Sunday, July 25, 2010

Antiques Roadtrip

Meet the first million-dollar evaluation found at the Antiques Roadshow.

Our experience was somewhat less exciting, but interesting, informative, and entertaining nonetheless. Mike and I set out yesterday for a day trip down to Biloxi, Mississippi, where I had won free tickets in a lottery to participate in a filming of the popular PBS show. The day did not disappoint.

The reality of the Roadshow is very different from our expectations. First, we stood in line for the "triage area," where somebody would look at our stuff and give us a ticket for the next level. Then we would go stand in line outside this complex, behind which they were actually filming:
THEN we would go stand in line within the blue panels where the cameras and lights were set up (don't pick your nose or your underwear!). Then, after a couple of hours, somebody would cursorily look at our stuff and give us a 2-minute chat about it without really telling us anything we didn't already know.

It was a lot like socialized healthcare.

But the real fun was in the Southern experience of chatting with the people who were standing in line around us and having the chance to see their treasures. The day was a grown-up show and tell. We saw everything from porcelain to muskets to a hand-carved coconut shell somebody's great-grandfather made while a prisoner of the Civil War in the Customs House in New Orleans. We heard sordid and juicy stories of love lost and family found. We made new friends and expanded our horizons.

I wonder if it's the same up in New York.

Our first stop was to check out a Marie Hull oil painting of a pot of flowers with a Chinese figurine that Mom loaned me for the trip. That line was relatively short, but the "expert" made up for that with her snootiness, "Ah, another Marie Hull. That's the fourth one I've seen today. I like the ones with birds better...."

I considered showing her a bird of my own.

Then we took Mike's American Indian corn grinding stones to American Artifacts. That evaluator was really very nice, giving us helpful information about how we could find a local artifact association in the same region where the stones were found (Georgia and South Carolina) to better date them and perhaps even tie them to a tribe. Though it's doubtful that we'll do that, it's an idea of which we hadn't thought. He also suggested that we let our child take them to show and tell because they were excellent examples of everyday life of the Indians. And they weren't likely to break.

Next we stood in line for Asian art to have Mike's hand-blown glass net floats checked out. I was excited about meeting Lark Mason, who was very nice, and though Mike's floats weren't worth a lot of money, Lark was intrigued by one that was an oblong shape: he seemed to think it was actually a pastry roller. But Mike corrected him, relating the fact that he found it on the beach of Okinawa, still wound up in its original net. Lark did make the point that they will probably increase in value, as those floats are no longer used and have been replaced with plastic parts.

Last but not least, we stood in line for TWO HOURS to have my KPM porcelain plaque evaluated. Once finally at the front of the line, Mark Moran was nice enough to have a look. He didn't tell me anything about it that I didn't already know, but he was very complimentary, saying that the value of KPM comes from the artistry and beauty of the piece, that one of the figures looked a lot like me, and that it was a remarkably beautiful piece. Toward the end of our conversation, he said it was the "nicest piece he had seen all day," but fortunately he did not want to put me on TV. We were finally able to head home around 4:30 - we had arrived at 11!

Do the math: 5 1/2 hours of standing in line and 6 hours of driving for 8 minutes of evaluations. But you know what? We really enjoyed every minute of it. We were able to meet people that we had watched on TV for years, and now we are intimately familiar with the entire process.

And who knows? Maybe we'll be the people in the background picking our noses when the show airs in January.

Well damn indeed.

Photos courtesy of NYDailyNews, GulfLive.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Stephenie Meyer Overload

This weekend Mike and I went along with some friends who will remain nameless (to protect the not-so-innocent) for dinner and a movie. Dairy Queen is one of my favorite cravings lately, and they were game for an old-school date at the DQ, so we met there for supper. I'm still dreaming about those onion rings. Yum! But as much fun and as camp as our supper was, the company was even better. We soon realized that with all the talent at that table, we could easily take over and rule the world.

As the two of us girls had read the Twilight series, we decided to go watch Eclipse, while the boys headed to the theater next door to watch Predators. As much fun as it was to giggle and heckle at the vampires and werewolves, I'm beginning to think the boys might have had the better end of the deal.

Reading Stephenie Meyer's novels has been a guilty pleasure for me: I'm actually somewhat ashamed to admit that I've done so. The sophomoric behavior - meaningful glances, burning touches, reading way too much into any given situation - is tiring for me, and there's no way I can sober up and take it seriously. But somehow it's like a train wreck: I just can't seem to stop watching. Though the Eclipse movie was much better than either of the other two movies, it was far worse than anything I've watched in a long time.

And the audience didn't seem to feel the same way as we did. There were times when my friend and I laughed out loud while everybody else was ooh-ing and aah-ing. Like when Bella and Edward were talking about having sex. Edward said, "But Bella, it could KILL you! I could split you in half." Really? REALLY?!? HAHAHAHAHA!!! I mean, I think some guy tried that line on me in college. Of course I never took him up on it: I couldn't look him in the eye without drowning in a fit of giggles.

