25 January 2009

Best Fashion Foot Forward

Elegence does not consist in putting on a new dress.
~ Coco Chanel

Recently I attended a party where the attire was requested to be "smart." It was further explained that this meant no jeans. And it was in searching my closet for something "smart" and "non-denim" that I realized something about my wardrobe and subsequently myself.

I am most comfortable in a pair of jeans and my favorite brown boots. At least I wear them like the girly-girl I am! I "clean-up" quite well too, and am incensed by people who attend the ballet or the symphony in jeans. There is a time and a place for everything, you know!

But as much as I enjoy dressing up in velvet and satin, I honestly do my best socializng, writing and composing in my old stand bys.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikeala

24 January 2009

Developer's Circle: Dante's Inferno Revisted

Nobody in this town has ever said no to a developer. We spend tax dollars to encourage sprawl, and then it comes back to us as air pollution.
~ Don Steuter

There is a special circle of the Inferno dedicated to developers. Or there would be if Dante had known any developers. I do not think I have yet met a developer I liked. This need to tear down, rip apart and rebuild ugliness where beauty once rested is one I simply do not understand. As a native of southern Virginia, I have watched countless acres of beautiful, rich farmland give way over the years to steel girders, concrete and increased automobile traffic.

Equally, I have seen these same tabernacles to the American consumer fade away. And believe me they do not age with the grace and dignity of a Painted Lady or Federal-style home. No, these monstrosities show forth the truth of what they are: soulless, dirty grey concrete corpses.

This has always been something I have been acutely aware of ever since I was a child, fascinated by the beautiful old buildings in the historic section of town (which is really most of the town) and horrified by the ugliness of the glittering new shopping Mall. Since developers are the masterminds behind these monuments of consumerism, they have returned to the forefront of my thoughts lately because of two experiences I had this week.

I begin to wonder whether developers are shortsighted as a matter of course. Twice this week, at two separate stores, I had to drive around for a long time (one place: forty-five minutes!) to find a parking place. Let us forget for a moment that urban sprawl is intrinsically bad for society and the economy in the end. Let us pretend that I am actually a fan of sprawl. It strikes me that to build over twenty retail stores and restaurants and in turn build only two garages with limited retail parking is, well....stupid. If someone could explain this, I would be most appreciative.

As for all y'all developers: I have two words that will cure you of this dreaded disease you seem to have: STOP IT! ;)

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

17 January 2009

January Chowder Dinner

Chowder breathes reassurance. It steams consolation.
~ Clementine Paddleford

Cooking on Fridays are always a bit of challenge for me. I generally keep them meatless and coming up with interesting and tasty dishes without beef, pork or chicken stretches me as a cook and hostess. My mother, from whom I first learned the art of Southern gastronomy, always opted for the simple approach: eggs, pancakes, pasta or the ever reliable cheese pizza.

This is all very well if I am cooking for one. I must confess, dear reader, that I am not one of those gourmands who must have white linen and candles with every meal I consume. I am afraid I am a bit too much of the social butterfly as well, so that does not always work with my social schedule.

Last night, however, I hosted an impromptu dinner as my friend Charlie was in town. I wanted to keep things light and simple yet not flat and boring. I scoured my Southern Living cookbooks and the Epicurious online database. In the end, I chose a recipe for New England Fish Chowder and made some additions of my own (okra, green peppers and celery).

Buying vegetables fresh and local becomes a bit of a challenge in January, when only apples, pears and root vegetables are the order of the day. So I broke one of my precious rules and bought green peppers ~ American yes, but trucked in. I ought to be beaten ~ or I need my own greenhouse! Onions I had in storage and potatoes as well, so I was saved there. As for the cod, haddock and red snapper that went into the chowder, I bought from our local seafood market, America's Seafood. I was also able to get the fish stock there as well. It is a great local store with some of the freshest seafood around.

