Posts Tagged ‘Jenny Gardiner’

AND SO IT BEGINS

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

I’m going to have to make this quick as I’m absolutely beat, but wanted to post the start of my journey.

Let’s just say packing was mildly amusing. I am the one who throws in the extra kitchen sink, after packing the main sink. Me and a pack ostensibly meant to hold 15 pounds is just a contrary concept. I tried, truly I did. But all those darned little things added up, not to mention the mere weight of the iPad I brought along, amongst other things.

Suffice it to say, when I start walking tomorrow, I expect tears. I will spew vulgarities about what a stupid git I am for having even fantasized about packing a blow dryer (yes, I admit, I pondered it in the far recesses of my mind, but no, I didn’t pack one. It was the first item on the “no way in hell” list).

It was hard to bid farewell to my family. Moms are conflicted about just bailing on the family, aren’t they? Even though the kids are off doing their own thing, there’s just this feeling that you need to be there just in case. And leaving Scott for a month — that’s a really long time and i will miss him! i must also say how grateful i am that he has enabled me to undertake this journey — his support has been invaluable. But everyone assured me I wasn’t being a self-indulgent self-indulger, so I’ll take it at face value.

So I headed off on my adventure relatively guilt-free but suddenly feeling quite anxious (no doubt mostly b/c of newly-anticipated need for a Sherpa). There’s just so much STUFF you need/want to pack for a month. Particularly when you figure you’ll be roughing it a bit, you want to toss in those little somethings that’ll make you feel mildly indulged (the foot lotion, the soothing arnica oil for muscle aches). Though in reality you should’ve tossed those in the “no” pile right behind that darned blow dryer!

Ah well, it is what it is. I expect I’m going to pull a Hansel and Gretel and leave a trail of divine-smelling toiletries with each kilometer trekked. I’ll keep you posted.

My flight was surprisingly quick and uneventful, though in the small world department, my daughters roommates father was my pilot! He did a fine job! I then met up with an e-friend I’ve “known” online for years, who I learned last week lives near Geneva. What a lovely day we had — we went to her beautiful home and I was able to make myself at home to reconnoiter (boy did I need that), shower (ditto) and enjoy a lovely lunch and great company. Topped off with a visit to her gorgeous horse. I navigated several trains from there to grt to Orsieres, wishing I’d had time to explore the area before departing — very picturesque villages along what I think was Lake Lausanne — stunningly beautiful. The town of Nyon (FIFA headquarters to you soccer fans) was exceptionally so. arrived around 5:30, settled into my hotel & went in search of food.

While wandering through the village trying to find an open restaurant, a man backing out of a parking space pulled over and started telling me in french about the local cheeses, unsolicited. I had years of french growing up but do you think I could converse in the language? Hell no. I hadn’t expected the first few days of my trip to be in french-speaking Switzerland, so I hadn’t brushed up on my french and instead have been blending French from the deepest regions of my brain with butchered Italian that I have been brushing up on — probably all the more confusing for the locals. Ah, well, merde…I was also corrected by a construction worker on my bonjours vs. bonsoirs — didn’t need it as I remembered it as I uttered the wrong word last evening. I think by the time I hit Italy I’ll then be speaking comprehendible French and then really trash my Italian. Thank goodness more Europeans speak English than Americans do foreign languages…Bonsoir mes amies!

(By the way I being my journey walking from Orsieres, Switzerland to Bourg-Saint-Pierre, Switzerland. Wish me bonne chance!)

To Roma with Love (and probably some creaky bones!)

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013


Apologies for the lack of details; they’ll be forthcoming soon. I’ve been crazy busy preparing for a journey I’ll be undertaking at the end of August: I’m going to be walking from the Great Saint Bernard Pass in the Swiss Alps to Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Italy.

Details will follow, but I wanted to get this basic information posted for those who are interested in linking to the donation site I’ve set up. I am following an ancient Pilgrimage route known as the Via Francigena that extends from Canterbury, England to Rome. I’ll walk for a month, and hope to cover about 500 miles in that time period, hoping my legs will carry me about 16 miles a day. I’ll circumvent a bit of the Via Francigena along the Po River Valley in Italy, because it’s along busy roads with no safe shoulders on which to walk, and transects mile upon mile of rice paddies along with more unwanted mosquitoes than you can successfully swat at. Plus I had to cut out part of the journey to get to Rome in time, so this seemed to be the most logical section to avoid.


I decided to select a charity and try to raise money while I undertake this long walk, and loved the idea of helping out the Charlottesville site of the International Rescue Committee, which helps many people who have undertaken their own lengthy journeys to flee from war, famine, political persecution, natural disaster and the like. Having recently attended Monticello’s July Fourth Naturalization ceremony, I learned of the plight of several of those who earned their citizenship that day, and none were able to achieve it without the extensive help of the IRC, which helps people to find housing, work, language training, and provides a vital support network. I hope you’ll consider donating to this organization, and you can do so here.

If you’d like to learn more about the Via Francigena, this website that is full of information.

Thanks for your interest and please stop back as I post information. I leave on August 25 and plan to blog along the way!

Ho Ho Ho…Some Great Book Suggestions for the Holidays

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

Author Ellen Meister, a member of the Girlfriends Book Club Blog to which I belong, assembled this collection of book recommendations for the holidays. Hope you’ll find something here of interest!

LOVE FINDS YOU IN NEW ORLEANS by Christa Allan

Set to release in February of 2012 and available now for pre-order, this 1840s historical relates the story of a woman whose grandparents must consider whether to stop keeping secrets and reveal the truth they’ve known—a truth that will make the difference between a life of obligation and a life of choice.Unlocking the past could open the door to a new future, but is the present worth the cost? Introduced in the novel is the custom of plaçage, known as “left-handed marriages” among those forbidden legally to be together.

Who would like this book? Readers of historical fiction and Southern fiction.

For more information visit http://christaallan.com/

SAFE HARBOR by Judith Arnold

Childhood pals Kip and Shelley spent their summers on Block Island, swimming, biking, discovering the world together. Then real life intruded, bringing tragedy and heartache. Years later, they both wind up back on Block Island. Can the island’s rugged beauty and their loving friendship heal their wounds? An award-winning novel when it was first released, SAFE HARBOR is available to as a reissued e-book to a new generation of readers.

Who would like this book? SAFE HARBOR is the perfect book for lovers of romance fiction.

For more information visit www.juditharnold.com

LITTLE WOMEN AND ME by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

A contemporary teen finds herself literally sucked into the Louisa May Alcott novel Little Women and discovers she must change a major plot point in order to get back out again. “…a consistently entertaining read that delivers a genuinely original heroine and frequently hilarious satire.” ~ Kirkus Reviews

Who would like this book? LITTLE WOMEN AND ME will appeal to adult fans of Little Women and girls ages 12 and up.

For more information visit http://laurenbaratzlogsted.com/

THE BLUE HOUSE DOG by Deborah Blumenthal

Love heals the heart is the message of this heartwarming picture book about a boy who saves a homeless dog and vice versa. Cody had his own dog once, but his painful loss is buried deeper than the feeding dish he hides away in his closet. All that changes when he comes upon a four-footed friend needier than he is — a sad, lost dog from a mysterious blue house and both learn to trust and love again.

Based on a true story.

Who would like this book? Dog lovers of all ages.

For more information visit http://deborahblumenthal.com

MOTHERS AND OTHER LIARS by Amy Bourret

How far will a mother go to save her child? Ten years ago, Ruby Leander was a drifting nineteen-year-old who made a split-second decision at an Oklahoma rest stop. Fast forward nine years: Ruby and her daughter Lark live in New Mexico. Lark is a precocious, animal loving imp, and Ruby has built a family for them with a wonderful community of friends and her boyfriend of three years. Life is good. Until the day Ruby reads a magazine article about parents searching for an infant kidnapped by car-jackers. Then Ruby faces a choice no mother should have to make. A choice that will change both her and Lark’s lives forever.

Who would like this book? Anyone, especially book clubs who like a good moral debate, will like this smart, haunting, and gorgeously written debut novel that propels a whip-smart plot that will keep you thinking.

For more information visit www.amybourret.com

A SUMMER IN EUROPE by Marilyn Brant

It’s not where you go, it’s what you take back with you… On her 30th birthday, Gwendolyn Reese receives an unexpected present from her widowed Aunt Bea: a grand European tour in the company of Bea’s Sudoku-and-Mahjongg Club. Gwen initially approaches her first trip abroad as if it’s the homework she assigns her students, diligently checking monuments off her must-see list. But amid the gorgeous bougainvillea of southern Italy, something changes. She begins to live in the moment—skipping down stone staircases in Capri, racing through the Louvre and taste-testing pastries, wine and gelato. Reveling in every new experience—especially her attraction to a charismatic British physics professor—Gwen discovers the ancient wonders around her are nothing compared to the renaissance unfolding within…

Who would like this book? Romantics and lovers of travel fiction who might enjoy a grand journey of self awakening amidst the classic architecture and stunning vistas of Europe.

