Thursday, June 28, 2007

Unfamiliar Books

Dispatches From Maine tagged me a couple of weeks ago. He challenged me to recommend three of my books which are unfamiliar to most. This is particularly difficult because I read a lot of bestsellers and popular fiction. I had to hunt high and low for these suggestions.

What The Shadow Told Me, by Kurtis Davidson: This is a complex and engaging story about a story, its author and the small universe of characters that surround him. The concept was fresh, yet full of Borges-like twists and turns. Rufus Walter Eddison, America's greatest African-American writer, dies suddenly. His editor, Justina Patterson, is left scrambling to find the manuscript to his second novel before an unscrupulous senior editor at her publishing company can generate a fake to be passed off as the work of the dead genius. Justina has been brought up to revere the famed author, as has all of America and most of the world. The only problem is he wrote his great American novel in 1951 and for forty-eight years has failed to deliver the manuscript of the sequel as he was under contract to do. Eddison was so paranoid that his second novel wouldn't live up to the world's expectations that he never even wrote a grocery list after that. Or so it seemed. Justina has to find his book or face grim alternatives.

In the effort to locate the lost manuscript, Justina meets a wide assortment of hilarious characters, which are well-developed and unique in their voices. Among them is Biminim Strimpoonanamam, an Asian man with an unpronounceable name and nearly unintelligible English. Biminim translates novels from English to another foreign language to English for people who speak English as a second language. The result is outrageous translations of great literary works in Pidgin English.

Throughout the novel, the author succeeds in moving the satire effortlessly from the larger to the smaller picture, often with side-splitting one-liners, hilarious dialogue mixed with black humor- all effectively paced within an unbelievable plot. And it is precisely this humor and wittiness that is the novel's narrative engine, maintaining our interest until the last sentence.

Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany, by Bill Buford: Most of you know I love to cook, and I love to talk about food. Buford loves it more, so much so that the New Yorker editor took a year off to apprentice in Mario Batali's kitchen and then follow his culinary apprenticeship throughout Europe. Buford tells of his nearly-compulsive need to learn the true roots of Italian cooking and writes intensely detailed descriptions of pasta-making, butchering, animal husbandry, the origin and geography of authentic Italian ingredients and the lives and backgrounds of his Italian mentors. Because of his work at Babbo and his relationship with Mario Batali, Buford did his best to replicate much of Batali's early training in Italy, visiting the same places and working with the same mentors when possible. This is a must-read for foodies and Molto Mario fans alike. Some folks gripe that Buford's narrative pales in comparison to Anthony Bourdain's. I disagree: Buford writes non-fiction like it's fiction and produces a highly readable tome. Bourdain's style is gritty, crude, and base, just like him; his authorial popularity is clearly based on his television notoriety.

The Feast Of All Saints, by Anne Rice: I actually own and have read everything Anne Rice has ever published, from the early erotic novels (published under the pseudonym, Anne Rampling) through The Vampire Chronicles and the latest Jesus story. Having read Rice's entire oeuvre, I can appreciate the arc of her voice and talent. I was a big fan of the vampires through the early and middle part of the series, but I grew tired of them towards the end. Those stories became predictable and formulaic.

The Feast Of All Saints, however, is something entirely different, a novel that really does not fit into the Anne Rice mold. Saints is a top-notch piece of historical fiction about a race, a place, and a time rarely covered in fiction. Mind you, I read this book more than 15 years ago – and I don't reread anything – but this novel has stayed with me more than almost any other book I've read. From the back of the book:
In the days before the Civil War, there lived a Louisiana people unique in Southern history. For though they were descended from African slaves, they were also descended from the French and Spanish who had enslaved them. They were the gens de couleur libre--the Free People of Color--and in this dazzling historical novel, Anne Rice chronicles the lives of four of their number, men and women caught perilously between the worlds of master and slave, privilege and oppression, passion and pain.

What I loved about this book was the lush realism Rice infused into each of her characters. This is an incredibly vivid painting of an entire world that is as foreign and fascinating to our modern minds as any fantasy creation. Rice has an amazing ability for doing this – constructing entire universes complete with an endless number of lifelike characters. The subject matter is difficult. This book is about the lives of several people of color living in a world where their race is an unshakeable part of every daily interaction - demeaning, galling, and always present. Rice addresses these issues carefully and sensitively. The hardships encountered by the gens de couleur libre are the core storyline of the novel. In the end, Feast is a sympathetic account of people living in a culture and lifestyle that has been gone for more than a century.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Murphy's Law Of Travel

Whatever can go wrong on a trip will go wrong, and there will be vomit.

After a very late night at Niece L's Bat Mitzvah party last Saturday evening, we woke up groggy on Sunday morning. We packed our bags, checked out of the hotel, and went over to TaxBro's house for brunch. Mid-way through my first cup of coffee, WineGuy says "How upset will my parents be if we don't visit them on this trip to Washington?" No, don't do this to me. I answered, "If you explain it nicely, maybe they'll understand." An hour later, we'd had enough family time – my parents showing up very late, The Egg (eldest brother) pontificating on Israeli and American politics, kids tearing up the rec room. I said to WineGuy, "If we leave RIGHT NOW, we can drive 40 minutes completely out of the way and have a short visit with your parents." I told him to call and let them know we were coming. 20 minutes and 20 goodbyes later we were out the door.

