Archive for January 30, 2011

Last Weekend – aka More Than You Ever Wanted To Know About My Experience At the Writer’s Digest Conference

It’s 4:30 on Saturday afternoon and it’s just hit me that exactly one week ago at this precise time I was doing one of the most stressful things I’ve ever done by choice. I was attending something called a “Pitch Slam.”

In early December I attended a webinar sponsored by Writer’s Digest. As a result I started getting emails from them on a daily basis telling me what other classes/seminars/books they offer. One of the emails during Christmas week advertised the winter 2011 Writer’s Digest Conference. I’d heard of this conference so I clicked to read more about it. The focus seemed to be on traditional vs. e-publishing, with an emphasis on use of social media for marketing—all things I spend a lot of time thinking about these days. The conference offered something else I’d already heard of: their well-known Pitch Slam—two hours of time where the conference attendees get the opportunity to have three-minute one-on-one chats with as many of the fifty agents in attendance as they can manage.

I didn’t know if I should be scared, excited, or pleased when I realized that several of the agents had been at the top of my query list since I compiled it last summer. Then I read the conference dates and remembered why I’d initially crossed this conference off as an impossibility. The conference was slated for January 21-23 in NYC—not a great time to plan travel in the north east, which I’m well aware of as an ex-New Yorker and current New Englander.

Even though I was certain we wouldn’t go, I forwarded the email to my long-time critique partner Karen Booth (http://karenbooth.net/). She and I share all our writerly information (and often the same brain). I’m not sure which one of us was in charge of the gray matter over Christmas week, but somehow we both wound up deciding “let’s go” and we booked the conference, our hotel room, and our plane (her) and train (me) tickets. Then I’m pretty sure we both stopped breathing for a while when we realized we’d just paid money to put ourselves through literary speed dating with some of our first choice agents.

We wrote our pitches. We rewrote our pitches. We worked on each other’s pitches. I skyped Karen into my local writer’s group and she gave all of them her pitch. They all critiqued both of our pitches. We seriously considered pitching each other’s books (which I still think would have been a good idea, because we literally quote one another’s books all the time and it might have been less nerve wracking than pitching our own work…not to mention that we’re both named Karen…but we decided to pitch our own stuff).

I had a series of calamities in the week before the conference. I came down with a horrendous case of the stomach flu one week before we were due to leave. It was the day I’d planned to spend all day reciting my pitch to commit it to memory. I did, in fact, spend the whole day committing my pitch to memory—and it made me laugh (in a tragic kind of way), because for two weeks I’d been joking that I’d be happy if I made it through my pitch without throwing up, and there I was, practicing my pitch, throwing up. At least I got it all out of my system (literally) before the conference.

It took me several days to recover from my bout with the stomach bug, and the nerves about the conference weren’t helping to settle my tummy, but I muddled through the week, saltines in hand. My friend came down with a horrendous cold, which I was certain I would catch (but didn’t), I aggravated an old back injury which I was sure wouldn’t heal in time (but did), then the night before we were due to leave for the conference the weather decided not to cooperate. I was traveling with my friend Kelley (one of my local critique group friends who was attending the conference with us, but not pitching her book). She called me on Thursday night with some more stressful news. The car service that was supposed to drive us to the Boston Amtrak station on Friday morning called and told her there was no way they’d be able to get us there because too much snow was expected.

This call came on Thursday night at 6pm. The snow was forecast to start around midnight. After several frantic calls back and forth we decided the only way we’d actually make it to the conference was to head to Boston right away. I booked us a room with my Marriott rewards card, we packed like two women possessed, and within three hours we were on our way to Boston. Nothing like a last minute panicked change of plans to settle your stomach.

We awoke to a very snow-covered Boston and news reports about all sorts of delays on the road. Had we waited, we would never have caught our train. We made our way through slushy streets and got to the train station with time to spare. One step into a particularly deep puddle by the curb let me know that my boots were no longer waterproof. Eww.

Kelley did her best to convince me to pitch to her on the train, but I was so nervous I only managed to do it once, and even then I couldn’t look at her without laughing. I recited my pitch in my head, from memory, so many times I was starting to drive myself insane. Karen texted that her plane was delayed and all the other flights for the day had been canceled, so that gave me something new to worry about, which was good, because the old worries just weren’t cutting it.

We finally all made it to the hotel and Kelley headed straight to the conference because she was registered for the entire weekend (all three days of seminars) while Karen and I had registered for Saturday only (because of her flight schedule and the fact that we wanted to spend Friday practicing our pitches). I walked to the nearest shoe store and bought myself a new, completely waterproof, pair of boots then sat in the lobby to await Karen’s arrival.

One of my pre-conference distraction techniques, I mean obsessions, I mean activities was meal-planning, so I’d already made us a reservation for dinner at Thalia. When Kelley finished with her last seminar we headed off to our meal where we dined on zucchini pasta with fava beans and Serrano ham (Kelley), mushroom ravioli with porcini truffle sauce (Karen) and sweet potato gnocchi with pesto (me). Kelley filled us in on what we’d missed at the lectures and Karen and I were pleased to learn that our pitches contained all the elements they were supposed to: our name, our book title, genre, word count, a log line, brief summary, and where it fits in the marketplace. Knowing that made us both feel better. A little. Then we went back to our hotel room to practice.

In our registration packets we found a piece of paper that listed all the agents on one side and had a map of the ballroom with table numbers on the other side. We scribbled the agents’ names on the map and tried to decide some sort of strategy to make sure we hit our top choices. We still had no idea if we’d be pitching sitting or standing, so if anyone is reading this and wondering, the agents sit at the tables, and the pitching writers sit in a chair facing them.

For the rest of the evening Karen and I pitched each other, we pitched silently in our heads, she pitched the wall sconce while I was in the shower, I pitched the towel rack in the bathroom (though I’m pretty sure the sink and hairdryer were listening). We slept fitfully.

We awoke and dressed in our carefully chosen professional-but-not-boring-suitable-but-not-uncomfortable-still-looks-like-us-but-slightly-dressier clothes and headed down to breakfast. The restaurant at the hotel didn’t look crowded so we went in and sat down in a booth. The waiter asked if we wanted the buffet and we said yes without even asking what was on it or how much it cost. Kelley and Karen ate bountiful healthy meals of assorted fruits and berries, yogurt parfaits, bagels, juice, and coffee. I ate a small cherry Danish because it was all that I could manage. The buffet was $30 a person. It was a good Danish, but not $30 good. Oh well.

Karen and I attended the session on Marketing Yourself in the Digital Age by Guy LeCharles Gonzalez. If you have a chance to catch a lecture by him, do it. He was an awesome speaker, entertaining, down-to-earth, and super-knowledgeable. His presentation was very interactive and he tried to get to know a bit about the attendees. The writers ranged in age from late teens to mid-seventies, were working on projects ranging from romance to memoir to self help, a few were published, many already had some sort of web presence or were actively using some form of social media, all were interested in using social media more effectively. Karen and I both agreed that the seminar was helpful; it reaffirmed some things we were doing right (having a website, owning our own domain name, making sure our websites come up as the first search item when we google ourselves, having twitter and facebook accounts, writing about stuff that actually ties in to both our books and our lives), and gave us some insight into how to use it more effectively (making contact with people who might be interested in reading our books, not just with other writers).