For more information visit http://www.marilynbrant.com

CHILDREN OF THE WATERS by Carleen Brice

Still reeling from divorce, Trish Taylor is in the midst of salvaging the remnants of her life when she uncovers a shocking secret: her sister is alive. After years of drawing on the strength of her ancestors, Billie Cousins is shocked to discover that she was adopted. Though Trish longs to connect with her long-lost sister, Billie’s feelings of betrayal are waters too deep to cross. But when both women are forced to confront their demons, they begin to realize that each may have what the other needs.

Who would like this book? This is a contemporary story between two women who discover they are sisters. Great for fans of smart, moving women’s fiction. Women in interracial relationships or with mixed-race children will especially like it.

For more information visit www.carleenbrice.com

AN APPETITE FOR MURDER by Lucy Burdette

Aspiring food critic Hayley Snow follows the man of her dreams to Key
West, FL. Instead of landing the job of her dreams as a food critic,
she lands in the police blotter, the main suspect in her now-ex’s new
girlfriend’s murder.

Who would like this book? Fans of Diane Mott Davidson’s cozy culinary
mysteries will enjoy this book.

For more information visit http://lucyburdette.com/buy-the-books/

SLIM TO NONE by Jenny Gardiner

Abbie Jennings is Manhattan’s top food critic until her expanding waistline makes staying incognito at restaurants impossible. Her cover blown on Page Six of the New York Post, her editor has no choice but to bench her—and suggest she use the time off to bench-press her way back to anonymity. Abbie’s life has been built around her career, and therefore around celebrating food. Forced to drop the pounds if she wants her primo gig back, Abbie must peel back the layers of her past and confront the fears that have led to her current life.

Who would like this book? SLIM TO NONE is the perfect book for anyone who’s ever gone on a diet (or believes they should).

For more information visit www.jennygardiner.net

MY JANE AUSTEN SUMMER by Cindy Jones

A young woman who has squeezed herself into undersized relationships all her life hopes to realize her dream of living in a novel when she is invited to participate in a Jane Austen literary festival in England. She jumps at the chance to reinvent herself, imagining escape into Austen’s fictional world where bookish women are heroines. There, in the rich, promising world of Mansfield Park, Lily finds people whose longing to live in a novel equals her own. But real-life problems have a way of following you wherever you go and unless Lily can change her ways, she will share the fate of so many of Jane Austen’s characters who repeat the same mistakes over and over again.

Who would like this book? MY JANE AUSTEN SUMMER is a fast-paced, romantic, and humorous book that will appeal to book lovers, especially those who can’t get enough Jane Austen.

For more information visit www.cindysjones.com

ALL THE NUMBERS by Judy Merrill Larsen

An arresting, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful first novel. A recently divorced mother of two boys, Ellen Banks is just learning to make her way through the uncharted territory of single parenthood when the unthinkable happens. Determined to seek justice, and to mend the deep wounds in her family, Ellen must first heal herself, finding a way out of a grief that soon turns to defiance. This is an unforgettable journey of power and emotion, poignantly depicting a woman as she reckons with her own vulnerability and finds in the wisdom of motherhood, the redemptive grace to begin again.

Who would like this book? ALL THE NUMBERS is great for discussion so it’s perfect for anyone in a book club or who just wants characters you’ll argue with, worry about, and hope they make the right choices (and yes, I love connecting with book clubs!).

For more information visit http://www.judymerrilllarsen.com/

LITTLE BLACK DRESS by Susan McBride

Two sisters whose lives seemed forever intertwined are torn apart when a magical little black dress gives each one a glimpse of an unavoidable future.

Antonia Ashton has worked hard to build a thriving career and a committed relationship, but she realizes her life has gone off track. Forced to return home to Blue Hills when her mother, Evie, suffers a massive stroke, Toni finds the old Victorian where she grew up as crammed full of secrets as it is with clutter. Now she must put her mother’s house in order—and uncover long-buried truths about Evie and her aunt, Anna, who vanished fifty years earlier on the eve of her wedding. By shedding light on the past, Toni illuminates her own mistakes and learns the most unexpected things about love, magic, and a little black dress with the power to break hearts . . . and mend them.

Who would like this book? The story of the Little Black Dress weaves together bits of history, mystery, magic, and family, so I hope it appeals to readers who love women’s fiction in the vein of Kate Morton and Sarah Addison Allen.

For more information visit http://SusanMcBride.com

THE OTHER LIFE by Ellen Meister

A resonant story about the importance of mothers, both having one and being one … making for a riveting tale of love and choices.” – BookPage

Quinn Braverman has a perfect life, with a loving husband, an adorable son, and another baby on the way.

Quinn also has an ominous secret: she knows there’s a portal to another life, one in which she made totally different life choices. But she’s never been tempted to switch lives … until a shocking turn of events pushes her to cross over, and she discovers the one person she thought she’d lost forever. Her mother.

But Quinn can’t have both lives. Soon, she must decide which she really wants—the one she has … or the other life.

Who would like this book? Anyone interested in the beautiful, heartbreaking and complicated relationships between mothers and daughters.

For more information visit ellenmeister.com

MOMFRIENDS by Ariella Papa

Momfriends is a story of three vastly different people who meet through motherhood and become friends through womanhood.

Ruth is almost at the end of her rope with her new baby when a knock on her door changes everything. Claudia’s life is all about rules. Everything is going perfectly until a flirtation with colleague makes her throw out her rule book.

And Kirsten is an artist and a dreamer. What she discovers late one night confirms that her life is not everything she dreamed. Momfriends is about how people roll with lives they can’t control. And whether they choose to swim with the current or against it, it’s about the realization that everyone needs someone to throw out a life preserver once in a while.

Who would like this book? Momfriends makes the perfect gift for your best friend, the new mom in the neighborhood or the mom you’d like to invite over. It’s an ebook so it’s even easier to read and multi-task.


For more information visit ariellapapa.com

DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD by Saralee Rosenberg

In Mindy’s yoga-obsessed, thirty-is-the-new-wife neighborhood, every day is a battle between Dunkin’ Donuts, her jaws-of-life jeans, and Beth Diamond, the self-absorbed sancti-mommy next door who looks sixteen from the back. So much for sharing the chores, the stores, and the occasional mischief to rival Wisteria Lane.

It’s another day, another dilemma until Beth’s marriage becomes fodder on Facebook. Suddenly the Ivy League blonde needs to be “friended,” and Mindy is the last mom standing. Together they take on hormones and hunger, family feuds and fidelity, and a harrowing journey that spills the truth about an unplanned pregnancy and a seventy-year-old miracle that altered their fates forever.

Dear Neighbor, Drop Dead is a hilarious, stirring romp over fences and defenses that begs the question, what did you do to deserve living next door to a crazy woman? Sometimes it’s worth finding out.

Who would like this book? DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD is perfect for anyone who loves to discover friendship in surprising places … while laughing out loud on every page.

For more information visit saraleerosenberg.com

MIMOSAS, MISCHIEF, AND MURDER by Sara Rosett

Charm, Southern sass, and suspense abound in the sixth delightful cozy mystery.” –FreshFiction.com

Super-organized Ellie thinks she’s prepared for everything when she and her family set off for an extended visit with her southern in- laws in Alabama, but the one thing she hasn’t planned for is cold-blooded murder. When the patriarch of the family passes away under suspicious circumstances, the quirky Avery family closes ranks and Ellie can’t help looking for motives among the mourners.

Publisher’s Weekly called it “winning” and described it this way: “A rumor of hidden money, secret letters from a famous recluse, a fire, a threatening message, and a crazed gunman add to the cozy mischief.”

Who would like this book? Fans of mysteries and southern fiction will enjoy Mimosas, Mischief, and Murder.

For more information visit http://sararosett.com

BEAUTIFUL DISASTER by Laura Spinella

As a college student in Athens, Georgia, Mia Wells meets Flynn, an enigmatic stranger who pushes every boundary she knows. Their relationship is intense, passionate and, for Mia, life-changing, making it all the more painful when he vanishes. After finding the wherewithal to move on with her life and pursue her goals, Mia eventually marries. Twelve years later, Flynn mysteriously resurfaces, gravely injured. Mia is terrified that he will die, awestruck at the prospect of his survival. Flynn’s return ignites a powerful tale, a story that is greater than honor or friendship or the passing of time. More than a romance, this 2011 Penguin release was recently named Best First Book in the NJRWA Golden Leaf contest.

