Entries in My Humble Opinion (24)

Friday
Jan022009

2008: The Year in Review

For my 'Best of 2006' list, click here.
For my 'Best of 2007' list, click here.

Life just keeps getting better, though this year was more about quality than quantity. I didn't read nearly as many books, see as many movies, or eat at as many fabulous restaurants in 2008 as I did in previous years. I bought very little new music and saw almost no live theater. I didn't leave the the East Coast--let alone the country--except for two funerals. Despite all that, I count last year as the richest and fullest of my life.

Top Five Eating Experiences
1) Thomas Henkelman, Greenwich, CT
2) Petrossian, New York, NY
3) Grifone, New York, NY
4) Ocean House, Croton-on-Hudson, NY
5) Café Gray, New York, NY

Top Five Movies Seen
1) Wall*E
2) Quantum of Solace
3) Iron Man
4) The Dark Knight
5) Kung Fu Panda

Top Ten Books Read
1) The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman
2) Ex Libris, by Anne Fadiman
3) The Wee Free Men, by Terry Pratchett
4) Stranger Things Happen, by Kelly Link
5) Duma Key, by Stephen King
6) In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, by Michael Pollan
7) Zoe's Tale, by John Scalzi
8) Coraline, by Neil Gaiman
9) Making Money, by Terry Pratchett
10) Last Year's Apocalypse, by Douglas Lain

Top Five Aesthetic Inspirations
1) diana:muse
2) amybutlerdesign.com
3) whatever.com
4) wondermark.com
5) madelinetosh.com

Best Birthday Present
Barack Obama being elected the 44th President of the United States

Greatest Accomplishments

1) Producing the utterly delicious Anne Catherine Perkins, born 13 May
2) Reading through The Bible, The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price by June 30th.
3) Running yet another rewarding (if streamlined) edition of Perkins Summer School
4) Successfully completing a two-year service mission leading the local women's group of my church's 12-step Addiction Recovery Program
5) Writing my cookbook Comfortably Yum, available in mere days(!) through Lulu.com
6) Querying agents and publishing houses regarding two of my novels
7) Surviving rejection and/or non-response from all parties queried
8) Writing my first-since-high-school short stories and submitting them for publication
9) Having my short story "Dodmen and the Holophusikon" produced as a podcast
10) Outdoing Patrick for the first time ever in our Christmas gift exchange
11) Putting up three fantastic batches of jam: pear, red raspberry, and peach-white raspberry
12) Creating my online Advent Calendar

Thanks to all my readers: both family and friends, lurkers and commenters. You were one of the main reasons 2008 was so fantastic. Happy New Year! Let's make sure 2009 continues the upward trend.

Monday
Dec312007

Top o' the Pops

As I mentioned in this post almost exactly a year ago, every December I make a list of The Best of Everything Important to Me. The categories change somewhat from year to year depending on how I've spent my time and energy. After considering what follows, I have to say that 2007 was my best year ever. That's saying a lot, since 2006 was pretty great.

Top Ten Books (new or re-read):
10. Alfred Lansing, Endurance
9. D.E. Stevenson, Anna and Her Daughters
8. Guy Gavriel Kay, Tigana
7. Dave Duncan, A Man of His Word (series)
6. Brandon Sanderson, Elantris
5. M.T. Anderson, Octavian Nothing
4. Yann Martel, Life of Pi
3. Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose
2. Henry Eyring, Because He First Loved Us
1. Kelly Link, Magic for Beginners*

* So very brilliant, especially the title story and "Stone Animals," but dark, disturbing, and emphatically not recommended to my teen readers

Worst Book of the Year:
Karen Joy Fowler, The Jane Austen Book Club

Top Ten Movies:
10. Enchanted
9. Premonition
8. The Bourne Ultimatum
7. The Simpsons Movie
6. Ocean's 13
5. Disturbia
4. Dan in Real Life
3. 1408
2. Sicko
1. I Am Legend

Still waiting to see:
Amazing Grace
August Rush
Becoming Jane
Elizabeth 2: The Golden Age
Hairspray
National Treasure 2

Top Ten iPod Downloads:
10. The Veronicas, "4ever"
9. A Fine Frenzy, "You Picked Me"
8. The Innocence Mission, "The Lakes of Canada"
7. The Bobs, "Synaesthesia"
6. The Dukes of the Stratosphear, "Vanishing Girl"
5. Saint-Privat, "Oh-La-La"
4. The Fratellis, "For the Girl"
3. The White Stripes, "Seven Nation Army"
2. The Shins, "Australia"
1. The Killers, "Can You Read My Mind?"