The next session was a panel on Do-It-Yourself Publishing (and how to be successful at it). This session was very different since it was a panel of multiple people (Moriah Jovan, April Hamilton, Patricia V. Davis, David Carnoy and moderator Jane Friedman). This was also extremely informative as each person on the panel spoke about his/her own experience with self-publishing and offered insight into what to expect, what not to expect, and what you should be prepared to do. They addressed a ton of questions from the attendees and offered some unique perspectives based on personal experiences. Anything that could hold my attention with the prospect of pitch slam a mere two hours away had to be pretty interesting and this panel had me totally engaged in the discussion.

Karen and I had been wondering what was going to happen at “lunch”. All it said on the conference website was “lunch”, no mention of whether that meant six hundred angst-filled writers running down Seventh Avenue in search of comfort food in under an hour or some sort of meal that was provided as part of the conference. We were relieved to hear the announcement that box lunches were available in the hallway. Not only was food provided with no need for thought or venturing out into the frigid, windy outdoors, but there was a choice of sandwiches. The box lunches contained a sandwich (ham and cheese on rye (me), or turkey and cheese on a roll (Karen and Kelley), or assorted grilled veggies on some type of bread I can’t remember (guy sitting next to me whose sandwich I chose not to ogle)), a bag of potato chips, a hefty brownie, and an apple. There were water bottles and soda, too, because a dehydrated writer is never a pretty sight.

We sat at one of the banquet tables and met up with Kelley to compare notes. She’d attended Putting Fire in Your Fiction (with Donald Maass), which she thought was great, and Building the Perfect Plot (with James Scott Bell), which she found very informative. We chitchatted with the other authors at our table, all of whom were working on memoirs, then Karen and I excused ourselves to go back to our room and mentally gear up for the pitch slam.

After some tooth brushing, Tylenol taking and minor primping we decided to practice our pitches on each other a few more times. Hers sounded great. Much smoother than it had the night before. Mine, on the other hand, came out as though I were trying to give it in a foreign language. The pitch I’d had memorized perfectly the day before was suddenly a jumble. Even my log line was coming out wrong. Minor panic ensued.

I listened to her pitch then tried again. More garbling. After my fifth failed attempt I decided practicing was counterproductive. I lint-rollered my black sweater again (I have two long-haired cats at home and although they didn’t accompany me on the trip they sent along little mementos by rubbing on my suitcase while I was packing). I attempted to dry my sweaty palms. I tried to remember to keep breathing.

We arrived at the waiting area outside the ballroom to find people lining up and crowding the still-closed doors. I had flashbacks of lining up to get into concerts and opening nights of movies (it could have been because the crowds looked similar or it could have been a hallucination based on the fact that I was dehydrating through my palms—not sure). The patient Writer’s Digest staff members were trying to guide/steer/corral the ever-increasing group of writers and get us to form what was supposed to be a snaking line, but it wasn’t working. The tension level was palpable, no one knew where the “end of the line” was, people were starting to get snippy. I’m fairly sure I resembled a Chihuahua at the vet—minor trembling and buggy eyes.

Karen told me that my being so nervous was calming her down. I was glad one of us was benefiting from my anxiety. Then we started chatting to the woman, Jennifer, who was in line next to us. She looked, if possible, more nervous than me—and she was. She was there alone, her heart was racing, she was freaking out completely. Karen and I wound up talking with her and the conversation helped distract all three of us until the line finally started to move. There was no pushing or shoving, but it was fairly close to a stampede.

The tables were set up in the ballroom just as they were on the little diagram we’d been given. Name tags hung on the wall over each one so you could see who was sitting where. Some agents already had long lines by the time I entered so I just kept walking until I got to the far end of the room. As luck would have it two of the agents I wanted to speak with were sitting near each other and had fairly short lines. I got on one line and started rereading my pitch, desperately hoping my memory would kick in when I actually had my turn to talk.

A staff person rang a cowbell, which made me jump several inches into the air—I startle with loud noises under normal circumstances, under this kind of stress I was downright skittish. I watched as the line dwindled from two people to one person, flinching each time the bell sounded, then it was my turn. I sat. I pitched. I hoped my heart would continue beating. I didn’t flub. The agent, bless her kind heart, said “that was a great pitch and you delivered it well”. I finally took a breath. She asked me a few questions and I realized I was actually having a normal conversation with her. I even made a joke. She handed me her card and asked for the first three chapters. I remembered to ask if she wanted them as an attachment or pasted into the email, then the bell rang again and I was off to the next line.

I was thrilled to get a request (one request was my goal for the day and I’d already reached it—actually, remaining conscious was my goal for the day, so really I’d exceeded my expectations), and it was certainly comforting to hear that my pitch was in good shape, but it was still nerve wracking to give it again. Two of the agents I pitched had very long lines, so I waited over half an hour to see each of them. Tension levels definitely increase when you’re standing in line with a bunch of other impatient, equally nervous people, but everyone was friendly and I managed to talk with people in each line. I handed out mints, which most people seemed grateful to receive. I sipped from my water bottle trying to maintain a balance between not having cotton mouth and not needing to leave my precious spot in line to go pee (success on both counts).

I saw Karen midway through; we’d each gotten a request so we were both feeling relieved. I saw my new friend Jennifer from the pre-pitch line and we gave each other the thumbs up; she’d also gotten a request. The staff announced that they’d be handing out “last person in line cards” and that if someone in line had that card you couldn’t line up for that agent any longer. I pitched what I thought would be my last agent then headed to the end of the ballroom, looking for Karen. Instead I found Jennifer, looking much calmer. We compared statistics and she pointed to the agent who had asked her for a full. I congratulated her and she asked if I’d pitched that agent. I said I hadn’t had time and Jennifer said “there’s no one in her line, go now.” So I did. Since there was no “last person in line” the agent was still open to pitches. I sat down, pitched, and lo and behold she asked for the first 50-75 pages. (Thanks Jennifer, for making me talk to one last agent!).

In my crazy-hectic two-hour pitch slam I managed to talk to a total of six agents and came away with requests from five of them. I made a few new friends. I didn’t pass out. I’m delighted that I received requests and I’m even happier to know that my pitch was coherent enough to yield them. There are a few other conferences I’m considering attending that offer a single session with an agent or editor as part of the conference. Pitching ONE agent will still be stressful, but compared to pitching a roomful of them, one after another, with a cowbell ringing, a single meeting at an appointed time will seem relaxing. (Remind me of that when I freak out pre-next-conference, please.)

For anyone planning on attending a future Writer’s Digest Conference, I say go. Be prepared to be nervous, but rest assured, you’ll make it through and come out with a lot of knowledge and experience, and a new friend or two. My advice? Bring a critique partner/buddy—mine was invaluable. Bring mints—everyone was so happy to see them whenever I took the tin out of my purse. And breathe (the mints will make this a more pleasant experience, too).

To read about how Karen and I celebrated our survival and our requests, please see my blog post about the best dinner I had in the past week: http://karenstivali.com/?p=110

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Turkey Meatballs with Apple Butter Gravy (aka Sweet-ish Meatballs)


I’m a fan of food on a stick, so I generally like anything that can be served on a toothpick. That’s how my quest for a great cocktail meatball started. Years ago I played around with several recipes and couldn’t find one that I really liked, so I made up a recipe instead. It’s similar to Swedish meatballs, but with my own twist. When my kids first asked what it was and I said “it’s kinda like Swedish meatballs” they had no idea what Swedish meatballs were and one of them said “sweet-ish meatballs?” That’s what we’ve called them ever since. It’s fitting because it sounds like Swedish but it’s not…and they’re kinda sweet, but not overly so. Whatever you call them they’re yummy—equally good served over buttered noodles for a winter entrée or on toothpicks for an anytime hors d’oeuvre. They can be kept warm in a crockpot or chafing tray for parties too. Whenever you make them and however you serve them, I hope you like them!