Who would like this book? BEAUTIFUL DISASTER is women’s fiction with a heavy thread of romance, making it the perfect book for readers who like relationship fiction that includes a thought provoking love story.

For more information visit lauraspinella.net

LOVE IN TRANSLATION by Wendy Nelson Tokunaga

After receiving a puzzling phone call and a box full of mysteries, Celeste Duncan, 33, is off to Japan to search for a long, lost relative who could hold the key to the identity of the father she never knew. There she stumbles head first down the rabbit hole into a weird, wonderful world where nothing is quite as it seems.

Not knowing Japanese, Celeste finds a friend in her English-speaking homestay brother, Takuya, and comes to depend on him for help. As they cross the country following a trail after Celeste’s family, she discovers she’s developing “more-than-sisterly” feelings for him. But with a nosy homestay mother scheming to reunite Takuya with his old girlfriend, and her search growing dimmer, will Celeste find what she’s looking for in Japan?

Who would like this book? Love in Translation will appeal to armchair travelers who love a good love story!

For more information visit: http://www.WendyTokunaga.com

Most of the these books are available at your favorite bookstore. To buy online, visit the author’s page for ordering links.

I’m On a Roll, Baby

Friday, August 19th, 2011


I have a friend with a real eye for design—in another life she definitely would have been a fabulous interior decorator if not an engineer creating useful products for better functionality. Often she’ll stare hard at something, point a menacing finger toward the thing and say, “That was designed by a man.” She never means this as a compliment. Rather, she she thinks men tend to design for looks, not function. Including functional flow in houses, on boats, in products we use in our everyday lives. They may think they’re helping, but generally, it seems not (or so my friend contends; do direct your complaints her way, thank you!).

(I Googled “man made” images and this is what came up first!)

I remember years back when public bathrooms started being retrofitted for wheelchair accessibility. It was at about the same time that the salesman for the Giant Toilet Paper Roll Company clearly hit the sales jackpot, because it seemed you couldn’t stumble upon a public loo in the U.S. without a gargantuan roll of the stuff. Which from a male-designed standpoint made some sense: buy big, buy cheap, sure. Buy big, replace less often. Okay, I’m with you. But then the plans things went awry: someone (a male? One wonders…) established standards that seem to have been implemented nation-wide about where to position these mambo-rolls within the narrow confines of a bathroom stall. It had some vague connection to wheelchair accessibility, but I can promise you it had nothing to do with how those in a wheelchair would then be able to access the stuff.

I think it was all about avoiding the handle bar that is installed midway up the stall. So this rocket scientist had a choice: position the paper high, above the bar, or install the paper low. For some reason low made imminent sense (is this because they don’t use the stuff, thus don’t “get” the failed functionality test?). Thus, these mega-rolls are forever installed wayyyy downnnnn lowwwww, requiring the user to lean far to the left and back slightly or forward too much to then get her arm bent enough to be able to reach up into the roll canister to access the stubborn paper that is stuck therein. Once there, you must hard, but argh, you can’t, because some brainiac (perhaps an infrequent user of the product, like, say, a man!) decided it was going to be even cheaper (yay!) to make the paper one-ply (sometimes I think they’ve gotten it down to near zero-ply), so that if you try to pull it–and bear with me because there is physics involved in this and I fail miserably at science concepts–the weight of the 20-lb. roll of toilet paper (TP for short) precludes the ability for the ply-less paper from holding strong against the vigorous force of the pull.

(it seems Bessie the elephant has it easier in the loo than your average woman)

So the innocent bystander (or should I say sitter) in said stall is left, shall we say, holding the square. Because the paper is not going to come off but for sheet-by-miserable-sheet, while you bend over at an awkward angle (and dare I suggest that your average wheelchair-bound woman in a public restroom is likely ill-equipped to be lurching gymnastically leeward to do the TP-twist?).

To compound this dilemma, you have the auto-flush toilet (man designed? you decide…). I once was helping potty train a kid who was terrified of the auto-flush. Poor child burst into tears upon hearing the ominous rumbling of the oncoming flush, a locomotive coming down the tracks. Once, when attempted to help wipe said child, the power flush erupted after having to tilt the kid to one side, and the poor thing literally flipped into a forward roll off the toilet from fright. Leaving me—the one who always cracks up over the wrong things—to laugh till tears streamed down my face.

Okay, so how this fits in with this theme: when you are in the midst of the left-leaning swoop to try to clutch at the elusive weak-willed TP, you then move away from the omniscient laser-beam light that tells the pot it’s time to flush. So while you’re desperately grabbing for paper, that cursed thing is flushing. Again, and again, and again. Because after the first flush you instinctually sit upright to stop the thing from happening, but then darned if you don’t have to reaacchchhhh wayyyyy down to try to get that elusive paper.

Maybe the end-result of this design flaw issue is that women are less likely to use public bathrooms, an added bonus for the provider, who then saves in water usage (except when the auto-flush goes awry), paper consumption (because you can’t get to it and thus you give up even trying), and cleaning supplies (because no one is using it with the regularity of days gone by). Plus you save on all that toilet paper theft.

About that TP theft…I’m sorry! I did it! I was a stupid college student! What can I say?

Yes, I have a dirty little secret: I have to assume some of the blame in this TP quandary. I admit there were times when my college roommates and I would help ourselves to a spare roll or two from the dorm bathrooms and take them back to our apartment. On a college budget sometimes you had to choose between spending spare cash on beer or TP. I think you can guess which usually won the internal debate. I do remember being at a bar one night with three rolls tucked lumpily in my backpack. I have to concede that it would be downright impossible (not to mention awkward) to lug a 10-lb roll of that cheap paper in your backpack. Plus once you got it home, what would you do with it? You’d have to hammer a railroad stake into the wall and dangle the thing from it. (note to students: if you do so, please hang it high enough!).

I have absolutely no idea what this has to do with this blog post but it seemed like such a bizarre image I just had to include it!

Okay, so back to the design thing. I am a female. I know how to do this better. It’s actually quite logical. Put the mega-giant-gargantuan roll of toilet paper up HIGHER, people (i.e. men who have decided it should be as close to the floor tiles as humanly possible). We women will appreciate it, and I have to assume particularly those in wheelchairs will thank you as well. End of rant.

My Brush with Royalty

Sunday, May 8th, 2011
Watching the royal wedding brought back memories from long ago, my one and only brush with royalty…
It was 1990, I was pregnant with my first child. I was working as a photographer in Washington, DC and my husband and I had gone to Florida for a business trip he had to take. A few months earlier, I’d contacted the British Embassy after having read about an upcoming garden party; I figured any self-respecting garden party would need a photographer so I pitched my services.
The charming press person at the time politely told me they had a photographer but would take my name for future events, should they arise. I figured that was the last I would hear from him.
Fast forward a few months later, to a dingy hotel room in Bradenton, Florida. My husband had to attend a carnival trade show because a product his company produced was being knocked off and pawned off as carny prizes. He’d hoped to persuade those power mongers (read with a wink) who operate carnivals to buy the legitimate product, rather than ripping his company off.
Now, if you’ve ever gone to a carnival, you can probably conjure up images of your average carny type: Seedy-looking men, missing and rotting teeth, grizzled faces. There’s usually an all-around feel of felons-freshly-sprung-from-prison about the place, coupled with the aroma of years-old trans-fat sizzling away in deep-frying vats awaiting a plunge from a 2000-calorie corn dog or maybe a fried twinkle, perhaps a grease-sopped funnel cake if you’re lucky.
Well, the difference between a carnival and a carnival trade show (at least 20-some years ago) is simply that the grease isn’t as old. Same creepy people, same vile food, same crappy products. So we were coming off a most relaxing day amidst the seedier element of society at Carny-ville, and were relaxing at the hotel when I decided to check our voice mail.
Back then we’d only recently acquired an answering machine. I know this sounds crazy, but they were newfangled devices then. Technologically-stunted as I’ve always been, I’d barely figured out how to check our messages on the thing before we left for our trip. And while gone, one morning before embarking on our carnival trade show expedition, I called home to see if we had any messages. Which was when I heard the voice mail from a Gareth So-and-So from the British Embassy, asking if I was interested in an upcoming event. He needed an answer immediately.
Of course I called back pronto. Remember, there were no cell phones back then. Wait, there were. When I worked on Capitol Hill in the 80′s I’d gone to a hair salon near the White House and remember seeing an Important Looking Man lugging a small suitcase in one hand, holding a phone receiver attached to the suitcase by a long coiled cord, with the other. This was back when offices had rooms devoted to housing gargantuan “mainframes” to operate computers. How far we’ve come in so short a time…) But making long-distance calls from anywhere other than home was a cumbersome process back then: using a calling card, you had to dial about 70 numbers without screwing up the number sequence and then get connected to some remote operator or bell tones, enter in another 20 digits and maybe then you’d be connected to your number. Amazingly I dialed through successfully, and got hold of Gareth before he’d found another photographer.
“Hallo,” he said to me in a gorgeous clipped British accent. I don’t care what one looks like, when you speak with that accent it erases all flaws instantly. I swooned over the phone. In a professional manner, of course.
“I have a job you might be interested in,” Gareth told me. I figured maybe another garden party, one of those things where women wear silly hats (Princes Beatrice, anyone?)

weirdly, don't they look like the wicked stepsisters from Cinderella?