For dessert, I made a Southern Living recipe for Pound Cake, which I poured into mini muffins pans and served with a warm chocolate sauce. It was a wonderful dinner that was simple to prepare and perfect for a cold January night.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

15 January 2009

Musica Sacra: Saint John the Beloved Latin Choir January Program

. . . liturgical music has the evocative capacity to interweave theological meaning and a sense of formal beauty and poetic insight.
~ John Paul II, Ad limina address to the bishops of France “On the Pastoral Care of the Liturgy”

Following is the music program for the remainder of January. Subject to change.
January 18, 2nd Sunday afrer Epiphany
Opening ~ Songs of Thankfulness and Praise/Introit
Offertorium ~ Tribus Miraculis, L. Marenzio
Communio ~ Ubi Caritas, M. Durufle
Mass ~ Missa Brevis, G.P. Palestrina

January 25, 3rd Sunday after Epiphany
Opening ~ O Lord, I am not worthy/Introit
Offertorium ~ TBA
Communio ~ Benedictus, M. Haydn
Mass ~ Klein Orgelsolo, F.J. Haydn

Oremus pro invicem, ~ Mikaela

14 January 2009

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

The world is your snowball just for a song,
get out and roll it along.
~ It's a Marshmallow World

My life is a sitcom. Have I ever mentioned that to you, dear reader? Well it is. The antics and theatrics my household sisters and I get up to would have you in stitches. I am sure of this because it happens to us frequently. I thought it was just a local phenomenon. Apparently such hilarity and comedy of errors can follow one around.

My trip up went quite well. No missed trains. My friend Melders and I had a grand time of it around the large fireplace in the living room (seriously, you could have roasted a whole steer in there in the old days!) when I arrived and made our plans for the morrow over a most delectable roasted chicken dinner that her uber wonderful husband prepared for us.

The plan was simple. Our friend ET would come over, we would have a leisurely brunch cooked by yours truly and then we would all sally forth to Niantic to skulk around the infamous Book Barn, which it is reported, has at least six buildings full of books. They have cool names like Ellis Island (where all the "new" books are brought in preparation for sorting) and The Haunted Bookshop, where all the mysteries and thrillers are kept.

First, we ran a little late. Which was fine, because then HubbyD came back from the dry cleaners with Melders' fur coats, one for each of us. ET opted to keep her downy coat and Melders and I threw on the other two with great drama. Then ET could not remember the turn for the main Book Barn, so we decided to go to the downtown branch first and then to the main barn. It was glorious, dear reader. You would die of excitement to see it. Lucky for me, the overflow of culinary books and mysteries were located there. I tried my best to be good. I really did. And it was not so bad: I spent around $30-some and brought home several culinary books, a couple of Albert Campion mysteries and one very special treasure: Michael Jackson's Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch: A Connoisseur's Guide to the Single Malt Whiskies of Scotland. And no, not that MJ.

Have I ever mentioned I love most things Scottish? Especially a nice whisky. Bliss.

Anyway, back to the comedy of errors. Everything was still going according to plan. We were on schedule to head to the main barn and then grab lunch and make it back to Andover ahead of an incoming snow storm. I was pleased about the snow ~ we have had sixty-degree weather here in Virginia. Sick for January if you ask me. Once we emerged from the Book Barn Downtown, we went to the car, deposited our bags, wherein I sniffed and said: "Oh, I hope that gas smell is not us!" I always say things like that. Usually only to myself when driving the U-mobile. And usually when I say it, it turns out to be someone else.

This time it was us. Sad to say, we turned on the car and pulled out in order to check. I can just hear my male readers groaning and see them clutching their heads. Ah yes. Well, there it was, a pool of something in our parking spot! I wanted to make sure it was gas and not just some harmless washer fluid or anti-freeze. I got out, took off the fabulous fur coat and Doctor Who-like, bent down, touched the liquid and smelled it. Unlike the good Doctor, I did not taste it. I did not need to ~ and would not have anyway ~ ewww! It was most certainly gasoline. Somehow, we had sprung a leak.