Turkey Meatballs with Apple Butter Gravy (aka Sweet-ish Meatballs)

1 lb ground turkey (I use the 93/7 lean plain ground turkey—NOT seasoned, NOT the all white meat—for some reason the packages are usually 1.25 or 1.33 lbs, that’s fine, don’t adjust the recipe)
1 egg
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon black pepper
Dash of nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 ½ cups plain bread crumbs
All-purpose flour (for coating)
2 cups chicken stock
½ – 1 cup of apple butter (I always use Musselman’s, but your favorite will work)
2 tablespoon butter (more as needed)
2 tablespoons oil (more as needed)

Place egg, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, pepper, nutmeg and salt in a large mixing bowl and whisk together. Mix in the ground turkey (use your hands, it yields a much better texture for the meatballs than stirring with a fork). Add in the bread crumbs (again, hands only). Once combined, form the mixture into meatballs around the size of ping pong balls.

Place a heaping scoop of flour on a plate and season it a little (a few dashes of pepper and salt and a dash of nutmeg will do just fine). Roll each of the meatballs in flour to give them a nice coating. They should look like powdered sugar donut holes when you’re done.

In a large, heavy bottomed frying pan (aim for one that’s the right size to hold all the meatballs in a single layer) melt the butter and oil until they’re bubbly (tilt the pan around to incorporate the butter and oil). Brown the meatballs on all sides.

As you do this you’ll notice that the flour is browning on the bottom of the pan—that’s good—you’re making a roux while you brown the meatballs—this will thicken the sauce as they finish cooking. BE CAREFUL not to burn/scorch the flour. If you see things getting too dark, lower your heat and add a pat of butter or a small amount of oil. (Also, if your meatballs aren’t browned on all sides and the bottom of the pan looks too dry/crusty add a little more butter or oil just to keep things going.) As soon as the meatballs are browned all around add your 2 cups of chicken stock right to the pan (I usually heat the stock in the microwave so it’s warm).

Ideally the meatballs should be about 2/3 submerged in liquid. Cover the frying pan and simmer (it should be bubbling but not a full rolling boil). Stir the meatballs every 5 minutes or so, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan. You’ll see that the sauce is thickening as this happens. When the sauce gets to a good gravy consistency (fairly thick and coating all the meatballs), you should be done. This should take anywhere from 35-50 minutes, depending on the size of your pan and how high you had the heat.

Remove the meatballs to a serving bowl and tent with foil to keep warm.

Stir ½ – 1 cup of apple butter into the gravy (I like a lot of apple butter flavor, so I use a cup, if you prefer a less-sweet gravy, use ½ cup—taste as you go to determine your preference). Stir the gravy until heated through then pour it over the meatballs and toss gently to coat.

These can be served immediately or kept warm in a chafing tray. They can be made a day or two ahead and reheated, but the gravy will be much thicker upon reheating.

Let me know if you make them! Enjoy!

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What’s for dinner Wednesday! Tell me!

Okay, I made the executive decision to cancel “what’s for dinner Wednesday” last week because I hadn’t actually eaten dinner in the previous week thanks to the stomach flu. Happy to say I’m feeling much better and I’ve enjoyed several tasty meals in the past week.

This past weekend I ventured to New York City with two fabulous writer friends so we could all attend the Writer’s Digest Conference. Though we were going to attend seminars on publishing, writing and digital marketing, two of us also attended an event called “Pitch Slam”, which is the Literary Agent equivalent of speed dating.

For two hours on Saturday the 50-some agents in attendance gathered in one of the ballrooms at the Sheraton Towers Hotel and somewhere around 600 nervous writers lined up to give them a 90-second pitch of their current writing project. After the 90-second pitch the agent then had 90 seconds to reply to the author and either request to read some of their work or offer suggestions or comments. The moderators rang a cow bell (seriously) every three minutes so people would know when their time was up and it was time to move on to the next agent line.

Most. Stressful. Thing. I’ve. Ever. Done.

Ever.

I had made reservations for a nice dinner at the restaurant Beacon (and I’d specified that we wanted a table where we could sit comfortably and chat for a long time because we’d either be celebrating or drowning our sorrows, depending on how the pitch slam went). I’m thrilled to say we were celebrating as the two of us who pitched both got requests to send our manuscripts to agents. Yay!

To make things even better the food at the restaurant was AMAZING (drink). My best dinner in the past week was, without question, the celebration meal at Beacon. Beacon’s menu is predominantly fire-roasted foods and most items are available a la carte, so you can mix and match and order what you’d like. We each ordered our own main dish and we shared three sides of grilled vegetables. My yummy dinner consisted of fire-roasted caper and garlic crusted lamb chops, roasted asparagus, roasted assorted wild mushrooms, and roasted butternut squash. Delicious! Great food, great company—the perfect way to cap off such a stressful, hectic day.

So, what was your best dinner in the past week? Did you cook it yourself or did someone else? Click on “comment” and let me know!

Cheers!

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The Bachelor – Season 15 – Brad once more

Snacks served:

Buffalo Chicken Wings with blue cheese dressing and celery sticks
Sour cream and onion potato chips
Chocolate covered raisins
Milano cookies
Mallomars

Okay, after so many seasons of watching this show there are very few things that surprise me. This episode started with the typical flashbacks/flash forward montage, which I admittedly didn’t pay much attention to because I was hungry and was more focused on the snacks than the TV, then I looked up and Mr. Rogers was addressing the girls. I was shocked. Then I realized it was just Chris Harrison in a cardigan and a plaid shirt. I was no longer shocked, just confused. Was the wardrobe person polishing off everyone’s drinks? Did Chris accidentally spill on the shirt he was supposed to be wearing and that was all they could find? No on both counts. Turns out his opening outfit was a hidden clue of sorts. The real reason is that this episode was brought to us by the color “plaid”. First worn by Chris, then on the group date Ashley S., Stacy and Brad. There may have been others, but the overuse of the word AMAZING (drink) in this episode had me unable to count them reliably.

It all started with Chantal’s date. “I’m going on this AMAZING (drink) date, with this AMAZING (drink) guy, and he’s picking me up in a helicopter. How cool is that?” Well (hiccup), actually, considering that lots of dates every season start with helicopter rides, and I personally would be terrified to ride in a helicopter, I’m gonna have to weigh in with a heartfelt “meh.”

But hey, it’s not my date, and I’m glad she was happy. And she was happy. How do I know? Because she said, “This is AMAZING!” (drink) Then she realized they were going to Catalina Island, and you know what she said? “It’s AMAZING!” (drink)

My memory at this point is a little hazy but I’m pretty sure Chantal “really, really, really” didn’t want to get in the water. I hate that they make everyone do the thing that’s scariest for them to do—as if being on this show in the first place isn’t scary enough on its own.

I loved Brad’s summary of the day while they chatted on the little outdoor lounge-couch. “You’ve made today seem very real to me, like something that could have happened in real life…you’ve made me feel like myself, you make me so comfortable, I want to continue this badly.” Also love how Brad likes to put his adverbs at the end of his phrases…cause it makes me giggle. Or maybe that’s just all the AMAZINGS and their resulting drinks. Dunno. In any case, I’m hoping he continued the evening well instead of badly. ;)

While all this is going on Michelle is back at the house, chatting up the other gals, and holding a Popsicle to her face to try to soothe the black eye she mysteriously acquired overnight. Okayyyyy.

