Sunday, January 27, 2008

Chard Stems, Acting, and Birds

I keep promising to post follow-ups, and it's gotten to the point that I have a list now of things to update you about! So here goes ...

Chard Stems

In a follow-up to my posting on Roasted Garbanzos with Garlic & Chard, here's the recipe using chard stems. And, by the way, the last time I went looking for chard, it was simultaneously a bit peaked and overpriced the last time I was in the store, so I substituted collard greens in the original recipe for roasted garbanzos. It was OK, but chard was better.

This recipe comes from a book you've heard me mention before, Jack Bishop's Vegetables Every Day. If ever there's a cookbook that's guaranteed to get dog-eared from regular use, it's this one. Mine's a well-loved mess! Kalyn informs me that he has a new book out, A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen, oriented toward helping us eat what's in season and thus as locally as possible. It's on my Amazon wish list with a priority of "highest", which means I'll probably have it by next Christmas at the latest. My family are very good about buying me books because they know it makes me so happy.

Most chard recipes call for cutting out the stems and discarding them. The recipe below is a tasty (albeit decidedly not diet-friendly) way to use them up instead of tossing them. In a recipe this simple, using a good quality cheese will make a big difference in the results. And Jack reminds us to be sure to cook the casserole long enough so that the edges start to brown.

Baked Chard Stems with Butter and Parmesan

1 pound chard stems (about 12 large), any bruised parts trimmed
3 T unsalted butter (I used a little less)
3/4 c grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Lightly grease an 8-in-square baking dish.
  2. Add the chard stems and salt to the boiling water. Cook until the stems are almost tender, about 8 minutes. Drain and reserve the stems.
  3. Lay three or four chard stems in the prepared baking dish in a single layer, cutting them as necessary to make them fit. Dot with a little of the butter and sprinkle with some of the cheese. Repeat this process three or four more times, alternating the direction in which you place the stems for each layer, until all the chard, butter and cheese have been used.
  4. Bake until chard is very tender and the top of casserole is lightly browned, about 25 minutes. Serve immediately.
This recipe is my entry for Sweetnick's ARF (anti-oxidant-rich foods) Tuesday. I've been absent from food blogging for so long, it's really good to put my oar in the cooking water again!


As a result of auditions previously mentioned here, I'm now in rehearsals for a brand new ten-minute play called "Pre-Nup," to be performed in the context of a ten-minute play festival two weekends in February. It's a plum role, as a wily aging Hollywood diva (think Faye Dunaway). I'm having a ball being "Delphina."It's been really interesting to be in the first cast to perform a play. The script is being modified as we act it and discover that certain lines don't work or motivations are unclear -- which admittedly makes it a little hard to memorize your lines, but it allows you to be part of the creative process, too. Pretty cool!

The playwright is directing her own play, not by choice but because her favorite director is unavailable. I've heard that this arrangement can make for problems in cases where the writer is too in love with the words they've written to be able to allow the acting creative process to take place. That certainly hasn't been the case here. She's been wonderful to work with and, as a former actor, very respectful of and interested in her cast's insights.

My co-actors are engaging and well cast. We have an amazing number of rehearsal hours logged and planned for only ten minutes of theater, and I have to admit the rest of my life is getting a bit squooshed as a result. In some senses it's fortunate the Huz is away till Wednesday so he's not feeling neglected. In another sense, though, it's very UNfortunate, because there's snow coming down out there and there's a long, steep driveway between my car in the garage and the street and no Huz muscles to clear it for me. Sigh.

Also am in rehearsals for a murder mystery weekend, but with much less intensity right now so I'll have to make another of those promises to update you more later!


No more sightings of the pine grosbeaks, I'm sorry to report. But here's a cute picture of a chickadee silhouetted against a blue, blue sky.

And I think that catches me up with all the updates I promised. Hope your Sunday is going well, and don't forget to check in at Anna's Cool Finds later today to get her roundup for Weekend Herb Blogging. She's offering a cookbook as a prize, in hopes of garnering the largest roundup so far. Will she make it? Stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A bright new visitor!

photo from the Canadian government conservation websiteThe Huz and I love "our" birds. We have a big line of feeders outside (hence the regular visits from squirrels, and black bears in non-hibernating seasons -- see pictures here and here and here and here).

