Friday, January 26, 2024

What I Read #4: The Silent Patient

I know I'm way behind the hype on this one, but my sister-in-law gave me her copy, and I finished in less than two days! 

It's a story that sucks you in and keeps on delivering plot twists. I thought  I knew what was happening, only to realize I barely had it halfway figured out... 

I have a pretty high tolerance for creepy, and not many authors surprise me anymore, so this was definitely a fun read. 

If it's cold outside and you don't plan on leaving the sofa for the better part of a weekend, I'd highly recommend this book and your favorite cozy blankie.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

THE Soup. It's just that good.


It's 12 freaking degrees in metro Atlanta right now, so what's a girl to do other than hot tea and soup...

Seriously y'all, I'm kind of obsessed with this soup these days. In my mind, it's THE SOUP -- I've made it five times already this fall and winter, and it's become my lunchtime staple. 

Ribollita is a thick Tuscan vegetable soup, often made to use up stale bread. I had it for the first time at iRicchi, a DC Italian restaurant that has been a favorite of the K-Street crowd for more than 25 years - it was delicious and so thick you could stand your spoon up in it - drizzled with EVOO and sprinkled with fresh parmesan. 

The best bowl ever was at a small cafe in San Gimignano on a rainy day in Tuscany. A hot bowl of soup and a plate of prosciutto e melone stands out in my memory as an absolutely perfect meal for the day and time. 

It even makes a great anchor for a dinner party --I've made a big pot of THE SOUP and served it with plates of Italian yummies such as:

  • sliced canteloupe and prosciutto
  • a salad with arugula, bresaola and shaved parmesan, dressed with olive oil and lemon or balsamic
  • a Caprese salad
  • precooked arancini (risotto balls with mozzarella - Trader Joe's used to carry)
  • an antipasto plate of Italian meats, cheeses, and crackers

Of course my two go-to lady chefs (Ina Garten and Giada de Laurentiis) both have good recipes for this. I've been tweaking things a bit -- mostly to make it easier and still flavorful, and I've settled on this super-easy version of THE SOUP that comes together in just a few minutes with minimal chopping. Especially if you can use a tub of precut mirepoix (chopped carrots, onion, and celery often found in the product department) and some good crushed garlic -- the jarred minced garlic is nasty, but the frozen cubes from Dorot or the tubes in the produce department are great timesavers and taste just as good as fresh.

It's also very friendly to substitutions, so you can use whatever you happen to have on hand. If I don't buy mirepoix, I'll use a medium onion and 2-3 carrots. I don't care for celery all that much, so I don't mind leaving it out. Sometimes I'll add in half a chopped sweet pepper too, if there is one handy that needs to be eaten. And most recipes call for cannellini beans, but I think chickpeas work very well here, and I almost always have them in the pantry. If your deli department sells parmesan rinds, tossing a couple in here while the soup simmers is AMAZING. And if your bread is still fresh, toast the cubes on low heat in the oven or air fryer until they get crunchy.

If you don't add the bread, it's a pretty darn good veggie soup on its own. And I haven't tried it, but I'd imagine that swapping the chicken stock for vegetable stock would still be pretty tasty for a vegetarian option.  

Here's the basic recipe for THE SOUP

  • 1 tub mirepoix
  • 1 small-medium zucchini, diced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • 2 tsp italian seasoning
  • 1 generous pinch red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper to taste - I use 1/1/2 tsp of each
  • 1 32-oz carton low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 can petite diced tomatoes (low sodium), undrained
  • 1 can chickpeas, undrained - the starchy liquid helps the soup thicken
  • 3 cups baby spinach, roughly chopped (or just dump them in)
  • 3 cups stale bread, cut into small cubes (less than an inch - this is about half a baguette)

In a dutch oven or stockpot, saute the mirepoix in olive oil until it begins to soften, then add the zucchini and garlic until the veggies are soft but not browned.

Add the tomatoes, chickpeas, broth and seasonings, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and let it simmer for for 15 minutes. Add in spinach and bread. Let simmer another 15 minutes, letting the bread break down. If you want a thicker puree, help things along a little bit with a stick blender. The soup isn't quite as pretty, but I think it tastes even better! Serve with a sprinkle of parm on top. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

The Middle-Aged Non-Influencer's Favorite Beauty Products


I'm not one of those females who publishes exquisitely staged videos of myself standing in my perfectly-decorated bathroom artfully dabbing skincare and makeup products on my face. I'll leave that to the 10-year olds posting TikTok's with their Drunk Elephant products...

