adventure and away from "a very small world" where her family had no car and had never boarded a plane or placed an international phone call. "I'd never imagined myself as someone whose packing list would include a chador, much less a bulletproof vest," she says. Preserved in the cellar of her parents' home in Sydney were letters Brooks had received as a teenager from several international pen pals, around whom she spun a romantic view of the world. Wondering about the reality of their lives and the progression of her own, she tracks them down in France, Japan, the Middle East, and New York. En route, Brooks delivers a wonderful meditation on childhood and adolescence lashed with rich details and quirky humor.

7*. The Memory of Running (Ron McLarty). Smithy Ide is a really nice guy. But he's also an overweight, friendless, womanless, hard-drinking, 43-year-old self-professed loser with a breast fetish and a dead-end job, given to stammering "I just don't know" in life's confusing moments. When Smithy's entire family dies, he embarks on a transcontinental bicycle trip to recover his sister's body and rediscover what it means to live. Along the way, he flashes back to his past and the hardships of his beloved sister's schizophrenia, while his dejection encourages strangers to share their life stories.

8. The Member of the Wedding (Carson McCullers). The Member of the Wedding tells the story of the inimitable twelve-year-old Frankie, who is utterly, hopelessly bored with life until she hears about her older brother's upcoming marriage. Bolstered by lively conversations with the family maid, Berenice, and her six-year-old male cousin--not to mention her own unbridled imagination--Frankie takes an overly active fole in the wedding. She hopes even to go, uninvited, on the honeymoon, so deep is her desire to become part of something larger, more accepting than herself.

9. Beautiful Boy (David Sheff). From as early as grade school, the world seemed to be on Nic Sheff's string. Bright and athletic, he excelled in any setting and appeared destined for greatness. Yet as childhood exuberance faded into teenage angst, the precocious boy found himself going down a much different path. Seduced by the illicit world of drugs and alcohol, he quickly found himself caught in the clutches of addiction. Beautiful Boy is Nic's story, but from the perspective of his father, David. Achingly honest, it chronicles the betrayal, pain, and terrifying question marks that haunt the loved ones of an addict. Many respond to addiction with a painful oath of silence, but David Sheff opens up personal wounds to reinforce that it is a disease, and must be treated as such. Most importantly, his journey provides those in similar situations with a commodity that they can never lose: hope.

10**. The Stepmother (Carrie Adams). Adams follows up 2006's The Godmother with a perceptive chick noir, once again debunking the notion that everything's smooth sailing once you've found the love of your life. Tessa King (heroine of Adams's first novel) has finally nabbed hers: James, an older man with three charming daughters from a previous marriage. These daughters—including daddy's girl extraordinaire, 14-year-old Amber—don't seem so lovely once stepmother-in-waiting Tessa has to deal with their dirty school uniforms and petty jealousies. Nor did Tessa sign up for the emotional baggage of James's ex-wife, Bea, who broke James's heart. With all the angst, how's a girl supposed to plan the perfect white wedding? Meanwhile, Bea—who shares narration duty—still has a torch burning for James and has buried years of regret and guilt under binge eating and, soon, compulsive drinking. Family dramas and crises bring Bea and Tessa together with surprising results.

11. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows). Traditional without seeming stale, and romantic without being naïve” (San Francisco Chronicle), this epistolary novel, based on Mary Ann Shaffer’s painstaking, lifelong research, is a homage to booklovers and a nostalgic portrayal of an era. As her quirky, loveable characters cite the works of Shakespeare, Austen, and the Brontës, Shaffer subtly weaves those writers’ themes into her own narrative. However, it is the tragic stories of life under Nazi occupation that animate the novel and give it its urgency; furthermore, the novel explores the darker side of human nature without becoming maudlin.

