A good movie - finally!

I don't go out to the movies much. I'm happy to take my chances with whatever dvd Blockbuster Online sends my way. After a series of duds (e tu, Indiana Jones?), last night's entry, The Constant Gardener, was a refreshing surprise.

It's the story of a British diplomat in Africa who begins investigating his wife's death and in the process uncovers both the immoral practices of the pharmaceutical industry and the truth about his wife. The film relies heavily on flashbacks to show the love story of Justin and Tessa, a technique that could be confusing or disruptive but was handled with a deft touch and helped to draw me into the mystery. My highest praise for the film is that it works on every level - as a thriller, as a love story, and as social commentary. The cinematography is amazing - gritty and beautiful - a perfect analogue of Africa itself.

My rating: 8.5/10


No brainer dinner: Potato soup for one

I often crave soup when it gets cold, but I can't stomach the stuff in a can. Lately, I've been making a quick, simple potato soup when the craving hits. This isn't terribly precise, but it's hard to go wrong with this one.

Potato soup for one

Dice 2 medium potatoes and some onion. Season with salt and pepper. Barely cover with water and bring to a boil.

Lower heat to medium, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes (if you dice small, the potatoes should be tender at this point).

Mash the potatoes with a fork. Leave chunky if you wish.

Add 2 t butter and slowly add milk while stirring. When it reaches the consistency you like (I like it on the thick side), return to low heat and warm through. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Variation: Stir in a half cup of shredded cheddar cheese when you're adding the milk and butter and top with (fake) bacon crumbles, sour cream, and more cheddar.


Super Stationmaster Nelson?

Tama the cat has become a tourist attraction by hanging around a Japanese train station and wearing a wee little stationmaster's cap. Apparently, her presence has pumped $10 million into the local economy, and tourists are traveling from all over Japan to see her. Who knew a cat in a cap was such a gold mine?

This has me wondering if Nels might have a hidden talent worth millions. Surely, he can achieve something other than breaking things and tormenting the dog. My fear is that his gifts are more like those of Pearls Before Swine's Snuffles than law-abiding Tama. They even look alike. Maybe it's a fluffy thing ...


Cheap chic

Thanks to Worth Your Attention for linking to this article in the New York Times. I think my deal on the fab purse qualifies me as a 'recessionista'. My frugal streak is suddenly chic! I didn't see that coming ...



Over the years I've tried several bacon substitutes. Veggie bacon is fine on a BLT but unconvincing on its own. Bacon Salt is surprisingly good but overpriced and too salty for many uses. About a month ago, through pure, glorious luck, I learned that Bacos are vegetarian. Vegan even! Apparently, they're some sort of chemistry project made of soy, food coloring, liquid smoke, and several things I can't pronounce and don't want to think about. Normally I would scoff at this, but desperation leads us to do funny things. Since it's been 15 years since I've had real bacon, all I can say with accuracy is that they taste like my memory of bacon - salty, crunchy, and a little smoky. Happiness!

I'm already on my second jar, and things may be getting out of hand. I started out topping potato soup and baked potatoes, the usual. Then I added a few to my morning waffle. Last week, I learned that my snack of herbed cheese and sesame crackers becomes sublime with a few bits of bacon-y goodness on top. I've started looking at everything I eat and wondering how it would taste topped with bacon. My low point came when I was eating a square of chocolate smeared with peanut butter and .. yes ... you see where this is going ... I topped it with some Bacos. And Lord help me, it was good!

I think I need a 12 step program. This can't be healthy.


Downward Dog?

Maybe we should start learning doga ...


I AM the Bargain Queen

How cute is this purse? It was marked down and down and then I had a coupon, so I got it for ... wait for it ... $10! Wahoo!

Nashville Eats: Miller's Ice Cream

Before lunch, Kurt and I noticed a sign for homemade ice cream on a brick building just down the street from the Hob Nob. We decided to skip the famous apple crisp at the Hob Nob to give Miller's a try before heading to the park for an afternoon of hiking.

Kurt opted for the peanut butter chocolate chip. It tasted exactly like the peanut butter kisses (does anyone remember those??) that my mom used to buy at Halloween. It was served in a homemade waffle cone, and Kurt, though stuffed, seemed pleased with his choice.

I wanted to try something unusual, so I went with a dip of pumpkin and a dip of apple butter. The apple butter was advertised as being made from a nearby orchard's homemade apple butter. Miller's offers 'junior scoops' for those of us wanting to try multiple flavors (or for those who can't make up their minds). Both flavors were excellent and true to their name. It tasted like fall in a dish! The texture was slightly grainy, but not unpleasantly so.