All the usual suspects come to the feeders daily (chickadees, titmice, goldfinches, nuthatches) and others a bit more sporadically (pine siskins, purple finches, sparrows, cardinals). In spring and fall we often get extended visits from rose-breasted grosbeaks, one of my favorite birds with their tuxedo plumage and red "bow tie". Other birds that come rarely and don't stay nearly long enough for our taste are evening grosbeaks and orioles.

But in the 15 years we've lived here, we've never seen a pine grosbeak before! The Huz spotted a couple of males, brightly noticeable against the white snow, under the feeders. While I was running for the Audubon bird identifying book, he called out that a female had landed. By the time I got to the window, seven or eight birds were there on the ground. Very exciting.

So of course I ran for my camera, but as soon as I stuck my head around the edge of a ground-floor window to take the picture, they all startled and took flight. And they didn't just fly to the trees at the edge of our yard. They completely disappeared! I am so bummed!

Here's hoping the lure of the seeds is stronger than the fear of the camera. We would love to have them stay for a season.

By the way, many of the links on this page go to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The articles there have pictures, and, even better, you can listen to recordings of the birdsong. Very cool.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Amazing, scrumptious, sensuous, delicious -- have I convinced you yet?

The Huz's doctor recently recommended that he try to get more fiber in his diet. Now, we pretty much eat only whole wheat pasta and whole grain breads (and, incidentally, avoid high fructose corn syrup which is a whole 'nother rant) and I've been trying the new white whole wheat flour from King Arthur flour in some of my baking, too. We're fairly conscious of what we eat without being fanatics about it. But the Huz has always had stomach issues, so his doc wants to try a diet change before going to stronger meds. And we're all good widdat!

So I've been making granola and bran muffins, and we picked up some fruit for snacks today, and we've always done fairly well with veggies except on pizza nights, so we're on our way to a fiber-licious diet.

Everybody knows that legumes are an excellent source of fiber. What you may not know is that they're packed with minerals, and their skins contain flavonoids, which are powerful antioxidants. Researchers are even suggesting saving the water you soak dried beans in and using it in soup, because soaking leaches the flavonoids out of the skins but doesn't destroy them.

OK, you may have noticed that we're three paragraphs into the post and I haven't mentioned what the recipe is yet. That's because I know as soon as I say the name of it I'm going to lose some of you. But here's where I advise you NOT TO STOP READING ONCE YOU SEE THE TITLE. Because this recipe is so amazingly tasty, even if you don't like the ingredients separately, I really, really recommend that you just try it once. The combination of ordinary ingredients somehow lifts everything to the level of sublime. It is scrumptious, amazing, sensuous, delicious, [your adjective goes here]. Seriously. Would I lie to you?

AND you can use canned beans, and do a lot of the prep ahead of time (not that it takes a lot of prep) so the recipe can come together pretty much at the last minute, making it ideal for a weeknight meal or a meal with friends. Please try it and let me know how you liked it!

Roasted garbanzo beans and garlic with swiss chard

From Bon Appetit, with my comments added

Garbanzo beans

2 15.5 ounce cans garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained (about 3 cups)
10 garlic cloves, peeled (this is part of why it's so yummy; I'm going to use more next time)
2 large shallots, quartered (I used onions and thought it was great)
2 small bay leaves, preferably fresh
1 tsp fennel seeds (didn't have this, omitted it without apparent harm to the results)
salt and pepper to taste
1¼ cups extra virgin olive oil (don't let this scare you, it doesn't all end up in the dish)


2 T extra virgin olive oil (can use some from the beans)
6 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed
3 small bay leaves, preferably fresh
2 shallots, sliced (I used some chopped scallions & onions, worked fine)
2 bunches Swiss chard, center stems cut out, leaves coarsely torn (save the stems for baking with butter & parmesan cheese, also a winning recipe that I'll try to post later)
2 c low-salt chicken broth

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine first 5 ingredients (through fennel seeds) in 8 x 8 x 2 glass baking dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour oil over; cover dish with foil. Roast until garlic is tender (important! taste it. If it still has any bite to it, roast it some more. It should be sweet and mild), about 45 minutes. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool, cover, and chill.)

Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add garlic, bay leaves, and shallots. Cover; cook until shallots are tender, about 2 minutes. Uncover; add half of chard. Toss until chard wilts and volume is reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Add remaining chard. Toss until chard wilts, about 2 minutes. Add broth. Cover and cook until chard is tender, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Season chard with salt and pepper. Transfer mixture to a large sieve set over bowl and drain. (Can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)

Drain garbanzos, reserving oil; discard bay leaves. Combine garbanzos and chard in large skillet. Add 2 T oil reserved from garbanzos. Toss over medium heat until warmed through, moistening with more oil by tablespoonfuls if needed, about 5 minutes. Season with salt & pepper, remove bay leaves, and serve.

This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this weekend at Anna's Cool Finds. If you have a recipe for a yummy dish that has herbs, veggies, flowers, or other plants, then it qualifies for Weekend Herb Blogging, and you might want to send annalou (at) ix (dot) netcom (dot) com an email about your post. Or maybe you're just interested in creative delicious food that also delivers a vitamin, mineral and fiber blast of health to your bod ... then just drop by Anna's Cool Finds this weekend to see what your fellow bloggers have dreamt up!

[1/27: the recipe for baked chard stems]

Monday, January 14, 2008

audition update

Yep, I was offered a part. One for sure. May be contacted for more later this week. More details later.

I'm all Sally Fields at the Oscars: "you like me, right now, you like me!"

Friday, January 11, 2008

Theater news

Oh, boy, I haven't blogged in a while and now that I've started I can't seem to stop. Lots of pent-up blogging demand in me, I guess!

[Warning: loooonnggggg post]

I'm happy to report that my theater life has been busy. I just can't seem to get enough, at least not so far, although I'm beginning to be able to imagine that a time could come when I won't feel such a driving desire to keep doing show after show. Anyhoo, a while ago I mentioned that I had gotten a part in a show with a local director whose work I admired. It went live in November for three weeks, and overall the experience was a good one, albeit a bit stressful for a variety of reasons. I learned a lot about how to act in a farce:
  1. Don't try to get a laugh. These people are deadly serious about their lives. Let the material get the laugh for you.
  2. Talk faster than you normally would, especially if you're playing an intense person or it's a tense situation.
  3. Keep the pace up. With very few exceptions, the dialogue has to be rapid-fire. If there's dead air, the humor will be lost. Serious plays have quiet spots. Farces have lots of noise and action.
My part was a relatively small one, and she was not a pleasant person. Some adjectives you might use would be "cold, bitchy, demanding, self-absorbed, vain." It was definitely casting me against type since up till now people have wanted to use me for the pleasant girlfriend/wife parts. So I very much appreciated the opportunity as a somewhat green actress, although it did contribute to the stress because I'd yet to discover whether I was up to it or not! I think I carried it off OK, although I wasn't sure at first. When you have a small part, people don't necessarily direct a lot of compliments your way because naturally they're focused on how well the leads did. It wasn't until the last weekend that someone I knew took me aside and more or less raved about how I'd done. That was a huge relief to me. The last thing you want to do is be an dead weight in a good production, and until she'd done that, I couldn't be sure I wasn't. Of course the Huz told me I was good, but he would, wouldn't he? :o) And others had made some general comments about "You guys were wonderful!," which frankly means nothing to an actor.

So, if you ever have a friend in theater and go to see their show, if you really think they did well, say something specific so they know you're not just blowing sunshine at them, OK? We really don't know if we're doing well. We rely on you to help us know. If all we get is general comments, we're liable to conclude that we're not doing all that well. Of course, if you think they stink, just try to slink out the back door without saying anything so you don't have to compromise your ethics!

The director took some black & white still pictures & promised to share them with us. If he does I'll try to post some later.

So, what's coming up next? Next week I start rehearsals for another murder mystery weekend, or what the Huz calls "a life-sized game of Clue", to be produced the weekend of February 29. Our cast of 13 (ooo! unlucky! for the murdered one(s), that is, heh, heh) will be in character all weekend long, as murder(s) occur(s) and the guests at the resort attempt to discover who dunnit. You may recall I did one of these last year.