Oh wait. We weren't supposed to laugh at that line?

There was also what was supposed to be a super-intense scene between Jacob and Edward in a tent on a mountainside, hence the photo at the top. It looks like the silhouettes are kissing, and that's kind of what my friend and I expected Edward and Jacob to do, not Edward and Bella. The guys were probably going for serious and deep, but it just looked to us like they were about to make out with each other.

The fact that the makeup artist used the same eye shadow on both Bella and Edward didn't help matters.

But despite my complaints, it was a pretty good flick. The crowd was almost as entertaining: everybody stood up and cheered afterward, and there was actually a group of about 6 girls taking each others' picture with the credits. Like they were tourists. Standing with Robert Pattinson.

Yeah, that was a little creepy.

Meanwhile, and completely by coincidence, I just finished reading The Host by the same author. I did not like this book: it gave me nightmares. Not from the story line so much as the monotony and predictability of plot and characters. It even had the same odd and seemingly impossible love triangle between an all-too altruistic girl and the two men who love her.

I have enough cookbooks. Don't give me one in literary form.

The story itself could easily have been condensed into 200-300 pages, but with all of Stephenie's beloved details and Steinbeckian plot twists, it easily topped 600. As a good friend of mine said, it became a lot better about 3/4 of the way in, but gosh, isn't that a lot of time and effort to devote to plot development?

Surprisingly enough however, just like in the Twilight Series, the ending was good enough to justify the means of suffering through every punch and abuse thrown at our beloved heroine and heroes.

So I'm glad to have experienced Meyer Mania, but I think I'm set until the final movie or movies come out. For now I'll stick to something a little more light and fluffy.

Have any suggestions?

Photos courtesy of Bowen Summer Garden and Lyricis.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Pregnant Pause

A few of you beloved readers have commented lately on how sparse my posts have become, and I really do appreciate that. It means you like me, you really like me! And that I am missed. But I have a good reason for it:

I'm pregnant.

The thing is, I'm a terrible liar. And an even worse omitter-of-truth. We've known about this bun in the oven since May, and man, has it been hard not to spill the beans. But after a fantastic doctor's appointment yesterday, Mike and I figured it was safe to open the floodgates and let you in on our little secret.

AND most of my recent eating habits have been dictated by a 3-inch-long kid inside me who isn't really even showing yet. This child loves protein and dairy. The macaroni and cheese and ice cream are two particular favorites.

I'm going to have to be careful these next six months.

So, the details: I'm 13 weeks pregnant and due in mid-January of 2011, just late enough to miss the tax deduction for 2010. Yes, we will find out the sex on Friday, August 13th. That's a great day for me because my grandfather was born on Friday the 13th, so it's always been lucky.

I am one of those irritating pregnant women who feels FANTASTIC. I radiate and glow. Everything is wonderful - eating is wonderful, smelling is wonderful, all my five senses have kicked into high gear, and I don't even have to squint at road signs anymore. No symptoms at all. No throwing up, no breakouts, no wild and uncontrollable emotions. I do like to sleep a lot now, and during my first trimester I would pass out if I stood up too fast, but that has eased up. It would freak Mike completely out though, and he taught me the fighter pilot trick of tightening your legs to alter your blood pressure, which has helped tremendously.

Oh, and my breasts are already enormous.

I have noticed that I am a little more emotional than usual: The Blind Side made me cry last night, and I'm much more assertive than I used to be. It's like there's a little voice in my head saying it's OK to speak my mind.

Which probably had something to do with the bar fight I in which I found myself at 5 weeks along....

Mike has noticed that I need a cranky pill when I haven't had enough sleep or am hungry. One of our reoccurring conversations involves my asking, "My gosh, why do I want to eat ALL THE TIME?" To which he replies, "Because my baby's growing in you." Oh. Well that makes sense.

We're having a great time and enjoying our last few months in which it's just the two of us and a dog and damn cat. Because all too soon some little monster will come along and destroy all of our carefully-laid-out peace and quiet. And we absolutely cannot wait.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

By Popular Demand - Mint Chocolate Chip

Mint chocolate chip has always been one of my particular ice cream favorites. So much so that I've become a bit of an aficionado - Baskin Robbins is the best while Bryer's just doesn't cut it. Perhaps because Bryer's is missing the distinctive green flavor in its quest for all-natural ingredients. I remember as a kid my dad would take me to Baskin Robbins for a mint-chocolate-chip-Sprite-float, and boy was it good. Completely hit the spot on a hot summer day.

So I was SO pleasantly surprised when this Cuisinart recipe worked out perfectly.

1 cup whole milk, well chilled
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 cups heavy cream, well chilled
1-2 teaspoons pure peppermint extract (to taste)
2-3 drops green food coloring
1 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips or your favorite bittersweet or dark chocolate bar, chopped

  • In a medium bowl, use a hand mixer or a whisk to combine the milk and granulated sugar until the sugar is dissolved, about 1-2 minutes on low speed.
  • Stir in the heavy cream, peppermint extract to taste, and green food coloring.
  • Turn machine on, pour mixture into freezer bowl through ingredient spout, and let mix until thickened about 25-30 minutes.
  • Add the chocolate chips during the last 5 minutes of mixing.