We drove 10 miles back to the Washington Beltway, 7 miles around the Beltway, 9 miles up I-270 and another couple miles to the in-laws' house. MIL gave us a frosty greeting. FIL was nowhere to be found. MIL eventually warmed up and told us FIL was pissed at not hearing from WineGuy on Father's Day last week. I forgot to send a card. MIL went on and on how WineGuy messed up. He got defensive but felt badly. FIL finally showed up downstairs and across the street at the community pool. We sent Wizard and Wild Thing down to invite FIL back upstairs, but he wouldn't budge. So, we all went down to chat with FIL and apologize for missing Father's Day. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa and Jewish guilt. What a combination. We raced out of there an hour and 45 minutes after we arrived.

Back down I-270, around the Beltway and out the airport access road (at excessive speed) to Dulles Airport. Gassed up the rental car and returned it. Shuttled over to the airport. Checked in. Tagged bags and dragged them over to the TSA screening machine. The luggage was piled 6-feet high waiting to be screened. When I asked whether they would process all our bags in the 75 minutes before our flight, the TSA Deliverance man agent replied, "I'll do my job, ma'am. Can't speak for the airlines, though." Not confidence-inspiring. Hiked through the airport, slogged through security, hiked more through the airport and made it to our gate about 25 minutes before boarding time. Bought pizza and water to feed everyone a late lunch, instead of giving them the chocolate and apples WineGuy stashed in the carry-on bag. Wolfed down the food and boarded the plane. Five minutes before our departure time, five off-duty flight attendants got on the plane and stowed their bags to catch a ride home. Five minutes later, five 0ff-duty flight attendants collected their bags and got off the plane because those five ticketed passengers finally showed up. The five latecomers sat down, and our flight attendants closed the door.

The pilot's first announcement was that TSA was slow to screen the luggage, and we had to wait for another batch to be loaded on to the plane. The ramp agents loaded the luggage, but the plane didn't move. The pilot's second announcement was that TSA did not deliver 5 bags on time, and those five bags would be sent on a later flight. The lady sitting next to me was convinced hers would be one of those bags. I smugly replied, "No. They're ours. We checked 5 bags." And we waited some more. The pilot's third announcement was that an on-board computer crashed and they were waiting for it to re-boot. Okaaay. Lost bags, dead computer, what else? The seatmate was afraid to fly. I asked Moose to make friends with her, and he proceeded to regale her with some tale.

Sometime before the pilot announced our departure, "Damien," a/k/a Roberto the 2 year-old in the back row started to shriek. For 2.5 hours, on and off, we listened to Roberto scream and cry and wail. We listened to his increasingly frustrated and ill-prepared mother talk (loudly) to him, sing with him, and feed his frenzy. I heard the flight attendant kindly ask the mother if the child was unwell. The mother said that he was tired because it was his naptime. Good planning, lady. With about 40 minutes left in the flight, Roberto's howling escalated to a fever pitch, and he vomited all over himself and the seat. The mother demanded, "Someone, help me!" Two flight attendants raced over with wipes and towels and tried to clean up the mess. The stench wafted through the plane and sickened us all.

We descended towards the runway when suddenly the plane pulls up and away. An aborted landing. O, joy and rapture. The pilot never came on to announce what happened, but we heard from the crew that a plane crossed our runway and did not clear the path in time. We circled the city and finally landed. Amen. Satan's Flight 666 was finally over. Fortunately, the ground crew allowed us to disembark the plane from the rear, so WineGuy shoved us past everyone and down the stairs. But the night was far from over.

Off to Carousel 5 for our bags. WT's bag arrived. Moose's duffel arrived. WineGuy's bag arrived. Then we watched the conveyor go around and around. My bag didn't arrive, nor did Wizard's bag. I walked the entire length of the terminal to the bag claim office and realized I didn't have the tags from the bags that did arrive. I walked all the way back and got them from WineGuy and trudged back to the bag claim office. Where there was one guy working and 20 pieces of delayed luggage waiting to be processed. Fortunately, there was one woman in line ahead of me. When my turn came, I had all the necessary papers and information ready, but it still took Bag Guy forever to type it in with those two fast fingers of his. As he finished writing up my claim, Roberto's mother walked in. I thought, "Just shoot me." She starts in with her harangue about how awful the flight was, how her kid is so tired and got sick, and how she needs to get him home. I turned to her and said, "I know your entire story. I were sitting two rows ahead of you. I was here first. They lost 2 of my 5 bags. I have a husband and three exhausted, ravenous children waiting for me, AND I have a 115-mile drive home yet tonight. You need to wait your turn." Honey. She waited, while BagGuy finished my paperwork.