I’m glad the mega group dates are finally getting down to a more manageable size. Especially since this one was supposed to be so intimate and all about sharing personal info. Brad’s all excited to be spending time with the women and Dr. Drew. This date is supposed to be “a safe place to open up”—you know, because whatever is said is safely within the confines of the studio walls (except that it’s being filmed and will subsequently be broadcast to the world)…and it’s only in front of Brad and Dr. Drew…and his assistant…and, oh yeah, the other girls. Seriously, what is it about this season and the lack of understanding of the concept of therapy and confidentiality going hand in hand? And I wonder why ABC never calls me for a consultation…

Brad seems to have no problem with this open concept counseling thing, so I’ll acknowledge it as my issue and let it go. He seemed quite pleased with the outcome of the group date. He talked about his walls and he left feeling like they all got so much closer. In fact, he was so pleased he said, “Tonight is going to be an AMAZING (drink) party!” (Good thing, too, I was starting to sober up.)

The group pool date had its share of awkward moments. Ali was none too pleased when Ashley S. interrupted her very brief one-on-one chat with Brad. Ashley squeaked an “I’m sorry” several times, but wasn’t getting anywhere with it, so she changed her squeak to “Hug?” instead. Wow. I don’t know about you, but if I were in that position the last thing I would have wanted to do was hug Ashley S.

Actually, I take that back, as much as I wouldn’t have wanted to hug Ashley S. the last thing I would have wanted to do was go back to the hot tub and listen to Ashley H. whine and make that “urghhhhhhh” sound she kept emitting. I LOVED the fact that Brad appeared to be about to give Ashley H. the rose then decided to give it to Britt instead. I realize that could have all taken place in the editing, but as whiny and guttural as Ashley H. was being I’m just glad she didn’t get the rose right then. Besides, Britt was sweet at the Dr. Drew thing, telling Brad how much she likes him—I’m glad she got the rose and didn’t have to worry for the next rose ceremony. It must be such a relief to get an early rose and not have all that tension.

Speaking of tension, Michelle of course created her share of tension, for herself and everyone else. First there was the spontaneous black eye. Then there were the pre-date-card freak out statements. Then the date card arrived and she awaited its reading with buggy eyes. Then for a moment all was right in her world—she had the one on one date she’d been chanting about—so of course the other gals had to mess with her head. (You know, cause it’s not messy enough on its own, and cause this is, after all, The Bachelor.)

“All the other cards said love.” That’s all it took. That one observation was enough to turn “yay-I-got-the-date” into “wait, what?” It was mean. These women have nothing else to do, day in and day out, but think about Brad, so of course they’re going to micro-analyze every last little thing—I would—but to point out that all the other cards said love? Just mean. True (How deep is our love? Love hurts. Love on the line. Love song.) but mean. And poor Michelle (yes, they got me to say “poor Michelle”) worries, “Why didn’t he put love in mine?” (As if Brad writes these cards himself—ha!) Chantal’s response is definitely a nominee for classic line of the night as she tells Michelle, “Oh, it’s probably nothing….”

Of course that’s not enough stress for Michelle, they have to amp it up further by having Brad take up part of Michelle’s date time by comforting the still-whiny Ashley H. Brad reminds Ashley H. that they had an AMAZING (drink) first date. Thank God! I was getting parched….

Michelle’s date involves, of course, her biggest fear—heights. (Memo to me, should I ever suddenly start aging backward and lose all sense of reason and decide to try to get cast on a reality TV show I must remember to tell them I love all the things that terrify me….I’ll have to convince them that it’s a pastime of mine to be covered with spiders, hanging off a high building, and then leaping into shark infested water—that ought to do it.) I felt sympathy for Michelle as she climbed over that guard rail (a counter intuitive move in and of itself). I wouldn’t have been able to do it. I don’t even think I’d have been able to watch him do it. Hell, my palms were sweating while I was sitting on my sofa watching it. For the love of God can’t one of them say something about it being AMAZING or them sharing a CONNECTION so I can drink and calm down? :thud

They make it down safely and Michelle has a chance to tell Brad that she doesn’t see him with any of the women. I’m sure that’s what he needed to hear.

Two one-on-one dates and a group therapy session made it necessary for Brad to check in with his own makeshift therapist, Jamie. It seems Jamie must have been concerned with the viewers not having imbibed enough during the AMAZING (drink) early portion of the show, so he made sure to use the word CONNECTION (drink) as many times as possible. “Strong CONNECTIONS (drink), strong…kissing is a sign the CONNECTION (drink) is taking place.” He encouraged Brad to deeply interact and explore it fully. I’m thinking Jamie is a Freudian therapist, anyone else?

When the cocktail party finally arrives there’s a renewed sense of panic amongst the girls. Meghan frets to Brad that she “has a WALL up…(uh-oh)…and that a lot of the girls have all their WALLS down….” (Dun dun dunnnn.)

I’m getting stressed. Good thing Chantal is there to remind us about how AMAZING (drink) her date was with Brad…and how if she hadn’t had such an AMAZING (drink) date with him she’d have felt worse. In the meantime it looked like she was feeling pretty bad and her mascara was running way worse than it was when she worried it would on the diving date. Would like to know when that teary-eyed private interview took place though—she’s wearing a light grey t-shirt and light blue eye-shadow—which is totally not what she had on at the cocktail party, so was this an earlier crying jag or a spliced in moment from a tearful spell in the future? Sleuthers? What have we got?

You have to love the “aww, that’s sweet but the producers still manage to make it painful and uncomfortable any way possible” impromptu picnic re-enactment. Whisk Emily away for few private moments to reassure her and relive a moment of their one-on-one date—-awwwww, nice. Make Emily sit on a teeny tiny towel on the heavily puddled, rain-soaked patio while wearing an up-to-there cocktail dress and sky high heels—-uh, yeah, thanks, that’s comfy. Seriously ABC. Invest in some space heaters and some industrial hair driers—dry off the rain drenched stuff, and for God’s sake stop putting them in situations where everyone needs to be snuggled under a blanket. Either that or give them all Snuggies. Please.

For those paying attention Meghan, Stacey and Lindsay were all sitting together on the couch. Coincidence? Or did they all know they were the three to go?

No recap would be complete without a recounting of Michelle’s crazy statements of the week:

1) “There’s a really good chance that if I don’t get a date this week Brad might get his own black eye.”

2) “It’s MY day, nothing is going to stop me today….if I don’t get the rose because Brad is still dealing with Ashley H.’s issues I would elbow Ashley H. in the face.”

3) “Tomorrow. Big day. Michelle and Brad. One on one. Competition has begun. Start packing your bags. It’s been really great knowing all of you. I wish all the very best. Bye.”

4) “Boom” (followed by violent hand gesture)

Other classic lines this episode:

1) Ashley S.: “I wish I was the one who gave Michelle her black eye.” (Shocking talk! Hug?)
2) Chantal: “Could be a make it or break it night….turned out to be a make it night.” (cough)
3) Brad: “If I’m standing there…and I don’t see forever, I’ll walk away again.” (Good for you, Brad.)

Questions:

Why do we have to use last initials for Chantal and Shawntel? Can’t we just enunciate?

And can someone please tell me who the hell Lisa and Marissa are? They got roses and I didn’t even know they were on the show!

See you all next week at the most dramatic fifth episode of Brad’s second season ever! Cheers!

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Insanely Good Caramel Sauce Recipe

I’m a big fan of caramel. I like all kinds—chewy, soft, liquid—it’s all good! There is, however, one caramel recipe that is my absolute favorite. Straight out of the fridge it’s ever-so-slightly chewy, at room temperature it’s soft and melty, and warm it’s pourable liquid heaven. In addition to being my favorite caramel recipe, it makes an appearance very early in my novel when Marienne brings it for dessert to the first dinner the two couples in Meant to Be share together. It’s a big hit with the guests and I’m sure it will be a big hit with you. Everyone loves this caramel.

