Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Media Maven

Cool stuff is usually wasted on me. I'm not quite a Luddite, but the simpler the better.

I'd drive a Porsche just a tad over the speed limit, and not at all if it was a stick shift. I use about 10% of the capability of my Blackberry and my computer. I have no curiosity beyond e-mail, and I use a cellphone and the little camera for exactly those purposes---calls, texts and photos. Never gonna play Brickbreaker, use the calendar, V cast apps or Slacker Radio (whut?), Voice Notes Recorder, etc...

When I bought my house, the sellers "left behind" a Bose surround sound system which seemed pretty cool. I looked at the pile of cords (cables, whatever!) thinking they'd just get attached to my TV, but a friend's 18 yr old kid told me I was missing the receiver and the speaker selector. So all I got was a pile of cords (cables, whatever!). Oh well, at least the speakers were all there, with corresponding volume knobs strategically placed around the house.

It's all wired into one discreet corner. I came up with a great idea for the TV. I didn't want to put it over the fireplace, I don't have a wall unit, wasn't going to get one either, so I bought an artist's easel. I know--pretty neat!

The cable guy came and said this was the first time he'd ever hooked up a TV to an easel. I told him I wanted the smallest digital cable box possible, and that I never figured out how to program a VCR, so there is no chance I will need or use a DVR recorder. The fewer components, the better. I barely watch TV--maybe 5 channels out of 100's...but I do want those 5 to look sharp and to sound great. The picture was indeed sharp. Check that off the list.

My grill/appliance guy sells TV's but I already have one. He recommended a home entertainment system guy, and he came over with a receiver, a subwoofer and a speaker selector. I asked him for small, dark and handsome. And for "cord management" so that my whole "mimimalist easel idea" was not going to be compromised. All the boxes fit neatly under and behind the easel and the cords live inside a mesh sleeve. So far so good!

But then...the pile of remotes and instruction manuals. Nothing makes me glaze over faster. Well, maybe talking politics.
Gah! Remotes, manuals and schematics.

"All these remotes to listen to a CD, watch the news, cooking shows and some movies? Not happening. Not happening. Too many steps." I pleaded and he came back this week to program everything into a universal remote. It looks important. It's got some heft, it has a digital display, but it's surprisingly easy to follow and I'm totally in charge! One zone for video and TV, and another zone for music to be heard out in the yard, or on the front porch, or above the tub in the master bath. Hello, Mr. Bubble!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Grillin' and Chillin'

I left my Weber gas grill behind in New York, but I packed the little "Smokey Joe" kettle grill for the move South. My buyers, apartment dwellers, were happy if not a little apprehensive to inherit the Weber. I spent time really giving it a good cleaning, dug out the instruction book, and gave them a quick overview to show them that they need not be afraid of the propane tank.

My confidence in propane grew over time. Slowly.

I'm not a big fan of sticking a lit match into a peephole to ignite a gas grill or an oven. If any gas has been released and for some reason it doesn't ignite, I shut the operation down and use a grillpan inside. Or have cereal for dinner. The jitters remain after having been blown across a kitchen after using a match to light the stove while babysitting back in the early 80's. The propane tanks had been filled that day, and there  must have been a buildup of gas. I did not have a gas stove in my formative years. But, I had watched many episodes of Little House on the Prairie.

Kaboooom. I "saw" the air encircle the room, and as I was sailing backwards, pictures were coming off the walls.

After I collected myself and felt around for my eyebrows, I went out to the yard and casually said, "C'mon kids, let's go to McDonalds!" I made them sandwiches and salads for the rest of my stay. Plenty of Cheez-Doodles and ice cream, too. They had no problem with that. "You're cool!" (Yeah, I almost blew up your house and now I'm overcompensating.) The parents came home from 3 weeks in Hawaii, and I sheepishly showed them the bowed out sides of their stove. Thankfully their kids were outside when it happened, everyone was ok, eyebrows eventually grow back, and they were set to renovate the kitchen anyway...

At my new place, the buyers took their grill with them, and I was happy to get a brand new one for myself.