As I walked the entire length of the terminal (again), I called the airline's bag claim at Dulles. They had the bags and had tagged them for priority handling and rush delivery on the next flight to Fort Lauderdale ... the following morning. Fine, at least they had the bags. We all trudged back to the car and buckled up to go home. I pull up to the cashier on my parking level. No one was there. The sign said to pay on the next lower level. I drove around and down to the next cashier. Each line had 5 cars in it, and neither line was moving. By this point, I'd had it. I got out of the car and hollered called to the parking attendant about another cashier. He said to try another level down. I backed out of the line and drove down another level. There was no cashier, but there was an exit into another parking garage and a downward ramp. I took the ramp at a 10 mph clip, nauseating Wizard in the process. I finally found cashiers on ground level, so I paid with my credit card and zoomed out of the airport.

A faint chorus of "I'm hungry" and "Me, too" burbled from the back of the car. WineGuy suggested we follow our usual route home and look for the Golden Arches. Bad plan: you can't see those things in advance driving on an urban/suburban interstate highway. I pulled off at some random exit and bought some food at a grocery store. WineGuy served dinner, al auto, as opposed to al fresco, and we sailed home through the dark Everglades night. We finally arrived home at 11:00 p.m. and collapsed into bed.

Monday morning arrived, and everyone was still exhausted. The airline called twice with the good news that the bags arrived on (adjusted) schedule, at 10:30A, into Fort Lauderdale. The airline handed the bags over to the luggage service, who managed to get them on a truck at 4:00P that afternoon. I gave the luggage service exact directions to my house. The bags arrived in The Zone at 5:30P, which means the driver drove directly to my house. Super! I opened the handle of Wizard's bag, and it worked fine. I opened the handle of my own bag, purchased last September, and it was stuck. I pushed the handle; I pulled it; I prodded it; I jiggled it; I yanked it. Finally, it opened, but it did not stay open. Either the airline or TSA bent the handle and broke the pins that hold it in position. So, I called the airline's central baggage service. They, in turn, told me to call Fort Lauderdale baggage service. I called Fort Lauderdale baggage service and got their voicemail. They never called back, so I called again later in the evening. Guess what? The airline is not responsible for damage to the pull handle. This is specifically stated in their contract of coverage – not clearly printed anywhere you might see it when you check your bags but buried six levels deep in their website. Thankyouverymuch.

I've had a matched set of expensive (non-rolling) luggage for 17 years. It's gone all over the world with me, and it's in good shape. I bought one, lousy, little rolling suitcase – from Costco, no less – last fall, and it's already ruined. Unbelievable. Now, I have to shop for new luggage. Ugh.

California, Here I Come!

I am going to be on JEOPARDY!!! My lifelong dream will come true at the end of July 2007. I am so excited, I want to tell the world. And, I pretty much have. Here is the story:

On Friday night, June 22, 2007, I was in a synagogue in Reston, Virginia enjoying a Shabbat dinner with my immediate and extended family for my niece's Bat Mitzvah. My cell phone rang. I saw that the call was from the 310 area code in Los Angeles. I thought it was the Malibu Mom calling me. I answered the call and heard a bunch of static. I sprinted outside to get better reception. Then I heard, "Hi! This is Carina from Jeopardy! Am I speaking to The Testosterone Zone?" Oh. My. G-d.

Carina proceeded to verify every bit of my personal information from the questionnaire I completed at my Jeopardy audition in May 2007: name, spelling, address, local Jeopardy station, etc. Midway through her dozens of questions, I asked Carina, "Does this mean what I think it does?" She replied, "Please wait until you've answered all my questions." Aaah! Carina continued through her laundry list:
  • Do you know anyone who works for your Sony Pictures Entertainment?
  • Do you know anyone who works for the distribution company?
  • Do you know anyone who works for ABC?
  • Do you know anyone who works for NBC?
  • Do you know anyone who works for CBS?
  • Do you know anyone who works for your local affiliate?
  • Have you ever been on a game show?
  • Have you been on a game show in the last six months?
No, honey. What I wanted to say: I'm basically a suburban housewife and mother living in Southwest Florida. I don't know anyone who works for anyone in California. Now, stop asking me all these damn questions and answer my one! What I did was politely reply to each and every one of those maddening interrogatories.

When she finally completed her due diligence, Carina finally stated, "We would like you to come to California to be a contestant on Jeopardy. Are you available at the end of July?" Yes, I am. I would ditch my kids and be on a plane tomorrow if you asked! Carina then gave me myriad details of when to come, what to wear, travel arrangements, etc. I am going to be taping shows on July 30-31, 2007. I do not know when the show(s) will air, but when I auditioned, they told us that shows taped in the beginning of the season should air approximately 6 weeks after they're taped. I'm guessing September 2007.

I thanked Carina for the good news and walked back into the synagogue. I marched right over to WineGuy and said, "We're going to Los Angeles at the end of July. I'm going to be on Jeopardy!" The boys jumped up and hugged me. The whole room exploded in congratulations and applause. I felt guilty, taking away attention from Niece L that night, but she was just as excited by the news. We spent the rest of the weekend enjoying Niece L's Bat Mitzvah and celebrations. Word of my Jeopardy appearance spread around the congregation like an Everglades brushfire.

There are a million things to do now: What am I going to wear? When am I going to have time to shop for it? I need to lose a ton of weight before the end of July! Is the whole family going to California? What do I do about Moose, who is not old enough to attend the taping? Will my in-laws agree to watch him while the rest of us go to L.A.? Or, do I ask Malibu Mom to watch him I'm at the studio? When are we flying out there? Should we make a whole vacation of it or should I go with one or two good friends? My head is spinning.