It’s fantastic poured over ice cream, or brownies, or brownies and ice cream….it makes a wonderfully amazing dip for fruit (I recommend pineapple chunks and apple wedges)…and it’s to-die-for with chocolate. My most decadent use of this recipe is to make caramel truffle cups—I use a candy mold shaped like a peanut butter cup, coat it with chocolate, fill it with ganache and this caramel, then seal it closed with more chocolate. There are no words to describe how good it is. A simple chocolate/caramel combo is to just spread some caramel (fridge temperature) on a chocolate bar. Yum.

Warning: Although this is a most awesome recipe, it’s not without challenge. I’ve been making it for years and it still has probably a 10% failure rate—it’s a very temperamental chemical reaction and sometimes chemistry isn’t working in our favor! Be patient. Pay attention. If it doesn’t come out right, try again. Seriously. It’s worth the effort. And sometimes the “mistakes” are pretty tasty too. In any case, I’ll give the most detailed directions I can in hopes of teaching you how to prepare this buttery-rich, golden delight.

Insanely Good Caramel Sauce:

1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream

Put the cream in a glass measuring up and microwave it until it’s warm but not boiling. The length of time will vary by microwave, so just base it on the power of your machine. 30-40 seconds will probably do it. Watch it closely—if you see bubbles in the cream, hit stop.

Put the cup of sugar into a heavy-bottomed sauce pan and turn the heat onto medium-high. Using a fork, stir the sugar. STIR CONSTANTLY. At first it will seem like nothing is happening. Keep stirring. The heat will melt the sugar. You want to make sure no big clumps form in the melting sugar, so keep stirring.

It will likely start to liquefy on the edges first, so make sure to stir those in. The whole thing will start taking on the texture of cornmeal and then will start to become more liquidy. KEEP STIRRING.

If it’s turning golden too fast, lower your temperature a little. If any clumps form, try to break them up with the fork (a few clumps are okay, lots of clumps, not great).

If it starts to smoke on the edges, don’t panic, lower your heat and keep stirring. (If you have an area where the side of the pan is blackening you can carefully give it a quick wipe with a damp paper towel, but be very careful not to burn yourself!)

Once it is all melted continue stirring until it turns a deep golden color—the color of honey or dark maple syrup is about right. As soon as the proper color is attained, REMOVE THE POT FROM THE HEAT.

Take the hot cream and, wearing an oven mitt so you don’t scald your hand, pour the cream into the liquid sugar. BE CAREFUL—this mixture will boil up like a witches cauldron and tons of steam will rise—stand back so you don’t get burned!!

Place the bubbling pot back onto the stove burner at medium heat and STIR CONSTANTLY until you have a uniform liquid. Sometimes this is almost instantaneous. Other times you have a big ball of caramel goo stuck on the fork and tons of creamy liquid in the pot. If it’s all liquidy caramel, congratulations, you’re done—pour it into a bowl and let it cool. If it’s a ball of goo, KEEP STIRRING.

Most times, with enough stirring, you can incorporate the ball of goo into the liquid and attain the desired liquidy caramel. It can take a while. Be patient. Keep going until you can’t stand it anymore. If there’s still a clump on the fork or lumps in the caramel all is not lost, you may just have less liquidy caramel sauce than you planned.

IF you have lumps but you’ve stirred to the point where you can stir no more, pour the caramel through a strainer when you pour it into the bowl—-it will take out the lumps and the caramel you are left with in the bowl will be smooth and perfect.

IF there’s a big clump on the fork, let it cool and see what consistency it is. It’s possible you’ll be able to cut/chip off pieces and eat them as hard candy.

In any case, let the caramel sauce cool to room temperature, then cover and store in the fridge.

I wish everyone good luck making this, because when it turns out well (which is most of the time, after you get the hang of it) it’s truly worth it. Let me know how it goes. Enjoy!

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The Bachelor – Season 15 – Still Brad

Snacks served:

Snickerdoodles (fun to say, fun to eat)
Chips and dip

My usual viewing buddies and I are all under the weather this week, so I had to lure the husband into watching with me instead. Cookies and dip worked like a charm.

Good thing we weren’t drinking to any particular watchwords this week, because anyone drinking to the word “walls” might not have made it through this episode. Walls have been a theme this season. As Michelle so astutely pointed out to Brad last week, “You have walls.” Brad didn’t disagree. He talks about his walls. He talks about the girls’ walls. People have put up walls. Walls come down. Now I have song lyrics about walls running through my head. Fabulous.

Anyone who watches this show knows that there are always a gal (or guy) or two (or three) who are singled out as being “the crazy ones”. Sometimes it’s obvious upfront. Sometimes it’s stealthier. Sometimes there’s an on-screen redemption. Usually not. This episode offered up a prime example of the progressive crazy edit (Michelle) and the redemption edit (Madison). Wow, on both counts.

Please note. I haven’t taken leave of my faculties, I’m clear on the fact that these are in fact edited versions of these ladies, I’m just commenting on what we’re shown. I’m not even going to speculate on what they’re like in real life based on three week’s worth of Fleissian portrayals. I know better than that. Having said that…

We all know last week Michelle was pretty upset for the majority of the episode. Something about her birthday, I think. It was clear she was getting the crazy edit. The week before Madison with her fangs and her coy attitude also made it pretty clear that she, too, was getting the crazy edit. Last night things changed. It seems that the upset regarding Michelle’s overlooked birthday was just the tip of the iceberg. She was just as revved up this week and it had nothing to do with any sort of glossed-over special occasion.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways Michelle expressed her unhappiness this week:

“What really hurts is being on this group date with all these other women.”
“I am so sick and tired of spending my dates with other women.”
“It bothers me that he’s going out with other girls, it bothers me that he thinks about other girls, it bothers me that right now he’s talking to another girl.”

I’m guessing she didn’t read the fine print about how this is a dating show where the primary will be dating multiple other women for the entire season. Oh, wait, that’s not the fine print, that’s the premise of the show. Hmmmm. Yeah, well, I guess she missed that somehow. Maybe she was distracted when she was signing the contracts because she knew her birthday was coming up. Eventually.

Then there’s Madison’s turnabout edit. Madison, the one who in a lineup on night one would have been red flagged by just about anyone, turned out to be not only sane, but sensitive and selfless. It appeared to really touch her when she heard Emily’s story, which isn’t surprising in itself, as it’s a touching story. What was surprising, to me at least, is the reaction she voiced later. The realization that so many of the women there might in some way “need” to be there, and that she didn’t “need” to in the same way, was very poignant.

I don’t know if it was Madison’s idea or the producer’s idea for her to go full-fangal in the early episodes. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that she recognizes that was an act, had the nerve to admit it, and decided to take herself out of the competition. She could easily have decided to stay on (if asked) and be her real self instead of her vampire persona. But she didn’t. She bowed out with grace and dignity, something I frankly wouldn’t have thought possible based on her intro in episode one. Whatever her reasons, I say she deserves credit for handling herself well and having such a classy exit. Brava, Madison.

I want to preface my next comment with the fact that I don’t put a whole lot of thought into how old people are. I really don’t. I’m terrible at judging/guessing people’s ages, I have close friends who are over twenty years different in age from me, some older, some younger. I don’t think youth makes you foolish or age makes you wise. I certainly don’t believe in stereotypes about men or women of any particular age. But there’s something that bothers me.

