Monday, November 17, 2008

To be thankful for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is rolling around again. Hard to believe it's been a year already since we had the last Great Debate (where to eat dinner). It is my favorite holiday, and I think I put too much pressure on it. All year I think about Thanksgiving and it gets built up in my head, and then the day arrives, and it doesn't work out how I planned, I don't feel any different, and I get deflated and frustrated by my lack of awareness. In fact, I would do a better job at making it turn out that way if I could remember what I had thought about all year. It's like going to the movie store; all week I think of movies I want to see and when I get there I can't remember even one of them.

We don't have a particular tradition, and I typically don't go to the same place two years in a row. There is just something about that day that makes me warm and fuzzy on the inside when I think about it, and I love it. It might be that it signals the start of the Christmas season. Although, that always sneaks up on me too and flies by before I can get in the spirit. It never fails that a week after Christmas I am suddenly overwhelmed by the Christmas spirit with no outlet for it. It might be that Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday and there isn't any gift giving or commercialization involved. Or, it might be, cheesy as it sounds, that I like the prospect of reflecting back on the year and being thankful. At least, that's how I feel about it all year long, until the day arrives and I forget what to do.

Every year for as long as I can remember my father has read, or clipped out and sent to me Art Buchwald's tongue in cheek Thanksgiving Day column. In it Mr. Buchwald attempts to explain Le Jour de Merci Donnant to the French. While the preface is different, the column is basically the same every printing, and it never ceases to make me chuckle. The prospect of reading that usually is what ignites my love of Thanksgiving Day. Sadly, after being in and out of hospice, he eventually caught The Last Flight Out on my birthday in 2007, having filmed his own obituary. He also wrote a column to be published after he died where he talks about not having eaten enough eclairs in his life. That is a man after my own heart.

He's right, you know. The story of Thanksgiving is a little ridiculous if you'll pardon my saying so. The concept is great, but the actual history of it isn't, and it's probably best that we all instill our own meaning into it anyway. So maybe, this is enough. My Thanksgiving can be complete by reading his rendition of Kilometres Deboutish (Miles Standish) and les pelerins. I'll eat some eclairs (one for me and one for Mr. Buchwald) so I am sure to have consumed my share, and that will be my Thanksgiving. The tradition can travel with me wherever the day ends up, regardless of what else comes my way, and it will make me happy.

"Whether it's the best of times or the worst of times, it's the only time you've got." - Art Buchwald

ps. If I could list all the columns of his that I love I would, but the list would be long. If you have time please look him up online, The Washington Post has most of his articles, and read a few.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


As promised, here is the recipe for Weight Watchers cupcakes, and, no, I’m not kidding.

1 box cake mix
1 can diet soda

Pour into muffin tin and bake according to box.

Like I said, I’m not kidding.

Depending on the size of the cupcakes, they are 1-2.5 points. I usually get about 18 out of a batch. You can do all sort of things like Devil’s Food with Diet Coke, or Lemon Supreme with Diet Sprite. The combinations are endless, and don’t worry too much about the soda; it doesn’t really change the taste that much. I don't frost mine since I'm not a big fan of most frosting, but go right ahead if you want to. Just calculate the points and add them on.

The other variation I have tried is as follows:

1 box cake mix
1 can pumpkin puree (15oz)

Mix, pour, bake.

Again, the points are about 1-2.5 depending on the mix. I most recently made this one with a spice cake mix that was delicious! I used the plain pumpkin, but you can use the pumpkin pie filling if you want that flavor.

A word of caution - they are very delicate and fall apart easily. Letting them cool off helps this, but they still can make a mess, so maybe eat them with a fork.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Crazy Times

It's been a big few days. Actually it's been a big week and a half. Let's see...two Fridays ago I found out that I had a ticket to Game Four of the World Series!!!! I had to meet a man in a Wawa parking lot to get it, but I made sure people knew I was there and that I was ok after. It sounded sketchy to me, and sometimes I err on the side of caution.

Then I went to DC for the weekend and trained it back in time to get to the game Sunday night. Turned out that was the best game of the series, aside from Game Five #2 when they won. Sunday's game was fun, easy, and the weather was perfect. It was funny though; it didn't feel like a championship game. I mean, people were excited, but I had to keep reminding myself that this was the World Series. Anyway, it was a heck of a way to start the week. Monday was rough, and I never really caught up since I had Game Five and then Game Five again to watch.