Before I sign off today, I want to acknowledge The Mamas who must be watching over me in heaven. First there is my grandmother, who watched Jeopardy almost every night, according Aunt M-lyn. Next there is Mama S, my SIL's mother; she was a lifelong fan of Jeopardy and all kinds of games. Finally and most importantly, is Mama E, BFF's mother. Mama E was such a rabid Jeopardy fan that she would not answer her telephone while the show was on. Mama E was a brilliant woman, with whom I could discuss the esoteric points of any Jeopardy game. Mamas, don't fail me now!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Surfing Blogs Of Note

Every so often I surf over to Blogs of Note and check out what Blogger deems blogworthy. I get tired of kudos going to prostate-enlarged gamers and techno-hounds, but this week I found a gem, Ken Levine. From his blog:
Ken Levine is an Emmy winning writer/director/producer/major league baseball announcer. In a career that has spanned over 30 years Ken has worked on MASH, CHEERS, FRASIER, THE SIMPSONS, WINGS, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, BECKER, DHARMA & GREG, and has co-created his own series including ALMOST PERFECT starring Nancy Travis. He and his partner wrote the feature VOLUNTEERS. Ken has also been the radio/TV play-by-play voice of the Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres.

Levine's perspective on television and life is long . . . and hysterical. Consider his post on his recent trip to Hawaii.
His observations about Maui and Hawaii had me rolling on the floor. I couldn't stop laughing at: "A synagogue in Oahu has the following website -- “” I’m guessing they’re reform. Stopping just short of having a pig with an apple in its mouth at the Purim Luau." Or this: "The Dali Lama recently stayed at the nearby Renaissance. (You’d think he could do better.) Wouldn’t you love to be checking in and there he is going bonkers because they gave him a room by the ice machine? It would also be pretty cool to go to a Yoga class and there is the Dali Lama sitting next to you." Really! Check out his Blogspot and Typepad sites.

Earlier this year, I found a fascinating blog about Antarctica. Glass artist, David Ruth, won an artist's grant from the National Science Foundation to study ice structures in order to later cast them in glass. He took amazing pictures of his journey to and from the Frozen Continent, as well as the local fauna and flora. Wild Thing and I enjoyed following Ruth's travels, as WT studied the North Pole and South Pole in school.

But then, Blogs of Note recognizes crap like Anna Abroad. This chick is in Paris, seeing some of the greatest sites in the world, and all she can say is "The Louvre is big." Oh. Let me run and renew my passport to go back and see The Louvre because it's big.

At any rate, you get the idea. Surfing Blogs of Note is one way to expand your blog-horizons. I'd like to know what or how you explore the blogosphere. Oh, and I'd like to know how one gets chosen as a Blog of Note. I'm "Noteworthy". Don't you think so??

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

First Blogiversary

Tales From The Testosterone Zone is one year old today! On June 19, 2006, I posted my first-ever blog entries anywhere. Since January 2007 when I installed Sitemeter, The Zone has had nearly 4,650 hits from all over the world. I've seen entries on my Sitemeter from six continents: North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. I have regular readers all over the United States, in Europe, and in Australia. In fact, I know of at least 2 regular readers Down Under.

If you are a regular reader and you don't post comments, please leave me one today. Even if you are a regular commenter, leave me a note, too. Tell me what you like about this blog. Tell me what you don't like and what I need to improve. BTW, see that graphic over there? I designed it myself!

Finally, here's a beso for Sock Girl, who was the very first visitor to The Zone. Thanks for inspiring me to write.

Monday, June 18, 2007


Several months ago, I asked my mother if I could have her set of sterling flatware. She ignored me. I asked again a few weeks later, and a few weeks after that, she and my father agreed (with strings attached). One of my mother's requests was that I come to their house and go through everything with her and my dad, so I could choose what I wanted. After some dickering, WineGuy and I agreed to go over on Father's Day. He would keep the boys occupied for a couple of hours so I could have "quality time" with my parents.

So, we went over to the East Coast and spent Father's Day with my parents. WineGuy dragged the boys hither and yon until I called to tell him I was done. He asked, "Why did it take so long for a set of flatware?" Because, there was more than flatware. Much more. Waaaay much more. My parents chose to unload their lifetime collection of sterling silver flatware and hollowware.

Here's what I originally came for:Towle "Madeira" sterling flatware, service for 12++, circa 1950. I say "++" because my mother has all kinds of esoteric additional pieces like fish forks and salt spoons and sugar shells. You name it. Here's a more detailed picture:

She also had assorted pieces from other manufacturers, pieces which my father bought or took in trade when my parents were in the retail jewelry business. There used to be an entire set of Kirk Repoussé flatware, which I declined for obvious reasons:

I didn't want to polish that intricate pattern! Or this one, Stieff Rose, either:

My parents gave me such a hard time for turning down those sets, but I just hated them. I figured I could wait until my mother was ready to let her Towle go. I'm glad I did.