“His Royal Highness will be coming to Washington and there are several events for which we need a photographer.”
I tried hard to maintain my composure and not choke. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. Needed me. Prince Charles, then the celebrated man of the hour, considered studly despite his jug ears (and yes, they are quite juggy). The embassy needed moi, go figure, to shoot the man (with a camera of course).
I tried to remain cool, as if often I was invited to be the official photographer of the world’s most famous royal (next to his then-wife Princess Diana).
I told Gareth I needed to check my schedule, and pretended to leaf through my sad-sack calendar, the dinky 4″ x 4″ one like you used to get for free at the Hallmark store (yep, electronic calendars were years away). And of course I instantly leapt at the chance, no doubt appearing pathetically excited and simpering about the prospect of this brush with British royalty.
I was, as I said, pregnant. At that time speculation abounded that Diana and Charles were going for a girl, and rumors were running amok that she was indeed pregnant. I pondered drumming up some small talk with Chuck about his pregnant wife (a presumptuous leap on my part), what with us having so much in common, I knew we were bound to be BFFs and all. Fortunately I opted out of that tack. Because it wasn’t long after that that we all learned that Charles had been clandestinely telling his extramarital fling Camilla he yearned to be her tampon or maxi pad or something equally abhorrent. Clearly he wouldn’t have been keen dishing on Di with me when he was fantasizing about being inside Camilla’s knickers (literally).
My husband never once wanted to come along on my photo shoots (particularly the dull ones, like the American Institute of CPAs; can’t blame him, though those CPAs were a lovely bunch). Even my Liz Taylor shoot he shunned. But he jumped at the chance to be my assistant for the royal visit.
Prior  to undertaking the job, we got a mini-lesson on dealing with the Prince–i.e. avoid dealing with the Prince. No handshaking, speak to him only when spoken to, that sort of thing.
I was told the Prince always had a group photo taken with his equerry staff (the cadre of helpers who travel with him everywhere to be sure someone puts the toothpaste on his toothbrush, that sort of thing). So we assembled the group amidst the splendor of the British Embassy, an elegant building filled with a vast collection of priceless artwork. I directed the men to line up in two rows, some seated, some standing.
“I need all of the men seated to place hands in laps,” I instructed them.
“Your own laps,” my able-bodied spouse interjected, to the horror of the embassy staff.
Silence hung in the air as I awaited the big man himself firing me from the job. But then instead, Charles placed his hand over his mouth and…snickered. It was a very royal sounding laugh, a ha-ha-ha rather than an all-out guffaw. But enough so that I knew the job hadn’t slipped through my fingers, and for my husband to this day to be able to stake his claim on having gotten Charles to chuckle.
Shame Charles and Di never did end up being our BFFs, no double-dating was in the cards, no naming each other our kids’ godparents. But we’ll always have Charles’ chuckle.

When Vacation Should’ve Been Staycation…

Monday, June 21st, 2010

Ahh, holiday weekends: those bastions of escapism we all so crave. And all too often live to regret…

The idea was a peaceful weekend at a relative’s lake house. We brought a friend and her kids along who needed to get away and chill even more than we did. Buwith the holiday weekend now past, I desperately need to recover from my non-restful getaway.

In the interest of disclosure, I should admit that I’m not a lake person. The idea of stagnant water teeming with things like poisonous snakes and trash and the fuel discards from tens of thousands of boats and jet skis (oh, and an entire valley of rotten trees and lord knows what else that might lurk beneath one’s floating body, as this is a lake created from flooding a large tract of land) doesn’t make me too thrilled. The mushy gushy unidentified bottom, the clay-rusted water that stains your swimsuit, the decomposing leaves on the top, and other stench and detritus along the lake’s shorelines just do not appeal to me. Give me the wash of crystal blue ocean waves, the soothing sound of seagulls, the brilliant twinkle of sun reflecting off sugared sand beaches any day.

My sister-in-law used to refer to the lake house as Cape Fear. As in, “Oh, no! You’re going to Cape Fear again?” She knew how not-keen I was for the aforementioned reasons. Throw in my small children who needed to be watched like hawks in order to avoid drowning, being flung from a pounding motor boat, poisonous snakes and spiders, ground wasps, ticks, sunburn, and about a hundred other safety hazards, and being lake-bound meant being stress-bound for me. The absence of air conditioning in sweltering heat along with other missing accoutrements of modernity like a dishwasher didn’t add much to the charm. To top it off, the nearest town—a limited escape hatch–is a bit, well, cheesy. The kind of place where they have a “Junque Shoppe” and another that sells “Biskits.” As the fourth grade spelling bee champ, I am rarely amused by deliberately freakish misspellings of common words, even if to be cutesy.

But as my brood has gotten older, the trip has become a bit easier. Enough so that while I still contend it’s pretty much camping with a roof (and I do loathe camping)–what with the massive amounts of foodstuffs, linens and other items you have to lug along for even a few days–it’s not quite as hazard-filled. And since I’ve not been away anywhere just to relax in easily a year, our getaway sounded almost fun. Almost.

We arrived later than planned after a harried Saturday morning of packing, topped off with last-minute inclusion of every blanket and spare pillow we owned (which I would have to wash upon our return). My bug-averse daughter discovered the room in which she’d be sleeping was infested with hundreds of jumbo ants, whose eradication took top priority.

Meanwhile, I’d unleashed the dogs to run free, to hear only moments later the piercing yelps of pain from our Labrador echo hauntingly across the water: a neighbor’s dog had raced onto the property and promptly latched onto her hind quarter with a very powerful and unrelenting jaw, leaving her bleeding and endangering my daughter who tried to break up the melee. Bizarrely, the owner of the dog (which had a rap sheet of previous bites) chose to scream at us rather than apologize profusely, as protocol would dictate.

Killer Dog

Killer Dog

After spending the first hour trying to track down a veterinarian that actually worked on a holiday weekend (with limited cell phone service, natch), I then had to divert to the lovely vet’s to have our dog treated.

Meanwhile, a neighbor across the cove had decided to destroy the serenity with a gas-powered leaf blower, then to set fire to five towering mounds of wet leaves and branches that smoldered for several hours, filling the cove with blinding smoke and leaving everyone choking in its wake. This despite my husband’s entreaties to cease the burning, what with all of the fumes wafting our direction.

The lake was overrun with other fun-seekers, churning up the normally calm waters to hurricane proportions. Not one inclined toward seasickness, I felt green in the gills as the boat towed our tubing kids in treacherous currents. Sure I could’ve stayed on shore, but felt the need to actually witness what I figured were the inevitable tubing-related head injuries that would result from the foray into fierce waters. Call me crazy, but I hate the idea of naively waiting back at the house, only to have someone come racing in to tell me we need to find emergency medical help.

Now THAT'S a mean looking dog

By days end an aged and rotting chair in which I was lounging collapsed, and I sweated to near-fainting proportions while cooking dinner for 13 in the stifling air of the a/c-free kitchen, my R&R a mere specter of its former potential.

Back home now, I’m tackling the nearly twenty loads of lake-related laundry, remnants of my relaxing escape from life’s drudgeries. I might be done washing by my next vacation. That would be the one sailing in the Keys, right where several million gallons of oil and toxic solvents are wending their way. So much for that relaxing vacation , eh?

SLIM TO NONE is available now!!

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Hey all! I haven’t even put this up on my website yet, I’ve been so crazy busy, but I HAVE ANOTHER BOOK OUT!!! The title is SLIM TO NONE and details follow, as well as a sneak peek of chapter one.

This one I’ve put out in a different sort of way–it’s exclusive on Kindle (though you can also get it through the Kindle app for iPad and iPhone as well as for download to your PC) till July, then will be available unlimited for all e-readers and as a POD (publish on demand) through Ingram’s, one of the major book distributors. My literary agency launched a digital imprint and I decided to put this book up with the debut of the line. I LOVE this book and know that you will too!! And oh, did I mention there are fabulous recipes in the book too?

Here’s the premise:

In SLIM TO NONE, Abbie Jennings is Manhattan’s top food critic until her expanding waistline makes staying incognito at restaurants impossible. Her cover blown on Page Six of the New York Post, her editor has no choice but to bench her—and suggest she use the time off to bench-press her way back to anonymity. Abbie’s life has been built around her career, and therefore around celebrating food. Forced to drop the pounds if she wants her primo gig back, Abbie must peel back the layers of her past and confront the fears that have led to her current life.

