Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Thorn in the Flesh

Most people who know me well know that I have chronic health issues. I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when I was 25, nearly half a lifetime ago. Although my condition is relatively well controlled with medication, I live with a certain constant level of background pain, and every now and then I suffer a flare-up of my symptoms or occasionally some weird related condition or side effect to some drug. One of the most frustrating parts of having RA is that, since it is an autoimmune condition that is treated with immunosuppressive drugs, I am highly susceptible to every kind of germ or infection, and I tend to get sick more frequently, more easily, and more severely than most people. This means that I need to be very careful any time I have any kind of injury or any damage to my skin that could allow bacteria to get into my system.

My doctor once informed me that I am a “minimizer;” in other words, I tend to downplay any pain or annoying symptoms I am experiencing. In my relationship to the people in my life, this is a good thing. If I complained every day that my joints ached or that I was fatigued, the people around me would soon get tired of my constant complaining. More importantly, complaining would keep me focused on my pain instead of moving past it and focusing on other things. So I consciously try to ignore those minor irritants that are out of my control and focus on the parts of my life that I can control.

But there are some days when some medical issue knocks me down nearly beyond what I can bear. Sometimes it’s a truly severe, painful episode. Having given birth to two children, I can honestly say that RA flare-ups can be worse than labor pains. But sometimes the straw that breaks the camel’s back is something stupid and relatively minor. Like not being able to straighten out my fingers. Like ugly bunions and nodules on my feet. Like a rash all over my face.

I’m not particularly vain. I’m aware that I’m not a conventionally beautiful woman, and I’m honestly okay with that. But being in my 40s and having breakouts all over my face is still a bit of a blow to my ego. Not to mention an itchiness that makes me want to claw my own face off, just like that scene in Poltergeist. (I won’t include a clip, but if you’ve ever seen the movie, you know the scene I mean. I’ve seriously considered re-enacting it lately.) Much like the apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:17), the “messenger of Satan” is buffeting me. Unlike Paul, however, I am certainly not feeling “exalted above measure.” I am merely feeling buffeted, and torn down, and tired.

God, am I tired.

I am feeling much sympathy for Paul, with his occasionally prickliness and short-temperedness and irritability, because I am feeling much the same right now. My thorn may not be quite the same as Paul’s, but the result certainly is. Neither one of us is a real picnic to be around right now.

So if you run into me in real life these days and I’m not quite as pleasant as you were hoping, please forgive me. Because I’ve got this thorn, you see. 

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Morning Peace

I woke up at 4:00 this morning. Not that groggy, half-asleep, "why am I awake?" kind of waking up, but a genuine, "my body is done sleeping; let's get up and do stuff" kind of awake. I managed to force myself to lay quietly and read for an hour and a half, but I finally decided to give in, get up, and enjoy the peace and quiet of being the only awake person in the house.

I threw on some clothes, made myself a cup of coffee and a piece of toast, and then...I just sat. I listened to the birds. I smelled the neighborhood skunk and wondered idly where he was wandering. I watched the pink sky fade to blue. I listened to the occasional rumble of a passing car.

I started to think about everything I need to get done today, but then I stopped myself. Two hours from now, I can worry about that. Right now, I'm clearing it all from my mind. I'm not worrying about what I have to get done; I'm not planning out my day. I'm just enjoying the peace and quiet. I'm enjoying putting my thoughts down on paper (figuratively) without having the train of those thoughts being derailed by a small person asking for breakfast or a drink or a kiss, or a slightly larger one asking where his keys are or reminding me of his schedule or also asking for a kiss. Not that any of those interruptions are unpleasant or unwelcome. But they do break my concentration and focus. So it's a wonderful little gift, a mental oasis, if you will, to have an hour or two without another soul intruding into my consciousness.

Any moment now, I expect to hear the patter of little feet and the chatter of little voices breaking into my peaceful meditations. But by then, I'll be ready for them: relaxed, refreshed, rejuvenated. At peace.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Food, Glorious Food

I’m not much of a food blogger, but I did a lot of cooking this weekend and everything came out particularly delicious, so I’m sharing my menus! Sorry I don’t have photos of my own results, but trust me, everything looked EXACTLY like these stock photos. I have given the sources of the original recipes, but the versions listed below include a few of my own variations.

I’m a big fan of appetizers – in fact, I’d happily make a meal entirely of appetizers and ignore the entrĂ©e altogether. So here are a few of the apps I served this weekend, along with a couple of light entrees that can easily be served as small plates alongside a buffet of appetizers.