I came home yesterday with two big boxes and three large shopping bags of sterling silver. There are flatware, serving pieces, bowls, candelabra, a candle snuffer, salt-and-pepper shakers, serving trays, serving caddies for casserole dishes, a crumber, a soup ladle, a small punch bowl – Mom still has the large one, a trivet, candy dishes, a gravy boat and tray, a gravy ladle, a carving set, coasters, and many other things. It will take me days to fit it into my cabinets and closets. I don't think I have enough space for it all.

My parents were melancholy about letting these things go, but they haven't used any of them in years. That didn't stop them from making nasty comments about who would be eating off "her silver," namely my in-laws. You see, my parents and my in-laws do not get along at all. They have disliked each other since the day they met 15 years ago; wedding shower and wedding preparations merely worsened the situation. Now, my in-laws regularly come to our house for holidays; my parents do not. They will not come if my in-laws are going to be here. My parents highly resent that my in-laws will eat off the antique silver; they ignore that my children and my husband will enjoy it more than anyone else. It's a shame.

Meanwhile, we're still digging out children's rooms here in The Zone. Moose took an entire box of crackers up to his room and spread them all over the floor. He poured water and handsoap on the carpet and G-d-knows-what-else. Wild Thing played with all his toys, completely ignoring the pile of clean laundry that needed to be put away. I worked on those 2 rooms today. Again. Wizard's room looks like the Chinese laundry exploded in there. The entire floor is covered with clothing. To save my sanity, I may just take his entire bundle to the local laundry and charge him for it. Looks like none of The Zone boys are going to make it to summer camp this year. Pbbbbbbbft.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Fattening Week

Our dear friends, The Radiologist and The Writer, came back to town for a visit this week: no conference and no kids. They have enjoyed hot, sunny days and great shopping all over town. We made sure they've had adventures in dining each night. I'm glad my diet "starts next week." Haha.

On Monday night, WineGuy took The Radiologist and The Writer to a local seafood shack, Rodés. Although this place is usually jammed in season, they were the only patrons there the whole evening. They enjoyed freshly caught Florida grouper, shrimp, and scallops prepared all different ways. WineGuy made sure they had authentic Key Lime Pie for dessert. They loved it and sent the leftover pie to the boys, who gobbled it up. I, on the other hand, had to go to book club on Monday night. We forewent our usual sushi place for dinner al fresco at Riverwalk, overlooking Naples Bay. The new husband of one of our new members owns Riverwalk, and the new member treated us to dinner. We started with rock shrimp nachos. These were heavily-breaded, fried rock shrimp in a sweet chili sauce over multi-colored nacho chips sprinkled with jack cheese. The dish was not cohesive and didn't make sense. The Pinot Grigio we all drank did. I ordered a Salade Niçoise topped with rare ahi tuna, grouper, and sauteed shrimp. The salad was light and flavorful, filled with dark greens, a hard-boiled egg, and other chopped vegetables in some sort of citrus vinaigrette. The dish was a winner save for too much salad dressing, a perpetual restaurant mistake. The other mistake was sitting outside because apparently I was the main course for mosquitoes that night. I'm still scratching.

The following evening we all went to the new Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in town. WineGuy and I ate at the original Ruth's Chris in New Orleans years ago. It was the best steak I've ever had. The franchise absolutely lived up to the original. Although the new steakhouse is built into the local mall, when you walk in the door, you leave suburbia behind. The high-ceilinged interior was furnished in deep burgundy and ivory with mahogany furnishings and accents. The ivory walls were dimensional, textured to look like sculpted sand – you know, like the pattern made in a little Zen garden. We sat down at a four-top in the middle of the restaurant.

WineGuy ordered the barbecued shrimp appetizer, advertised as an authentic New Orleans dish, which our waitress heavily promoted. The shrimp arrived hot and well-seasoned, but dripping in a gloppy orange sauce that resembled no shrimp we've ever eaten in New Orleans. They tasted good, but they were far from authentic. The Radiologist ordered a tomato and sweet onion salad. It was a beautiful plate of thickly sliced beefsteak tomatoes and Vidalia onions, topped with crumbled Gorgonzola cheese and a light vinaigrette. WineGuy and I ordered the Porterhouse for Two (medium-rare), fresh asparagus with hollandaise sauce, creamed spinach, onion rings, and potatoes au gratin. The steak arrived, sizzling in butter (the restaurant's trademark preparation), and perfectly cooked to a warm red center. The kitchen sliced the meat off the bone and cut both the filet and the strip into servable pieces. The asparagus were steamed to a slight bite, and the hollandaise sauce set it off well. The big, fat onion rings were lightly battered and tasty, but nothing special. The potatoes au gratin were prepared in a 1/4" dice, instead of sliced, and felt awkward in the mouth; they were just okay. Three out of us four loved the creamed spinach, saying that the dish was a wonderful balance of heavy cream and spinach and seasoned well. I thought the dish was bland and boring; it needed salt and pepper and a heavy dose of garlic. But the table overrode my opinion. The Writer and The Radiologist ordered the Petite Filet (8 oz.) With Shrimp, garlic mashed potatoes and creamed spinach. They said their steaks and shrimp were cooked perfectly. I tasted the mashed potatoes, which were whipped IMHO, and they were very good: lots of creamy, garlicky flavor balanced with buttery richness. My small complaint was that they were grainy, with a cream-of-wheat/wallpaper paste texture that I did not love. After all that food and two bottles of wine, we hardly had room for dessert. WineGuy sucked it up and ordered the banana cream pie. It was an individual pie served with caramelized sugar and bananas on top. Banana cream pie is one of his favorites, and he loved it. The Writer and I shared bread pudding with a whiskey sauce. It was a luscious casserole of sweet bread drowned in a sugary, whiskey sauce. The desserts were definitely and authentically New Orleans. Finally, a comment on the wine list. The wine list is not long, but it has many good selections. Unfortunately, Ruth's Chris is charging exorbitant prices. For example, our bottle of Red Blend, Francis Ford Coppola, Claret retails in the store for $11-12.00. Ruth's Chris sold the bottle for $40.00. There is no excuse for charging 3-3.5-times cost for wine. The markup on our second bottle, Shiraz/Cabernet Blend, Majella, "The Musician" (Coonawarra, Australia) was equally high. Nevertheless and overall, the meal was outstanding. We will certainly go back.