The Book Barn Downtown is right next to a Dunkin Donuts (those things are like Starbucks in D.C. ~ everywhere!) which is itself right next to a pub, The Black Sheep. We first retired to DD to get a cup of chai and some munchkins while we waited for AAA to come rescue us. ET also called her man Jed, since we realized that a tow truck only has room for three, not four. After an hour and a half of waiting, the tow driver informed us that he only towed locally in a snowstorm (oh yes, it has begun by this time) and that his company did not tow cars with gas leaks. Fair enough, but we were quite put out that we had not been informed of this earlier.

There was nothing to do but wait for Jed to come in his Ford steed to carry us all back to Andover. So drowned our sorrows at The Black Sheep, where I had some uncommonly good french fries and a magnificent Angus burger that they actually cooked medium rare. This is very ~ ahem, apologies ~ rare in today's restaurant world. Everyone is afraid of being sued by diners i their rare beef gives them a touch of bacteria. I was glad to find a sensible cook who understood the delicate nature of red meat.

In the end there was nothing to do but leave the car there overnight (hence the title of this post: we were not going to do much driving!) and have someone else tow it after the storm. This was fine, except that this, on top of the snowstorm, threw a wrench in our Sunday plans as well. We were to head to New York for a concert and dinner with friends of mine. But even if we had had a reliable car, the roads were not fit for driving until much, much later.

Despite or perhaps because of these adventures, I had a frightfully good time, including an incredible prime rib dinner, complete with Sexy Potatoes (not sure why they are called that, but they are wonderful!) and an Apple Crisp for dessert, made once again by HubbyD.

Traveling is good for the soul, but it is good to be back in Dixie again.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

09 January 2009

Little Christmas in Connecticut

The only way of catching a train I ever discovered is to miss the train before.
~ G.K. Chesterton

It pains me to say it, but I have a feeling this will be the case with me, as I rather enjoy spending my mornings with a steaming cup of chai or Creme de la Earl Grey and fresh-from-the-oven shortbread, not rushing madly after trains. But one of my housemates has kindly offered to drop me and my baggage at the station, so hopefully it will not be as ghastly an experience as I originally thought.

Traveling is wonderful; I love catching up with old friends, meeting new ones, sampling the local food and coming face to face with regional history. It is just the getting there and back that causes such anxiety. I notice that this anxiety does not rear its ugly visage when I am driving to my destination. But the thought of having to catch another mode of transportation and possibly missing it fills me with as much dread as Tristan Farnon when faced with Mr. Mulligan's Irish wolfhound.

But the prospect of spending a few days in the Connecticut countryside with one of my dearest friends overides any dislike I have for the arrival thereof. If I have any free time during the next five days, I shall post about some of my doings. Otherwise, dear reader, have a wonderful weekend!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

08 January 2009

The Comfort of Music

...what I want from songs now is comfort. Not to be pushed forward or challenged, though this is occasionally necessary, but to hear music that says yes, we are tired, but we are alive.
~ Joel Hartse

A favorite resource of mine on all things related to art and culture is Image Journal, "a literary and arts quarterly founded in 1989." This morning I was reading Joel Hartse's top ten songs of 2008. I am always searching for new music and new artists ~ especially indie artists. I was intrigued by Joel's list (surely he is a melancholic!) and in looking for sample tracks, I came across Last.fm ~ a website similar to Emusic in that it makes independent music more readily available. This is always a plus for music lovers.

Making it on Joel's list is Jon Foreman's I Am Still Running. Jon Foreman is the creative force behind the band Switchfoot, whose music I do enjoy. But Jon's solo work is truly beautiful, comforting and accessible. Listening to In My Arms, I felt as if he would be quite at home at one of my musical soirees, improvising with my musician friends.

Have you discovered a new artist recently? Share your favorite tracks in the com box!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

07 January 2009

From the Frying Pan to the Fire

Square meals, not adventurous ones, are what you should seek.
~ Bryan Miller

Perhaps there is some truth to the above quote. I confess I do not know the context, and context is exceedingly important. But taking it at face value, it seems to me that all meals are adventurous, or can be. I suppose it depends on the temperament and sense of humour ~ or lack thereof ~ of the cook.