My morning beauty routine is more along the lines of throwing stuff on five minutes before a Zoom call when I need to hide the undereye circles, tame the bedhead, and look moderately presentable.

But I do have a longstanding love of makeup products going back to that first tube of bubble-flavored Maybelline Kissing Potion. I'm especially a sucker for eyeshadow palettes. It's like a new set of colorful markers tempting me with all the colors, and I probably need an intervention...

I'm turning 54 today, and I like to think I look younger than my age. So I sat down and came up with a list of my "best of" products - the things I buy on repeat that have a permanent home on my badly-in-need-of-renovation bathroom counter. I won't say they are for everyone, but for a pale-faced chick in her 50s who likes a natural look and has zero patience for 20 layers of contouring and drawing in each individual eyebrow hair, here's what works for me.

Paul Mitchell Super Skinny Serum - I really hate heavy hair products, but this one is lightweight and doesn't weigh down my fine hair and make it look greasy. Just the right amount of shine and smoothing. 

Pureology Hydrate Shampoo and Conditioner - they are pricey, but worth it. You really do only need to use a little bit, so they last a long time, and the conditioner has a great minty scent and tingle that wakes me up and leaved me feeling energized. 

M.A.C. Glow Play Sheer Lip Gloss - I spent over a year looking for something to take the place of my dearly beloved, discontinued Laura Mercier Stick Gloss, and these sheer soft colors are the best I've found.  They leave my lips soft but not sticky, with just a hint of color. I've got three or four colors in regular rotation, but my favorite is That Tickles - which looks dark in the tube but is really just a sheer wash of perfect pinky-brown color that works with everything.

Yes2Grapefruit Face Wipes - These remove makeup nicely and leave my skin feeling great. They are less irritating than the Burt's Bees version, and smell better than the Neutrogena ones.

Physician's Formula Butter Blush - The Vintage Rouge shade is perfect for me - blends nicely and I can use it without needing a bronzer too. it also smells yummy - like a day at the beach. 

Revlon Styling Brush - Seriously the best styling tool ever! I completely suck at blowing out my hair with a round brush, and this tool is amazing! I don't usually dry my hair all the way from wet with it. I let my hair air dry or hit it with a blowdryer until it's almost dry, and use this to smooth things out, curl the ends a bit and give me a little volume. It's perfect for the non-shampoo days when you want to smooth out the bedhead and get out the door quickly.

Aqua Allegoria Perfumes - My bestie says I'm all about "kitchen scents."  I like citrusy and herbal fragrances, mostly because heavy florals give me brain-shaking, eye-popping headaches. Guerlain's AA line switches up every year, but I've come across some great ones. Mandarine Basilic and Herba Fresca are old favorites, and I'm currently obsessed with Granada Salvia, which is pomegranate with hints of blackcurrant, cypress, lemon, and bergamot. 

Doctor Bronner's Peppermint Lip Balm - That meme about how when your chapsticks are not in their expected locations and your whole day is screwed up? That's me. DocB's has replaced Burt's Bees as my go-to, and there are tubes in both cars, in my bag, at my desk, in my nightstand drawer, and in a basket downstairs at all times. 

Clear Revive Nasal Spray - I used Afrin far too frequently for years for the quick hit of clarity. I discovered this a few years ago, and it's been an absolute life-changer for my sinuses. It's all-natural and non-medicated and clears away the stuffiness instantly. 

Maybelline Lash Sensational Sky High Mascara - Best mascara ever? Quite possibly. The tubing formula goes on without clumping, looks natural, stays on pretty well all day, and makes my skimpy pale lashes look amazing with just one coat.

UrbanDecay 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencils - I'm not great with eyeliners. I can't draw a decent wing to save my life, and I make a mess with liquid and markers. I want something that goes on softly and easily and holds up reasonably well.  Ulta's gel eyeliner pencils and the NYX Epic pencils are pretty good, but the Urban Decay ones are definitely worth the splurge and come in some really fun colors to play with. Stash, Mildew, and LSD are my favorites. 

Clinique Exfoliating Scrub - when it comes to my basic cleaning and moisturizing routine, I may stray every couple of years and try something new, but I always end up coming back to Clinique -- my mainstay for more than 30 years now. All About Clean Mild soap, Clarifying Lotion 2, and the classic yellow Dramatically Different Moisturizer in the morning, then All About Eyes and Moisture Surge at night. People always think I'm at least 10 years younger than my actual age, so I suppose it's working. Once a week, the Exfoliating Scrub is my go-to for a deep clean that leaves my face feeling fresh and soft. 