On Wednesday evening, we headed up to Roy's in Bonita Springs. Our friend, Chef B, is the assistant chef there, so we joined her long-time boyfriend, GoJo, there for dinner, along with The Radiologist and The Writer. GoJo is an anesthesiologist who often works with WineGuy. He and Chef B are serious gourmands who travel the world over for great adventures and great food. We feasted at Roy's! When we sat down, Chef B sent an amusé-bouche to each of us. There was a small piece of blackened, rare ahi tuna in two sauces and a filet mignon tortelloni. The tuna was cooked perfectly, but, to me, the blackening seasoning overwhelms the piscine meatiness of the fish. Next, Chef B sent out a "canoe" of appetizers. It was a long white platter filled with Szechuan spare ribs, char shu chicken (like a chicken egg roll), a tempura sushi roll, and tuna tataki. They were all delicious and messy to eat. The Writer and I enjoyed every bite of the Maui Wowie salad we shared: vine-ripened tomatoes, sweet onions, feta cheese & lemon olive oil. The salad was light and flavorful. Each diner ordered his or her own dinner. The restaurant allowed us to create our own combinations of two entrées. The Radiologist and The Writer ordered Roy's signature Misoyaki Butterfish and the Tiger Shrimp. They swooned over the butterfish and loved the shrimp. GoJo ordered Fire Rim Shrimp over spicy kim chee pad thai; he's had it before and loved it. WineGuy ordered Asian chicken stuffed with herbs and spices and served over rice. He liked but did not rave about it. I lusted after the Misoyaki Butterfish; I always order it when I go to Roy's. I couldn't pass it up this time, but I felt I should try something different. So, I ordered a combination plate with the butterfish and an Herb Pesto Encrusted Corvina. The butterfish was divine: sweet and salty miso glazed fish served over sticky rice laid in a pool of lemon soy beurre blanc. The most perfectly braised baby bok choy accompanied this part of the dish, and it all was sublime. The corvina was a big mistake! It looked and tasted like grass-covered fish. I took one bite, and my tongue recoiled in protest. No more corvina for me. Dessert that night was the piece de resistance. Chef B outdid herself by sending out a platter of five signature desserts. We each had a scoop of rich vanilla ice cream to accompany the last course. There was a buttery, caramelized pineapple upside down cake. There was Roy's famous Molten Lava Cake, a hot chocolate cake with a liquid center. A nut-filled macadamia tart followed the cakes, and a galette (rustic tart) of summer fruits came next. The last dessert was a peach and ginger shortcake with fresh whipped cream. Each one was a winner. After all that food and three bottles of wine – Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (NZ), Kim Crawford Chardonnay (NZ), and Robert Sinskey Pinot Noir (Napa, CA) – we were stuffed to the brim. We all rolled home to cope with our own personal bouts of reflux!

A wine note: if you're looking for some reasonably priced white wines to drink this summer, check out Cloudy Bay or Babich's Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough from New Zealand; look for one that is "unoaked," i.e., not aged in oak barrels. This was a bright, light white filled with lots of tropical fruit up front and a grassy finish. Just the right amount of acidity to go with grilled chicken, fish and other summer dinners; price should be approx. US$15-20 in the local wine shop. Along the same vein, Kim Crawford's Chardonnay was fruity, acidic, and just buttery enough to stand up to your favorite summer repast. Again, this one should retail between US$15-20.

Thursday night was The Radiologist and The Writer's last night in town, so we opted for a cute seafood restaurant on the bay. The million-dollar view did nothing to improve the lazy service or lackluster food at Bayside. I had a roasted eggplant bruschetta with mozzarella: it was a fancy name for cheese toast with a little eggplant on top. WineGuy had the asparagus and sun-dried tomato risotto. It was starchy and heavy and redolent with nearly overcooked asparagus. I had grilled sea scallops for dinner; they came with a side of that same risotto
and some baby vegetables. The sea scallops and veggies were ordinary. The risotto completely overwhelmed the delicate flavor of the scallops. WineGuy had blackened ahi tuna (again). It was cooked properly, but it was an incredibly small portion for an entrée. Our friends both had grilled yellowtail snapper with lemon aioli. It was hard to tell anything about their fish under all that yellow glop on top. Mediocre food combined with a crappy waitress – 25 minutes to take our order, never kept our water glasses full, never cleared the table, never was around to ask her for something, took forever to bring our bill – now nukes Bayside right off our restaurant list. BTDT and don't want to do it again. Ever.