Balsamic Bruschetta (based on

This bruschetta can be served either warm or cold, and it’s a wonderful way to highlight fresh tomatoes and/or basil from your garden, if you have them!

2 large tomatoes, diced
1/3 cup fresh basil, chopped
2 tsp minced garlic
¼ cup shredded Parmesan
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp olive oil
¼ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp kosher salt
1 loaf French bread

Mix together all ingredients except bread in a small bowl and chill in refrigerator. Slice bread diagonally into ½” slices; lay on a baking sheet and toast at 425 degrees for 3-4 minutes, until crispy. Top bread with tomato mixture and serve immediately. Top with additional parmesan, if desired.

If you prefer to serve the bruschetta warm, don’t pre-toast the bread, but top the fresh sliced bread with the tomato mixture and bake at 425 for 4-5 minutes, then serve warm.

Artichoke Stuffed Mushrooms (based on

This stuffing is a nice alternative to crab or lobster stuffed mushrooms if you or your guests have shellfish allergies. Plus it’s a great way to use up those huge jars of marinated artichoke hearts from Costco.

24 medium cremini (baby bella) mushrooms
olive oil
2 shallots, minced
2 tsp minced garlic
2/3 cup marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped fairly fine
3 tbsp panko breadcrumbs
2 tbsp grated Parmesan
½ marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
3 tbsp panko breadcrumbs, divided
2 tbsp grated Parmesan
2 tbsp light mayonnaise
1/8 tsp dried thyme
¼ tsp salt
¼ fresh black pepper

Position rack in top third of oven and preheat broiler (use the “low” setting if there’s an option). Coat a metal 9x13 pan or deep jelly roll pan with non-stick spray or line it with non-stick foil.

Wash mushrooms well and pat dry; remove and finely chop stems. Heat 1 tsp oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the stems, shallots, and garlic and cook, stirring, until the liquid is evaporated, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and stir in artichoke hearts, 2 tablespoons panko, Parmesan, mayonnaise and thyme.

Toss the mushroom caps in another bowl with 2 teaspoons oil, salt and pepper. Stuff each with filling (mounding fairly high; this recipe makes a generous amount of stuffing) and place in the prepared pan. Combine the remaining 1 tablespoon breadcrumbs and 1 teaspoon oil and sprinkle on the mushrooms.

Broil until the mushrooms are soft and the breadcrumbs are golden, 15 to 20 minutes.

Mushrooms may be stuffed up to 3 hours prior to baking.

Lamb Sliders (based on Giada de Laurentis’ recipe)

This recipe is great because the lamb and cumin make it taste just slightly exotic without being too unusual for most palates. Although the sliders are best when cooked over an open grill, you can also pan fry them. The patties can be made well ahead of time and refrigerated in plastic wrap.

5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 large shallots, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp minced garlic
1 pound ground lamb
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ketchup
Eight ½-inch cubes of Gruyere or Havarti cheese
8 slider buns (King’s Hawaiian are the best!), halved

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in an 8-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallots, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook until the shallots are soft, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool slightly.

Combine the shallot mixture, lamb, cumin, ketchup, scant 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl. Form the mixture into eight 1/2-inch thick patties. Press a cube of cheese into the middle of each patty and form the meat around the cheese to cover. (Be sure to seal well or the cheese will leak out during cooking!) 

Brush the patties with the remaining oil and grill over medium-high heat until cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes per side. Let the patties rest for 2 minutes. Place the patties in the buns and serve, plain or with tzatziki sauce (below).

Easy Tzatziki (based on Claire Robinson/Food Network’s recipe)

1 cup Greek yogurt (I used low fat so I could pretend it was healthy)
~8” length of seedless cucumber, peeled, shredded, and drained
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp chopped fresh dill
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Shred the peeled cucumber using the finest side of a vegetable grater, drain on cutting board and blot with a few paper towels. Whisk together all ingredients, adding salt and pepper to taste. Serve chilled.

Greek Salmon (no source; this hardly even counts as a recipe!)
Salmon fillets, cut into single-serving pieces
olive oil
Greek seasoning (store-bought or from recipe below)

Brush fillets with oil and sprinkle generously with seasoning. Grill skin-side down for 3-4 minutes per side. Serve with tzatziki.

Greek Seasoning (based on’s recipe)

1-1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
½ tsp dried basil
½ tsp dried minced onion
¼ tsp garlic powder

Whisk all ingredients together. You can also add dried marjoram, mint, or even cinnamon and nutmeg to the mix!

