Friday, November 27, 2009

Shopping for a Good Cause

When I signed up to volunteer for Toys for Tots at the North Augusta Wal-mart, I expected to be asking for donations, maybe sitting at a table selling pizza, whatever odd jobs they assigned me. But not, "Want to go spend $1,000?"

The organization gets donations of not only new unwrapped toys but also monetary donations throughout the year. And someone's got to spend the money. I just never imagined it to be me.

It's a pretty exhilarating feeling to be pushing a cart through Wal-mart with $1,000 to burn and a mission to buy toys for girls ages 0 to 2. The goal is to spend a dollar amount averaging about $10 to $20 per toy, with a max of $30. I took it pretty seriously. But a cart full and just $200 spent after a good half-hour of shopping and I had to ask the Marines (who spearhead the campaign) to help. So with two other Marines, we cleared some aisles and left with three carts piled high with shiny new toys. As we left, I told a manager, "I think you're going to have to restock back there." He laughed, "That's a good problem to have."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Love, Loss of Innocence, Kidnapping, Murder...Dance?

This much we know--Marie, a beautiful blonde, is in an enviable position, loved by two men, Luca and Marcus. Her arms are exuberant, her legs passionate and her face alight with joy, as she pulls them to her, first one then the other, torn between her decision. Then she chooses. And that's when dangerous and dark things start happening. But no matter how bad it gets, the movements and the music are always captivating, emotional and enthralling.

Parsons Dance, together with the East Village Opera Company, both of New York, present "Remember Me," a modern dance ballet set to rocked up versions of recognizable opera arias and other compositions, as part of the Augusta Ballet's programming this season. With Abby Silva as Marie, Zac Hammer as Luca and Miquel Quinones as the dangerous Marcus, "Remember Me" shows us how dance and music can express emotions more raw and intense than words ever could.

A sheet, combined with choreography that makes the most use of the floor, shows Marie and Luca's new love, with all its fresh discoveries, through loving, flowing, giving motions. So what a harsh juxtaposition it is when two scenes later Marcus has abducted Marie and attempts to mimic the same choreography with the desperate, stiff and unwilling object of his affection.

Abandoned by Marcus after fighting off his advances, Marie is shamed and lost, unable to reach Luca and unable to be saved. She dies, and against a dark stage with a chorus of dancers circling in shadow, Marcus is killed by Luca after the discovery is made, only to have Luca kill himself at the horror of the murder he has committed.

The vocalists, Tyley Ross and Annmarie Milazzo, play the parts of an ancient Greek chorus in this tragedy, moving in and out of the scenes, at times a part of the action as Marie flirtatiously hides behind the male vocalist as Luca and Marcus pursue her, and sometimes playing their own separate roles in mimicry, as when the vocalists draw together into an intimate slow dance during Marie and Luca's love scene.

But there would be no satisfaction if Marie and Luca were not reunited, and the creators of "Remember Me" fulfill that satisfaction. With Marcus flitting in the background like an uneasy ghost, Marie and Luca spy one another across a room of dancing couples and joyously fling themselves together. And the emotional rollercoaster ends in their embrace and their love. And happily for the audience, they just can't stop dancing.

Photo credit:

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Few Things to Be Happy About

I have this great little book that one of my good friends, Karly, gave me during college. Called 14,000 Things to Be Happy About, it's a completely random list of all the things that make the author, Barbara Ann Kipfer, happy. I love to thumb through it. It has gems like "boys in caps," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "giant popovers," "waiters smiling when they see you," and "huh?"-inspiring items like "the small masher to crush herbs or mash baby food or pack butter in tubs" (HUH?). So in honor of this, one of my favorite books, here's the start to my list. Maybe it will make me famous one day, like Barbara Ann (who I would love to meet). Or at the very least, will make me happy when I read it.

Sleeping dogs
John Schneider (Bo Duke)
Furry blankets
Chicken paella
My special recipe for seafood gumbo
Loving and being loved
The Family Channel's 24 days of Christmas
Photos of us being young and free and happy
Peacock blue (color)
Blue and white china, tablecloth, curtains
Asheville, NC
Charleston, SC
Fall festivals

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I See Dead People...

We'd signed up for a ghost tour while in Charleston this weekend, and knew we were in for it when the guide started right in on the "scary" ghost stories, complete with startled eyes and dramatic voice inflections. "I've actually seen a ghost....RIGHT on this very tour!" she intoned.

WE doubted that we'd be "in tune" with anything, until we stopped at a cemetery. While the guide was in the middle of another riveting tale, suddenly one of our tour mates said, "What's that?" Her face peered through the iron bars of the cemetery fence. "I see something!!"

We all craned to look as she continued, "I saw a glowing was flashing different colors!" Our guide said, "Wow, you probably saw an's the sign of a spirit!"

Cameras clicked. Then, the same lady said excitedly, "Look, I see a man in a white shirt!!" Pause. Then, our guide: "Um, that IS a man in a white shirt."

Turns out the "orb" was a flashlight.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Cake That Took Two People, Three Hours and a Bushel of Peaches

It started with a box of peaches from the Saturday Market on the River.

Actually it was a bushel of peaches, which my brother and I ridiculously decided to split for our respective households. Ridiculous because a half-bushel of peaches is actually a good 25 to 30 peaches and in my household there's just the two of us. But the peaches were irresistable, that perfect velvet rose gold, and smelled heavenly even from a few feet away. And since our experiment earlier this year of ordering farm-fresh vegetables delivered to our home, we've had a lot of experience coming up with ways to use up massive amounts of fruits and vegetables.

First, we counted out 10 for us to eat just as snacks. 15 to go.

Then 2 for my special chicken curry that I usually use canned peaches in, instead of the mango that's called for. 13 to go.

Then 2 for homemade peach ice cream. Creamy, perfect, and so much better than storebought. 11 to go.

Then the cake.

It was my mom's birthday and I was determined that she would get something with peaches (luckily, she likes them!). I didn't want to do a cobbler--too expected!--so spent a Saturday morning googling recipes. Did you know that peaches aren't used very often in cakes? In my mind's eye, I imagined a tall proud cake, layers golden and rich with chopped peaches, and five perfect peach halves gracing the white-iced top. The reality was just so...mundane. There was a peach pound cake and even a peach cake, but they all sounded like desserts from the back of a package, baked in a bundt pan and meant to be dumped out on a table with a bunch of other desserts at a potluck. And you have to have frosting with a birthday cake!

Then Texas Monthly appeared on the seventh or eighth search page. A former boss of mine loved the magazine, so I knew this had the potential of being very good. And the name, Dulce De Leche Cake Peach Cake, was magical.

It was also very long and rather complicated, with steps for the icing, filling and the cake itself, so my husband pitched in. (When a recipe calls for you to boil an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk for two hours, you know it's going to be complicated!). While he peeled and chopped the peaches, toasted and chopped pecans and made the filling, I mixed up the light, buttery batter. Cooking together hasn't always worked for us, but somehow this did. As my husband said later, "We were both working...hard!...for three solid hours!"

While the cake baked, the dreamy dulce de leche icing--the milk cooked into a creamy caramel sauce that strangely smelled like Kraft Macaroni and Cheese but tasted sweet and delicious--came together. Once the cake cooled, my husband was almost like a little kid as he carefully iced the cake and I placed the decorative pecans on top.

It was a solid hefty cake that my family oohed over and despite a heavy steak dinner consumed a good half in a matter of moments. While we really only used up about 4 peaches, everyone agreed that it was one of the best cakes they ever had (thanks, Texas Monthly!).

Unfortunately, we got a little peached out and the remaining six are making some nice compost in our backyard. But we still have a little dish of the frosting in the fridge. I'm thinking of making another cake.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

iPod Redux

Thanks to my gorgeous, easy-on-the-eyes, companiable, and oh-so-friendly iTouch (yes, I'm in love), I've been able to revisit songs I loved but almost forgot. Most of it's country--and no matter what anyone says about country, I think it has some of the prettiest, pull-out-your heart lyrics and melodies. Some old faves:

I dressed up and went out on the town, to places you'd never go. I always wondered what I'd do without you, Now I know.~Lari White

My love is deeper than the holler, stronger than the river, higher than the pine trees growing tall upon the hill, my love is purer than the snowflakes that fall in late December, and honest as a robin on a springtime windowsill and longer than the song of a whipporwill~Randy Travis

Saw your picture on a poster on a cafe out in Phoenix, Guess you're still the sweetheart of the rodeo. But as for me and little Casey, we still make the circuit, in a one-horse trailer and a mobile home. She still asks you about you all the time, and I guess we never even cross your mind. But then sometimes I think about you and the way you used to ride out, in your rhinestones and your sequins, with the sunlight on your hair. And oh the crowd would always love you, but as for me I've come to know, Everything that glitters is not gold~Dan Seals

A long December and there's reason to believe, maybe this year will be better than the last~Counting Crows

Don't wanna be standing here, and I don't wanna be talking here, and I don't really care who's to blame. Cause if love won't fly on its own free will, it's gonna catch that outbound plane~Suzy Bogguss

She's says she's gonna leave me, momma, nothing on God's green earth will make her stay...But if I'm so much like my Dad, there must have been times you felt her way. So tell me word for word, what he said, that always made you stay~George Strait

I would have waited forever, if I'd known that you'd be here. We could have shared our lives together, and held each other close through all the years. But I met someone before you, and my heart just couldn't wait. So no matter how much I adore you, I've got to stand behind the promise that I made~Reba McIntyre

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Trouble With Tripe

When you write stories for magazines, sometimes you have to do things that make you uncomfortable.

I learned this when I decided that I probably needed to taste a traditional Mexican food to help flesh out the story I was working on about international grocery stores in Augusta. And it couldn't be beef tacos or cheese sauce; it had to be something really scary to most people.

My destination was San Jose Super Mercado. I considered the jars on the meat counter filled with greyish-white strips of pig skin, pig ears and tripe that the owner assured me were delicious when dressed with lime, salt and pico de gallo. But there are some tastes that even a Chinese girl can't face.

But something brown and cooked on the grill...that would probably work. So I steeled myself and got in line to order a tripe taco. I offered a couple folks behind me to take my place--anything to delay the moment for a while. In the meantime, I stared at the garish illustrated menu featuring miscellaneous curled bits of brown meat atop a flat corn tortilla. Looked pretty normal, but how would it taste?

The tripe taco came all too soon. Some of the meat was brown and crisp, almost bacon-like, while other bits resembled browned tubes with an unidentifiable greyish matter inside. This I quickly doused with some pico de gallo and guacamole sauce. Then took a breath and my first bite.

The group of Hispanic men next to me who were happily slurping their beef and avocado soup likely had an enjoyable moment watching this petite, well-suited Asian girl struggling to bite through a particularly chewy portion of pig innards. But my mouthful was warm and brown and, surprisingly, good. The corn tortilla was thick and soft and sweet with corn flavor; the meat was soft and almost creamy (why it was creamy I didn't want to think about), with some chewiness and crispness. The taste was familiar and I pegged it on my second bite--it tasted like liver, which I happen to like.

With every bite, I still had to struggle with my brain, which was screaming, "Tripe! You're eating tripe!", but the taste was so rich and good that I finished every bite, leaving no room for the pork taco which I had purchased for a backup lunch in case I couldn't eat the tripe.

It was a perfect meal, and quite affordable, with each taco costing a buck seventy-five. How can you beat that? And my mom has always told me that eating various animal parts has complementary benefits for your body--all I can say is, after my meal of tripe, I've enjoyed perfect digestion--and some bragging rights.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


So I've been a BIT obsessed with Gordon Ramsay lately. I went from never, ever watching any of his shows to DVR'ing all of the foul-mouthed, obnoxious chef's shows, from Kitchen Nightmares to F Word. Even when he's being his absolute rudest, I can't help but like him. And sometimes giggle. (Really, he's not anyone I'd like in real life, but as a Character, he's the perfect escapist TV).

Anyway, I recently went to the new White Elephant in downtown Augusta--and couldn't help thinking "What would Gordon Ramsay do?" And not because the food's bad. It's interesting. So interesting that you think to yourself, "Is this really going to be good?" And it surprises you that it really is. (Kind of like some of the food GR critiques on his shows).

I had a gabby lunch with a friend the other day and ordered the Thai chicken salad expecting grilled chicken, peanut sauce and greens. Even though I read the words "mango sorbet" with the description. Somehow my brain couldn't compute a Thai salad with a sorbet. But it arrived, greens drizzled with a sweet Asian glaze, delicate little chunks of chicken breaded and deep fried and carefully placed at the four corners of the plate, and the scoop of sorbet gracing the center. "What IS that?" asked my friend. "Umm, sorbet, I think," I said, tasting a bit with the spoon. I'm not used to food that makes you think--this did, and surprisingly, the cold, fruity sorbet, melting into a sauce, melded perfectly with the salad and dressing and chicken.

Sean and I went back for dinner. Knowing my weakness for foie gras, he pointed out the special on the blackboard--foie gras with homemade banana bread and candied pecans. "I didn't think it would be good," admitted Sean. But because my husband is the most indulgent, we ordered it. It came--triangles of toasted banana bread ("my mother's recipe," said the manager, whose brother is head chef) topped with the grilled foie gras, and circled with a sprinkling of candied pecans. Who would ever think of that combination? Sean got the first bite--and was amazed. The bread was chewy and sweet, the foie gras light and salty and the pecans crisp--a perfect combination of contrasting flavors and textures.

The White Elephant was packed that night--and we spied two other local restauranteurs dining there with their families. The restaurant's future seemed a little uncertain when it entered its now third reincarnation--but what would Gordon Ramsay do? Judging from the innovative dishes we had tonight--not much.

Gotta Love Some Freebies

Sean and I contributed to the economic stimulus of downtown Augusta today thanks to the "A Brand New Deal" coupon book. Who can pass up freebies? We went to Art on Broad for a candle, saw everyone going coupon crazy, bought one of the bright yellow coupon books and brightened up the dreary, drizzly afternoon by picking up free art prints, free Cokes, free bars of soap, free plants, candies, shampoo samples and more and buying more soap, candles and an Asian-inspired purse. So now I'm basking in the scent of our rosemary peppermint candle and enjoying the view of our new "Bees Knees" print while sitting on our couch and watching Star Wars. And thinking of my new almost-favorite store, the Quilt Shop on the Corner. I love the feel and look of new fabric on bolts and wish, wish, wish I could sew. They're setting up sewing classes, so looks like I might have a new activity!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Stoveless State

(as seen in the Feb. 12, 2009 issue of Abode)

My friend Tricia and I were busy making plans to meet up to see Mamma Mia! when she asked about dinner. “Well,” I said, talking fast and a little nervously, “I’d love to have you over here, but we don’t have a stove, so I can make us something from the microwave. Or salad.”

Silence. Then curious, “This may be a dumb question, but don’t most people have a stove? “

Our month without a stove started in mid-December when my husband made the big purchase—the new gas stove I’d been wanting. Our old electric (a hand-me-down) was on its last legs anyway, with just two functioning burners, so we felt justified. And I’d be going back to a way of cooking that I’d grown up with.

“You’ll get it within a week,” promised the young man in the blue vest/smock. So we moved full steam ahead—getting a new gas line put in and the old stove put out.

Week One: You CAN cook delicious dinners in the microwave! Or so I told myself as I scrolled the Internet and my cookbooks for something I could recreate sans stove. I hit upon the perfect recipe—a spinach, sausage and potato soup we both loved, and I had the ingredients in the house. Plus, everything could be browned and boiled in the microwave!

My husband heaped on the praise as he filled his bowl for the second time. “It’s just as good as the stovetop recipe!” he assured me. “I know!” I said, as I exultantly updated my Facebook status to reflect my success. “You really can cook from scratch without a stove!”

Week Two: Still no stove, and the holidays were upon us. Which meant shipping delays. “It will definitely be this week,” promised another young man at the home improvement warehouse. “Or Monday.” But the holidays also meant we could partake of dinners at other people’s houses. And didn’t have to bring anything—thanks to our stoveless state—Ha!

Week Three: It was here! Our gorgeous stainless steel beauty with the four working burners—I’d never felt so rich. We turned on the oven to get rid of the new-oven smell—and soon felt sick. An acrid burning stench filled the house. “It’s just the oil from the metal burning off,” sources ranging from friends, the Internet and the oven manual told us. “It will go away.”

Four days later, the smell was still there. Without the oven being on. Back came the guys from the home improvement warehouse. “Looks like some extra insulation here,” murmured one as he pulled off a strip from inside the oven, which was toasted an attractive caramel color. A call to the manufacturer confirmed that that definitely wasn’t normal, so back it went as I baking-sodaed our carpets and applied air fresheners.

Week Four: All our proud successes of Week One were out the window. Our freezer was stocked with Lean Pockets, Jimmy Dean sausage biscuits and waffles. In a fit of creativity, I managed to make Manwich from the microwave. And I was reading cookbooks at night before bed trying to manage my cooking withdrawal symptoms.

Week Five: The new stove—from a completely different manufacturer—arrived. I was cautiously optimistic. We tried the burners. We cooked our first dinner—a traditional Chinese meal seemed appropriate, so it was tomatoes with pork, steamed chicken, green beans (out of a can, so not strictly Chinese, but what I grew up with) and rice. We turned on the oven the next day—and breathed a sigh of relief—no horrid burning smell, not even a new oven smell! And promptly made my special Peppermint Patty brownies in celebration.

The love affair is now in full swing. We bask in the glow from the blue flames and devour the sweet and savory offerings they produce. Living without a stove? I wouldn’t recommend it. But they say absence makes the heart grow fonder. Now I know that's true.