It came with a little "venturi cleaning brush" which I've never heard of, but will not ignore. It seems spiders can spin webs or insects can build nests in the venturi tubes. Is nothing sacred?? The grill may still light, but the nest will block the flow of gas, and can cause a flashback.

I've got some time before that will happen. For grilling quick dinners and desserts, I prefer using gas...but when friends are over, I also love the ritual of lighting coals and using them from firey orange down to the white ashes. Why do carcinogens TASTE so good?

I got to the farmer's market too late on Saturday, and didn't get anything fun like peaches, figs, big red onions or peppers. I christened the grill tonight anyway, with a super simple dinner. Grilled fennel salad and chicken breasts with mustard marinade.
Brush a chicken breast with a mixture of dijon mustard, a little olive oil, a squirt of blue agave (it's not blue, and it's lighter than honey), some salt and pepper. Halve or quarter a fennel bulb, after cutting off the fronds and peeling off the tougher outer layer. Drizzle fennel with olive oil and grill for 10 mins or longer, depending upon how carmelized you want it. I grilled everything on a sheet of heavy duty foil for this maiden voyage, because I wanted the heat...not any kind of factory burnoff.

Cut up 2 ribs of celery on the bias, and slice the grilled fennel thinly. Make a vinaigrette using the juice of one lemon, some grated lemon rind, and finely chopped fennel frond. Season with salt and pepper and whisk all together while drizzling in good olive oil. Some shallot would have been nice, to add some flavor and color. I didn't have any shallots, and I was too lazy to make any kind of a starch...but all in all this was just enough for a Monday dinner on the fly.

Cooler days and nights are just around the corner, and I look forward to really getting the grill going with some of my new friends. Cedar plank salmon, grilled peaches, kabobs, pound cake, mmmmmmmm.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Let Us Spray

I don't have a lot of DIY projects in line, since my house is under 10 years old...and that's a good thing. DIY was a major part of my life in NY. Now I can shift my focus to looking around and living life without tackling repairs and upgrades. To start finding that balance I keep talking about!

Rocking chairs and front porches are pretty popular down South, and of course I wanted rockers since I have a house with a front porch! The weather is cooling after a broiling hot summer, and my porch will be a good place to read and survey all that is mine. Out front, that would be a 27' x 6' strip of sod. I mean that philosophically, life beyond that. The previous owners left me a pretty tricked out porch--it has a Bose speaker and 2 ceiling fans!

There are rocking chairs along the Charlotte Airport concourse, out in front of shops, on the front porches of restaurants and of course at private homes. I started looking for mine and I was surprised to see that they can run to $300 apiece.

I pay readily for things that I want, when I want them. If the situation allows, I haggle with the best of them. But, when I get it in my head that I'm NOT going to spend top dollar, the mission begins. I looked in local stores, I searched online and still...too expensive, or not the style I wanted.

On July 4th I was on my way from golfing to a BBQ in Pineville. It's a "blink and you miss it" kind of town, with one small row of shops on Main Street.

I peeked into the windows of the shops--most were closed for the holiday, then I looked across the street and saw them! I did a double take--are you kidding me?
Two rockers, exactly what I was looking for...and just $49 each. Bingo! I didn't ask for the "best price" because I knew from what I'd seen, that I was getting a great deal.

All they needed was a light sanding and some spray paint. Too many nooks, crannies and slats to paint with a brush. I used spray black paint with a satin finish.

Do yourself a favor and get one of these 'spray handles' to attach to the can. This one from Rust-Oleum was about $5. No more numb index finger!

Each chair took 2 cans of spray paint, by the time I flipped it every which way to get full coverage.

A coupla cushions, and I'm good to go! Lemonade, anyone? 

Welcome to the Neighborhood

My neighbors have seen a flurry of activity at the house over the past month. On the heels of the sellers moving out, I had the gas, water and cable guys here, then painters, paperhangers, electricians, my movers, and last but not least the landscaper.