Grilled Marinated Portobellos (based on

Since I have several family members who prefer to eat vegetarian, I’m always on the lookout for delicious recipes using vegetarian proteins, and portobellos are one of my personal favorites. This recipe is light and delicious, with just a hint of tang from the balsamic vinegar. The mushrooms can be served burger-style on a bun with greens and tomato, but I love them simply as is.

4 portobello mushrooms
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp dried basil
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp minced garlic
pinch each of salt and pepper

Wash mushrooms and pat dry, then gently pull off the stems. Place gill side up in a shallow dish.

Whisk together remaining ingredients and pour over mushrooms, including pouring some into the base of the dish. Marinade for about 15 minutes.

Pour off and reserve excess marinade and grill, gill side up, over medium-high heat for 5-8 minutes per side, until tender. Brush occasionally with marinade.

And to wrap up this list, my favorite summer salad, which is so delicious that it’s practically a dessert: Triple Treat Salad!

Triple Treat Salad (I have no idea where this recipe originated; it’s been floating around my family for decades)

2-3 heads of broccoli, cut into bite-size pieces (florets only)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 package pre-cooked bacon, crisped and crumbled
½ cup light mayonnaise
4 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Toss together broccoli, cheese, and bacon in a large bowl and set aside. Whisk together mayo, sugar, and vinegar until nearly smooth; adjust amounts to taste. Pour dressing over salad and toss well to coat. Marinate in refrigerator several hours to overnight, tossing occasionally if possible. 

Bon appetit!!

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Monday, June 8, 2015

The 2015 Tony Awards: Red Carpet Review

Last night was the biggest night on Broadway: the annual Tony Awards! Co-hosted by Alan Cumming and Kristin Chenoweth, the ceremony was surprisingly bland, as – for the most part – were the red carpet fashions. But there were a few looks worth mentioning. Just for a change of pace, I’m breaking them into categories by guests, attendees, presenters, nominees, and winners.


As the non-celebrity spouse or guest of a celebrity, it can’t be easy to walk that fine line between dressing well enough to not look out of place but not well enough to overshadow the star (or to look like you’re trying too hard to join the celebrity ranks). Several spouses did a particularly fine job of treading that line last night.

Robin Dearden, on the arm of a beautifully tuxedoed Bryan Cranston, chose a long, Asian-inspired black column with silver and blue patterning, sheer sleeves, and thigh-high side slits, paired with sparkly chandelier earrings and matching clutch. Flattering, interesting, and nicely accessorized, this look hit just the right notes.

Daena Title, on the arm of Jason Alexander, wowed in this soft gray and silver off-the-shoulder gown echoing her stylish hair, accessorized with a black lace wrap and fabulous silver sandals. The color, cut, and accessories are simple but lovely and flowy. A perfect way to go Bohemian chic.


Vanessa Hudgens’ huge poppy print halter gown with full skirt, paired with a feminine braided coronet hairstyle and coordinating lip color, was fresh and flattering. A lovely youthful yet mature look.

I loved Emily Ratajkowski’s deep blue gown. The broad criss-cross of the bodice is sexy but not overly revealing, the gathered lines at the waist soften the straight silhouette, and the detailing along the side seams is absolutely gorgeous. Unfortunately, the belt is sitting about an inch lower than it should be, and the straight skirt should be skimming the floor, not puddling on it.

Amber Valletta’s look was unusual and chic. I loved the starkness of the short sheath paired with softness of the long, angled side drape. My only objection is that the bodice is cut so low that it looks like it’s about to slip off, and the buckle right at the point of her bust draws attention to an odd spot.

Nicole Warne’s ice blue, ballet-inspired gown featured gorgeous lace and beading at the waist and down the tulle skirt, and the bodice was beautifully fitted, but the long sleeves and high neck are a bit too prissy for the overall look. Perhaps a bit of beading at the neck or a neckline with a bit more visual interest could have turned this “nice” look into a terrific look.


Presenters, generally past Tony winners, also have to walk the fine line of presenting themselves well without overshadowing the winners to whom they are presenting.

Host Kristin Chenoweth wore this clingy silver column on the red carpet, but then proceeded to have about a dozen costume changes over the course of the evening. I liked this column with the exception of the overplumped look of her cleavage. It flatters her curves and is well-proportioned to her tiny frame, although I would have loved to see a tiny pop of color in a bit of jewelry, such as a cuff bracelet or a short necklace. But my favorite look of the evening on her was the deep red bias-cut satin gown she wore towards the end of the broadcast. I loved the “corkscrew” look carried out from the shoulder strap, through the gathers on the bodice, the seaming across the hip, and the drape around the skirt. Her hair was a complete disaster but the gown was stunning.