I loved the idea of taking this character who has to eat for a living and then make her not be able to eat in order to continue being able to eat for a living. You got that? The book is funny, sweet and poignant and I really hope my readers will be able to get hold of an e-reader to check this out!!
Here are some author blurbs on it:

With a strong yet delightfully vulnerable voice, food critic Abbie Jennings embarks on a soulful journey where her love for banana cream pie and disdain for ill-fitting Spanx clash in hilarious and heartbreaking ways. As her body balloons and her personal life crumbles, Abbie must face the pain and secret fears she’s held inside for far too long. I cheered for her the entire way.

—Beth Hoffman, bestselling author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

Satisfying as a Thanksgiving dinner at Mom’s. … Jenny Gardiner’s  heroine gives us a sarcastic but provocative look at our love-hate relationship with food. You’ll eat this up in one sitting.

Ad Hudler, bestselling author of Househusband and Man of the House

Jenny Gardiner has done it again – this fun, fast-paced book is a great summer read.

Sarah Pekkanen, author of The Opposite of Me

And here’s an excerpt:

I am not a glutton. I am an explorer of food.

~Erma Bombeck

Chapter 1

A Teaspoon of Sugar

I miss my Spanx. I outgrew them about fifty pounds ago. Somewhere between the decadent foie gras at La Grenouille and the joyfully simple pigs-in-a-blanket at Payard Patisserie. It was like a seasonal transition: it happened so gradually I didn’t even notice it, until one day my control-top-pantyline-avoiding-God-Bless-America-for-inventing-these-things Spanx refused to oblige me by fitting comfortably.

No longer gently hugging my curves, respectfully holding all of me in, they’d become a boa constrictor and I their victim. Evidently Spanx are made for far thinner women than me. And so I graduated up to Flexees. But now, as I ready myself for yet another meal out by attempting to contain my expanding girth in my latest girdle of choice, it’s become abundantly clear that I’ve fallen into Flexee disfavor as well. I heave a sigh of resignation. What’s a girl to do when her life revolves around having to eat for a living?

#

“Jesus, this is a mess,” my best friend Jess says as she trails small heaps of greasy lupini beans across her plate with a fork, forming them into a smiley face with what appears to be tears streaming down its cheeks but is probably just excess oil. Jessie mocks the bean face with her own broad smile. Her blond hair, the color of farm-churned butter, softly frames her face in the flickering light of our table’s blazing torch. Jess’ truffle-brown eyes twinkle with mischief: my tasting assistant caught playing with her food.

I nod in agreement. So far what we’ve seen at Puka, the new pan Italian-Hawaiian-Greek restaurant in midtown Manhattan, doesn’t look too promising. I’d held out hope, what with the luau décor, tiki lamps aglow, and the bouzouki player plinking out a half-decent version of That’s Amore. How often can you get a taste of Hawaii, Greece and Italy in one sitting? I dip my pita bread into the complementary poi served in a dugout coconut bowl in the center of the table, hoping for a miracle. Instead, I choke on the soupy gray paste and reach for my water glass, which is still empty.

“Jess, gimme a swig of that!” I point to her glass of water, my hand around my throat for emphasis. I can’t wait for a reply and instead grab the water and throw it back, like Zorba tossing down a flaming shot glass of ouzo.

“Appetizers suck, they can’t even keep our water glasses filled, the signature tiki drinks haven’t materialized despite waiting over half an hour, and the freebie poi appears to be the key ingredient in the fixative that holds up the wallpaper,” I mumble as I jot down notes surreptitiously in my iPhone, mindful to be sure that no one is paying attention to my musings.

“Sure, it’s not exactly Le Bernadin, but seriously, Abbie, it’s all relative,” Jess says. “At least it’s better than the donor kebab I’d have been eating had you not called me at the last minute to come along tonight. But for you, yeah, I’d imagine this pretty much bites the big one.”

“At this place, I’m afraid to bite anything here, big or small. But seriously, I’m just looking at the silver lining in this stormy cloud. Without the bad restaurants, imagine how much fatter I’d be. At least here I have no desire to eat even the smallest of portions. So it’s a little diet in disguise.”

Jess laughs but just barely, and instead squirms in her seat, clearly hating my fat reference. She’s lodge pine-thin and could probably go on a week-long eating bender and still lose weight. That is if food really even mattered to her that much, which it doesn’t. I, on the other hand, seem to have assumed the uncanny silhouette of a beluga whale, while cursed with the sluggish metabolism of a three-toed sloth and blessed with the culinary palate of a Michelin reviewer. Not always a good combination if you savor your size-tens. Oh, wait, I’m in Manhattan. Make that size-twos. And I, Abbie Jennings, am most definitely not a size two. Maybe size twenty-two, perhaps, but I’ve lost count, so who knows?

“You can’t help it, Abs,” she says. “It’s not like you go around stuffing your face with donuts.”

“Yeah. Instead I ingest a steady diet of the world’s richest food.” I shrug. “Ah, well, occupational hazard, I suppose. As are restaurants like this. People are expecting me to rate this place, so I’ll review it. Sure, I always hope for good things from a restaurant, but I’m totally prepared to call them on it if it’s lousy.”

Our waiter arrives, his vision evidently obscured by the pile of leis stacked along his neck, and sloshes two martini glasses filled with something resembling transmission fluid before us. They’re on fire. How adventuresome. Jessie dips her napkin in what’s left of her water and blots the splash of alcoholic neon that has landed uninvited across the front of her white silk shirt. It looks like someone smashed a firefly on her boob. Lei-Boy returns moments later with our entrees: cold, congealed grouper for me and seared mahi-mahi for Jess that looks as if the chef used a blow-torch on it. A hardened heap of Minute Rice accompanies the entrees, with beans that in an ideal world would be green, but are instead a sickly shade of cadaverous ash.

“Bon appetit, I suppose,” I say, not at all looking forward to that first bite. I hate to be disingenuous, but at thirty bucks a plate, the kitchen could’ve at least tried.

Jess scoops a bite of fish with her fork and pops it in her mouth, just as Lei-Boy rushes over and wordlessly grabs her plate away. Fast on his heels is an angry-looking bald man in clogs, checkered pants, and a chef’s toque, hurling what must be obscenities in Greek, maybe Italian, but definitely nothing gently Polynesian sounding. He smacks Lei-Boy up the back of his head, dislodging a few leis onto my grouper.

An A+ for presentation, I jot down in my phone.

“What is up with them?” Jessie asks.

“Hell if I know.” I reach for my transmission fluid to quell the drought in my mouth. As it reluctantly washes down my throat I can’t help but elicit a hairball noise.

A swarm of hula dancers closes in on our table as the bouzouki music gives way to a pulsing luau thunk. If I am seeing properly beyond the blur of grass skirts–my God, how do they do that?–there appears to be an extra from South Pacific pounding a drum back there.

“Aloha, wahini,” the Greek chef intones through a volcanic crater-sized smile. His accent is deceptively French-sounding. “E komo mai. Welcome. Buona sera. Good evening.”

I expect him to throw in a Phi Beta Kappa just to incorporate all of the restaurant’s themes. “Ladies, zere has been a slight mistake in zee kitchen.” No thanks to Lei-boy, I’m thinking. “Pleeze, allow me to present you vees more better food.” Our Greek chef sounds like he must’ve apprenticed for a hell of a long time in Paris.

With this, our drinks are rounded up, and in their stead are placed two smoldering cocktails that appear to contain dry ice. I peer into the void of my thermally-reinforced cup (artfully disguised as a small volcano) and see through the rising steam something somewhat thick and orange-ish red. I look at the chef–the spitting image of Telly Savalas without the lollypop–for the go-ahead from him, wondering if one can actually ingest dry ice. I always thought it was toxic.

He motions with his hands to drink up. “Ladeees, ees gud. Ees a Lava Flow. Really, really good. You drink, no?” He rolls his “r” with such authority I feel this is an order, and I comply, placing the drink to my lips with apprehension and taking a tiny no-thank you sip, trying not to make a face, in case it’s disgusting.

I taste a slight dribble, licking my lips to catch the overflow. Not bad, actually. Sort of cool and warm at the same time, like Ben Gay on the rocks. I’ll give them credit: it’s certainly different.

Telly is on to the next order of business already, seeing that our new entrees are properly plated. Lei-boy and his assistant, Hula-girl bring out two heaping dishes of food, much of it unidentifiable but at least it’s piping hot. Telly Savalas leans forward, so close to me I can smell the garlic on his breath, and wipes a smudge of sauce from the edge of my dish with his towel. He adjusts the plate a quarter-turn and bows while wishing us buon appetito (why he didn’t say this in Greek is Greek to me).