12. My Husband's Sweethearts (Bridget Asher). Faced with the imminent death of her charming, cheating and estranged husband Artie, Lucy Shoreman decides to call the names in his little black book and invite the ladies to his Philadelphia home to say a final farewell. For her part, 30-ish Lucy, who's 18 years Artie's junior, can't decide whether she loves or hates the man, while her much-married mother insists he deserves forgiveness. As a broad spectrum of his ex-lovers arrives, including a surprised mother-and-daughter duo and a troubled young woman Lucy takes under her wing, Artie's previously undisclosed and estranged grown son, John, shows up and seems as wickedly appealing as Dad. Asher, a pen name of prolific author Julianna Baggott, takes the edge off her sharply drawn characters with a succession of familiar sentiments. But flashes of wit and a parade of memorable women keep pages turning as Lucy grows increasingly and endearingly confused about her feelings toward Artie, John and the rest.

12. How Starbucks Saved My Life (Michael Gates Gill). In his fifties, Michael Gates Gill had it all: a mansion in the suburbs, a wife and loving children, a six-figure salary, and an Ivy League education. But in a few short years, he lost his job, got divorced, and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. With no money or health insurance, he was forced to get a job at Starbucks. Having gone from power lunches to scrubbing toilets, from being served to serving, Michael was a true fish out of water. But fate brings an unexpected teacher into his life who opens his eyes to what living well really looks like. The two seem to have nothing in common: She is a young African American, the daughter of a drug addict; he is used to being the boss but reports to her now. For the first time in his life he experiences being a member of a minority trying hard to survive in a challenging new job. He learns the value of hard work and humility, as well as what it truly means to respect another person. Behind the scenes at one of America’s most intriguing businesses, an inspiring friendship is born, a family begins to heal, and, thanks to his unlikely mentor, Michael Gill at last experiences a sense of self-worth and happiness he has never known before.

* means Lesley recommended the book with such vigor I was helpless to not purchase it
** means Melissa dropped it off

I'm going to have A LOT of reading to do. Fortunately, I've already read Guernsey, but I needed a print copy for book club--I read it on audio with an amazing ensemble cast. I am giving Anne Fadiman another chance to impress me, I really didn't like Ex Libris very well. I've wanted to read the Starbucks book for a long time, and when it was a BOGO deal at Borders with Beautiful Boy, I leapt at the chance to get both books for $4. I also came home with a healthy list of books to try and get from PaperbackSwap. Sheesh! Am I a glutton for punishment? You should see my "to be read" shelf as it is!

Lesley and I laughed a lot over how we have nothing in common but get along so well--our reading tastes are drastically different, our taste in music is radically different, you name it, we are probably on opposite ends of the spectrum. But we love each other like sisters, so that's all that matters. :-) To that end, she and I are going to work on a little project that I'll say more about soon when we get ourselves organized.

Happy page turning!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

80 Plates Returns! India: "What Smells Like Feet?!"

So a few months ago when planning Mike and Lesley's visit, Mike said he wanted to do the Indian entry into 80 Plates while they were up! It so happens that my new blog friend Sylvie swapped me some of her Indian recipes for my fondue recipe, and so I had a plan in place for if I ever got back to doing 80 Plates again! This was the perfect opportunity to do so. India is the perfect country, too, since Michael isn't that nuts about Indian cuisine, so I'd have people to share it with!

I decided to try Sylvie's Coconut Curry Chicken recipe, which you can find on her cooking blog. Lesley volunteered to help, so we set out on our culinary adventure together! We made a quick stop at Giant yesterday to get supplies on our way home from Culpeper, where we had enjoyed a wonderful lunch at It's About Thyme and arrived home, deciding we weren't quite ready for dinner yet. We gave it about an hour and then settled in to cook!

While we were at Giant, I spotted a box of Palak Paneer, a spinach dish that Mike (Lesley's Mike, not mine!) has grown to like. So I decided I'd pick that up as well to have as a side dish, and I got some basmati rice to enjoy with the whole thing. We really didn't want a TON of food, and it looked from Sylvie's blog that this would just fit the bill for four people. Leah was naturally disappointed, but I told her that when she has teeth, she can try some!