Top Eating Experiences:
6. "Steam Roasted Goose with Gravy," Our House
5. "Jamesie's Jambalaya," Our House
4. "Southwestern Shrimp, Teriyaki Chicken, and Grilled Corn on the Cob," Our House
3. "Szechuan Dumplings," Shun Lee, NYC
2. "Frogs' Legs and Foie Gras Tempura," Picholine, NYC
1. "Poulet en Demi-Deuil," Chanterelle, NYC

Best Theatre Experience of the Year:
Richard III, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival

Best Concert of the Year:
The Wailin' Jennys, Tarrytown Music Hall

Garden Produce of the Year:
Patissons Panache Squash

Yarn of the Year:
Tofutsies Sock Yarn (It's made out of crab shells and soy!)

2008? Bring it on, Grandpa! It's go-time!

Saturday
May192007

Our Family Motto


A couple of years ago, Patrick went to a workshop for men at our church which focused on sharing ways for fathers to create and enhance family unity. One featured speaker had brought his teenage son; together they disclosed the steps they had taken in this regard. They had made a poetic Family Creed, memorializing in verse their values. They had a Family Song that they sang together which expressed why their family is great. And they had made up a Family Motto: "H______s Make It Happen." Father and son agreed that these simple things had strengthened the loving bonds in their home.

Now, I think this is very sweet. Good for them. But earnestness sometimes brings out the smart alec* in my good husband, and this incident was no exception. During the workshop, he texted his awesomely brilliant smart alecky friend (not me, a guy friend), writing, "Our motto is 'Perkinses Eat a Lot.'" Whereupon his friend responded, "Ours is 'F_______s Blow Stuff Up.'" (His boys had had many an explosive adventure in the basement slop sink when they were teenagers.)

Our little circle of friends now has mottos like "There's No Problem Ice Cream Can't Cure," "The Fewer, the Merrier," and "S______s Never Ask for Directions." I'm sure these fall beyond the scope of the H_____ family's intent, but they have created bonds of their own.

All this is a very lengthy prelude to telling you that I was musing ecstatically upon our treasured Family Motto just last night. Patrick and I went to dinner in the City with two lovely friends from our congregation after visiting the temple, and our meal was exquisite.

We went to Picholine, where Terrance Brennan's cuisine reigns supreme. We've been there several times before; this sublime restaurant features a cheese cave tended by a full-time fromager, Max McCalman. At Picholine, our turophilia can be indulged to the fullest extent allowed by law. The other food has always been lovely as well. But I wouldn't have rated it as highly as that of, say, Chanterelle or Bouley--until last night. I don't know what Terry's been up to, but he has kicked it up a notch.

Patrick's aunt says that you can tell how nice a restaurant is by how much extra stuff they bring you; Picholine excels in this area. The waiter brought us a plate with a shot glass full of a chilled Cucumber Cumin Soup, a tiny 'tot' of Brandade, and a Mushroom Panna Cotta Tartlet with a Parmesan Cracker. The Brandade was like tasting God's recipe for fish sticks.

After these amuse-bouches, my appetizer came: Frog Leg Tempura with Foie Gras and a Curried Mayonnaise. I will confess that I'd never eaten frog's legs before, but I'll eat just about anything with foie gras in or on or near it. Guess what? Frog's legs don't taste like chicken. They have a sweet, smoky, tender flavor all their own, and I was wishing for about 24 more when I was done. Patrick had a Sea Urchin Panna Cotta topped with Caviar--sweet cream o' the sea.

Oh, have mercy. My main course was Lamb Saddle with Artichoke Hearts Barigoule and Garlic. Succulent, with perfectly balanced, complex flavors. I tell you, Terrance Brennan is a chef like Monet was a painter. Patrick had Veal Medallions with Morels, Peas, and this gorgeous cheese called Brescianella Stagionata. I can't tell you how his was, because at this point we weren't even offering tastes to each other the way we usually do. But it looked fantastic.

Ahhh, the cheeses. We told the fromager that we love all cheeses and asked him to make a tasting plate for the table. He did not disappoint. My favorite of the eight was the Fium' Orbu, a sheep's milk cheese made by a little old man on the island of Corsica. The fromager told us this cheese might die with its maker, which I fervently hope will not happen. All the cheeses were lovely.

Dessert. Folks, I make really good apple pie. My apple crisp rocks (the secrets are to use local apples and to double the topping). So when I tell you that the Warm Caramel Apple Brioche with Apple Salad and Salted Caramel Ice Cream was the best apple dessert I've ever consumed, know that I do not speak lightly. I'm serious; I almost broke down crying at the first bite. My lemon verbena tisane was the perfect complement to the brioche's light richness. Or rich lightness. As you can see, it defied my pathetic attempts at description.