We raced out of Bayside and down to the main shopping and dining venue in town. We ended up on the upstairs terrace at Café Lurcat for dessert. It was a balmy evening; there was live
music. We had a smart, sassy waitress bring us fabulous desserts and coffee. WineGuy had the profiteroles drenched in chocolate and caramel. I had a baked chocolate mousse with vanilla ice cream; it tasted like chocolate and vanilla clouds. Our friends had the almond cake with strawberry-rhubarb compote. They loved the cake but wished it came with more than two teaspoons of compote. WineGuy said goodbye to his friends that evening, but I saw them the next day for lunch.

Wizard, Wild Thing, Moose and I met The Radiologist and The Writer for lunch at the local Persian restaurant, Bha! Bha! Amidst citrus-colored walls and an indoor fountain, we feasted on Iranian specialties. Moose ordered the aash soup, a lamb stock loaded with barley, bulgur, garbanzos and Persian noodles. Wizard and The Radiologist ordered a spicy beef kermani. WT ordered a lamb stew whose name I cannot possibly reproduce without a menu. The Writer
ordered the lamburger in pita bread. I had a chicken kebab over jeweled basmati rice with grilled onions. Each and every dish was exotic, flavorful and plentiful. We had a great waiter who apparently lives right up the street from me. The kitchen was the tiniest bit slow: we arrived at 12:30 p.m. and had to rush the staff to get us out at 2:40 p.m. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable dining experience. I really want to go back there for dinner on a Friday night, preferably with girlfriends, when they have their Persian fortuneteller there!

If you think my gluttonous week is over, it's not. Tomorrow night we are going to an Australian and New Zealand wine tasting and cooking class at the Robb & Stucky KitchenAid Culinary Center. I see you scratching your head, saying "huh"? A high-end local furniture store teamed up with KitchenAid to open a casual living store. It features about 6 completely integrated and fully operational KitchenAid kitchens and laundry rooms that flow into indoor patio and
outdoor living settings. They have their own chef who regularly teaches cooking classes, and we're going to one on Saturday night. By Sunday morning, when I have to endure my mother's endless cataloguing of the sterling silver she's supposed to give me drive to the East Coast to spend Father's Day with my parents, I will be content with a large bottle of water.

[Burp.] Excuse me. I'm going to sleep in the recliner now.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

School's Out For Summer

School's out for summer
School's out forever
School's been blown to pieces

No more pencils
No more books
No more teacher's dirty looks
Out for summer
Out 'til fall
We might not go back at all

School's out forever
School's out for summer
School's out with fever
School's out completely

–Alice Cooper

Thank you, Alice. And, thank you to all the teachers who pulled Wizard through this school year. You recognized his brilliance and excused his laziness time and time again. This didn't teach him to be organized or self-motivated, but maybe he'll learn external motivation next year in middle school.

FYI, Wizard found the postcards he lost and completed the novel project. He turned in the last paper to his Language Arts teacher the last day of school. She accepted it, but she may not give him credit for it. She's a big talker and threatened to give him a zero, but I think she's a softie and will give him partial credit.

Wild Thing had a good year in second grade. He is an average to above average student, but he works hard. He thrives on positive reinforcement. His teacher pulled him through the math program, so he completed the program with the rest of the class. WT proudly showed me his certificate of completion of the math program. I can already see, however, that we are going to have to review and review all his basic math facts this summer. He just doesn't retain things unless they are drilled into his head. WT is now a good reader and is motivated to read more fiction than before. He still prefers non-fiction books about the human body, but at least he's interested in adventure novels now. Reading will have to be a daily assigned activity now, too.

Moose had a marvelous year. He flew to the head of his class and soared over all their heads. He is now reading at a second grade level, with vocabulary words into fourth and fifth grade lists. His comprehension is good, too. I'm going to start him on simple chapter books this summer. Magic Tree House books would interest him but the reading level might be a little advanced. Does anyone have any suggestions? We have successfully avoided the Captain Underpants books, and I'd like to keep them out of this house. The boys are vulgar enough! Moose is anxious to do his summer packet and get it over with. I just might let him do it. He is motivated enough that every activity can be used to teach him. He even remembers math facts that Wild Thing doesn't.

Next week, we're going to spend time digging out everyone's room: closet, bookshelf, dresser, etc. I'm going to throw out most of WT's and Moose's toys because they don't put them away. I need to get caught up on all their laundry, too. Because Moose and WT keep each other up at night, I may move them both into the playroom on the first floor – their bedrooms are currently on the second floor – so we can monitor them and force teach them to go to bed on time each night instead of running around playing.

Once we get the house under control, then I'll put them into camps. I may try to take them up to the Kennedy Space Center for a week and put Wizard and WT into the day camps there. It would give me and Moose some time together. I could also visit my dear friend, Boatman, who lives nearby.