So we got to work. Based on our last trip to Atlanta to stay with Mike and Lesley, I knew Lesley was a whiz with chopping up chicken, which is a task that, while I don't overtly hate it, I am happy to pass off. Lesley is an extremely conscientious chicken cooker, rinsing it off first and then chopping. I don't know, but I suspect this makes it taste better, as I feel that her chicken fingers are way better than mine.

Meanwhile, I got to work getting the spices and ancilliary ingredients ready. I measured out cumin seeds, ground coriander, and curry powder (which you see in the bowl), crushed garlic, grated ginger, and sliced up an onion. (I second Sylvie's suggestion for crushing garlic under a knife with the flat of your palm--it definitely is a great technique if you want the garlic somewhat in tact and don't want to lose the juice through a press.) I also toasted up some whole cashews. Now, Sylvie, I demand to know your secret supplier for whole, unsalted cashews! I couldn't find them anywhere! I finally got whole, salted ones as the only possible cashew option that was even close. Those I toasted in the oven for 5 minutes. I thought that with a mere 1/4 cup, there wouldn't be many in the dish, but actually there wound up being plenty to go around!

Once Lesley was done with the chicken prep, we heated up some vegetable oil and got put the chicken in the pan. It was supposed to get golden on both sides and I was glad that we had printed out the pictures from the blog, because I am sometimes an impatient cook and it seemed like it was taking a little while. But Sylvie's blog shows some beautifully golden chicken pieces, so we took our time and let it cook until ours looked similar.

Once we pulled the chicken out of the pan, we added the rest of the vegetable oil and the directions said to add the spices until the oil smelled of them. Now, under the best of circumstances, my nose works about as well as that of a congested St. Bernard, and Lesley has a cold. We put the spices in, and I kept trying to sniff it out, but really neither of us had any idea. Mike W. saved the day by yelling suddenly, "Hey! It smells like India in here!" Good enough, we thought, and put in the onions!

Once that was done, we let the onions cook down till they were good and soft. We couldn't really tell if they were translucent or not due to the spices, but we felt like they were in good shape, so we added the coconut milk and let it boil, then added the chicken, and finally added some peas and let it all cook for about five more minutes.

So while that was going, it was time to cook the palak paneer. I sliced open the bag and I was hit by a smell that was rather unpleasant. Having never eaten before, I didn't know if it was normal or not, so I tossed the bag in the microwave and turned it on the required 90 seconds. All of a sudden, Lesley said, "What smells like feet?" And I was like, "Yeah, it really doesn't smell very appetizing."

"It's not supposed to smell like that," said Lesley. "The package says it's authentic food direct from India by way of New Jersey," I avowed, "This is supposed to be the real thing."

As the seconds ticked by, the smell got stronger and stronger to the point that both of us and our diminished noses were feeling a bit ill. I pulled it out of the microwave after 90 seconds and the smell was awful. Lesley immediately declared, "I'm not eating that!" and I said, "Well, I'm sure as heck not eating it!" so we decided the charitable thing would be to wrap it and bag it.

The rice dinged in the rice cooker and we started to dish up, completing the final step of adding the cashews atop the chicken dish.

One of the things I love most about Indian food is that it always smells so warm and inviting. This dish was no exception. I don't know how to describe it, but when I smell curry and other spices, I get a warm feeling inside that makes me feel so good. This was a dish I absolutely loved for that very reason.

It was time to sit and dish up. We called the boys upstairs and the first thing out of Mike's mouth was, "What smells like feet!?" Lesley and I busted up laughing and explained the horror of the palak paneer. He concured that it was just as well that we weren't eating it.

Everyone tried some, even the General, who declared it "not terrible". He said he would have eaten it and enjoyed it a lot if I had made him potatoes to eat it with. ROOKIE MISTAKE! How many of these 80 plates dinners have I made and you've seen him with a healthy helping of mashed potatoes!? How could I be so clueless?