“Whoa!” Jess stares at me as if she’d just witnessed the shocking conclusion to a weird movie. She takes a bite of something in front of her. “I don’t know what that was all about, but bring it on, baby. If we’ve gotta go through that to get some of this, I’ll volunteer to be the sacrificial lamb.”

I don’t know where to begin on my plate. Everything looks so unfamiliar, yet appetizing. I decide to aim for the starch first, and settle my fork into a generous portion of what turns out to be risotto with bite-sized pieces of suckling pig. I’ll take creamy risotto over that vile poi any day. The pork, so tender and juicy, has me humming Mele Kalikimaka, cause it feels like a Hawaiian Merry Christmas gift.

I next try the entrée, a tender, flaky and surprisingly un-oily mackerel sprinkled with feta cheese and olives and cloaked in taro leaves. I have to give Telly some credit, I didn’t know how this place could pull off merging three such divergent flavors, but somehow it works despite itself.

“I can’t believe how fantastic this food is,” Jess mumbles through a bite of her pineapple-balsamic glazed wild boar spare ribs with tzatziki sauce. “Who’d have thought you could actually assemble a menu with Italian, Hawaiian and Greek food? I honestly thought it was a joke.”

“Joke’s on us, cause this stuff is amazing.”

After dinner ends, Telly returns with a selection of desserts (including a baklava made with mascarpone cheese, coconut and pine nuts), a tray with sample shots of grappa, ouzo and okolehao, and a somewhat excessive appreciation for his customers.

“You like, no?” Telly asks me as he hands me a leftovers bag with more in it than we had on our plates, I’m sure, then straightens out my napkin in my lap. I really don’t like people fondling my linens in restaurants.

“It was wonderful,” I tell him, shooing his hands from my lap (after all, I don’t need old Telly to get an up-close look at my too-tight Flexee-induced bulges.) Despite the culinary false start. I might even have to give the place three stars.

“Meesees Jennings, on behalf of zee entire staff of Puka, I sank you for dining vees us zees evening,” Telly says as he bows repeatedly while backing away from me and disappearing into the kitchen. “Zee meal is on zee house, vees my undying gratitude.”

I look at Jessie and blanch. Meessees Jennings, he called me. Missus fucking Jennings. How stupid could I have been? I should’ve known! There was no mistake. The only mistake is that my look has become unmistakable. For the third time this month, I’ve been recognized in a restaurant.

“Son of a bitch,” I groan under my breath. “Mortie’s gonna kill me. He’s going to absolutely kill me.”

#

Shaken by the revelation that my food critic cover has been effectively blown, I leave Jessie to pay the bill and slip out a side door to hail a cab, handing my bag of leftovers to a homeless man on a nearby grate. Well, slip might be a gross understatement, considering at my size, I’m probably beyond the point of slipping out of anyplace with much facility.

I tip the cab driver too much, just grateful to be away from there and able to go home to ponder this most unfortunate turn of events. I plod up the flight of steps up to our brownstone and unlock the door, flicking on the hall light as I regain my breath from that exertion. Tartare, my beefy tomcat, weaves a few figure eights around my ankles before meowing as he always does to go outside, even though I don’t dare let him out on the mean streets.

“William?” I call out for my husband, who I’m sure was planning to be home tonight. I’d invited him along to Puka but he declined, saying he was going to catch up on some things. I’m beginning to suspect that being married to the food critic of the New York Sentinel holds very little charm to William at this point. It was never something he’d wanted for us, but he was willing to put up with it, if it made me happy.

If it was up to William, we’d leave Manhattan in a New York minute (excuse the pun). He cashed out years ago after the teeny little start-up company he worked for hit it big during the tech boom, and now only dabbles at his day job for fun, waiting for me to pull the plug on living in the city. He’d like nothing more than to escape the traffic, the noise, the excessive demands on his wife’s time. Maybe start a family. Oh, jeeze, the thought of me getting pregnant at this weight is one I simply can’t contemplate. Not without a fat finger of bourbon to help tamp down the hysterics that accompany such thoughts.

My Harvey Nichols pumps–optimistically purchased when I could lay claim to that size-ten physique–click with groaning desperation across my polished hardwoods. I think if they could talk they would beg for mercy. Please, give us a freaking break and don’t wedge your bloated feet into us, they’d say. We weren’t meant to haul so much weight; we’re not tractor-trailers, you know!

No, they’re not, but I feel like I am. A tractor-trailer loaded with cargo but out of gas on a desolate highway. I switch on the living room lights, peel off my unforgiving shoes and sink into the butterscotch leather sofa, which gasps like a dying man beneath my girth.

“What to do, what to do,” I ask Tartare, who is clearly unconcerned with my dilemma as he strains to escape my grip. I stroke him with one fingernail in his sweet spot at the curve of his chin and he relents, frozen with feline desire. I wish my problems could be solved by a little chin scratching.

I lay my head back and take in the living room. William and I argued for weeks on the color we’d paint this room. He wanted cranberry. I finally won the argument and chose a distinct chestnut shade. I actually brought a wedge of my favorite chocolate–from this amazing French chocolatier in the East Village–to the paint store because the color was precisely what I was looking for. I knew I could readily relax in a room that reminded me of Guillaume’s to-die for ganache.

“William?” I call again but get no response, so I hoist myself up and pad to the kitchen. The varnished concrete floor is cold on my feet, so I slide them into my banana split slippers, which I always keep nearby. Comfortable shoes are so important for cooking. I’m feeling very agitated by what happened at the restaurant, and decide that the only thing to take my mind off it will be to whip up something tasty. As I reach for the cabinet that houses my cookbooks I notice a note on the counter.

Abbie,

The house was kind of quiet so Cognac and I decided to get away. We hopped on the bike and headed down to the Jersey shore for a couple of days. Call if you need me. Or better yet, come join us. Maybe we can prowl the backstreets in search of a new restaurant. We’d sure love the company.

Love,

William

p.s. Don’t worry, Cognac is secured into the sidecar with his doggie seatbelt.

William keeps insisting Jersey is retro, thinking that will lure me down there with him. I had enough of Jersey growing up, thanks. I’m not ready to revisit my past, even under the guise of campy fun. I ball up the note and toss it in the trash, then send him a quick text message. I think I’ll keep mum for now about what happened this evening. No need to bother him with details, especially when I’m sure I can clear this all right up in the morning.

“Hi sweetie. Sorry u weren’t home when I got back. Have fun with poochie @ the beach. I’m off 2 bed soon so don’t worry about calling. Luv, me

I rifle through the cabinet and pull out grandma Gigi’s recipe box. For me, job stress–or any kind of stress, really–means concocting an old favorite from her collection. I leaf through the worn pages of Gigi’s recipes until I find precisely what I’m looking for. I pull out the card gingerly, as the corners are dog-eared and yellow with age. Albumen stains speckle it, as well as grease marks from her lard-smeared fingers. Grandma’s impeccable cursive sweeps across the card, even and angled, precise. Like baking: methodical and exact.

I pull out the flour, salt, butter, and shortening and begin to blend together the ingredients, putting a little muscle into it as I mix, adding ice water to consistency. Five simple ingredients that combine to sooth my nerves and please my palate.

Next I mix the pudding, then slice bananas. Crack eggs, separating yolk from white. Pull out the Kitchen-Aid mixer, whip the whites on high with a pinch of salt. Adding the sugar, one tablespoon at a time, a splash of vanilla for good measure.

I dust the granite countertop with flour and roll out two crusts: I think a pie might be just the thing to turn around Mortie’s mood when I break the news to him. Who can’t get happy over a banana cream pie? It’s the mother of all comfort foods, the comfort food of all mothers. At least for my grandmother it was.

As I slide the pies into the oven, I glance at the clock and realize it’s past midnight. I’ve been cooking for almost three hours. Just about long enough to forget that tomorrow I have to face my boss.

BANANA CREAM PIE

*this is a single recipe, but you might as well double it if you’re going to go to all the effort.

FOR THE PIE CRUST

Preheat oven to 375.

With pastry blender mix 2-1/2 c. Wondra Flour (it’s the only flour for this pastry) with one stick softened butter (8 tbl.) and 1/2 tsp. Salt

Then add 6 rounded tbls. Crisco shortening (do not under any circumstances use the butter flavored, and by all means don’t even consider using any other brand of shortening). You can use the Crisco shortening sticks, just cutting at the appropriate line.

Blend till mealy.

Add 5-6 tbl. Ice water, mix with pastry mixer until dough pulls together but is not gluey. If needed, add a little bit more water. If too damp, a small bit more flour.

Gently pound into a ball, and roll out on floured countertop or pastry sheet until 1/8” thick.