Presenter Rose Byrne’s scarlet gown had a lovely silhouette and interesting draped shoulder details, but the lines of the open bodice looked a bit droopy. If only that zipper had gone up another 6 or 8 inches, this gown would have been stunning.

At first glance, I found Sutton Foster’s gown to be a bit casual, due to the soft fabric. But the warm chocolate color of the bodice fading in graceful ripples into peachy-pink at the full hem grew on me, particularly when I saw how beautifully it moved. And it suits her personality, which always makes a dress come to life, for me.

Presenting as a team with her father, the legendary Joel Grey, Jennifer Grey’s white column kept its details limited to the texture, with rich lace cascading into subtle eyelash fuzz from the knees to the hem. Paired with natural makeup and simple beach waves in her sun-kissed hair, she looked classic and elegant.

Showing how NOT to do a lacy white gown, Kiesza’s white disaster overused textures, looking torn and papery and disproportionate and just a general mess, and her exaggerated cats-eye eyeliner and asymmetrical curly updo did not work with it at all. At least she seemed delighted with her look.

Presenter Jennifer Lopez is a good example of how important the fit of a gown is. The lines, color, fabric, and detailing of this midnight-blue gown with gold sparkling stars are all absolutely stunning, but the bodice looks uncomfortably stiff and tight and ruins the effect. But points for the dark lipstick, retro hairstyle, and diamond bracelet.

Bernadette Peters was yet another argument for the importance of good fit. You can’t stuff 10 pounds of sugar into a 5-pound bag, or you get all those crinkles across your midsection. Few people other than Bernadette could have pulled off this unusual color, and if the gown had been just a bit less cinched, it could have been one of the best looks of the night.

Presenter Phylicia Rashad also chose a flattering color for her, in an iridescent deep blue-purple gown and matching long jacket. The flared cuffs were a bit too full for my taste, but I loved the sapphire choker. A flattering and elegant look for an older star.

Presenter Amanda Seyfried opted for a short dress rather than a gown, in a pretty black and metallic gold print. I liked the dress, but its stark cut and color needed softer hair and makeup to offset it and dress it up a bit. The severity of the look aged her.

The concept of Ashley Tisdale’s look was great: A structured avant garde flared halter paired with full pants. Unfortunately, the halter was too stiff to be flattering, the pleats in the pants didn’t fall right, creating odd lines as she moved, the high waist looked old-mannish – and paired with the mere peep of midsection, looked like a mistake. 

I loved a lot of the individual details of Rita Wilson’s dress, but there were just too many and too much. Too shiny fabric, too wavy lines, too deep cutouts. Making it into a sleeveless halter would remove much of the “overdoneness” and could have turned it into a stunner.

Jennifer Nettles’ champagne-colored, Grecian-styled gown had just enough unexpected details to keep it from being bland, including an asymmetrical angled bodice and an eye-catching brooch on the strap. Chandelier earrings, a delicate diamond bracelet, and a high-fronted updo completed her elegant look. \


Best Actress in a Musical nominee Leanne Cope wore one of my favorite looks of the evening, this stunning silvery-gray, fitted to the hip, flared, tea-length halter. The bare shoulders and clean lines show off her perfect skin and dramatic coloring. I love her simple hairstyle and clean makeup. She’d look great wearing a burlap sack, but this gown won the evening.

Best Featured Actress in a Musical nominee Victoria Clark wore a lovely midnight blue gown, with a fitted bodice with lacy cutouts and a gauzy full skirt which moved beautifully. A great dramatic look.

Ten-year-old Best Featured Actress nominee Sydney Lucas looked grown up yet age-appropriate in a lovely tea-length white textured gown paired with gold ballet flats, a flippy bob, and the world’s happiest smile. What a delight she was, both performing on stage and beaming on the red carpet.

Best Featured Actress in a Play nominee Patricia Clarkson let the gorgeous fabric itself be the star of her tea-length, A-line gown with simple round neckline didn’t need any accessories other than the matching clutch (which she was obviously delighted about) and red lipstick. A prime example of less is more.

Best Actress in a Play nominee Elisabeth Moss looked spectacular in a snow-white halter dress with bright flowers cascading from the bodice. Clean lines and a perfect fit made for a perfect look.

