Monday, March 30, 2009

Ride Off Into The Sunset

Sometimes I dream about running away.

Not the running away we all contemplated as a kid, blankie in tow and a plan to hide out in the woods until the street lights came on. I'm talking, pack-the-car-change-my-name-and-get-a-job-baking-pies-on-Main Street running away.

This fantasy involves me hastily packing a bag stuffed with scarves and sundresses and books, the ingredients required by any "mysterious woman" who moves into a sleepy little town called Nowhere, U.S.A.

More realistically, I sometimes dream about hitting the road on a Friday afternoon and driving off to somewhere reasonable for the weekend, like Memphis or St. Louis. My weekend away would involve scouting out local dives and indulging in pints of ice cream while watching cheesy movies on hotel cable. I'd apply face masks, paint my toenails and read vapid magazines chock full of entertainment gossip and fashion tips - all little indulgences to chip away at the stresses that come with work, extra commitments and personal dynamics.

Thankfully I have a few trips to anticipate and keep me going when the going gets rough.

The rubber meets the road in May, when I head back to Nashville with a gal pal for Cookbook University. Granted, not the most exciting of occasions, my friend and I are looking forward to the opportunity to take a break from life and enjoy some scenery far from home.

I recently committed to a vacation in June - this one is to Palm Desert, CA. I've never been to the desert before, and this jaunt involves a girls' week complete with a resort villa that sleeps six. My friend, Sweet, scored an incredible deal on the lodgings and I happen to have an old high school friend in Palm Desert, so signing on for the trip was a no brainer. I am anxious for this opportunity to spend time with friends, relax, swim, go to Joshua Tree and get a massage.

Music City and the desert get followed up by two doses of the Windy City - both girls' trips but for entirely different reasons. In July, my favorite Cincinnati blogger gals and I head to Chicago for BlogHer, a women's blogger conference. This excursion is two fold: learn a little bit more about the trends in blogging and make connections, and spend time with this varied group of amazing women.

I know we're all anxious for the chance to press the pause button on life and nurture our relationships together.

So far, August offers up a break from the traveling, but September follows behind with another trip to Chicago to celebrate a friend's impending nuptials. That weekend trip should also offer up fun moments with good friends.

I'm grateful to have these trips to look forward to - sometimes I think about each adventure, and it helps me face the struggles in my heart, the stresses of my profession and the demands of my schedule.

But I'm still not ruling out the option of running away.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Live Local, Eat Local

It's not easy being green - at least that's what my friend Kermit says.

Jim Henson's muse was talking more about how his was a shade that blended with nature and other ordinary things, thus making it difficult to shine and stand out as an individual. I have a feeling Kermit would argue it isn't that hard being green in the way the more modern connotation implies.

Loving nature's fruits is simple.

A new company is coming to Cincinnati that aims to make it easy for you to enjoy fresh, organic produce and artisan foods from local producers on a weekly basis. Farm Fresh Delivery offers a simple website that allows customers to pick-and-choose what they'd like to include in their weekly order.

Farm Fresh will make its first delivery to Tri-State customers starting April 6, delivering produce and other goods directly to a customer's home or office. Their local delivery area will include Northern Kentucky, Downtown Cincinnati, the East Side, West Side and Tri-County area.

A colleague of mine is a friend of Farm Fresh's founder, and I was really intrigued when he explained the concept to me. I thought some of you all might be interested in it, too.

This forward-minded company doesn't just drop off your favorite Midwest-grown fruits and veggies to your door, Farm Fresh works to ensure other local families are able to put quality food on their tables, too. Farm Fresh started in Indianapolis a year and a half ago, and in that time they've donated seven tons of food to the local food bank. Farm Fresh is working with FreestoreFoodbank to ensure their first delivery of food in Greater Cincinnati can include a one ton delivery of fresh produce to our local foodbank.

Farm Fresh has more than a thousand weekly customers in Indy, a base that was established mostly through word-of-mouth. These customers must appreciate that Farm Fresh doesn't charge a membership fee or require a long term commitment.

I look forward to giving it a try and enjoying all of nature's bounty - whether it be green, red, gold or any other color.


I am often reminded of life's fleeting, fragile circumstances.

Humanity is a collection of oddly fitting puzzle pieces, and sometimes I wonder where my place is and why I'm a part of the grand scheme. Thankfully, these trains of thought subside when I get in an opportunity to people watch.

One of my favorite hobbies, Cincinnati's Findlay Market is perhaps the city's best intersection to watch and develop your own commentary on human existence.

Admittedly, Findlay is not the most polished market I've visited, nor the most extensive. The European markets I've explored are centuries-old traditions that have developed quite a following over the years. London's Portobello Road market stretches for miles, the first portion with vendors hawking everything from antique bone china to old prints and even older, obsolete industrial tools. Further along, bargain hunters inspect produce and patent leather platform shoes. I picked up a great collection of Indian spices at this market a year and a half ago and am rationing them like sugar during the Civil War.

Findlay is more similar to a quaint market I stumbled upon on a rainy, drizzly day in Amsterdam. Less refined and more all purpose, here the stalls featured slabs of pork along side bottles of discount shampoo. Shoppers perused through racks and racks of inexpensive scarves, cheap, imported t-shirts and barrels of nuts and candies. This market was more of a day-to-day kind of place where locals came to buy their everyday goods, not trinkets and touristy souvenirs.

Findlay Market has the potential to be that kind of place for so many Cincinnatians.

Lots of people bemoan the downtown district's shopping offerings, saying there's no place for anyone to make a quick stop to buy groceries before heading home from the office. On the flip side, many of my downtown dwelling friends say they rely on Findlay Market as their primary source when stocking the refrigerator and pantry.

For me, Findlay Market is an opportunity to score some affordable produce and soak up society.

On any given Saturday morning, Findlay Market turns into a melange of suburbanites, hipsters and urbanites, families, singletons and couples entertaining an unusual setting for a date. You'll see North Face and Carhartt, dreadlocks and denim, vintage Ts and daisy dukes, depending on the weather.

At one end of the market, an older blues musician sat on a chair, guitar in hand and a harmonica in his neck brace. His tunes were family-friendly, little bluesy versions of You Are My Sunshine and Puff the Magic Dragon. A little girl of about six with a head of long, blonde ringlets asked him to "stop singing kid songs" because she wanted to hear some grown-up music. He riffed on a Bo Diddley-type tune and she returned the favor by singing an Irish song.

In the middle of the open air portion of the market, a dreadlocked gentleman sat on a bucket while beating some drum sticks on another bucket. He dished out a rhythm that was especially enjoyed by the youngest fans, several of whom delighted in dropping dollars in a hat on the cement.

Aside from the obvious offerings of produce and meat, the market also includes several local artisans showing off their carefully crafted pottery, oils and soaps. My hands soaked up a delicious citrus thyme hand lotion, a scent as fragrant as some of the flowers and fruit several stalls away.

Findlay Market also serves up some of the more commercial items you'd expect at an open air market - things like knockoff handbags, funky jewelry and tacky t-shirts. My friend quipped that she had found her stolen cellphone charger among a rack of dozens of cheaply made, after market versions hanging from a pole in a stall.

For all the knockoffs and artisan soap bars, the real deal at Findlay Market is the produce. Shoppers peruse the many vendors for the best deals, and while you may save 50 cents by buying strawberries from one place and your corn another, the prices don't really vary dramatically from stall to stall.

My friends scored a flat of strawberries - eight one-pound clam shells - for five bucks. I picked up a $1 eggplant, the going rate at every stall at the market (though some places had eggplants as big as a container of parmesan cheese, mine was almost as large as a 2-liter soda bottle). Shoppers scooped up organic eggs, bread, floral bouquets (the selection wasn't as great yesterday - I imagine the showstopper bouquets will be available in a matter of weeks).

Inside the market, my eyes and tastebuds were tempted by $9-a-pound filet and the huge lobster tank with creepy crawly creatures dying for a steam bath.

Armed with a bag full of grapes, strawberries, potatoes and eggplant, I was charged with a desire to race home and spend the day cooking - if only the day had allowed the indulgence.

I intend on making my excursion to Findlay Market a weekly occurance, not only because its goods can nourish my body, but because its people can nourish my soul.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Bluegrass Buzz

The buzzards are flying over Memorial Coliseum on Euclid Ave.

Word on the streets, er, internet is that the University of Kentucky has canned Billy Gillispie, head coach of the men's basketball program.

This, after UK failed to make an appearance in the NCAA tournament. It's been a sad March Madness - this is the time of year when I roll out all of my fun UK t-shirts and other Big Blue paraphernalia.

The school's appearance in the NIT was pathetic (which is already a huge heap of salt in the wounds), and the whole fiasco has made me long for the good ol' days.

The days when Kentucky won championships.

I'll admit - I was spoiled rotten. There's a select group of people who can say they attended UK when it won both the '96 and '98 championships, and I am proud to be one of them. Kentucky fans are hard to please, as Tubby Smith can attest, but I am not alone in my disappointment since Billy Clyde took over the reins.

UK is hosting a press conference in about an hour to reveal the 4-1-1. You can catch it here at 4:30 p.m. eastern. WKYT is reporting Gillispie wants to hold his own press conference to explain his side of the story on Saturday at 11 a.m.

And of course the Twitterati are abuzz, saying Billy Donovan FINALLY wants to come back to Kentucky, this time as head coach.

As much as I'd love that option (or even my fantasy of Pat Reilly riding out his golden years), I'll take any coach who can get us back to the Big Dance with regular appearances in the Great Eight and beyond.

That's not too much to ask - is it?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

'S Wonderful

Frank Sinatra and I have a relatively young relationship.

His wasn't really the kind of music that wafted through the house when I was a kid. We were more likely to hear some Beatles, Percy Sledge or Temptations tunes. Fact is, I probably heard Ol' Blue Eyes in snippets when I was at my grandparents' house in Youngstown, but it really didn't make much of an impression on me.

The first time I have a crystal clear memory of Sinatra involves an old movie starring Holly Hunter and Richard Dreyfuss. The story centers on a May-December romance between a 3o-something woman who's desperate to make something of her life and a much older sales ace. Their relationship is spurred by the sharing of a common favorite song - Fly Me to the Moon. 18 years ago it was a vague reference - I knew that Sinatra was a significant musician, but I really knew nothing about his breadth and depth.

Who knew that all these years later I'd be such good friends with a girl who adores that song?

GOP Big Wig, one of my eternally best friends ever, grew up with Sinatra and other Big Band music. I've seen her sing Sinatra at karaoke and dance to it at her wedding reception (aside: the Verdin Bell Event Center in Over-the-Rhine is a spectacular location for a Cincinnati wedding reception). GOP made me realize that I'd been missing out on a good thing all those years.

These days, Sinatra elicits a Pavlovian reaction that makes me want to gracefully shuffle my feet while embracing arms with a man I love. I grow giddy at the pitter patter of the snare drum, the horns and The Chairman's crystal crooning over lyrics of love and innocence.

Sinatra reminds me of a time when people greeted each other with courtesy, when people were content with life's little pleasures like stardust and warm summer wind.

My deep appreciation for the 1930s and 40s is a plus, especially considering I only became acquainted with Frank when I was 14.

I've been trying to make up time ever since.

The Cincinnati Ballet is offering a great opportunity this weekend to get in touch with your inner Rat Pack self. I know, I know. You're probably saying, "But I thought the ballet only did Tchaikovsky and starchy tutus," and if you said that out loud in my presence I'd probably knock you upside the head like the kid in the V8 commercial.

Ballet is ANYTHING but starch tutus and classical music.

Sure, that's a facet of the artform, but if you haven't checked out a performance lately, you might be surprised to know it's a lot more than what you see when you take Mom to The Nutcracker every Christmas.

This weekend the Cincinnati Ballet is offering Sinatra Suite & More, which includes four ballet pieces by one of my favorite choreographers, Twyla Tharp, whose movements are typically a bit more whimsical and delightful in nature.

The shows also include some Balanchine, historical Baroque dance and a bit of new contemporary choreography by none other than the Cincinnati Ballet's own Devon Carney.

I happened to stop by the Ballet's Central Parkway studios last week and got a half hour sneak peek of Carney's piece - I was really impressed by the dancers' sheer athleticism and discipline.

If a night at the ballet and some Sinatra tunes have the power to make me feel like I can dance like the Company, then those tickets are worth every poker chip at the Sands.

*** *** ***

Check out Cincinnati Ballet's Sinatra Suite & More at the Aronoff Center this Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

If you're a Cincinnati YPer attending the Bold Fusion conference Thursday, be on the lookout for a coupon that will give you $10 off toward your ticket purchase!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Roller Girl

I hate moving fast.

As a little girl, I was always hesitant to lose control in the ring of the roller skating rink. The fear of knocking out my teeth challenged any interest I might have had in feeling a racing heart rate and the wind in my hair.

It didn't matter whether it was a birthday party or Girl Scout skating event. I'd lace up those brown leather boots with the day glo orange wheels and rubber stopper then grip the walls and railings, desperate to make my way around without falling flat on my ass.

Sometimes I did, anyway.

Fighting back the tears and bemoaning a pained bum, my ego would bruise as I realized that everyone saw me lose my footing and confidence.

I'd paw my way back to an upward stance and push my skated feet out, timidly getting control of my footing. My wheels and I would set out for another circle of the rink while a Tiffany or Debbie Gibson torch song blared on the P.A., striving to conceal my 3rd Grade mea culpa with false confidence.

For all the embarrassment, I managed to survive.

I was reminded of my days in those popcorn-scented, disco-balled roller rinks this weekend while taking in the Cincinnati Rollergirls at the Cincinnati Gardens Saturday night. We were grateful to get seats on the floor thanks to ace Rollergirl and local Twitterati MissPrint95.

My Twitter friend's petite stature contradicted my initial expectations for the Rollergirls. I thought the team would include a roster chock full of brutish, imposing women with a need for speed. I had no idea the team was made up of so many slender, pint-sized gals; as it turns out this is quite the blessing for teammates striving to cruise through a pack of fish netted opponents.

The Knoxville team comprised of women with colorful nicknames and just as flashy bloomers, skirts and garter belts, all of them whirling around the shellacked floor on roller skates with wheels in every color of the rainbow.

Every Rollergirl sailed around with nary a worry for her teeth, her ass and her ego - instead committed to playing as a team. Sometimes someones feet would get twisted up with another, and a Rollergirl would be on her bum, back or knees. But every athlete would hop up, shake off the pain and sail off in the direction of the pack.

A few of the Knoxville Rollergirls were injured pretty badly and had to be hauled out of the arena on stretchers. Broken bones or stitches, I'm not certain of the extent of their injuries, but I know they'll survive and probably even lace up their skates in the weeks or months ahead.

Falling on your ass doesn't kill you, even though there may be days when you wish it would.

Thankfully it's a pain that's survived and even followed by much success -if you work hard and are committed to catching up with the pack.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

We Found A Pulse

Hello gentle reader.

I am still alive. Life has dished up a roller coaster of craziness in the past few days - good, bad, ugly and every shade in between.

The crystal ball tells me I'll have a good dose of time to get in some posting this weekend, so if you can bare with me a little longer, it might be worth the payoff.

Until then, talk amongst yourselves about the meaning of the latest Britney Spears song to hit the airwaves in Cincinnati (although, considering this is a town that protests anything that blushes of provocation, you likely won't hear the real words on your transistor).

Much love,

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Reliving A Blessing

A person can usually reflect back on the days of their life and recall the top five most significant moments they've lived.

In my approximate 11,750 days of life, I can honestly say one of those experiences spanned the weekend of March 15, 2008.

That was the second and last time I got to see my precious, miraculous niece, Maeve.

I was blessed with an opportunity to take a weekend excursion to Atlanta that weekend to dote on my chubby, five-month-old niece and catch up with my sister and brother-in-law.

No one had any idea that weekend would be Maeve's last healthy weekend of her life - it is a coincidence and significance that is not lost on me.

Since that weekend, we've weathered other truly horrible milestones - Maeve's two months of hospitalization and a laundry list of heart procedures, the crushing day when we lost her. The equally anguished moment we had to say our final goodbye.

Our family has traveled a journey - our hearts healing while longing for one whose heart was flawed from her first breath.

I've had sleepless moments and crying jags that burned my lungs and left my sheets stained with mascara. I've prayed a thousand whispered prayers for those lives departed for more peaceful circumstances, and those seeking peace in every moment they're here on earth.

I've asked why. I've sworn like a sailor. I've leaned on my friends.

While the loss and grief have taxed my heart and soul the most, it's that last weekend with Maeve that I revel in.

This weekend I'm approaching the anniversary of the last time I saw Maeve - the first of many, painful anniversaries in the months ahead. Thankfully I'm grateful I'll be spending this weekend with my family and a few spectacularly wonderful friends.

Brigid and Steve have started the Maeve Fintak Foundation in honor of the daughter they love so much. The foundation is just in its inception, but already we are kicking things off the right way - with a golf tournament in South Carolina.

Brigid and Steve got to know each other while working at the same dive bar while in college - Clemson's Tiger Town Tavern. All these years later, TTT has generously stepped up to sponsor the Maeve Fintak Charity Golf Tournament on March 14 at Boscobel Country Club in nearby Pendleton, SC.

We're expecting a stellar crowd of friends and family traveling from near and far for the occasion. My best gal pal, Bluegrass Brit and I are making the journey from Cincinnati to volunteer our services as beer-and-shot girls who will roam the course in a cart offering beverages and cigars in exchange for donations to the charity.

We are the perfect girls to take on such a worthy duty.

I am so proud of Brigid and Steve for organizing this event. They have come so far in the past 10 months; I know their souls have grappled with despair and excruciating pain - I am proud they have sought out opportunities and people that have helped them cope with their grief.

I am grateful the miracle of a new life has helped them find hope and optimism amidst their heartbreak.

And I am thankful for this weekend's opportunity to meet with Brigid and Steve and reminisce about the many special moments of that last weekend with Maeve.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Hey, Lay-dee...

Dear Lady-in-the-picture-on-the-bank-website,

Hi there. You don't know me. I just see you when I choose to log in and examine my paltry checking account balance and determine whether I have enough cash to justify picking up my clothes out of hock from the dry cleaner's.

Ours is a friendship based on polite acknowledgement and wordless greetings. We smile, we nod, and we go on our merry way.

Which brings me to my point.

You look a little *too* merry.

Okay, I think it's great that you're on the bank website. Right now you're taking a picture of yourself with a digital camera, but I'm almost positive I've seen other pictures of you (or maybe your friends) smelling buttercups and petting kittens. Maybe licking a spoon after making a mix of brownies, or kissing your boyfriend (husband?) in a hot air balloon.

I get it.

Your life is great.

And how can it not be - what with all those residuals you must be getting from the bank for your cheery appearance on

The thing is - the rest of us are struggling a little bit more, and aren't really in the mood to pose for a picture with Pollyanna.

We log in to the bank and discover we've just been raped by overdraft fees. Or maybe we visit the site after receiving a letter from the bank saying our home is in foreclosure. Maybe we log in to the bank site to check the status of that car loan we applied for, only to discover a pop-up box with a sound effect of cruel, haunting laughter.

They're all gonna laugh at you, indeed.

So, Lady-in-the-picture-on-the-bank-website, if you sense a general disconnect and bitterness coming from my side of the screen next time we pass, please don't take it personally. Just know some of us aren't reveling in raindrops on roses and whiskers in kittens.

Hell, we don't even have enough jingle to feed the damn cat.

Give Me Back That Filet-o-Fish

I don't make it a habit of showing commercials on my blog.

I mean, I don't make any money off this literary playground - it's just an indulgence for me, and sometimes that indulgence means showing you something that really trips my trigger.

Like this Lenten season McDonald's commercial.

The tune is stuck in my head - and I guess that's exactly what they want as I observe what vestiges of Catholicism I still hold near and dear.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Look Closely

Ever the fan of funny typos in the newspaper and silly errors on television - I had to share this screen shot from a Georgia television station.

I don't know what the story was about - other than it involved Krispy Kreme's wheat doughnut.

Apparently whomever snagged that KK logo from Google didn't look closely at the fine print.

That fine print will always burn you.

Hat tip to Freeman for the heads up on the picture (oooh, maybe that was a bad choice of words).

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Creamy Goodness

Cooking dinner kinda sucks.

As much as I love throwing on my apron and doing time at the cutting board with my knives and other accoutrements, I really loathe going through the paces to cook a meal for myself. Honestly, part of the joy of cooking is the pleasure of preparing food for someone else.

All this means we eat a lot of frozen food near Oakley Square.

Lately I decided to trim some corners around this joint, and part of that paring down means, gasp, actually cooking.

Like, with a stove and pots and pans and stuff.

The menu has featured risotto two night in a row - a perfect, easy dish for a cold night in.

The hardest thing about risotto is the time commitment. The dish will chain you to your stove and requires a sturdy wrist, but other than that, it's pretty damn easy. The other wonderful thing about risotto is that you can put just about anything but the kitchen sink in it. You can whip up savory or sweet or whatever your taste buds long for.

Here are the basic ingredient needs:

1 T olive oil
1 T butter
1/4 cup risotto
3 cups broth - chicken, vegetable or beef (depending on your complimentary ingredients)
salt and pepper to taste

Drizzle the olive oil in a pan. Let it heat up and swirl around in the pan until its completely covered. The olive oil has a hotter smoke point, and allowing it to heat up first will protect the butter from burning. Place the butter in the pan and let it melt.

Once the butter has melted, I like to put the risotto in the pan and let the grains heat up for a few minutes before I pour in the broth. This step gives the risotto a nice, toasted flavor that really enhances the dish.

I would toast the risotto for three minutes or so, then pour one of the three cups of broth in the pan.

This is where you will begin your love affair with stirring.

Stir the risotto. Stir, and stir and stir that stuff until it appears all of the grains have absorbed the broth. This step is over when it looks like there's very little free standing liquid in the pan.

Now you get to add cup number two.

Again with the stirring. Stir the risotto until it's absorbed this second cup of goodness.

And here comes the hat trick. Cup number three, and yes, you guessed it - more stirring.

I haven't timed this whole process, but by my estimation at least half an hour will pass (maybe 40 minutes) before you're done with the broth and stirring.

After all the stirring, the risotto is ready for your enjoyment.

This recipe offers you the basics of preparing risotto - you are more than welcome to add your own flavors to spice things up. Two nights ago I did a carmelized onion and crimini mushroom risotto. I chose to carmelize the onions before adding the risotto to the pan for the toasting stage. I also added the mushrooms at the point when I poured the third cup of broth in the pan - I didn't want the mushrooms to get too tough.

Likewise with last night's dinner. I cooked the onions first until they were clear, then added the risotto for toasting, along with a minced clove of garlic. I added a can of minced clams (and all of the clam juice) when I poured in the third cup of broth.

I'd like to try a sweet risotto soon - I'm thinking brown sugar, bourbon and currants.

This is a fail-safe dish - as long as you can hack the stirring.