Roll gently onto pastry roller and ease into pie pan. Snugly roll crust up. Poke holes along bottom of pie crust with fork to allow crust to breath.

Place baking parchment on top of crust, pour rice or pie weights on top of parchment, to weigh crust down as it bakes.

Bake for ten minutes, then paint inside of crust with a mixture of one egg white and 1 tsp. Water. Replace the parchment pie weights and bake for another 5 minutes. Remove parchment with pie weights and bake another 5 minutes. Allow to cool completely.

FOR THE FILLING

Use two packages of Jell-O brand banana cream pudding mix (not the instant). Hard to find but worth the effort. You may have to track it down on the Internet. Cook as directed on package, using slightly less milk. As the pudding thickens, separate out three egg whites and yolks. Just before pudding comes to a boil, add about 1/2 cup of the pudding into the egg yolks, stir well, then pour in to the pudding that is just coming to a boil. Remove from stove and let cool. (by the way, don’t even bother making homemade banana pudding. It’s not nearly as good).

FOR THE MERINGUE (a vital ingredient to this pie’s success)

Using the 3 egg whites, whip with mixer on high with a pinch of salt. Add, one at a time, 9 tbl. of sugar (take that! South Beach!), then 1 tsp. vanilla.

TO FINISH PIE

Preheat oven to 350. Once crust and pie filling are cooled, line bottom of pie crust with banana slices. Add filling. Spread meringue on top. Bake for 15 minutes, till meringue is a light golden brown on top.

Welcome Back to My Survivor Friend Sheila Curran

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

I featured Sheila Curran’s release, Everyone She Loved, when it came out in hardback last year, which just so happened to be when Sheila was diagnosed with cancer. What a difference a year makes, with Sheila’s receiving the wonderful news that her cancer is gone and will be gone for good, and her book sold enough copies to come out in trade paper.

Rather than posting the usual interview here, I’m going to send you to her blog, where she celebrates lessons learned over the past year. It’s nice to read.

Welcome to the funny, charming Sarah Pekkanen

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Sarah Pekkanen and I became e-buddies when she was chosen to be one of the 2010 members of the Debutante Ball, a group blog in which a group of debut authors posts regularly for a year, after which time the mantle is passed on to a new set of authors. I had the great fortune to have been a member of the Debutante Ball two years ago when my debut novel, Sleeping with Ward Cleaver was released. It was a wonderful experience to be able to share that debut year with authors at the same stage, professionally, and it’s been such an added bonus to have joined a growing sisterhood of incredibly talented and interesting writers that includes the likes of Sarah.

Sarah Pekkanen’s debut novel, The Opposite of Me, will be published March 9 by Washington Square Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, and is being hailed by bestselling author Jennifer Weiner as “Fresh and funny and satisfying. A terrific book about sisters that actually made me laugh out loud.” Rights have also been sold in Italy, Holland, Spain, Germany and Australia. Please visit Sarah at www.sarahpekkanen.com

I’m so happy Jenny asked me to guest blog today, because I adore her books (who couldn’t love the story of a potato-sized parrot who terrorizes an entire family?).  But I think I also need to get a parrot – or at least do something to make my life more interesting. You see, after a publisher buys your book, they want to know all about you.  Apparently it’ll help book sales if, during an interview with a snooty literary magazine, you can casually toss out the fact that you once cut off your own hands in an artistic fit of self-loathing and you now type your luminous prose with your nose. Or, say, that you work as a welder by day and go to med school by night and wrote your novel in the on-call room while the other, weaker interns tried to catch a catnap for the first time in 17 days.

So I’m sitting here trying to come up with interesting anecdotes to reveal as I look back over my past, um … er… 25 years (I hear you all snickering, and it’s just not kind!). Should I tell my publisher that I was once rejected as a contestant on Wheel of Fortune? It crushes me still; I have a Rain Man-like ability to guess puzzles with only a letter or two showing and I know I would’ve sailed through to glory of the bonus round. Hey, it may not be the most useful talent, but it’s the only one I’ve got.

Maybe it would be better if I let them know about the time I was waitressing and President Bush (the first one) came into my restaurant. Being me, I bumped into another waitress and sent both of our trays of drinks crashing to the floor. Margaritas and shards of glass splattered everywhere, and I swear, I was inches away from being taken down by a Secret Service agent.

Somehow, I don’t think this is what my publisher had in mind. “Clumsy ‘Wheel’ Reject” just doesn’t carry the same cachet on a book cover as, say, “Pulitzer Prize Winner.”

So while I search my mind for possibilities (once I chased a Jon Stewart-look alike through the streets of Manhattan before realizing it was just a random short, grey-haired guy! Oh, and my left foot is slightly bigger than my right one!), I’m also trying to come up with other ways to get my book to fly off shelves. I’m thinking a new subtitle might be in order. How does this sound? The Opposite of Me: Naked Pictures of Brad Pitt.

Actually, I’m too scared of Angelina’s wrath for that ploy. Plus the snooty literary magazines might frown on it (but you just know they’d look, don’t you?)

So I’m off to take up bungee-jumping, or maybe top the Guinness Book of World Records for the most chocolate eaten in one sitting (I’ve been informally training for years!) In the meantime, thanks so much for reading this and I wish you all a happy Spring!

Ski? Me? Are You Nuts?

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

**In honor of the Olympics I unearthed this piece I wrote several years ago–the last time I went skiing. Now I know to just watch other people kill themselves going down a mountain, rather than joining in the folly…

This is SO not me on the slopes (or in the air)

This is SO not me on the slopes (or in the air for that matter)

A few months ago when my husband suggested a ski vacation for our family of five, I willingly agreed, with instant visions of being all dolled up in ski togs, sipping hot chocolate fireside, schussing down the mountainside, and gazing admiringly at the wintry wonderland outside, all swirling in my head.

Reality clocked me over the head with a big, fat snowboard as our plane approached the small mountain airport a few hundred miles north of Denver, in the early evening hours.

“Folks, I’ve got some news for you,” the captain reported from the cockpit. “Uh, seems we need a mile and a half visibility to land this thing, and right now we only have a mile. If things don’t change in the next few minutes, we’re gonna have to turn back.”

That would be back to Denver, where we would have to huddle to stay warm in some dreary airport lounge, eating gummy bears for sustenance until clearer weather prevailed in a day or so, while our luggage ended up in Stockholm and our minimal vacation time whittled away.

Not five minutes later, a hurried captain announced, “Uh, folks, seems we have a mile and three quarters so we’re gonna land this puppy, fast.”

With a gulp, I made sure all of our seatbelts were fastened, and braced for the smooth landing I’d hoped for.

Mercifully this was not our plane

Mercifully this was not our plane

As the plane was battered about the sky, I noticed our flight attendant, a large young man, wedged into his flight attendant perch, eyes squinched closed, hands clasped in what appeared to be the universal prayer position. My confidence in the pilot diminished at that point, realizing as I did that even the strapping young flight attendant was sweating bullets.

Fifteen minutes and some seriously gnashed teeth later, we landed mercifully, the jostling of the plane at some point merging with the blare of the engines on the small craft to create a death Zen that assured me that the fiery crash would be painless.

Alas, luck was on our side and we landed into a blizzard–a good sign that we landed despite the lack of visibility, and, as my ski instructor would intone incessantly the next day, whoo-hoo! Snow! was greeting us, in spades.

I’d spent the previous month visiting a physical therapist thrice weekly to diminish the pain from a pinched nerve in my lower back, something that threatened my success on this ski trip. And so it was with some trepidation that I donned my skiwear the next morning to head out into the new foot of snow that had fallen.

But just getting into the outerwear and attempting to put on the ski boots was challenging. At some point I assigned tasks to my kids: one, help get my socks up, please; another, you hook up my boots, mommy can’t bend forward, etc.

Finally, decked out and ready to go, we haul our load of gear down the unwieldy flight of steps and out the back door of our ski-in-ski-out condo, and attach the skis, heading off into the vast winter wonderland.

It’s amazing, the untoward effects of aging on a person’s skiing potential. As I wobbled, propelled unnaturally forward down a narrow isthmus of snow, buffered on either side of me by rocks, brambles and cliffs, feeling as steady as a newborn colt, I wondered why my legs seemed as if they were being warped unnaturally inward by the positioning of the boot to ski.

I also wondered why my butt wanted to jam itself in the sitting position–no doubt a survival instinct honed by millions of years of skiers before me. And then I wondered why, in this day and with my advancing age, I wouldn’t have opted for a sunny Caribbean vacation, where one could so easily slip into a bathing suit–although, truth be known, that, too, is a psychologically damning action for the less-than-svelte me–and just lounge poolside with a good book.