Here's the blurb from the resort's website

Join Hector MacLean and his wife Gillian (that's me!), along with a clan of MacKenzies who have come to the resort for a family reunion. Little do they know that the Cameron family has the same idea. These two families have a long history of feuding. It's a situation ripe for murder. It falls to Detective-Sergeant Malcolm Hardasche of the Vermont State Police to unravel the tangled tartan of grudge, deceit, betrayal and Scottish passion that play out like an unmentionable drama in "MacDeath."

2-Night Package
Main House $206
Terrace Wing / Suite $249
Avery Suite $407

2-Night Minimum Stay required. Package includes 2 dinners, 2 breakfasts, 2 nights lodging and amenities.

Isn't that amazingly inexpensive? This is a pretty nice resort. $206 per person includes all meals except one lunch, Friday dinner through Sunday breakfast. And this is no diner food, folks. The food is excellent.

Anyway ... this time I believe the director wants to do more improvisation and fewer scripted scenes, which is making me a little nervous! When you do improv, you're basically writing the scenes as you go along. It's not that you just show up the day of the show and spontaneously pull something together. It's that you rehearse and rehearse, try this, try that, and when you finally get it the way everyone thinks works well, then you have to keep trying to reproduce that or something close to it at subsequent rehearsals and on the day of the show. I'm much more comfortable with scripts!

And with a full-immersion show like this, you have to also get your back story figured out, because you never know what the guests are going to ask you, and if they ask you a question and you give one answer, and then they ask someone else the same question and get another, they might think that's a clue and not just that you've bungled the answer, and that's not fair to them. So we have to be fairly thorough about inventing our back story, too. Add to that the need to learn to speak with a Scottish accent, and that I'll be a character very different from myself (this one stern, dismissive, bossy ... OK, OK, I have a hint of bossiness in me :o) .. it's going to be a challenge. But that's why they call it acting! And one definite blessing is that I don't have to weep my way through the entire weekend this time. That got to be a bit of a downer last year!

(I also have to learn a Scottish accent for this MMW. The last 3 shows I've done have required foreign accents --Russian, British, and now Scottish. I have vowed that the next thing I do is going to be plain old American.)

Sunday I'm planning to audition for a 10-minute play festival, with another new director/producer in town who's done work in Hollywood and New York, and is sure to be a mover & shaker in the theater world hereabouts. He grew up in the area, graduated high school here, and then went on to be a professional. I'm not sure, but I'm guessing maybe he's moved back here to raise his family in a healthier environment.

Anyway, he recently produced & starred in a wonderful production of a little-known Arthur Miller play, "A View From The Bridge", and now he's producing these 10-minute plays, each of which has a different director. The festival is happening for two weekends in February, so if I'm offered a role I'll have to consider carefully whether I can do both this and the MMW. If I weren't working, too, I'm sure I could handle both, but I am, so we'll see. Wish me luck! Better to be offered a part and turn it down than to not be offered anything at all!

My sis says to me when she hears all this, "You're so funny." "Funny, or crazy?" I IM back. "Whichever suits you." she says. Yep. Whichever suits me.

P.S. Any new passions in your life?

Some Christmas photos

For those very few of you out there who still are paying attention whenever I share a brief moment from my life (and thank you!) here are a few pictures of loved ones from Christmas, a time of amazingly wonderful relaxation and very pleasant times with family. We were able to leave work entirely behind us and just enjoy being with the Huz's family. The little girls, of course, made the visit exceptionally fun, and as usual his sister and her husband were consummate hosts. Simple foods, no pressure to do things, and lots of time with the kids for us. We were able to spend 4 days with them, while other family members zipped in for a shorter period. Simba was a perfect little gentleman, I'm proud to say, so well behaved that he earned an invitation to stay with them for three weeks in April if the Huz and I do what we're thinking of doing and head off for a train trip all around the country!

So I'll start with my peaceful little doggie, asleep in my arms. Aww!

Listening intently ... (nope, this isn't the Huz)

A peacock on Christmas?? Yup, visiting from the neighbor's. He was skittish as heck, had a hard time getting good shots, but this one shows off his roadrunner style nicely!

A perfect little princess with a brand new tiara

Hair straightened (as best curly hair can be) and brand new sparkly shoes on. Life is good.

Happy, silly twins