Monday, January 15, 2024

What I Read #2-3: Tony Horwitz Travels the South


A couple of weeks ago, Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley bumbled it big time in a town hall, responding to a question about the causes of the Civil War without mentioning slavery. Her word salad of a response was completely inappropriate for someone running for a national office, but it echoed many things I've heard throughout my lifetime as a Southern woman. 

There are some deeper questions about those issues that I'm still contemplating and will likely write about sometime soon, but it reminded me of a book that's been sitting on my Kindle waiting to be read for a while now.

I first read Tony Horwitz's Confederates in the Attic when it came out in 1999, and his later book, Spying on the South, coming 20 years later seemd intriguing. I decided that before I read Syping, I should re-read the original book first. Both are travelogues that explore the attitudes of modern-day Southerners about the South, the Civil War, and America. 

They are both funny and frightening, engaging and thought-provoking. 

In Confederates, the hints of the growing divide that is putting our nation's future at risk are glaringly evident, and 20 years of hindsight makes me think Horwitz was even more on point than he seemed at the turn of the century. 

All in all, they left me with even more to ponder on as I think about history both personal and public, and where we are headed as a nation in a year that I think might be a watershed for the future or failure of our country. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

What I Read #1: The Exchange

Other than cooking all the southern goodies, I was a couch potato for New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, and it was HEAVENLY to relax a bit after a busy holiday season. 

One of my favorite Christmas traditions in recent years has been the books and chocolate exchange started by one of my lovely sorority sisters. There are about 30 women in the group. There are a few fellow Sigma Kappas, but most of us don't know each other and are only connected through Allisa. Every year, she draws names to pair us up for our own little Jolabokaflod, and we give each other books and chocolate to enjoy during the holiday season. 

I received John's Grisham's The Exchange this year, and I was excited to see what happened to Mitch and Abby after they escaped The Firm. It was an engaging read and fun to revisit some memorable characters, but I kept waiting for a "bigger" conspiracy to emerge and thought the ending was a little bit of a letdown. I wouldn't put it up there with my favorites among his earlier novels, but it was a pleasant way to spend a relaxing day or so.

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Doing the Full Southern

Once again, my New Year's resolution is to flex my writing muscles. As in previous years (see 2016, 2022, etc.) I'll probably write a few things in January, and then the crickets will once again take over.  

Who still reads blogs anyway? :)

I'm happy to close the book on 2023, which will not rank up there with my better years.  But I'm starting 2024 with a healthy-ish little family and a lot of love, so we'll see what the year brings. 

Before settling into a late night of football yesterday, I tried to get ahead in the luck and money department with a Full Southern New Year's Day feast. It was one of those rare meals where everything turned out perfectly, so maybe the luck thing is already working.

The Pig: This Island Pork Tenderloin Salad from Epicurious has been a favorite for years.  I made the wonderful spicy-sweet pork yesterday to go with all the unhealthy sides, and I'll make the salad part tonight to use up the leftovers.

The Peas: Dried peas and the Instant Pot are a match made in heaven. I loosely followed this recipe from Grits and Gouda, but used half chicken broth and half water and added a few chunks of seasoning bacon.

The Greens: This is a good basic recipe for collard greens. I add a spoonful of sugar near the end of the cooking time to cut the bitterness, which I think makes all the difference.

The Cornbread: I wish I could say I made it from scratch, but I used Krusteaz southern-style cornbread mix, cooked in a cast-iron skillet prepped with bacon grease. I've yet to master homemade cornbread that tastes like my mom's, and I haven't yet inherited THE PAN -- a 60-year-old, seasoned-to-black baking pan that is used ONLY for cornbread. It was my grandmother's, then my mom's, and I have already called dibs on it for the next generation.

Mac and Cheese: It doesn't represent anything lucky for the new year, but it was damn good. After years of loyalty to Alton Brown's baked mac and cheese, this recipe has won my allegiance, although I think an extra layer of shredded cheese under the breadcrumbs doesn't hurt. I used 4 cups of hoop cheddar and 2 cups of Dubliner cheese, and it rocked!

It was a great meal, and two great football games followed. It's always a good day when Satan/Saban loses, and if my Dawgs aren't in the championship, I'm happy to root for those other dogs in purple!