Many people approach the kitchen with fear and trembling or avoid it altogether and I blame the microwave. May I say that it is the most interesting contraption ever invented? It has the remarkable ability to take a piece of perfectly wonderful bread and turn it first into rubber and then into stone. Our Lord's question of whether a father would give his child a stone when he asks for bread makes more sense since the appearance of the microwave. I loathe the thing and use it as little as possible. And I believe that more people would become better cooks if they threw their microwave out. It is like the television ~ it rots "zee little grey cells" and impairs one's imagination.

And one needs imagination in the kitchen. How many of us have stood staring blankly into the refrigerator, cooling off the entire house, without the slightest clue what to make for dinner? The anxiety this question produces only increases when you are cooking for more than just yourself.

Such was the case last night. My housemates and I celebrated "Little Christmas" with each other on the Feast of Epiphany, as most of us had been away for the start of the Christmas season. I, being home earlier than anyone else, was the chef du jour.

I love a culinary challenge. How and with what would I feed four people? I had spinach and mushrooms left over from my volunteer dinner on Sunday and would have dearly loved to make stuffed chicken again, but it needed to stretch to four and I only had three chicken breasts left over. I did not want to waste gas or money by driving to the grocery store and the organic butcher was closed by then. What then could I make with just what I had?

When in doubt, keep it simple. I cut the chicken breasts into small chunks and sauteed them in about three to four tablespoons of butter (Gregorio is rolling his eyes), a dash of olive oil and three green onions, chopped. While they browned, I put more butter in another pan and added three cloves of garlic and two packages of sliced mushrooms. After they had cooked a few minutes, I added a splash (or three) of sherry, with a couple of pours of evaporated milk and a few sprinkles of all-purpose flour and voila! I had a lovely mushroom sauce/gravy.

A word about cooking with alcohol. I do not know who said it first, but one should never cook with alcohol that one would not drink. Please, dear reader, do yourself and your guests a favor and follow this rule, if none other. I myself learned the hard way and once made a scallop dish with the nastiest white wine I had ever tasted. Not even the most hard up college student would have drunk this wine. Consequently, the scallops were terrible. So, no more of that!

The chicken was now nicely browned. I took it out and put it aside and added more butter. (Gregorio, if you are reading this, I just know you are clutching your heart and laughing in spite of yourself, but look at it this way ~ butter is organic and all natural and much better for you then margarine!) Into the pan went the spinach and my all time Southern favorite: okra. I left it on the fire long enough to soften the okra and wilt the spinach. Then I added the chicken back in and tossed it. I spooned orzo into a big white pasta dish and topped it with the chicken and spinach mixture and ladled the mushroom sauce on top and dinner was served, complete with a nice red wine, candles and the "good" china.

James Beard himself once said that he did not like gourmet cooking ~ he liked good cooking. And a meal does not have to be super fancy in order to feed the body and warm the soul. But whether it is a Sunday five course dinner for fourteen or a one-dish dinner for four, a wonderful meal is within one's reach and worth the effort of cooking without radiating one's food. And in that context, I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Miller. Cheers!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

05 January 2009

Celebrate Me Home

He who receives his friends and gives no personal attention to the meal which is being prepared for them, is not worthy of having friends.
~ Jean-Antheleme Brillat-Savarin

Another year gone and a new one just begun. 362 days of endless possibilities. I began 2009 thinking of all I had to be thankful for in 2008. One of the most important blessings a person can have is the love of family and friends. Perhaps like most of you, some extraordinary souls who are true kindred spirits came into my life this past year. Having met, it is as if we always knew each other. And I grew closer to those friends who have been with me for many years and remained true and unchanging in their support throughout the sitcom that is my life.

Among all my friends there is a special group, though, that I felt needed special recognition. These were the brave and sacrificing souls who went above and beyond in helping me organize and execute some big events this past fall. And if there is one thing that I learned this past year, it is that nothing lasts forever and that each moment should be lived to the fullest and treasured.