We all very much enjoyed it. The sauce was a perfect blend of flavors. If any of us had any quibble with the recipe, it was that we wondered if something could be added to make it just a touch spicy? Sylvie? But we all agreed we would make it and eat it again--Mike declared it "Excellent!" and I have to agree. I loved, loved, loved it.

Thank you so much, Sylvie, for sharing your recipe. I am anxious to meet you and hope we will see you next weekend! :-) Hope you enjoyed my write up of your dish!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Crazy Road Trip Idea

Ok, I have an idea for a road trip knocking around in my head. I'm looking to see if anyone else is as crazy as I am and wants to take a trip? If you are not a Janet Evanovich fan, you can quit reading now.

Ok, Janet fans, as you know, Fingerlickin' Fifteen is coming out in June. This should indicate a book tour, no? Right, and we were promised tour dates at the end of April. Well, they're there all right, all 5 of them. She's going to a whopping 5 stops, one of which is in Canada.


But I got to thinking about it. New Jersey isn't THAT far away. Cherry Hill is on the south end of New Jersey. And if we had a couple of drivers, well, it wouldn't be so bad.

Honestly, I'm thinking of going even if I have to go alone.

The date of the book signing is Tuesday, June 23rd at 6:00pm in Cherry Hill, NJ. My recommendation is that we call the book store that morning to make sure everything is cool and if so, we go up. We can be Jersey girls for the day. Now obviously, if you're working that day, you'll have a choice to make. A day of fun and frivolity versus being chained to your desk.

Anyway, I just thought I'd throw it out there. I'm happy to drive, I'm happy to pay for gas if someone else wants to drive, I'll bring the Tastykakes and pizza, whatever! If you think you'd like to go, drop me a line.

(Our other road trip options are Chicago, Alpharetta GA, or Ft. Meyers FL. Thank God we don't live on the west coast. If you'd like to see the list yourself, click here)

Oh, and the Name Book Sixteen contest is up at Given my stellar success so far, I'm going to try a few titles out and see what happens. Get creative!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

An Evening With Spinal Tap

Last night, Michael and I went out for a BIG date. We've gone out a couple of times for an hour or two, but last night we were excited to go to Washington DC for dinner and a concert. We were heading to see Unwigged and Unplugged at the Warner Theater as our ultimate destination. After discussion about Metro, parking, food, etc. we decided to really make a night of it and drive into town, park, have a nice meal, enjoy the show, and go home. Because I haven't been to Washington since December, I was in a bit of a state over planning our night on the town once the decision was made. However, I must give the Warner Theater's website its due. That site has it all--directions, nearby restaurants, parking, etc. Turns out it's blind friendly too! I read through the nearby restaurants section and the words "Washington's authentic British Pub" caught my eye. I sent the suggestion over to Michael, who hopped onto the Warner website and agreed it sounded like just the ticket.

So it was settled. I picked him up at 4:00 at Quantico and we headed to Washington. There was a slight glitch with Jane (our GPS) who was under the impression we were at the Naval Surface Warfare Center or something, but she quickly righted herself and we were off! We got to Washington before 5:00 and found a parking space by some miracle, and so we decided then and there to take our time over dinner. We selected Elephant and Castle as our dining location, and it was exactly two blocks from the theater. When we arrived, the sun was shining and we decided to dine on the patio! It's been so nice to be able to get out into the open air--Leah's spent the last 3 or 4 days out on our front porch taking in the good clean open air and we've taken lots of walks. Michael and I are well aware that summer is quickly approaching and that means a lot more indoors time, so we are getting it in while we can!

We ordered a short appetizer of potato skins, and then my main entree arrived--stuffed Yorkshire pudding, hell yes! (I actually wanted to type "stuffed Yorkshire pudding, bitches!" but I don't want any of you to take offense :-D) Oh my God, was it good. It was not as good as the Yorkshire pudding that my mom and I make, but it was pretty freakin' fantastic Yorkshire pudding nonetheless. Is there even such a thing as a bad Yorkshire pudding? Doubtful. Michael got the Union Jack pub burger, and he said it was awesome. The mashed potatoes with my meal were real--they had big chunks of actual potato in them, and Michael thought his fries had been fresh cut. We were in heaven. We took our time eating. It's a very popular place and a lot of people who seem to be very impressed with themselves were eating there. But we were seated under a lovely tall tree and I don't think we would have noticed if the President himself had shown up, honestly.