Fellow Best Actress in a Play nominee Ruth Wilson wore a vivid magenta gown with a tightly-fitted, T-shirt-styled top, flaring low at the hips into a full skirt. The bodice was too simple and unadorned – perhaps a v-neck or even a long pendant could have broken it up – and the clashing shade of lipstick just didn’t work for me.

Yet another Best Actress in a Play nominee, Carey Mulligan, dealt with the difficulties of finding maternity red carpet wear. This burgundy gown, with its pretty, arched neckline and smooth but loose-fitting cascade over her baby bump, adorned only by a stack of bangle bracelets, looked comfortable and stylish.


Annaleigh Ashford took home the Tony for Best Actress in a Play wearing this lime green gown with a tightly-fitted bodice with a sweetheart neckline and a puffed skirt. Her minimal accessories and makeup and simple hairstyle of cascading curls turned what could have been an overdone look into an eye-catching and flattering win.

As always, Best Leading Actress in a Play winner Helen Mirren stunned in this long, clinging white gown with short train and lovely lace detailing at the deep V neckline and waist and in the draped sleeves. Smooth sleek hair and subtle makeup completed her elegant look. There truly is nothing like a Dame.

And finally, Best Actress in a Musical winner, Kelli O’Hara, looked beautiful in a tea-length gold lace dress paired with long waved hair, minimal makeup, and strappy sandals, which she used to “shuffle off to Buffalo” at the end of her acceptance speech. Utterly delightful all around.

So maybe there weren’t many stunners or stinkers on the red carpet at this year’s Tonys, but there were lots of smiles and plenty of talent. Extra bonus points to the producers for having all the casts who performed join Josh Groban and the orchestra on stage for the end of the In Memoriam segment. That was my favorite moment of the entire broadcast, and I hope it becomes a tradition for future Tonys!

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Monday, June 1, 2015

June Is Not Quite Bustin' Out All Over

Even if you’re not a Rodgers and Hammerstein fan, even if you’re not a musical theatre fan at all, you probably know (or at least, have heard) the song, “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over” from the musical Carousel.

The clip above shows what you expect to see in June in New England: bright sunshine, people in shirtsleeves, a light breeze, happiness all around. Even in real life, June is a time of year when you can actually imagine a bunch of people randomly breaking into song and dance for no particular reason. The lyric at about 2:10 sums up our expectations of the spring into summer transition here in New England: “March went out like a lion, a-whippin’ up the water in the bay. Then April cried and stepped aside, and along come pretty little May. May was full of promises, but she didn’t keep ‘em quick enough for some, and a crowd of doubtin’ Thomases was predictin’ that the summer’d never come. But it’s comin’, by gum! You can feel it come! You can feel it in your heart, you can see it in the ground, you can hear it in the trees, you can smell it in the breeze. Look around! Look around! Look around!” And then of course, it goes into the best-known line from the well-known chorus, and the very title of the song itself: “June is bustin’ out all over!”

But June hasn’t quite busted out anywhere around these parts yet. Today is a rather April-ish June, with cold temperatures, cloudy skies, and dreary rain. Instead of short sleeves and sandals, we’re all donning our rain slickers and galoshes. We’ve traded in our iced coffees for steaming mugs of joe. We’re pushing the “heated seats” button in our cars instead of the “A/C” button. The colorful flowers in the garden are sagging under the heavy rain and looking like they’d like to bust right back into the ground.

And yet, with the silence of the air conditioner that ISN’T running in my window, I can hear a whole flock of determined birds happily chirping outside. When I peek through the rain-streaked window, I can see my little neighborhood bunny happily nibbling on the damp grass, looking not the slightest bit deterred by the weather.

Maybe it’s because they don’t have calendars so they don’t quite realize that today is the first day of June. After all, last week was full of gorgeous warm days, days when I admired how quickly my impatiens had started to spread, noticing that our grass had thickened up and was ready to be mowed, happy at how much the ivy and the grapevine on the fence and spread and created a pretty green privacy hedge by the pool. If I wasn't expecting a beautiful day today merely by virtue of the fact that it's June first, I wouldn't be disappointed, either.

But maybe they just remember that the cool, damp, dreary weather makes us all, plants and animals and humans alike, appreciate the warm, dry, sunny weather ahead all the more. So I’ll try to hang in there for another few days, and I’ll keep hoping that before I know it, June really WILL be bustin’ out all over!!

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