Question: Why is it that when a woman wants to date men who are more than a decade younger than she is they create an entirely new rip-off, lower budget, even cheesier show and call it The Cougar….and when a guy wants to date women who are ten or even fifteen years younger than he is it’s still just called The Bachelor?

And that brings me to the first one-on-one date: Ashley S.

Ashley S. got the first impression rose for being such a total sweetheart at the meet and greet and she waited patiently last week while other gals got time with Brad, then she got the much coveted date card. Every season has to have a painful singing experience in it (most have many). At least this time they were singing someone else’s song instead of having to compose their own (which is good, because sadly enough “don’t send me away or I’ll cry on the plane” and “Jason, you give me butterflies” are still burned into my brain and I don’t know how much additional lyrical damage I could withstand). Brad and Ashley were both troupers about the whole thing. Sang their off-key hearts out, which is what everyone should try to do when confronted with a horribly uncomfortable task like that.

Afterward, when they got to talk and Ashley told Brad why the song was so significant to her, Brad once again showed that he’s an active listener and a kind-hearted guy. He seems to like Ashley. And she seems very sweet. Don’t see a couple there, however. And not because of the age difference.

How did Ashley think the date with Brad was? “AMAZING.” (Drink) Of course she did.

The action film. What can I say? No, seriously, I’m not sure what to say. A part of me wonders if Brad wanted to find out which girls would be most likely to inflict serious bodily injury on him on the off chance that he does something to anger them at some point during the course of the show. Another part of me thinks this is just one of the goofy let’s-film-something set-ups that they hadn’t used yet, so they picked it. Gotta love Brad’s opening line when, after his impromptu take-down of multiple attackers he announces: “Just another day at the office, ladies.” Really? Who the hell’s been coming into his bars??

You have to appreciate Shawntel’s attitude during this date. Brad seemed to (which is the whole point). As she says, “A woman’s gotta do what a woman’s gotta do.” That about sums it up!

And of course, what’s a group date with Michelle without a crazy-ass statement from Michelle? My top pick from this date would be “When I kiss Brad I’m gonna give him a sensual, sexy, slippery kiss…fireworks are going to be going off in the back…ground.” The hand gesture really completed this statement, but I’m afraid all I can duplicate are the words.

Of course no action film is complete without a wrap party at a rooftop pool (or so I’ve heard).

Once again Brad is confronted with a tearful contender. This time it’s Chantal O. Mind you, I’d be so stressed out by being on this show I’d probably be in tears the entire time, but this season has had a very high percentage of crying jags for so early in the process. Chantal opens up to Brad about her feelings and he handles it like a pro. Comforting. Gentlemanly. Good and appropriate use of hands. (Gotta say, as an aside, while Brad is still not my cup of tea he most certainly seems to know when and how to use his hands—a good trait for a man, in my book. Gotta love a guy who’s good with his hands!)

What does Chantal O. think of Brad after their little heart to heart chat? “He’s so AMAZING!” (drink) In fact she goes on to add that she feels (wait for it) “a ridiculous CONNECTION!” (drink)

That brings us to Emily’s one-on-one date. Another sweet girl, another sweet date. I don’t see how anyone could not feel bad for Emily as she repeatedly skirted the issue of having to tell Brad about the death of her true love. It’s obviously such a hard thing for her to talk about, and she’s already told the story so many times—I don’t blame her for being reluctant to let it out again. Once again Brad handled heart wrenching news with compassion. I don’t know if he’s always been so good with this sort of thing or if this is something he learned in his years (YEARS) of therapy, but either way he’s gotten very skilled. He asked good questions, he listened intently, and he’s quick (and not awkward) with the reassuring hugs. Well done.

Brad was right on the money when he said it seemed like a weight had been lifted off Emily after she finally opened up—she seemed visibly lighter. He smile was bigger, her giggles more natural—it was nice to see her looking so happy. Seems like she deserves some happiness.

Brad looks legitimately hurt and sympathetic when he listens to the sad stories these women tell him, and this was no exception. I would think the people who came into this season hating Brad or thinking he’s a callous cad would have a hard time maintaining those thoughts after the compassion he’s already managed to show only three episodes into the season. But then I didn’t hate him in the first place, so maybe I can’t judge that accurately. Regardless, I think he’s doing a great job of dealing with some very tough subject matter.

I have to commend Brad on two particular points. I’ve mentioned that he’s doing a great job of handling the crises/confessions as they arise, but he’s also doing an awesome (some might say AMAZING) job of acknowledging the women’s feelings. I was really impressed when he made a point of seeking out Chantal O. at the cocktail party to tell her that he felt like he hadn’t opened up enough during their serious chat about her dad, and to let her know that he felt bad about letting her down. Wow, Brad. Some guys don’t know a woman’s upset when she’s standing in front of him yelling “I’m really upset right now.” This was an impressive show of kindness and awareness. And his cocktail party couch chat with the also upset Ashley (the first one-on-one date person always winds up feeling blue when the primary’s attention is focused elsewhere—it’s unavoidable) was great, too. He was clearly trying to make sure she felt better and it bothered him to know that she was upset. Nice guy, nice move.

One of the things that has always been a pet peeve of mine regarding this show is the way everyone on it is so cut off from their real life, including their support system. I understand it, to a point, but it has at times seemed cruel. This season they seem to be going the other way in what I find an even more troubling direction. I’m all for the fact that Brad has been in therapy. I’m glad he finds it to be a source of strength. I’m thrilled that they’re allowing him access to a therapist while he’s filming. But must they show it? I was bothered in the first episode when his therapist gave a little private chat about what’s been worked on in their sessions. Uhhh, sorry folks, but that’s up there on the list of the biggest therapist no-no’s. Then last night they actually had Brad have a pseudo-session on camera. Not cool, in my humble ex-therapist opinion. And I’m not saying either therapist gave bad advice or anything—I just don’t think it’s a cool thing to do. And hammering home the “no, really, America, Brad is a work in progress but therapy has ‘fixed’ him thing” bugs me—he wasn’t “broken” and he didn’t do anything horrible, he just didn’t find “the one” on a dating show. Now he’s trying again. Can’t we leave it at that? *steps off soap box with caution so as not to twist ankle*

So, what were this episode’s top three lines? Tough call, but I think:

1) Michelle: “In the end it’ll be me and Brad, in Tahiti, practicing making babies.” (Okay, if you say so…)
2) Alli: “You have to be like ‘okay, let’s watch football and then let’s make out’—you have to have both or it’s not gonna work out.” (So true. Guessing Alli won’t be single for long with this attitude…)
3) Brad: “Come on little buddy, work out for me!” (Okay, perverts, minds out of the gutter, that dialogue was between the man and his marshmallow. Sheesh!)

So, was anyone besides me struck by the number of times someone said “it’s really hard”? (That’s what she said.) No? Just me? Well, trust me, it was said several times.

Feel free to weigh in below and tell me your favorite moments, how many tissues you needed to get through Emily’s story, or what word you drank to this episode. Or anything else you want to tell me, for that matter. In the meantime, I’m sure we’ll all look forward to next Monday when we’ll get to see the most dramatic fourth episode of Brad’s second season. Ever.

Cheers!

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Cheesy Stuffed Pizza Bread


Since we had an ultimate dessert recipe last week, this week I thought I’d offer up a super savory treat. This Cheesy Stuffed Pizza Bread Recipe is a take-off on my friend Joan’s famous Pepperoni Bread Recipe. I’ll give that as a variation as well. This recipe is absolutely delicious as a snack, an appetizer, or a meal. Serve it with a bowl of your favorite soup on a cold night. Bring a tray to your next pot luck party. Or make a bunch of them for your Super Bowl party. The awesome thing is you can vary the filling to taste and even make a vegetarian version. No matter how you slice it (ha) this bread is simple and delicious. Bake up a few batches and try to sneak one into the freezer before it gets eaten—it’s a great treat to have on hand for unexpected guests or a quick meal.