After our main dish, a wind kicked up and I got a little chilly, so I asked our excellent waiter Chris if they had hot tea and he brought me a cup of English breakfast tea. Michael got a cup of coffee and then we decided to get some dessert to kill some more time, so I got an apple berry crumble and he got cheesecake. Yeah, we were totally living it up. I don't know (apart from the Melting Pot) the last time he and I lingered over dinner for two solid hours. It felt like such a luxury to reconnect. We did both admit to missing Leah and we phoned home once during the meal, but my father-in-law told us everything was just dandy and not to worry about a thing.

So, after supper we gathered up our things and went back to the theater. We went up to Will Call and got our tickets and then the security guard suggested we stay in the lobby so that we didn't get trampled when the doors opened. Everyone else had to wait outside!!! Talk about the VIP treatment!!! It was AWESOME! They opened up the main doors about 5 minutes later and then I decided to make one final trip to the ladies room and they let me use the main level restrooms instead of going downstairs because I had Michael with me! VIP treatment!!! A private bathroom!!! LUXURY! :-)

The ushers couldn't have been more helpful and we got to our seats. We were in row B, seats 2 and 4, smack dab on the aisle, so close to the stage we could just about taste it. When you request ADA seating, typically you get put in the back where a wheelchair can just pull up, but we got this wonderful, wonderful seating right in the front of the theater. I'm telling you, these were the best seats I've ever had to any show or concert, bar none.

The show kicked off around 8:15. It was supposed to be no photography, but tons of people were taking pictures, so I snuck a couple myself. Due to the fact I didn't want to draw attention to my clandestine activities, I turned off the flash and kept the camera low. So sorry about the dude's head in front of me. But you can see how close we were!

They played a huge variety of songs, mostly from Spinal Tap and A Mighty Wind. I didn't know a lot of the songs, I've only seen Spinal Tap once, but I greatly enjoyed it, and I enjoyed the hell out of the stuff from A Mighty Wind. They did a brief Q&A session with the audience, during which we learned that Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy are now working to turn Waiting for Guffman into a Broadway show. I'm not so sure how it'll work, but I'll be interested to see what they do!

They are all tremendously witty, I'm sure that goes without saying, and there was lots of laughter and humor in the show. They made a special video themselves for the Stonehenge song, during which some Troll dolls "danced" around a miniature Stonehenge. They showed a couple of user submitted videos of their songs--one by some dude Reverend Stevie in Perth, Australia and another with the song being sung by Lego people--I have now seen a Lego mosh pit, and it is as cool as you think it could be.

Annette O'Toole (Michael McKean's wife) came out and sang a couple of songs as well, and then it was winding down. They did 2 encores, however, and when they sang "Old Joe's Place", the place went wild. The entire audience yelled "Ea a Oe's" at the appropriate place and then everyone busted up laughing. It was so great. It looked for a minute like they'd do a third encore, but they didn't, and the lights came back on so we headed out. We got home around 11:30 to a couple of rather harried grandparents--Leah gets into little fits at night. She's a perfect angel all day, but at night she kind of goes a little bonkers. Well, they hadn't seen bonkers baby, only angel baby, so I think they were glad we made it back! But they had done an excellent job putting her to sleep, so it was a grateful me who got to sleep all night.

What a great evening and what a treat to see these guys perform live! We left with great big grins on our faces. The Guest mockumentaries are something we've enjoyed since very early on in our marriage, and so it was kind of special to see these guys in person.

Here are a few more pictures! Again, sorry these are blurry--no flash and all of them dancing around, it was hard to get great pictures! (Oh and Harry Shearer kept looking the other way, so I never did get a really great one of him, but I've met him before, so I guess I can live with my disappointment!)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I Finished a Book!