More extras: little trays of truffles, nougats, and fruit gums followed the dessert. Call it 'second dessert.' The grapefruit fruit gum was like a rarified Sour Patch Kid. It tasted like real grapefruit, but it had a big, sweet-sour intensity that belied its baby size.

We left the restaurant pleasantly full, still mulling it all over as we drove home. Our two friends also enjoyed the meal very much, but I don't want to double the length of this post describing their great choices.

Perkinses Eat a Lot. And they love their food, be it a Sloppy Joe or an evening's bounty like last night's. I don't hold with demonizing food, or feeling guilty about it, or talking about how unhealthy or sinful it is to indulge in it. Food is a blessing, a gift from God.

I do not believe food makes us sick or fat. I believe that what is going on in our minds and spirits has far more to do with metabolism or the body's other functions than science can yet measure.

All I am saying is, give peace a chance. End your war with food. Don't worship it, but do savor it with thanks and praise to its Creator. Share it with as many people as you can; let's take the energy we used to spend on ambivalence over food and use it to find ways to feed the world. And if you ever get a chance, go to Picholine and raise a glass in memory of me.

*The fact that P is sometimes a smart alec makes him exponentially more attractive to me.

Wednesday
Mar072007

Free Association*


It's been very enjoyable associating freely with all the great women at the 5 Minutes for Mom Ultimate Blog Party. It runs through Friday; let's keep the momentum going, gals!
Who knew there were so many blogging moms out there? Apparently the advertising world is clueing in; a friend of mine in sales forwarded me an article about the buying power of our particular demographic. Apparently we are a force with which to be reckoned.

Some of you may have popped over to Cranberry Corner to visit my pal Jenna. Since she compares herself to a cranberry, and she's more than a little nutty, I'm posting a recipe for a delicious dish that's currently baking in my oven.

I got the recipe from a lovely German lady in our congregation (of course, I've monkeyed with it). Elga called it a dessert when she gave me the little handwritten index card, but I know she must have been kidding, because, ummmm, see, Elga, it doesn't have any chocolate in it.

But it makes a fantastic breakfast item. It's a great thing to make for a Ladies-Who-Brunch event; maybe I'll make it again for Needlework Group next Monday. I'm betting you have all the ingredients in your house right now: a bag of cranberries and some pecans rattling around your freezer, left over from the holidays, for example. Why not give this a try?

Cranberry Pecan Upside-Down Tart
8 oz. frozen cranberries
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9-inch pie plate. Pour the frozen cranberries into the pie plate; sprinkle the brown sugar and the nuts evenly over them. Beat an egg in a small mixing bowl until it is uniformly yellow and thick. Add the white sugar and salt and blend. Stir in the flour and melted butter, mix well. Spread the batter over the cranberries with a spatula. Bake for 45 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve. Whipped cream is optional (not really). Delightful!

Which reminds me of The Upside-Down Show. Have you seen this program? It's brilliant. All five of my kids--the 13-year-old on down to the 2-year-old--and I are completely enthralled when it's on. It features two gloriously goofy Australian guys whose adventures are governed by the imaginary remote control they give to the audience at the beginning of each episode. It's very meta, and I never metafiction I didn't like.

Ahem. And now for something completely different: another reason to celebrate! Today I'll be able to finish Daniel's sweater. Look at the cute-as-a button buttons I found at Knittingsmith. They're the beysssst!

* If you need a little help with this one, click here.

Thursday
Feb152007

Happy Feet



Here's the place I'll be buying our summer shoes: www.tomsshoes.com. I read about Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS, in Time Magazine; he and TOMS have also been featured in Vogue. Moved by the sight of countless barefoot children on a visit to Argentina, Blake decided to start a shoe company with a unique business plan. For every pair of shoes purchased, he donates a pair to a child in need. He doesn't call himself the CEO; instead, his title is Designer/Chief Shoe Giver.

Modeled on a traditional Argentinian shoe called the alpargata, TOMS come in a variety of appealing fabrics. They look like a cross between espadrilles and the surfer shoes I grew up with called Vans--very hip. They are inexpensive as well, especially when you consider that you are buying two pairs (one for you, one donated) for one price. And how great--Blake is coming out with a line in leather just in time for the fall. We'll have happy feet year round!

Other news in happy feet: Hope is loving her Irish step dance class. She's obsessed with Jean Butler and all things Riverdance, and has been practicing on her own every day. Of course, the cute dance shoes add to the fun (photo above).

And my socks are so comfortable! My Mephisto All-Rounders (the walking shoes I bought for our trip to Italy--the most comfortable shoes EVER) show them off nicely. Patrick has requested a pair of socks for himself (in a quieter colorway).
I hope YOUR feet are toasty and happy this bitterly cold day!