Cheesy Stuffed Pizza Bread (makes two loaves)

Ingredients:

2 balls of pizza dough (most pizzeria’s will sell you a ball of raw dough, and many supermarkets sell bags of raw dough, usually by the prepared pizza section)

3 eight-ounce packages of Kraft Italian Five Cheese Blend shredded cheese (if you can’t find this you can grate your own blend of mozzarella, provolone, asiago, parmesan and romano cheese to duplicate it, or you can use another similar cheese blend. I recommend something mozzarella-based rather than cheddar-based because of overall better meltability)

1/4 – 1/3 pound of thinly sliced genoa salami

1/2 pound sliced deli ham

1 egg yolk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Lightly flour your kitchen counter and your hands. Using a light touch, stretch the pizza dough into an oval shape about 9×14 inches. The dough is naturally springy and will shrink back against your efforts. Once you start getting it stretched you can use a lightly floured rolling pin to try to get it as close to size as possible. Don’t worry too much, it’s not a precise science, you just want it to be thin but with NO HOLES and as few air bubbles in the dough as you can manage. Don’t overwork the dough too much, just do your best to get it into a flat oval.

Once your dough is spread out, start with a layer of salami, like this:

Sprinkle on about ¾ of a package of shredded cheese, making as even a layer of cheese as possible. Layer on a thin layer of ham. Sprinkle on another ¾ of a package of cheese.

Now you’re ready to roll. Think of it as a jelly roll. Roll, long ways, until you get near the end, then stretch the dough up and over to make sure you have a good amount of overlap. Press the dough along the seam to try to seal it as best you can. Be careful not to poke any holes in it! Fold the short ends over, again pulling the dough to make sure it is well sealed on both sides. Once it’s all sealed, lay your forearm down on the long seam and transfer the whole log of dough onto your arm, then place it on a rimmed cookie sheet.

Take your egg yolk and, using your fingers, give the top of the loaf a generous glaze.

Place the loaf in the oven and set the timer for 25 minutes. It may take a little longer to bake, depending on the size of the dough you used. When it is golden brown and sounds hollow when you tap on it, it is most likely done.

While this one is baking, go to work on your second one.

Don’t be concerned if it springs a leak while it’s baking and a bunch of cheesy goodness pours out—this happens more often than not—the cheesy puddle can be cooled and diced up as an additional snack treat. I’ve had guests beg for the spilled-out part!

Let the loaf cool on a rack or counter top. When it is warm (but not hot, you don’t want the cheese to pour out!) slice it into 1-inch or ½-inch slices. You can serve warm or at room temperature, or you can lay the slices on a cookie sheet and pop them in the oven for a minute to get them a little extra-melty and crisp the edges.

You can serve plain, with mustard, or with marinara sauce, depending on preference.

Variations:

Pepperoni—prepare as above only use shredded mozzarella cheese and Hormel sliced pepperoni in place of the other cheese and meat. Serve with marinara sauce and it’s like the best pepperoni pizza you’ve ever had.

Spinach—-cook up 2 packages of frozen chopped spinach and squeeze to drain out all the water. Stir some black pepper and garlic powder into the spinach, to taste. Use any blend of cheese you like with spinach. Mozzarella works great, the Five Cheese Italian does too. Slices of provolone or swiss add a nice kick. After you stretch out your dough, brush it lightly with olive oil and sprinkle it with garlic powder, then layer on the cheese and spinach. This is also great either plain or served with marinara sauce.

No matter which version you make, I hope you enjoy it! Write and tell me your success stories and feel free to ask any questions!

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New Weekly Post – What’s-for-dinner Wednesday!

Confession: I’m somewhat obsessed with food. I love to eat. I love to cook. I love to feed people. I even love talking about food.

I feel much better now.

Since food is such an important part of my life it has managed to make a significant appearance in my novel as well. The two couples in Meant to Be meet as neighbors and their friendship develops as they share weekly dinners together. One of the characters, Marienne, is an amazing cook, and the meals she prepares are often mentioned in the book, which is why the recipes I archive here will often be “her” recipes. (All the characters like to eat, they just have some varying preferences.

In between weekly recipe posts, I’d like to know a bit about what my readers enjoy cooking or eating. I’m going to try out a new weekly post called “What’s For Dinner Wednesdays”. Each Wednesday I’d like to hear about the best dinner you ate the previous week. It doesn’t matter if it was something you cooked, something someone else cooked for you, or something you ate at a restaurant—I just want to know what it was. (I’m nosy that way.)

If it’s something you made yourself and you’d like to share the recipe, feel free to contact me (you can use the tab up top that says “contact me”) and I’ll consider posting it as a guest recipe some week. If it’s something you absolutely love to eat and you can’t find a recipe for it, maybe I can track one down for you. In the meantime, leave a comment and tell us all two things:

1) What was the best dinner you had in the past week?
2) Did you make it yourself or did someone else prepare it?

I’ll start by answering the question myself….

1) My best dinner in the past week was a grilled rosemary marinated chicken breast sandwich with Portobello mushrooms, melted swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato and garlic mayonnaise on a toasted challah roll served with fresh cut French fries.
2) The chef at a local café prepared this, not me.

So, what was yours?

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Bachelor Season 15 – Episode 2 – Brad, again

Snacks served:
Pretzels with garlic herb cheese (because this show practically requires the serving of something cheesy)
Chicken apple sausage with spicy mustard (because phallic offerings are also merited)
Sour cream and cheddar potato chips (because they’re yummy)
Salt and pepper Pistachios (how could nuts not be appropriate here?)
Chocolate covered caramel butter cookies (also yummy)
M&Ms (they melt in your mouth, not in your hands)

Tonight was definitely one of those nights where the snacks and the company ruled the night. Frankly, as a show, this episode scared me, more than once.

First things first. I want to get something straight, because it wasn’t clear. Was it Michelle’s birthday?

I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone make such a big deal about the date of her birth. And I’ve got some some pretty self-absorbed friends. How many times did this woman mention her birthday? And just think, those were only the mentions that were edited into the show. Amazing. (drink)

Other than the birthday babbling I found a lot of cringe-worthy moments. A high percentage for such an early episode.

The opening of Ashley’s 1-on-1 date freaked me out. It looked like the start of the scary part of countless horror films (even Ashley pointed that out). Couple on a date, driving on a dark deserted road, in a convertible, strangely lit from below in the otherwise darkness of the car. I kept thinking of the spooky camp stories about the guy with the hook for a hand and waiting for some sort of Friday the 13th/Nightmare on Elm Street/Halloween scenario to play out. Ashley went on to tell us “…usually my dates don’t start out on a dirt road, in the pitch black…”—good to know. Two questions: 1) “Usually” ?? 2) Do they end that way? Just asking…

Things quickly turned from frightening to annoying when Brad and Ashley got out of the car and started walking. Poor Brad was having a hard enough time managing not to fall while they made their way down that dark dirt path, and he was wearing man-shoes. Ashley had to do it in heels. Heels and dirt roads don’t mix. Especially in the dark. Just saying.

Does it really add to these dates to have the women dress inappropriately ? Couldn’t they have told her to wear jeans and sneakers? Or a clown outfit? (Keep your catty wardrobe-related comments to yourself. Or post them below.) Of course they could have, but it wouldn’t be The Bachelor if there wasn’t an over-dressed girl doing something that’s insane to do in high heels. (Keep your perverted comments to yourself. Or post them below.)