Woo hoo! I feel so proud of this accomplishment. This month's book club selection is Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, which I am supposed to have read in eighth grade English but of which I have no recollection. At that age, I rebelled against reading things I had to read in favor of things I wanted to read (sorry, Dad [my 8th grade English teacher], but there's the cold truth of the matter!). So I suspect I must have skimmed Anne at that time, but I honestly didn't remember a thing about the story. Ok, that's not entirely true, I remembered the ending of it, but that is all, and even then I was supposing I remembered it, versus actually remembering it and when it turned out I was correct, I wasn't necessarily convinced that I wasn't just prescient.

Anyway, I enjoyed it. As I got closer and closer to the end, I got more and more excited that I was actually finishing a book! I've been reading another book club selection for this summer, The Year of Living Biblically, since before Leah was born. It's a great book, but I just haven't been able to plow through it. So three cheers for Anne! Now I won't feel like quite such an idiot at the next 2 meetings, as I've already read the July selection twice--seeing as it's my book choice, this is probably a good thing! (If you haven't read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, you really, really need to. Like now. I'm planning my escape to Guernsey.)

With Lesley, my reading goddess, due to arrive in LESS THAN TWO WEEKS I feel as if I need to get my reading game on so I don't look like a total putz. :-) My goal is to finish Biblically by the end of June. How quickly my reading goals have fallen, from 100 books per year to 2 per month!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Hooray for Special Days!

We went to the Melting Pot tonight, spur of the moment, when Hank and Sheila offered to babysit for the evening. Here we are over our dessert course. It was HOT back in that little booth in the section of the restaurant they call "Lover's Lane" (you can see how flushed I was!), but we had so much fun eating our lobster and filet mignon and cheese and chocolate. Plus, I got a goodie bag of freebies to remember the night by. I have never had a bad meal there, have never had bad service, in fact the wait staff at the Melting Pot in Fredericksburg is the friendliest and nicest ever. I told tonight's waiter David to just keep the mushroom caps coming, and he obliged before I finished the first batch!

Michael informed David we'd be back on August 23rd, so I don't have too long to wait! WOO HOO! Oh, and I think I'm looking damned good in this picture :-) Finally I can see a BIG difference!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Hilarious Email from My Husband

So today I received this email in my mailbox, and it really cracked me up.

Honey what was in that bag on the hutch.. Was it some kind of meat? It was round and it felt like meat.

Because, yes, I randomly go around leaving bags of meat on the furniture.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Bye-Bye Job!

In all of the hullabaloo surrounding Leah's triumphant entry into our lives, my departure from work came and went. Last Wednesday was my final day doing work for our lovely Commonwealth. This morning I am heading to VDOT to meet the drivers from Fairfax who will take the Black Beast back north and then I am officially officially done. Hard to believe that a job I wanted so much is now something I am gladly saying goodbye to!

In the past 3 years since I got The Black Beast in a vehicle trade, I've done nearly60,000 miles in the Commonwealth's service. I have no idea how many clients I saw in the past 4+ years, but I've covered Loudon, Fauqier, Culpeper, Orange, Prince William, Stafford, and Spotsylvania counties. I've encountered some of the bravest people I've ever met, and I've seen people deal with blindness in so many different ways you can't begin to imagine it. I've seen people as young as 14 who couldn't brush their teeth by themselves when I showed up and I've seen people well into their 90s who were in nursing homes and, well, couldn't brush their teeth themselves ;-) I've seen the fabulously wealthy and the dirt poor in my tenure. People who hated the Yankee coming into their house and people who would have welcomed Stalin if it meant they'd get a little help seeing better. They all touched me, from the ones I prayed I'd never see again to those I prayed wouldn't ask for their cases to be closed (somehow it always worked out exactly the opposite).

And now it's over. And I'm HAPPY. Next job will not be a road job. I'll worry about it in 5 years :-)