So I did not want another day to go by without telling these special people how much I appreciate them. And since cooking is something I seem to have a knack for, I could not think of a better way to show them then by feeding them!

The menu for my appreciation dinner this past Sunday took some thought and the personal attention Brillat-Savarain calls for.

Second Course ~ Fresh Herb, Potato and Leek Soup

Third Course ~ Winter Greens with Sherry-Mustard Vinaigrette

Fourth Course ~ Chicken Stuffed with Mushrooms and Spinach, with a side of Molasses-Glazed Baby Carrots and Orzo

Fifth Course ~ Sticky Date Bread Pudding with Amaretto Zabaglione

I love scallops. They are so simple to prepare, take no time at all and pack a culinary punch. My guests thoroughly enjoyed them along with the Calvados sauce. But it was not one of my favorites. Too much garlic perhaps? I have prepared scallops in a garlic and white wine sauce and also did not care for the taste. There are only two ways I like my scallops so far: bacon wrapped or on a bed of fresh made pesto.

The Potato and Leek Soup was also a hit, although I did not puree it as the recipe suggested. I pureed a small portion and as with the Potato-Turnip Puree fiasco in November, this one looked suspiciously like glue. So I opted to serve the soup as it was. It tasted much better and was eaten with great aplomb.

Call me what you will, but what really can one say about salad? I am a carnivore at heart and salads bore me dreadfully. What I will say is that my friend Jeannette, notorious for avoiding all things green and healthy, ate all of her salad, due in part I am sure, to the delicious vinaigrette. It was quite a hit and a recipe that goes in the "Make Again" file.

One of my kitchen motto's is to use what you have and buy when there is a sale. In the current economy, thrift is king once again (and I think will come more into its own as the year progresses) and buying expensive cuts of meat is out of the budget of an increasing number of people. I wanted to give my friends a menu worthy of their time and sacrifice, but I had also resolved to spend less this year. So I looked at the sale papers, and then searched the recipe databases. This stuffed chicken recipe was quick and easy and plated with a side of sauteed baby carrots and orzo, is came out as beautifully as a filet mignon.

Ahhh, and now we come to my favorite course. After serving my guests, La Chef finally came out of the kitchen and much to my embarrassment, to rounds of applause, shouts of "For She's a Jolly Good Fellow" and even a wave! Josef gave up his chair and I sat with my friends and took a bite of the Date Pudding. Dear reader ~ if there is one recipe you try this year, make it this one. I do not know what to say about this dish except that is better than anything else you have tried. (I made enough for Cox's army, so my discussion group tonight will get a taste of culinary heaven.)

Once again, I could not have pulled off this lovely evening without some help: Mon Aimee helped serve each course, plate by plate and from the kitchen, I heard phrases that warmed my culinary aficionado's heart: "Is this the _____ Restaurant and Cafe?" and "I feel like I am eating at a five-star restaurant!" Standing tiredly over the stove, preparing the fifth and final course, I smiled and knew that my gift of appreciation was appreciated in turn.

May the beginning of 2009 be equally as warm and inviting for you, dear reader.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

01 January 2009

Behold, All Things Are Made New

Don't fear failure so much that you refuse to try new things. The saddest summary of a life contains three descriptions: could have, might have, and should have.
~ Unknown

A new year, a new look. It was time to air the linens, turn the mattress, dust the chandeliers and plump the cushions. I think it is lovely how we are given several chances during the year to start over ~ the beginning of Advent; the first of the year and the start of each new season.

Have I really been writing to you since 2005? How fast the time as flown and how remiss I have often been in writing to you, dear reader. One of my resolutions, the one I make every year, is to write more. And I say anything at all that is just what you need to hear in this moment, then I have succeeded in my journey to point out open doors and windows or at least be a listening and supportive ear.

But I think I can do with a new, easier to read format. The only sad part is that I lost all my favorite blogs list and some of my widgets. And as all things HTML are mysterious to me at present, I beg your patience, dear reader, as I try out this new look. Do let me know what you think of it.

God bless your new year of endless possibilities.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela