Monday, May 28, 2007

The Glory (????) of Florence

Remember Robertson Davies' plan to rival the world's greatest pianists with his own unique approach to technique? Well, along a similar vein, a while ago I became aware of Florence Foster Jenkins. This evening I've been re-visiting some online recordings of her vocal prowess, and FavoriteBoy and I have had some good laughs. You can listen to her infamous Queen of the Night here. And if you can stomach the strange birds flashing across the screen, you might also enjoy hearing her rendition of The Laughing Song.

The Wikipedia article on Jenkins pretty much sums up the situation with the first sentence: Florence Foster Jenkins was an American soprano who became famous for her complete lack of rhythm, pitch, tone, and overall singing ability. The whole article is quite funny; I think my favorite sentence may be this one: After a taxicab crash in 1943 she found she could sing "a higher F than ever before." Doesn't that quote just explain a lot?

As you can tell from the article and the recording, Florence Foster Jenkins has an absolutely wretched voice. And yet this woman made quite a career for herself - due in part to money she inherited from relatives and in part to the amusement she no doubt provided to her audiences. (I mean, really, I'd pay money to see a woman in an angel costume singing completely horribly! And FavoriteBoy says he would, too.)

A number of her records are now collector's items, including one with a witty and apt title: The Glory (????) of the Human Voice. And if you just can't get enough of her glorious voice, there's a record called Murder on the High C's, too.

Now I'm wondering if I can turn my career in this direction somehow. After all, the world is full of middling-to-good violinists. But I wonder if I could become incredibly bad and make it a profitable venture? Not a bad idea, eh?

(Jack Benny, anyone?)

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Welcome to the Family, Jenn

Yesterday my Dad and I decided to have a little "anonymous" fun leaving comments on the blog of my soon-to-be sister-in-law, Jenn. Check out the silliness here.

At least she knows what she's marrying into!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Red Letter Days and Houseguests

Today was a red letter day. Today Isabel became my first student ever to have no trouble whatsoever with the introduction of the 3/4 time signature. She didn't add a single imaginary fourth beat of rest anywhere, not even once. She was already among my favorites, and this may have sealed the deal.

Another red letter day occurred recently, when FavoriteBoy willingly (with only a bit of persuasion) sat down and wrote a thank you note.

So as you can see, lots of exciting things happening here in Beverly, MA.

Also, Kate was here for five days and nights, and then Cara was here for one night, and then Holly was here for three nights. Whew. During Kate's stay here we were quite busy with graduation activities, but during Holly's stay I had time to do lots of cooking. Among other things, I made pizza (pepperoni, peppers and onions, and Hawaiian) with the pizza stone my parents gave Nathan for graduation and ice cream (sweet cream with Heath bar chunks) with the ice cream maker Nathan's parents gave him for graduation. The vodka cream pasta I made once before also made another appearance on the dinner table, along with an appetizer of bruschetta (which turned out to be simply delicious). Holly and I also made "Oreos" a la Smitten Kitchen, which, while not entirely Oreo-ish, were still good. (Although I must admit that I bake sweets largely for the joy of watching other people eat them, since I'm not much of a sweet-tooth myself.)

And finally, tonight marked my maiden voyage into the fine art of making buffalo wings. Except instead of wings, I used chicken breasts. I tenderized them and sliced them into strips and coated them in a flour mixture and sprayed them lightly with cooking spray so they'd crisp up. I baked them in a glass pan, then brushed them with the buffalo sauce I made. Finally I broiled them briefly to make them extra crispy. The result was extremely spicy and overall quite satisfactory. (And much healthier than a deep-fried restaurant-style alternative.)

So I can now say I have made homeade pizza and homeade buffalo chicken and homeade ice cream, which I think makes me a proper and altogether suitable wife for FavoriteBoy. He'll never have to go hungry.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Assortment

Nathan is graduated.

I am an introvert.

I am congested.

I can't sleep.

I am listening to a recording of myself, Cara, Melissa, and Sam playing Mendelssohn's quartet op. 13 around this time last year.

I am missing studying the violin.

I am wondering where to go next in life.

I still miss my teacher.

(Even though I know I need to move on.)

(I also know I need to try sleeping again.)

Nooooo!

Yesterday morning my throat hurt a little. I took airborne every few hours all day, because you see, yesterday was FavoriteBoy's baccalaureate service, and today is his commencement! By last night my throat hurt more than just a little. I went to baccalaureate and found myself snoozing through the service. And this morning, I feel even worse.

So naturally, the first thing I did when I got up this morning is something I learned from my Grandma: I gargled with salt water. She'll be so proud.

Let's hope it helps! I'm off to get ready for commencement.

It's strange to think that just last year it was me in the cap and gown. In a way it feels like it's been so much less than a year, but at the same time, it feels like forever ago.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Two Special Deliveries

Special Delivery #1:

Yay, Katie is here! All the way from Germany! A happy graduation surprise for Nate. And we actually succeeded in keeping it a secret from him! And I am using a lot of exclamation marks!

I picked her up at the airport Tuesday night and delivered her to the appointed meeting place where the guys had taken Nate to hang out. I attempted to catch the moment on film... this is the best I got:



She's staying at our apartment, which brings us to...

Special Delivery #2:

Her nice parents sent us this beautiful and delicious edible arrangement as a gift:



I've seen the stores and the advertisements before, but I had never had my own edible arrangement. It's quite tasty; lots of fresh fruit with chocolate covered strawberries and apple wedges tucked in there, too. Yum!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Stars and Stripes and Mr. President

President Bush made an impromptu conducting debut with the Virginia Symphony this past weekend. You can read about it here. He received good reviews from the musicians and from the conductor, who said, "He was cueing the brass, he was cueing the percussion, he kept the tempo going."

"My Mom is Nice. I Like Her."

A former professor of mine has some great thoughts for Mother's Day over at Scriptorum Daily. His post is definitely worth reading; it's both interesting and amusing.

(And I bet it'll make my parents feel better to know that Palmer kids weren't the only kids who thought the highlight of a trip to see the Grand Canyon was getting to eat at restaurants several days in a row.)

Mother-Daughter Picture

The day before Mom's brain aneurysm burst, she emailed me a picture. It's a pretty special picture and I like to look at it a lot.

The night after I got her email - the night of the disaster - was a scary one. I was waiting up all night for news while making flight plans and crying and praying with FavoriteBoy and Melissa. I think I looked at this picture about a hundred times that night.

Here's what Mom's email said:

Hi Ziz,

I ran across this photo tonight. This was just a few days before Jonathan was born. He was in a breech position and they had me lying tilted upside down to give him room to turn. You were so worried. You covered me up with your blanket and then just stood there, thumb in mouth. We talked, I sang (yup, while having a serious blood rush to my head!), I told stories, I read to you. Each time, you never left until I got up. So you were the only one there when Jonathan decided to turn a somersault!

Fun memories!

Call and let us know how Nathan's performance went!

Love you,
Mom

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mother's Day

There's nothing like almost losing your Mom to make you really appreciate having one.

Let me tell you just a little about my Mom.

Mom built a beautiful, comfortable home for us, and all on a budget so Dad could follow his dreams and start his own business.

Mom prepared home-cooked meals for us - healthy ones - and we all sat down to dinner together as a family almost every night.

I remember waking up in the mornings and already hearing Mom downstairs in the kitchen, making pancakes or biscuits or muffins to start the day off right for all of us.

Mom was my teacher, homeschooling me from kindergarten through 12th grade. She often stayed up long into the night, writing lesson plans and brushing up on physics and trigonometry.

She was a night watchman, waking up if she heard one of us so much as sneeze. If we needed her, she'd be there in a minute. Like when I'd get the stomach flu in bed as a kid... before I could even call for Mom, she'd be there, changing the sheets and making everything better. And she could always tell each of us kids by our footsteps on the floors at night.

Sometimes she'd hum or sing in the kitchen, especially around Christmastime. Mom has always said she hopes she'll have a voice like Julie Andrews in heaven, but to little me, Mom's was nicer. I remember standing beside Mom and Dad in church as a kid, looking up as they sang the hymns, and thinking, "My parents have the most beautiful voices in the world."

Christmases and birthdays brought the kinds of gifts you want to keep forever, like the doll clothes Mom sewed for all my dolls: Christa, Betsy, Kirsten, and Amy. Mom nurtured my imagination through those doll clothes.

Mom taught me to iron, sort of (I still can't do shirt sleeves well), how to scrub stains, how to crotchet and sew a little, and how to cook and bake. She also taught me to clean a house without a single chemical cleaner to help keep Dad feeling healthy. And she taught me empathy for Dad's allergies with one disappointed look when I used nail polish in the house.

I also learned hard work in the great outdoors, pruning and weed whacking and planting - and even hauling around huge sections of fallen trees one summer.

We all learned to budget by dropping hard-earned coins into plastic butter tubs with the words 'Spend,' 'Save,' 'God,' and 'Share,' written on them. Sharing was in addition to tithing - we put those pennies toward our sponsored child. We learned to appreciate all that we had, and to share that abundance with others.

Mom fought off our nightmares with happy stories and pleasant imaginings to replace the bad dreams.

Mom taught me to play the piano when I was six or seven. She patiently helped me plunk my way through John Thompson, Book 1. By high school she was faithfully and enthusiastically attending my recitals and concerts.

Mom laughed a lot, and she sure knew how to make us laugh too. Silliness was always appreciated in our home, and we all learned to have a sense of humor. We learned to laugh at ourselves, but to stick up for each other.

We read a lot as a family, and often Mom read aloud until she began nodding off and Dad had to take over. Mom read us through the Little House books, the Narnia books, the Swallows and Amazons books, and many more.

Mom was a dutiful (and over-worked) chauffeur for all of us. She made sure we got to participate in soccer, mountain biking, violin lessons, piano lessons, youth symphonies, and play dates.

Mom taught us to love Jesus and to serve God. We memorized verses together as a family, we went to church together each week, and as we got older, we all talked about theology around the dinner table from time to time.

Until recently, I could count on one hand the number of times I saw my Mom cry. One of those times was when she left me at college as a freshman and we said goodbye.

Until last November, when Mom had a brain aneurysm, I think we all kind of thought Mom was invincible. Knowing a little about my Mom now, is it any surprise that we felt that way?


Well, Happy Mother's Day, Mom. Thanks for everything. You're truly the best. Thanks for helping me transform from a shy, insecure kid into an adult who sometimes almost feels confident in herself. I'm glad you pushed me out of the nest, after all. I'm finding that I'm more prepared for life than I ever thought I'd be - thanks to you and Dad.

I'm really thankful that I have a Mom.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Zoo on Cabot St.

Ever since the weather began getting warmer we've had a dreadful and constant invasion of ants. We have a dozen ant traps set up all over the apartment, yet we still find them crawling the counters and cabinets!

This morning as I was making biscuits, I reached for the box of salt. It tipped toward me and - whoops! - I spilled a pile of salt on the kitchen floor. FavoriteBoy ran for the vacuum, but not before quipping, "Great! If the ants weren't enough, now we'll have deer in here, too!"

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Cheating on Bach

Jeremy Denk has an inspired new post up that's worth a read - a humorous take on the relationship between performer and composer, if you will.

Southwestern Egg Rolls

Since I mentioned Southwestern Egg Rolls yesterday, I thought I'd post the recipe in case the idea appeals to any of my readers. They are really tasty! Once you make the filling, it's a snap to make up the rolls themselves - and you can freeze some of the filling for later if you want to. This is a recipe I adapted from allrecipes.com. In my version below, I use less cheese because I don't like them super-cheesy, I use less oil, I double most ingredients to make more filling and save some for later, and I bake them rather than deep-frying them in oil.

Southwestern Egg Rolls

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 cup minced green onion
1/4 cup minced red bell pepper
2/3 cup frozen corn kernels
1/2 cup black beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
3 tablespoons diced jalapeno peppers
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pinch ground cayenne pepper
3/4 cup shredded cheese (I usually use a Mexican blend of pre-shredded cheese)
flour tortillas

Rub 1 tablespoon vegetable oil over chicken breasts. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, cook chicken approximately 5 minutes per side, until meat is no longer pink and juices run clear. Remove from heat and set aside. (Alternatively, you can choose to boil the chicken, or even just use any leftover cooked chicken you have on hand.)

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in green onion and red pepper. Cook and stir 5 minutes, until tender.

Dice (or shred) chicken and mix into the pan with onion and red pepper. Mix in corn, black beans, spinach, jalapeno peppers, parsley, cumin, chili powder, salt, and cayenne pepper. Cook and stir 5 minutes, until well-blended and tender. Remove from heat and stir in cheese so that it melts.

Wrap tortillas with a clean, lightly moist cloth. Microwave until hot and pliable. Spoon even amounts of the mixture into each tortilla. Fold ends of tortillas, then roll tightly around mixture. Arrange in a medium dish or pan, seam down. Bake at 350 degrees until the tortillas are lightly browned and crisp. Slice each roll in half with a decorative diagonal cut, and serve with sour cream, salsa, or guacamole.


VoilĂ  - they're almost exactly like the tasty ones you find at restaurants! But much healthier, since they aren't fried - and in my opinion they taste better baked anyway.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Late-Night Conversation

SarahMarie: No one comments on my blog.
SarahMarie: I might as well be dead.
Melissa: At least you're not dramatic.


I think it's time for me to stop writing boring blog posts and go to bed.

Especially since FavoriteBoy is finally done with his church music projects!

Fiddle and Whisk

Last week I went to Longy to observe a teacher I thought I might be interested in studying with at some point in the future - for a Master's degree, perhaps. After observing a lesson, I wasn't quite sure she would be a good match for me, but anyway, that's not the point.

Last night I dreamed about this teacher. She was at the home I grew up in. My brother Jonathan was there. We were standing around the family room table. She was playing the violin... with a wire whisk instead of a bow.

It sounded good, which is weird.

Naturally, I've spent a great deal of time analyzing the dream, and the meaning of it has become clear:

I don't need to set up a dichotomy and make a big choice between a domestic life as homemaker and wife and a career life as violinist.

I can just play my violin with a whisk.

Spicy!

Anytime I see a promisingly spicy recipe that I'm fairly certain I can make even more spicy with the addition of certain favorite ingredients of mine (including but not limited to jalapenos, cayenne pepper, and cumin), I just can't help myself. I have to make it. And I have to make it extra-spicy. I regularly cook enchiladas, tacos, burritos, southwestern egg rolls (YUM!), and many other fantastic spicy foods. Last night I used up a chorizo sausage (left-over from the two-pack I bought when I made empanadas) by dicing it and mixing it with ground beef, taco seasoning, and a bit of water and flour. It made delicious taco meat! I enjoyed my two tacos with lettuce, tomato, salsa, and guacomole, and FavoriteBoy enjoyed his four tacos with meat, more meat, cheese, and more cheese. One meal, two happy diners. Amazing.

Here's a common scenario whenever I serve anything spicy: I ask FavoriteBoy, "Is this too spicy?" FavoriteBoy, eyes watering as he lunges for a glass of water, replies, "Don't insult me! I'm a man! That's like asking a man, 'Is this engine too powerful for you?' or 'Do you have too many tools?' I love spicy! This is great!"

So Mexican-style dishes work well around here because SarahMarie likes spicy things and FavoriteBoy likes spicy things. And as I've mentioned before, FavoriteBoy is a bit of a picky eater. And by 'a bit of a picky eater,' what I mean is that the world has never seen nor will ever see again as picky an eater as he.

Fauxharmonic Orchestra

Here's an interesting article my Dad brought to my attention.

"Doing Beethoven's symphonies is how you prove your mettle," he says. But Mr. Smith's proof comes with the help of a computerized baton. He will use it to lead an "orchestra" with no musicians -- the product of a computer program designed by a former Vienna Philharmonic cellist and comprised of over a million recorded notes played by top musicians.

Make sure you take the little test - see if you can tell the faux recording apart from the three real ones under the batons of Roger Norrington, David Zinman, and Fritz Reiner. My Dad guessed correctly on his second try, and I'm rather ashamed as an orchestral musician - who has played Beethoven's 7th, no less - to admit that I did no better! How embarassing!

Sentimental Sarah Marie

Yesterday's mail brought a very special envelope containing my brother's wedding invitation!

I opened it, gazed at it... and got all choked up.

Apparently my mother's brain aneurysm has affected more than just her own emotional thermometer, because - aside from rare occasions - this is not the sort of thing that a self-respecting Palmer female does!

Aww... Jonathan and Jenn are really getting married! I'm just so happy!

And sentimental, apparently.

Sniff.

Jelly Beans!

Next Easter you need to go purchase a bag (or two, or three...) of Sweet Tarts Jelly Beans. Just look at this bowl full of yummy. Don't you want some? Ours are all long gone, and I'm consoling myself by looking at this tasty picture.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Vodka Cream Pasta

I guess you could say I have a love-hate relationship with Rachael Ray. Her personality is irritating, her voice is annoying, and her catch-phrases (such as 'EVOO') are absurd. However, when I used to babysit on Friday mornings, Rachael was always on just when Maggie went down for a nap. And while Rachael is irritating to be sure, she also taught me that you can cook sausages in water and olive oil; the water boils away as the sausage cooks and towards the end of the cooking time, the olive oil crisps up the outside casing. Tasty!

Last night I tried a Rachael Ray recipe which turned out so delicious I just can't recommend it heartily enough. You've got to try her vodka cream pasta! One addition I made: I added spicy chicken Italian sausage to the sauce. I removed the sausage from the casing and crumbled it and browned it in the pan before I added the garlic and shallots. I also put the crushed tomatoes in the blender for a minute because FavoriteBoy doesn't like chunky tomato sauce. Other than that I followed the recipe exactly. It turned out simply delicious and I'll definitely make it again some time. The recipe yields at least enough for five or six people, so if you're cooking for just two like I am you can freeze some of the sauce for later before adding the basil. (And in that case, cook less pasta than the recipe calls for, obviously.)