Coincidentally on my birthday, Debbie, a neighbor across the street, walked over and said, "Welcome to the neighborhood--I baked you a Coca Cola Cake!" I've never heard of that before, and she said "It's a Southern thing." I was wowed, awed and felt really quite special and welcomed! I thanked her and said my cousin Chris was coming down from Connecticut to celebrate my birthday...so her timing was perfect.

I dug up the recipe on the Coca Cola website. It probably dates to the 1950's. I can tell you that it goes very nicely with Southern hospitality, and a cold glass of milk!


2 cups sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups small marshmallows

1/2 cup butter or margarine

1/2 cup vegetable oil

3 tablespoons cocoa

1 cup Coca-Cola®

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup buttermilk

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


1/2 cup butter

3 tablespoons cocoa

6 tablespoons Coca-Cola

1 box (16 ounces) confectioners' sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, sift sugar and flour. Add marsh- mallows. In

saucepan, mix butter, oil, cocoa, and Coca-Cola. Bring to a boil and pour over dry

ingredients; blend well. Dissolve baking soda in buttermilk just before adding to

batter along with eggs and vanilla extract, mixing well. Pour into a well-greased 9-

by-13-inch pan and bake 35 to 45 minutes. Remove from oven and frost


To make frosting, combine butter, cocoa and Coca-Cola in a saucepan. Bring to a

boil and pour over confectioners' sugar, blending well. Add vanilla extract and

pecans. Spread over hot cake. When cool, cut into squares and serve.

*The cake recipe was contributed by Lee Avery Catts to "Atlanta Cooknotes"

published by The Junior League of Atlanta.



Why are there 12 holes at the top of a shower curtain liner, 12 to a box of shower curtain rod hooks, and 11 holes at the top of a shower curtain? I won't (can't) leave it like that---I have to remove a hook, and move the liner down one space. It's going to look all loose. Kind of annoying.

Same situation in my hotel bathroom this past weekend in Nashville. I did not take a photo.

It's like the 8 hotdogs to a pack, 10 hotdog buns to a bag conundrum. Have you ever wondered why A and B don't match up?

Or, is it just me?

Friday, August 6, 2010

My 100th Blog Post

I'll mark this milestone with a remembrance of good ole New York. I spent a good chunk of the last two decades commuting to work by subway. Some days I could not see past a strangers' armpit, and I'd be holding my breath as long as I could. Breathing like a snake, just enough to stay alive. Other days, I'd glance around around at my fellow commuters, and if there was nothing to look at--I mean, how long can you watch someone curl her eyelashes-- I'd read the posters and ads plastered above the windows. I saw similar themes year after year. Lots of ads for colleges and vocational schools, personal injury legal advice (one firm's logo was a leprechaun wearing boxing gloves), and English as a second language. It was odd to me that THAT poster was IN English.

 Then there were the medical ones...for all manner of bumps, lumps, fissures and gawd knows what else.

"Torn Earlobe?"

"Hammer Toes?"

"Scar Tissue or Keloids?"

"The Heartbreak of Psoriasis?"

Gah! I hadn't had my morning tea yet, and I'd have graphic photos burned into my brain and would have made a mental note to look up disorders like "keloids" when I got to the office. The fissures were not geological in nature. And, the hammer toes didn't look much better "after."

How about Dr Zizmor?  Call "Dr Z--You too can have beautiful, clear skin!"   "Thank you, Dr Z! You saved my life!"

One one of my last weekends in NY before I moved down south, my cousin Chris, who is a certified master life coach  http://www.christinabrandt.com/ 
and Mary Ann Wasil Nilan, the tireless spokes-survivor and founder of  http://www.getintouchfoundation.org/
stayed at my place while in NYC for the big Oprah Winfrey conference. 

After breakfast, Mary Ann took our picture at the corner at the top of my block, while I was holding up one of her foundations' "Daisy Wheels" (a breast cancer symptom primer for girls.) As Mary Ann backed up to take the picture, she started laughing hysterically. We looked up and saw the billboard that was overhead. I wish the picture was more clear. My old neighborhood has gentrified...but still has that NYC cheeky-ness about it! Ha ;-)