We all signed up for ski school–I knew without that peer pressure, I would have hightailed it back to the condo to hide under the blankets for the rest of the day–and were separated within minutes by skill level.

Now, I don’t take personally a professional’s assessment of my skiing ability–or lack thereof. But the snickering that went on was a little bit unnerving, I will admit.

We were grouped with like-abled skiers, and directed to the first ski lift. As I sat on the icy, slippery lift seat, with no reassuring bar to pull down to keep me from plunging to an untimely death in a crevasse in the mountain, I realized that a skiing vacation is not ideally suited for one with severe fear of heights.

It was bad enough for me back home at our nearby sleepy little ski resort, with the short lifts that don’t lunge skyward at rapid acceleration rates.

so peaceful, tranquil, deadly (this is not my lift, which was twice as high off the ground)

so peaceful, tranquil, deadly (this is not my lift, which was twice as high off the ground)

But here in Steamboat Springs, the lifts thrust us upward and fast, easily two hundred feet off the ground, and with the dreadfully slow ratcheting along those mammoth support poles that are the only thing between me and death, I gain a true sense of how very far it is to the ground, judging by the height of those towering poles. In my head I think happy thoughts: bunnies, kitties, puppies; but then my thoughts are transformed into a more macabre scene: bunnies, kitties, puppies, splattered along the boulders below, victims of the slippery seats of the ski lift.

Eventually, despite my fears, we arrive at the top of a mountain, only to learn that we must take another lift to get to the top of the mountain. As if one top wasn’t high enough. This day promises to be a real challenge to my psychological stamina.

Fifteen minutes later, we are at the summit. I feel like Sir Edmund Hilary reaching Everest. Well, not exactly. But still, as we arrive at the top, we all notice that the sunlight has disappeared. As has the sky. As have any people beyond five feet of me. We are lodged in a soup of fog so thick that I can be certain my plane would not be able to land, even with our ambitious pilot.

“Whoo-hoo!” Our instructor enthuses, in only a way that someone with an unnatural proclivity for an untimely death can. “Well, everybody, looks like it’s gonna be a foggy day.”

I look up and see that chunks of snow are beginning to drop from the sky, not little baby flakes, but tufts of snow the size of clumps of hair being pulled from an unwilling head.

“Whoo-hoo!” Our instructor trills. “Snow!”

She then announces that these are, without doubt, the worst and most dangerous conditions in which to ski for intermediate skiers of our level. It seems that beginners are smart enough to not get themselves into such hot water (or rather, bitterly cold blizzard), and advanced skiers take it as a healthy challenge to their demonstrable skills, and boldly tackle the elements.

With that little boost of confidence, we’re off. Flailing effortlessly down the mountain, with no more control than a pubescent boy with his hormones atwitter, my body jerks side-to-side, my butt, with a mind of it’s own, thrusts back, no doubt preparing to be landed upon, and I slam into snow pile after snow pile, fully confident that I have no idea how to get to the bottom of the mountain, and scared to death for that reason.

My thighs burn like the forest fires I imagine alight in these very same mountains during the summer months. I think how warming those fires might be right about now, as my fingers are so cold I can’t feel them.

We encounter a wet, barefooted snowboarder, who’d proudly jumped a cliff into a creek. Would he do it again? We ask. “Dude! You bet!” he beams.

tried to find image of barefoot snowboarder, to no avail

tried to find image of barefoot snowboarder, to no avail

After several hours of professional training, after which time I feel no more confident in my skiing ability, I call it quits and head to my scheduled massage, something my physical therapist insisted I have.

I sit down in the waiting room of the spa, relaxing to the dulcet tones of nature, as recorded and studio-mixed by someone who thinks that nature should sound like this. The plink-plink-plink of the mandolin between bird tweets and waterfalls makes me feel almost relaxed.

The masseuse beckons me into the room, and as I stand up, I realize that I can’t stand up. My muscles are frozen in position. She must recognize this condition, as she laughs and comes over to help hoist me from the couch. How embarrassing.

To me it is no small feat to return at the end of the skiing day intact and injury free. I feel the blood of relief pump through me when I can successfully count each of my brood back from their treacherous journey.

Apres ski involves my family jammed into a hot tub with at least twenty five other people from around the world, carting along with them every bacteria, virus, and parasite that can be transmitted by hot, bubbling unclean water. The relieving Petri dish does wonders for my aching bones, but I close my eyes after I see one too many unidentified floating objects tumble past me beneath the water’s surface. I hope that we all don’t end up with some horrible communicable disease, or at least that impossible-to-cure without liver-toxic medicines toenail fungus they show us on t.v. when we don’t want to be grossed out.

It’s been more than a decade since I last skied out West. Back then I was admittedly more fit and vital than I am today. And so I was ill-prepared me for the level of fatigue that was to befall us all by day’s end.

An exhaustion blankets us all as if we’d just wandered through a field of poppies in Oz. Yet mine is to remain an unrequited exhaustion, as sleep eludes me. For that matter, sleep eludes us all, for my daughter has sprung a dry relentless cough that refuses to be tamed by even a codeine-based cough suppressant. Throughout the night–and day, for that matter–she hacks away, each sound causing a reflexive flinch for the rest of us as the poor child tries desperately to breath unimpinged.

I awaken about fifty times due to the uber dry Rocky Mountain air and the altitudinal adjustments that my body doesn’t seem to want to make. I feel like I’m suffering from the worst hangover of my life, every drop of moisture having been sucked from me by atmospheric conditions beyond my control. It’s as if I’m some vacuum-sealed version of myself, freeze-dried for eventual defrosting come spring. I’m pounding water at the rate of a gallon an hour, and the only thing this makes me do is have to pee continually.

By morning, I am so poorly rested I feel a sense of despair. Trying to rise out of bed requires a crane, or at least the optimistic manipulations of a chiropractor. Alas, I don’t have one of those with me. As I creak from room to room, retrieving the myriad articles of ski gear I need to start this torturous routine all over again, I wince from pain in places I didn’t even know existed on my body. My back, well that goes without saying. But my glutes, my knees, my shins, my feet, my thighs, my hips, wrists. I think even my teeth hurt. About the only thing not hurting right now is my left armpit.

But it’s my duty to go out and ski again today, and so obligingly, I do so. Plus, I don’t want my family to see me as the weenie I’ve truly become. Today is even harder than yesterday, because not only do I not have much of an improvement of skill level, but also I have the muscular failure of yesterday taunting me.

The sky is the cerulean color of a bluebird, my favorite bird. I take this as a good sign. The fir trees atop the slopes are adorned in gowns of glimmering snow. Were it not for the fact that my stated goal is to mount and then ski down slope after slope and that I am freezing my ass off, I would almost enjoy myself, based on the natural beauty of the place alone.

I run into my ski instructor on one of the slopes, and she enthuses to me, “Whoo-hoo! Today’s what we call and ‘ego ski’ day! You get to show off your stuff in prime ski conditions.”

I can’t help but wonder whose ego is to benefit from these conditions, because I know it’s not going to be mine. Rain or shine, blizzard or not, I look like one of those ballerina hippos from Fantasia on the slopes. Graceful, I am not.

Today the fir trees atop the slopes are adorned in gowns of shimmering snow, contrasted starkly against a cerulean bluebird sky. Distant stands of trees cast a five o’clock shadow on the mountain face: some a youthful brown, others an aged ice-grizzled. It’s exquisite.

From the lift I can see vistas I had no idea existed yesterday. Whereas then I could see just as far as my instructor’s face, today I can see far enough to realize we are so bloody damned high up from sea level that my nose should be bleeding. Strewn below are the littered remains of naively ambitious skiers and overly confident snowboarders committing gravity-defying acts of insanity, and I shake my head in dumbfounded wonder. Do these people know something I have not been privy to? Unlikely, I reassure myself.

No doubt they are charter members of the convocation of the Let’s Get Together and Die Young Club, soaring down the mountain on boards not much wider than my thighs (alas), seeking huge mounds of snow and steep precipices from which to launch themselves into the nebulous space before them.

Meanwhile, my kids are drunk on youthful invincibility, unconcerned with risking life, limb and orthodontia in pursuit of the perfect run.

Yet I’m poisoned with a toxic dose of maternal paranoia, knowing that it’s hard to retrieve missing white teeth from equally white snow.

As they negotiate the mountain, I say a little prayer. Who, I wonder, is the patron saint of alpine mountain sports? Saint Bernard?

Now I know why those dogs carry rum casks on their collars: so that people like me will return to ski another day.

A family photo at the summit delivers the final blow to my fantasy: Dashed is mental image of Jen as snow bunny; in its stead is Jen as Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Where’s that St. Bernard when you need him?

By trip’s end, we remain mercifully injury-free– except, perhaps my bruised ego.

Would I do it again, you ask? Dude! You bet!