In the meantime, it's been a fun weekend so far. After classes ended, and we ran some errands for WineGuy (a whole, other, ugly story), we went to see the new movie, "Surf's Up". It was cute, but not as good as last year's "Happy Feet," which I adored. We had dinner out and then attended Sabbath services with Rabbi Z, whom our congregation just hired. For the first time in eons, I felt that spirit and joy as I sang with the small group. Rabbi Z is aware that the group needs to grow to survive; he asked us to remember this first night so that when the group is too large to converse freely with the rabbi during services (from his mouth to G-d's ears!) we will recall our small and humble beginning. Amen, Rabbi Z, amen.

Today, we all went to a barbeque and swim party at another physician's house. It was hot as Hades, but the shade and the pool were cool. We had a late lunch and then came home. I was ready to lie down for a nap when WineGuy proposed we go to the new county waterpark around the corner. The waterpark just approved a flat-fee family pass, which is a great deal. So, we dashed to the park, filled out the forms, got our cards and raced into the waterpark. It was the end of the day, and it wasn't too crowded. Wizard and WT immediately ran off to the giant waterslides and such. I was Moose's chaperone. We had a great time floating down the lazy river together. He dictated where we went and what we did. He was brave enough to climb on to the low diving board and the giant waterslide. Moose was not ready to take the plunge from either, but I was proud of him for trying and facing his fear. However, he did dive right into the deep pool and swim to me. WineGuy just sat reading in a lounge-chair the whole time. Afterwards, we had dinner at our favorite sushi restaurant. The boys were exhausted, but not enough to get right into bed. I am finally tired now, too.

Who knows what adventures tomorrow and the rest of the summer will bring? I just need enough sleep to be ready for them. Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

What A Waste

Wizard is a brilliant child. Wizard is lazy. Wizard is falling apart and has completely screwed himself for the 4th quarter Language Arts class.

He had a journal to write for our trip to New Orleans. He turned it in a month late and only after a lot of hounding. He had a packet to prepare for a novel he read independently. He did the art project, that was part of the packet, but did not do any of the written work. His teacher called me this afternoon to tell me all this. I was so NOT happy to be standing in the hair salon, dripping expensive color all over the floor, hearing this news.

When I finally got to school, the teacher conferred with me and Wizard. She told him she was not allowing him to turn anything else in late and that she would give him a zero for that assignment, a major part of his grade. His A will likely drop to a B-. No Honor Roll, nothing. I told them both that Wizard still had to do the assignment. She agreed. We came home, and Wizard was supposed to find his binder and the packet. He could find neither, nor could be find the art project he did. I am so angry with him, I could spit. This is the fourth time this year he has pulled this stunt and always with a long-term project.

Oh, and did I tell you that he dropped out of Band without telling us? Why am I spending big bucks to send this child to private school? Why, why, why?

Monday, June 04, 2007

Another Blue Monday

My dear friend, Spy, called me yesterday to tell me a classmate of ours from high school passed away. I have known this girl since we were in Kindergarten, some 40 years or so. We were in Brownies together and went all the way through grade school, junior high, and high school together.

She was 44 years old, the same as me. She died of pulmonary fibrosis at Johns Hopkins University Hospital. She leaves behind a husband of 23 years and 2 children. She was attractive, smart, and a highly accomplished woman. She's gone. I can't fathom it.

In other news that made me sad, my BFF is leaving for her first trip to Israel tomorrow. She is going with her family and a synagogue group and will be renewing her wedding vows while she's there. She and her husband will celebrate their 20th anniversary in August. I couldn't go to her wedding b/c I had to work in my parents' store. I won't be able to witness the renewal of vows either. It makes me sad.

Gather ye rosebuds and friends.

Sunday, June 03, 2007


I am struggling to do so many things, and I am accomplishing little.
  • I need to clean my desk. It will take me hours. Every time I start, something or someone interrupts me, and I fall 2 steps back.
  • I need to drive over to the east coast of Florida to see my mother. This is a command performance for her to give me her sterling flatware, which she has been promising me for a while and has been nagging me to come get personally.
  • I was supposed to make arrangements for the family to go to DC for a niece's Bat Mitzvah. I haven't made any flight or hotel arrangments. I wish we didn't have to go.
  • I need to get back to a laundry schedule for the boys. Their clothes pile up, and I can't keep up.
  • I need to get away with my husband. He does not acknowledge this need, and obstructs matters by rejecting any candidate I propose to stay with the boys.
  • I need to sign my kids up for camps. School ends this week, and I haven't done a thing.
  • I need to go see my doctors. ENT – I am congested and can't breathe well. Everything smells like cigarette smoke to me. GYN – for an annual check-up, but I hate waiting in her office. Internist – for a general check-up; I fear the worst and rightfully so.
  • I need my kids to listen and behave at home once in a while, so I can get some things done around here, like what I've just mentioned, and fix the stuff they've broken.
I need a break. I need my husband and kids to get the hell out of this house for a few days so I can catch up on everything. I need, I need, I need. I need to stop sounding like my mother and pretending it's always all about me.