Wednesday night I actually rushed home from dinner to watch the game, only to go back out to the bar next to the restaurant I had eaten in to celebrate! Sitting on the couch and screaming didn't seem adequate, and I was right. While I didn't venture near Philadelphia, the suburbs were nuts. Some kid across the street was banging pot lids together which I thought was funny. He was mostly in the house...just his arms and pot lids were outside the door.

Friday night was our annual Halloween Party. People stayed until 3:00am, 3 people spent the night, I had a hangover for 3 days and we have 3 weeks worth of leftovers. And a keg. Anyone need a keg? The amount of drinking I did didn't warrant the hangover I had which was frustrating. As for the leftovers, we don't like to risk running out of food so we go overboard. This year's menu was marinated pork loin, roasted turkey breast, pumpkin risotto (made from scratch), and salad, as well as all the nibblies that go along with a party. You know, cheese and crackers, a baked brie, dip, veggies, hummus, chips... The salad is easy - greens, feta cheese, craisins, and pine nuts with a vinaigrette - but it's one of my favorites. The pumpkin risotto recipe is from and I'll post it separately.

I also made Weight Watcher cupcakes that were awesome. I'll post those too. And the majority of the food came from Costco. That is my favorite place to shop. They have good deals, the food is high quality and usually organic, and it's so easy! I highly recommend a membership if you have one nearby. The toilet paper alone is worth it.

Saturday night I had a surprise party for someone who was at my Halloween party. It was SO hard not to ask him if he was excited. And then to hear him talk about the rest of his weekend without laughing! Of course the only thing I could think of to talk about was his I tried to stay clear of him.

Then Sunday was an attempt to buy a sewing machine with A. That was unsuccessful, but we did buy a bunch of other things. JoAnn Fabrics had great deals (like 70% off!!) on Halloween decor so I stocked up for next year. Phew! I think that's everything. Actually I skipped the candle/pampered chef/handbag/jewelry party I went to at my aunt's and the massive clean up I am still in the process of from the party.

The most important thing though happened today - I VOTED!!! Everyone be sure to vote early and often. It's your privilege and duty as an American, so DO IT!

Who versus Whom

This is similar to the “me” and “I” question, and the trick to figuring it out is also similar. Many people use “whom” when they should use “who” because they think it sounds more formal. Be warned here – using “whom” even correctly can begin to sound pretentious. Just keep that in mind as a friendly reminder. So, here we go…

Who should I send this letter to?
Whom should I send this letter to?

If you can answer him, her or them then it’s “whom.” If you can answer he, she or they then it’s “who.” In the above example the correct word is “whom.” If you wanted to be a real stickler about it the correct question would be “to whom should I send this letter?” since we aren’t supposed to end a sentence with a preposition. In many cases, though, I think that’s ridiculous.

Who is going to the party?
Whom is going to the party?

The answer to this would be “she is going to the party” so the question should be “who is going to the party.” Make sense? Similar to the “Me versus I” post, this is a case of object and subject pronouns. Who is a subject pronoun; it is used as the subject of a verb. Whom is an object pronoun; it is used as the object of a verb.

Here is one more example to help you in the instance where it isn’t really a question:

Jack talked to Bill about whom he would take to the party. Jack talked about taking her to the party.

I would say, though, when in doubt go with “who." It will sound more appropriate than “whom” if you use it incorrectly. Nobody should give you a hard time for using "who" when you should use "whom." In most instances it sounds just fine.

That should do it for the “who” or “whom” question.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Me versus I

Basically, the problem with "me" and "I" is that you don’t know which to use when listing things. Right? Right. That's ok; I'm going to show you how to figure it out.

Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny and me went to visit the Tooth Fairy.
Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny and I went to visit Tooth Fairy.

So which is it? All you have to do is take out the other people in the sentence and see which sounds better.

Me went to visit the Tooth Fairy.
I went to visit the Tooth Fairy.

When you say it this way "I" sounds right and "me" doesn't.

Can you help Priscilla and me carve the pumpkin?
Can you help Priscilla and I carve the pumpkin?

Again, take out the other person and see how it sounds.

Can you help me carve the pumpkin?
Can you help I carve the pumpkin?

This time "me" is correct, and while I know sometimes "I" sounds more formal or proper, it isn't actually right. Here's the rule: "I" is a pronoun that is the subject of a verb (I am the subject), and "me" is a pronoun that is the object of a verb (the object is me).

One final note - there isn't a rule about the order of the people you list, but it is polite to put yourself last.

Grammar Rules!

Would that schools still taught whole sections on grammar, but they don’t. I was lucky enough to get a good grammar education, both in grade school and college, but it is something that many schools neglect. And really, that’s a disservice to their students. It is unfair to expect someone to know how to construct a sentence correctly if nobody ever taught them. I don’t profess to be the grammar-know-it-all. I do, however, have a pretty firm grasp on most of the principles.

The Baldwin School did a fabulous job of teaching me how to write a paper, and they started early. By the time I got to Skidmore College I could write a paper better than most people, only because I had had a lot of practice. It isn’t that I have some gift, I was just forced to write paper after paper after paper, and all those papers were graded on content, style and grammar. Of course I didn’t appreciate this until I got to college and realized that I was leaps and bounds ahead of many of my peers who did not receive the same kind of education.

Add to this that I like rules. I like logic and patterns and processes. Geometry was my favorite subject, and diagramming sentences was a close second. Now, here’s the thing about grammar rules. Once you understand them, I mean really honestly fully grasp them, you are allowed to break them (most of them anyway). But, you can’t break them until you can do everything without breaking them. If you start breaking rules before you understand them, then your writing won’t have the effect you’re going for, and it will sound cumbersome at best. You also can't rely on grammar check to catch your mistakes because, believe it or not, it's often wrong. Grammar check is making a best guess based on the words you used and the order you put them in. It doesn't read and it doesn't understand your intentions.

Like I said – I am not the Grammar Rule Queen, so don’t yell at me when I make mistakes - nobody is perfect. I’m not going to critique comments or other people’s blogs and postings; that’s mean and unsupportive. All I’m going to do is post a series of grammar rules so you can refer to them if you so choose. They will be common errors and misconceptions. I may also throw in a few words that people often misuse. If this is something that you find interesting, or if you are a big nerd like me, you can also join SPOGG - The Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar. I'm not kidding.

Lastly, if you would like me to address anything specific feel free to let me know; I'll do my level best.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

It All Comes Down to the Scallop

I went to dinner last night in the city...the city being Philadelphia. We went to a restaurant called Sole Food, which was great despite my poor attitude. It wasn't totally poor, but I had had a concept in my head of what the night was going to be like, and it didn't work out that way and made me cranky.

The food was great, the company was great, the wine was was a fun evening. Here's the thing. I ate two appetizers for dinner, and one of them was called something along the lines of Pancetta Crusted Sea Scallop. Scallop. I didn't pay enought attention to that word, and when the food came I definitely had A pancetta crusted sea scallop. It had some sort of delicious corn salad with mushrooms and a piece of lobster with it. I'm not complaining about it, but I was just really startled to see one sea scallop. The bowl itself was HUGE, but the rim was about five inches out from the actual bowl part that would hold about a cup. So, the bowl was tiny, the rim was the plate probably had a 15 inch diameter...and in the middle of it was a single sea scallop.

It seems to be the general trend in fine dining. And, frankly, I'm fine with smaller portions (helps with my Weight Watchers, but that's another post). There is no need to feel disgustingly stuffed after eating out, but I did chuckle over my $12 scallop. Like I said, I'm not complaining about it; I could never have made anything that tasty. It did just give me pause when the massive plate came out. I guess the idea is that you're paying for the experience. I'm happy to say we had wonderful service and a very attentive staff, but sometimes restaurants don't deliver. My feeling is, if you are going to be brazen enough to charge $12 for one scallop, you had better be prepared to make it worth it. Fortunately for all involved, Sole Food did.

The rest of the meal was Yellow Fin Tuna Tartare, Brussel Sprouts with bacon and apples, and Chilean Sea Bass. All of it was great, but here is something I am going to complain about. The tartare (news to me that there is an e on the end) was so spicy I couldn't eat it. I will admit, my tolerance for hot is pretty low, and I am often overwhelmed and gasping from things that small children have no problem stomaching, but this was ridiculous. My dining companion ate the tuna with minimal sweating, so it worked out, but if you are going to make something nose-hair-singeingly spicy, then mention that on the menu. I think this is the third time in as many restaurants that the tuna tartare was laced with chili oil and I couldn't eat it. I know what you're saying - if this is happening with any regularity, why don't I ask before ordering? Duly noted, and now I will. The sea bass was amazing, and there were a number of other things on the menu I would have ordered had I been hungrier.

I'll have more to say about fine dining trends later.