The serious chat between Brad and Ashley certainly seemed sincere and appeared to go well—but then the primary usually has a pretty awesome date with their first 1-on-1. We’ll see.

How did Ashley feel about the date? She felt “AMAZING”(drink).

How did Ashley describe kissing Brad? “It feels AMAZING!” (drink)

The massively huge group date (15 girls on one date? Seriously?) was even scarier than the drive down the deserted road. First off, 15 girls competing for one guy ANYWHERE is a scary thing. Second, filming PSA’s? In costumes? And giving some of the girls really crappy characters to portray? (I’m talking about the PSA roles, mind you, not the roles they were cast to play on the show as a whole. You know, like “the targeted girl”. Melissa’s words, not mine.) And how is it possible that fang-girl (see what I did there) was on this date and yet it was BRAD who wound up in the role of vampire?

While the PSA idea is a good one—who doesn’t want to support blood donation?—this was, in my opinion, the worst incarnation (to date – ha, pun not intended, but as long as it’s there…) of the lets-set-up-an-acting-scenario-where-the-primary-gets-to-kiss-a-lot-of-people-and-all-the-contestants-have-to-watch-till-someone’s-head-explodes-shtick they pull every season. They’ve all been pretty bad, from Jason’s soap opera saga (talk about life imitating art…or is it the other way around?) to Jillian’s Western (the good, the bad and the absurd) to Ali’s….wait, what was Ali’s? I remember her making out with Kirk, who got a bedroom scene and decided to make it as “real” (drink) as possible. Do I really need to say more than that? I didn’t think so.

Apparently ABC is so incredibly fond of these acting set-ups that they’re doing another one next week, shooting an action film. I can’t raise my eyebrows high enough to adequately convey my feelings about that. I’m sure there will be double entendres galore for whatever action parody they decide to do. Die Hard is all that’s coming to mind right now. Which is a better porn reference than Speed any day. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

The rest of the episode is pretty much a blur of Melissa and Raichel.

Melissa at least tried to bring her A-game. As she said “I’m gonna bring it. I always bring it.” She doesn’t always use it, but at least she brings it.

It’s awfully early on for so much cattiness, no? (I mean from the women, not me.) With that many women in the house you’d think two who don’t get along would be able to successfully avoid one another, but not these two. They were not only in each other’s faces, they couldn’t shut up about it. The only positive about the situation was that it brought out some nice qualities from the girls who were trying to smooth things over and keep them both calm. Very sound advice was spoken…don’t worry about the other girls, don’t make your time with Brad about this, focus on yourself, this is not attractive. None of it was heeded, instead poor Brad (yes, good job ABC you’ve made me feel tremendous sympathy for Brad, in fact you’ve made me say “poor Brad” twice in one post—that’s nothing short of AMAZING (drink)) had to contend with crying girls at every turn. Even Ali and Roberto were confronted with teary tales. Oy. It’s episode two, ladies. Pace yourselves!

I must pause to offer kudos to Brad for his handling of tearapalooza.
Lots of guys do not do well with crying women (funny aside—while I’m typing this Denis Leary just tweeted about studies showing that women crying turns men off—see?) but Brad handled this like a pro—an admirable blend of patience, concern and sympathy. More than I’d have been able to muster in that situation. His gentlemanly nature came shining through. Nicely done, Brad.

The highlight of the night, other than Brad saying “I’m looking for a woman who can give as much as she receives” (you and most men, sweetie), was when he didn’t give either Melissa or Raichel a rose. I thought for sure the
producers would want to keep the drama divas around, but they either realized they’d already pushed viewers past their tolerance level for
this particular dramatic duo or they’ve got a much better drama coming
up for next week so these two served as an opening act and were no
longer necessary. I’ll vote for more significant drama on the horizon
because, well, it’s The Bachelor.

For those of you who may have forgotten, this was tonight’s second episode. Not the first. Not the third. And this was Michelle’s thirtieth birthday, “not my twenty-ninth, not my thirty-first”—just want to make sure we’re all clear.

In honor of Michelle’s birthday (I’m pretty sure it was her birthday) I’m going to quote my three favorite lines from her from this episode.

1) “You have walls.” (It loses something without the fluttery hand gesture, but the look on Brad’s face alone makes it worth a mention.)
2) “I feel like I need to dissect you.” (Run, Brad, run. Actually, not just Brad, if anyone ever tells you they want to dissect you I’d say running is probably your best option.)
3) “People are gonna piss me off today, I know it.” (Honestly, I could have said this myself this morning and it would have been insanely accurate.)

Tune in next week for the sure to be action-packed (and bad acting packed) most dramatic second episode of Brad’s second season, ever! I’ll bring the snacks…

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The Ultimate Chocolate Brownie Recipe

If you like extra-chocolaty brownies with just the right mix of chewy edges, ooey-gooey middles, and a thin flaky top layer, then look no further, you’ve found the Ultimate Brownie Recipe. So easy you’ll never go back to a mix. Seriously. I’ve actually never made brownies from a mix, but friends who’ve asked for this recipe very often tell me they’ll never make mix brownies again. Whip up a batch and let me know what you think!

Ultimate Brownies

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate (I use Baker’s unsweetened)
¾ cup unsalted butter
2 cups white sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract (go a little over rather than a little under)
1 cup all-purpose flour (I use Gold Medal)
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I use Nestle’s)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Lightly butter a 9×13 inch metal baking pan. (Note: If you only have a glass pan that will work too, but lower the oven temp to 325 degrees.)

Place butter and chocolate in a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for two minutes. Stir butter/chocolate mixture until all the chocolate is completely melted. (Note: If you don’t have a microwave you can do this in a pot on top of the stove, just make sure to do it over low enough heat that you don’t brown/scald the butter.)

When all the chocolate is melted, stir in 2 cups of sugar. Mix until completely blended.

Add three eggs and the hearty teaspoon of vanilla. Stir until completely blended.

Stir in 1 cup of flour.

Stir in 1 cup of chocolate chips.

Spread evenly in buttered pan.

Place pan on the center rack of the oven and bake for 33 minutes.

Remove brownies from the oven and insert a toothpick in the center to test them. If the toothpick still has wet batter on it, put them back in for a minute or two. If it has fudgy crumbs stuck to it or comes out clean, you’re done. (You’re aiming for fudgy crumbs, but honestly it depends what you hit when you stick the toothpick in—if it looks like you stabbed a chocolate chip and the toothpick has melted chocolate on it, take a fresh toothpick and try again.) DO NOT OVERBAKE THESE BROWNIES—a few extra minutes in the oven will turn them from a delightfully soft chewy/gooey treat into chocolate flavored bricks. Better underdone than overdone.

Let the pan cool on a rack for at least an hour or so (if you can wait a few hours that’s even better).

Once the pan is completely cool you can cut the brownies into squares (or rectangles, or whatever other shapes you please). Use a very sharp knife, or a pizza cutter, or a sharp-edged spatula. Store any brownies you’re not planning on eating immediately in an airtight container or cover tightly with plastic wrap. Air is not their friend and they will dry up if left uncovered.

Individually wrapped brownies travel well and are great for bake sales, packed lunches, or kept in a purse or briefcase for potentially stressful moments.

For an extra-special treat these can be topped with a swirl of your favorite chocolate frosting and a pretty M&M, but really, they don’t need it.

They’re pretty tasty under ice cream and hot fudge as well.

Whatever you choose to do with them, enjoy!

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