Rachael Ray's Vodka Cream Pasta

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, minced
1 cup vodka
1 cup chicken stock
1 can crushed tomatoes (32 ounces)
Coarse salt and pepper
16 ounces pasta, such as penne rigate
1/2 cup heavy cream
20 leaves fresh basil, shredded or torn

Heat a large skillet over moderate heat. Add oil, butter, garlic, and shallots. Gently saute shallots for 3 to 5 minutes to develop their sweetness. Add vodka to the pan, 3 turns around the pan in a steady stream will equal about 1 cup. Reduce vodka by half, this will take 2 or 3 minutes. Add chicken stock, tomatoes. Bring sauce to a bubble and reduce heat to simmer. Season with salt and pepper.

While sauce simmers, cook pasta in salted boiling water until cooked to al dente (with a bite to it). While pasta cooks, prepare your salad or other side dishes.

Stir cream into sauce. When sauce returns to a bubble, remove it from heat. Drain pasta. Toss hot pasta with sauce and basil leaves.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Empanadas!

This past week has been a very good week for Sarah Marie in the kitchen. The previous week held three orchestra rehearsals and a concert along with a lot of unnecessary drama, but this week was a happy, food-filled recovery from the craziness.

On Monday I made fresh pesto...mmm! We had it over linguini for dinner, and I froze the rest in small portions to be used later.

Then I discovered this recipe for black bean confetti salad over at Rebecca's blog, and subsequently discovered a wonderful cooking blog, Smitten Kitchen. So last Thursday FavoriteBoy and I had a very tasty dinner that consisted of two Smitten Kitchen recipes: chicken empanadas and black bean confetti salad. It was my first attempt at making empanadas, but I couldn't help wanting to try; aside from the tempting photos on the Smitten Kitchen blog, Melissa had been telling me about empanadas recently. Mine turned out quite well! I made a few changes to the recipe: I used boneless skinless breasts instead of whole chicken legs, I used a whole Spanish chorizo sausage (rather than use 1/3 cup and let the rest sit in my fridge until I come across another recipe calling for chorizo), and I just used a few green olives because my husband is a picky eater. I made lots and lots of empanadas, and we had them on Thursday and then again on Saturday. The rest are assembled and safely nestled in the freezer (unbaked) so that in the future we can have at least 3 or 4 more dinners of empanadas.

Here's a picture of my bowl of black bean confetti salad. Isn't it pretty?

Here are a few other things I've been making in the past few months:

A Valentine's Day cake...
Mmm, I like making stir-fry...


For St. Patrick's Day I made corned beef, red potatoes, carrots, and cabbage. I opted for sourdough bread instead of Irish soda bread, though.

Here is a picture of Easter at our place. There were ten of us total packed into our little apartment! We had an egg hunt with plastic candy-filled eggs, we colored hard-boiled eggs, and we ate dinner. You probably can't tell from the picture, but we had ham, homeade rolls, green bean casserole, a yummy potato dish, asparagus, and a recipe I got from my Grandma called 'Five Cup Salad.'

Easter eggs! Aren't they pretty?

Dustin's Ninja Egg:

And finally, here's the cookware that makes it all possible. FavoriteBoy and I bought this for ourselves shortly after we got married, because I had been doing all cooking with one small pot and one small pan. This set has greatly expanded my options! This is KitchenAid 5-ply stainless steel. I love it.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Bed and Breakfast

Happy May! I got in an impressive 22 posts for the month of April, which I consider pretty prolific. Mind you, I'm not boasting that the content of those 22 posts is impressive, but just the sheer number itself.

FavoriteBoy and I just returned from a lovely mini-vacation! Our dear friend Holly was given a gift certificate to stay at an exquisite Bed and Breakfast Inn in nearby Ipswich. Being the overwhelmingly generous person that she is, her immediate thought was to give the night away to Nathan and me. (!!!) It was a gesture of gratitude, as Nathan has been accompanying her free of charge for the past four years. And so it was that yesterday afternoon found us checking in to The Inn at Castle Hill , being shown into the Miné room, and soon after enjoying afternoon tea on a lovely cushioned windowseat while reading an eclectic variety of books on a myriad of topics.

I read Hidden Treasure on Boston's North Shore from cover to cover, and subsequently FavoriteBoy and I resolved to make this summer an adventurous one in which we go and discover all sorts of museums and things right here at our fingertips. It's going to be such a fun summer; I'm really looking forward to it.

After tea and lots of reading, we went to downtown Ipswich and found a cozy little pizzeria where we enjoyed dinner together. Afterwards, back at the bed and breakfast, we watched a movie and went to bed. And in the morning there was fruit and yogurt and granola and pecan waffles and omlettes and all sorts of yummy things.

Really, the past 24 hours have been such fun.