Story! While I was eating (and Kurt was outside on the phone figuring something out with his editor), two little boys came in and sat down with their ice cream. They looked to be about 4 or 5 years old. Possibly twins, but I couldn't tell for sure. They were super psyched to have vanilla - "the BEST flavor ever!" as they said several times. When their mom came in, one of them said to her, "Look Mom! It's like we're on a date!" Mom leaned in and whispered, "But you're too young, and one of you should be a girl!" Too cute.

Nashville Eats: Hob Nob Corner Restaurant

On Tuesday's Brown County trip, Kurt and I stopped in Nashville for lunch. After finally finding a place to park - there's a free lot on the southwest end of town for those willing to walk - we tracked down the Hob Nob Corner Restaurant which had been recommended by both my Dad and his parents (odd that!).

The Hob Nob is in an unassuming white building said to be the oldest commercial structure in Nashville. Basically, follow the scent of chicken to the Nashville House and head across the street. The small entry was full as we entered, and we were told the wait would be about 20 minutes. Thankfully, the wait wasn't quite that long. We used the time to check out the menu and appreciate the simple, old-fashioned style of the restaurant. Wooden booths lined one wall and an old school soda fountain ran along the other. We were seated in the back section of the restaurant which was brighter and more spacious. An apothecary cabinet filled with antique glass bottles and white powders of dubious origin lined the wall behind our table.

The menu offered traditional favorites such as pork tenderloin, grilled cheese, and apple crisp. There were also surprises like a spinach-apple salad, eggplant ravioli and my choice, the curried chicken salad. The sole vegetarian option was an open faced sandwich featuring avocado and veggies topped with melted cheese. Kurt opted for the turkey melt - turkey, bacon, tomato and mozzarella served open face on white bread. The portions were generous and both dishes were excellent. I'm a bit finicky about turkey, but the meat on Kurt's sandwich tasted as if it were sliced off of a home cooked turkey. Two thumbs up!

My chicken salad had a wonderful curry flavor and added crunch from the addition of Jonathan apples and diced celery. It was served with cantaloupe and a homemade onion-dill roll. I noticed onion-dill bread for sale up front and was glad to try it myself. I was worried about the large bits of onion inside, but they were sweet and barely noticeable. The dill flavor could have been more pronounced, but then I'm a huge fan of dill, so that may be a personal bias.

The Hob Nob is a good alternative for those seeking a lighter meal in Nashville. Everything is homemade using quality ingredients, and the old fashioned atmosphere makes for a fun, nostalgic experience. The trick is to get there early since the line had tripled by the time we left at 1pm.


Scenes from Brown County

Kurt and I took a day trip to Nashville, IN on Tuesday. It was sunny but a bit brisk (translation: when the wind blew, it was cold). Judging from the leaves around Indy, I thought we were just past peak color, but there was still lots of green down south. Nashville was bustling, but the park was nearly deserted. We had the trails (and the backcountry when Kurt decided to go off trail for a bit) almost entirely to ourselves.

The views from the lookouts were amazing. We also climbed the fire tower only to learn that the hatch was bolted and we couldn't access the very top. Given how it was swaying and creaking in the wind, I was only too happy to head down.


Green thumb? We'll see ...

I'm trying to grow a plant for the first time in about 15 years. I have a spotty track record with growing things, so I picked a jade plant which is apparently hard to kill (unless you totally overwater it). It's also kitty friendly in case Nels takes a nibble. It came with a mammoth tropism but otherwise seems pretty healthy. I read that you can start a new plant from a leaf. I might try that and add another to the pot, so it looks more balanced. I'm hoping to end up with a cool tree with lots of branches like they have at the yoga center. In any case, it's nice to have a bit of greenery in my den.

Behold the super grainy photo of me and the plantling!


Veg'ed up biscuits and gravy

My mom made the best biscuits and gravy and the secret was always the hot sausage. Since I can't find spicy veggie sausage, I decided to mimic the sausage seasonings in the gravy itself. The result is a dead ringer for my mom's recipe. Even my carnivorous dad can't tell the difference!