Friday, July 9, 2010

I Scream, You Scream

I don't know about you, but there are few things in this world on a hot day better than homemade soft serve. Maybe ice cold watermelon, but usually ice cream just can't be beat.

Then again, one Thanksgiving Mike's aunt Nancy made a cinnamon ice cream to top pumpkin pie. It was so good, I made myself sick on that stuff. I still dream about it.

Where was I? Oh yeah, hot summer days, a melty cone of the freshest, softest cold stuff you can imagine. Don't forget to put a marshmallow in the bottom of the cone to prevent drips.

Unfortunately, it takes some investment for homemade ice cream: I highly recommend the Cuisinart model, as the brand is great, has excellent customer service, rarely breaks down, and comes with a fairly foolproof recipe booklet that covers all your basics and then some. Of course, I could also have used the KitchenAid ice cream maker attachment, but I just didn't think about it.

But consider the benefits to homemade ice cream: you know exactly what's going in there. You know there are no preservatives, no weird hormones, just what you put in the pot and nothing else. And really, I don't think you can buy ice cream that tastes as good as you can make it.

Because I happened to have a bunch in the fridge that were about to go bad, the first batch I made was strawberry. I followed the Cuisinart recipe rather closely, and oh my, it was F.I.N.E. fine. The only difference is that I blended the strawberries in a blender with the lemon juice to make a more smooth cream and a more fun pink color. Will have to make some for Mike's buddy Karl when he comes to visit.

3 cups fresh ripe strawberries, stemmed and sliced
4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1-1/2 cup sugar, divided
1-1/4 cups whole milk
2-3/4 cups heavy cream
1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

  • In a small bowl, combine the strawberries with the lemon juice and 1/2 cup of the sugar.
  • Stir gently and allow the strawberries to macerate in the juices for 2 hours.
  • Strain the berries, reserving juices.
  • Mash or purée half the berries.
  • In a medium mixing bowl, use a hand mixer on low speed to combine the milk and remaining granulated sugar until the sugar is dissolved, about 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Stir in the heavy cream, reserved strawberry juice, mashed strawberries, and vanilla.
  • Turn the machine on; pour the mixture into freezer bowl, and let mix until thickened, about 20 to 25 minutes.
  • Five minutes before mixing is completed, add the reserved sliced strawberries and let mix in completely.
  • The ice cream will have a soft, creamy texture.
  • If a firmer consistency is desired, transfer the ice cream to an airtight container and place in freezer for about 2 hours.
  • Remove from freezer about 15 minutes before serving.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

One-Pot Macaroni & Cheese

My grandmother Cha-Cha would have loved the Internet for so many reasons. She and her cronies in small-town Mississippi practically invented FaceBook, only their version involved party phone lines and evenings on the back porch. Not to mention mornings spent at the beauty parlor.

I think one of her favorite applications for the Internet would have been cooking. So many times I'd enter her kitchen to find the table covered with cookbooks, she in her apron and glasses, poring over them for the perfect recipe to fit her next social occasion, be it a dinner party or her bridge club. Equipped with the Internet and an endless supply of recipes, she would have been dangerous.

... if she used a recipe at all. I'm so like her in that often I skip the formality of a recipe altogether. This is great to fit dishes into the items available in your pantry, but the downfall comes when somebody asks for you to repeat the pattern: the recipe has long been lost and forgotten in your memory among daily minutiae such as whether or not you've paid the cable bill.

So that's why I started this blog.

This is another recipe completely off the top of my head. Most of these start with thoughts like, "Hmm... I like macaroni. And I like cheese. Let's put them together," and go from there. This is one of my favorites. It's hard to mess it up: you can add or delete the cheeses to the consistency you like or change the types of cheese altogether. Just go with what's in your kitchen.

1 12-ounce package elbow macaroni
1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheese + 1 cup for topping
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
8 ounces Velveeta
1 cup milk (the thicker the better)
3/4 stick butter
Garlic powder, Cheyenne pepper, salt & pepper to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large pot, boil the macaroni with about 2 Tablespoons salt according to package directions for al dente. I usually cook mine for about 8 minutes or less: just underdone is perfect because if you cook it too much, the casserole will be gooey.
  3. Dump the macaroni into a colander and rinse it off to cool it down and stop the cooking process.
  4. Pour the cooked noodles back into the pot and add the rest of the ingredients, reserving about a cup of shredded cheese for the topping.
  5. Cook on low, stirring occasionally, until all the cheese is melted and the casserole is the consistency you like.
  6. Pour into a greased 8x8 Pyrex dish, top with extra cheese and paprika, and bake on 350 for 25 minutes or until bubbly.
  7. Try not to burn the roof of your mouth!
Photo courtesy of Harold's Catering. I'm sorry I didn't post a photo of mine: Mike ate it all before I had time to take a picture.


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