Spicy Veggie Biscuits and Gravy

Biscuits - make 'em or buy 'em, your call
2 T Crisco
1/4 c white flour
3 cups milk - ideally room temperature
salt, pepper, ground sage, cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper
3 veggie sausage patties

While the biscuits are baking, melt the Crisco over medium in a large pan. Once melted, whisk in the flour and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Slowly whisk in the milk. Bring to a light boil and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer for 15 minutes or until thickened. While the gravy simmering, cook the veg sausage patties in a small skillet. Once done, dice and add to the gravy. Season to taste with salt, pepper, sage, cayenne and crushed red pepper. Serve over split biscuits.

Surprisingly, this heats up well in the microwave, so be sure to save any leftovers. I tried this once with veg sausage crumbles and the result wasn't nearly as good. I think the crumbles are too small and throw off the texture. I'm sure this could be made with real sausage, but you'll have to figure that out yourself.


Kindergarten redux

One of my Artist's Way exercises this week was to collect leaves or flowers and press them in a book between sheets of wax paper. Pretty much what we all did in kindergarten. I was skeptical, but it turned out to be a fun exercise! It was amazing to pay closer attention and take note of the variety of shapes and colors that the leaves have turned right here on my street. It's an excellent way to become attuned to the beauty all around us that we usually take for granted. I'm doubly lucky since fall is the perfect time of year for a project like this. Maybe those kindergarten teachers knew what they were doing after all ...


Modeling is hard!

Ernie came home from the groomer with the cutest pumpkin kerchief. As always, getting him to sit still and look my way for a picture was a challenge. Too many squirrels and kitties to keep track of!


Rhapsody music channels

I'm loving Rhapsody's music channels. No ads, no moronic DJs, and a wide variety of genres from which to choose. My current addiction is 'Cafe Montmartre' (French pop). Best of all, it's free!

Hundreds of ducks! Only not so much ...

A tradition in Kurt's family is feed the ducks on the Michigan State campus. Apparently, dozens of ducks gather near a landing by the river, and many get close enough to be handfed (the hundreds was hyperbole - yes, I am gullible). While there were only twelve ducks total, it was still fun to feed them and to enjoy an afternoon on the parklike campus.

If you visit, stop at the Dairy Bar for some excellent ice cream made right on campus. They have flavors for many of the Big Ten teams, so of course I had to represent and order the Hoosier Strawberry along with a dip of lemon custard. Those with kids will enjoy the children's garden. It's bright and interactive with lots to explore, including a wee labyrinth and musical tiles.

I'm still wondering where all the ducks went ...


I'm a bit of a city girl ...

Last Friday Kurt suggested we visit a corn maze. Since I've never done one before, or even been in a cornfield for that matter, it sounded like a good idea to me. We headed to the Country Corn Maze in Corunna, MI just after they opened at 5pm, bought our tickets, learned how it worked (ok, Kurt learned how it worked - I was busy taking pictures), and headed into one of the four mazes.

You're given a card showing checkpoints hidden throughout the maze. Find each marker, punch a hole, and be entered to win some sort of fabulous prize. The entire maze is 7+ miles long, so I knew from the get-go that we would not be finding all of the checkpoints. Our goal was to find 4 of the 6 hidden in the longest section of the maze.

Things were going well. I was marveling at how tall the corn was (who knew??), snapping pictures, and getting lost by ignoring the map and taking random turns at every opportunity. Then it happened. Kurt looked at my shoes. Apparently, sandals are not approved cornfield footwear. Huh. While it was a little muddy and my feet did get a wee bit cold, it wasn't the disaster that I expected from Kurt's reaction. It did, however, give Kurt one more "Rebecca is a city girl" story which he shared with anyone and everyone who would listen. Of course, they were all country people and knew the unwritten rules of farm footwear. Bah!

Al-Mar Orchards in Flushing, MI

Kurt and I were assigned the task of heading to the orchard for cider and apples. I assumed we'd head to the well advertised Koen's, but Kurt drove past to the smaller Al-Mar Orchards just up the road. Named for Albert Koen and his wife Margaret, this is a 4th generation family business offering organic produce, homemade cider (and hard cider for those of you who like the hooch), and fresh apple donuts.

If you visit, be sure to head around back to see donkeys, goats, turkeys, and even a herd of reindeer. Kurt struck up a conversation with the owner, 86 year-old Albert Koen, who assured me that none of the animals would ever end up on the dinner table. My kind of guy! He was kind enough to bring us a snack of apples straight from the field and to let us sample the hooch .. er .. hard cider. We even got to feed our apple cores to a reindeer! All in all, a great way to spend a fall afternoon.