by Lorin Michel Thursday, August 6, 2015 8:38 PM

At 2:05 a.m., my cell phone rang. I have become a cell phone fanatic, addicted to my iPhone in the way teenagers are addicted to theirs. It goes with me everywhere. I maintain text messages with a number of people; I also use it to actually talk to people, both for business purposes and family and friends. I check the weather on it several times a day; I check Facebook. It is surgically attached and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love my iPhone. It is also the only phone I have. While we have a landline, it is only so that we can buzz people in when they call from the front gate. What does this have to do with anything, and especially the title of this post? I’m getting to that.

My phone rang, and I was instantly awake. I reached to the nightstand to grab it and it stopped ringing. I don’t think the two were related. I think it was probably a wrong number. The interesting thing is that, looking at the screen, which was still illuminated with Missed Call, I could swear I was looking at my own number. Which immediately led to my freshly awaked brain wondering how it was that my phone called itself and why, followed by that can’t be right, followed by snuggling back down under the covers.

It is August, as you already know and don’t need this blogger to tell you, but August everywhere in this country means one thing. Heat. And we’ve been getting a ton of it. I was out running some mid-day errands yesterday and the temperature gauge on the dashboard read 111º. I think just seeing that made me reach over and turn up the fan another notch. We are in that phase where we go from air conditioned car to air conditioned house, or we simply don’t leave the air conditioned house.

Which means that the house is always pleasant. We have two air conditioning units, one for each side of the house. We keep them both set at 78º. Not overly cool. Some probably think that’s too warm, but it’s quite pleasant for us, and keeps the electric bills more manageable. At night, I turn the west side unit, the side where the master bedroom is, down to 75º. We have a ceiling fan. The air swirls and cools, making snuggling down under the sheet and the comforter very comfortable, and very necessary.

I buy bed-in-a-bag. I started doing this years ago when we had Maguire. No matter how much we tried to keep him off, he often ended up on the bed. It was the only piece of furniture in the house that he ever seemed to care about probably because it was big enough to accommodate his rather large self. Whenever we couldn’t find him in the house, we would go to the master bedroom and there he’d be, looking at us from his perch up against the pillows, in the sun. What?

Dog hair and dog grime tend to eventually and fairly quickly destroy a comforter. Bed-in-a-bag always gives me an opportunity to refresh both the bed and the bedroom. I change the top bedding every six months or so; the sheets once a week. I always buy comforters, never bedspreads. I don’t even know if you can get bedspreads-in-a-bag. I don’t tend to like bedspreads. We’re more comforter people.

Which works perfectly for snuggling under the covers. A comforter provides comfort and warmth without ever being heavy. Again, ideal for being under the covers.

After the phone rang, and I turned my brain away from wondering how I was calling myself; after I cooled down from the initial flash of hot from waking up so alarmingly, and got myself ready to return to dreamland; after all of that, I pulled the covers up to my chin, turned to face the window and the sleeping body of my husband. The city lights were dancing in the dark, and lightning was softly flashing in the far off clouds. I was under the covers, I was safe, I was warm. I was asleep.

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live out loud

It's always a good time for wine

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, August 21, 2013 1:26 AM

As you know, dear readers, I am a wino. I make no apologies about this. I am actually quite proud of my status. I flaunt it whenever and wherever I can, usually with a bit of inky dark syrah or cab franc swirling in my glass. I have come to the realization that wine is life.

Not meant as a biblical reference at all, though if Jesus Christ really could turn water into wine, I might have to rethink my no-religion mantra.

Tonight, I was texting with my friend Pam who mentioned that she had been nursing an emotional headache for about two weeks. I know she’s hurting, in pain, and I wish there was something I could do to help. I also know that no one can really help; something she also knows. It’s all a process, this grief/healing thing, and she’s getting through it as best as she can because as she likes to point out “what choice do I have?”

Wise woman, my friend Pam.

I asked her if wine helped and mentioned that wine is always a good idea. She graciously responded that this was but one of the reasons we’re friends. Pam, it should be told, was the first person I got drunk with. We were stupid kids, 15, who had finished just one year of high school before we decided that we needed to know what it was like to have a cocktail. We went to a liquor store near a mall if memory serves (and it doesn’t always) and managed to get some guy to buy us a six-pack of beer and a bottle of wine. The beer I believe was Michelob. Or maybe it was Coors. The wine was Boones Farm Apple.

We were very sophisticated for 15 years olds.

We had no idea that mixing cheap beer with cheaper wine was a bad idea. We knew absolutely nothing about drinking and even less about wine. We proceeded to drink both and promptly got sick.

It’s a fond memory.

This was my first introduction to wine and one would think it might have soured me on the attributes of this finest of beverages. It didn’t. I went through many years of drinking Lancer’s. I just hope it was the one in the red jug and not the white jug. I honestly don’t remember. I do remember drinking Riunite in college. It had a screw top. Even in college I knew it was horrible but it was all I could afford.

Eventually I moved to California and discovered that wine can be better than that, much better, even though while I was in San Diego I remember drinking a great deal of something called Blue Nun. I think it was a Gewurztraminer. It was sweet and I loved it, but I was 22 and didn’t know any better. Witness the Michelob and Boones Farm episode.

I don’t know when I began drinking red wine but I was still in my 20s. I eventually discovered that red wine can be an amazing thing, a life-altering universe of flavor. Some still say that red wine gives you a headache but I contend that it doesn’t have to. In fact, if it’s good red wine, it will never give you a headache.

Unless you drink too much. And anything you drink too much of will give you a headache so you can’t really blame red wine.

The point is, and I do have one, wine is a good time and it’s always a good time to have it. Especially if you’re having it with people you love. In fact, I’m not sure there’s anything much better in the world than sitting with friends on the back patio, with a couple of exceptional bottles of red wine on the table, a menu of tapas, and a conversation laced with laughter.

That’s the kind of drunk I do now. And it’s the best kind there is. 

The grind

by Lorin Michel Friday, March 1, 2013 6:54 PM

My husband was grinding coffee this morning and the smell of it filled the house. I’m not sure there is a more welcome and rich fragrance in the early part of the day unless maybe it’s fresh ground coffee and cinnamon coffee cake mixed with the smell of a soft, dusty rain as it dampens the dry earth. I was in bed. It was only 10 minutes to 7. Cooper had already been out and had positioned himself next to me on the bed. It’s his new habit and while it’s endearing, it does leave a healthy amount of red fur on the comforter. I’m going through lint rollers like I own stock.

Maguire used to get on the bed, too, when he was young. He was at least 30 pounds bigger than Cooper, and when he stretched out on his side, he was nearly as big as a person. He didn’t tend to stay on the bed long; he got too hot too quickly especially if there was another person also on the bed. Many a day we’d come home to find that he had camped out on Kevin’s side, probably in the afternoon sun as it streamed through the blinds. He’d meet us at the door, innocent as could be, but the Maguire-size indentation and the fur on the comforter were tell-tale signs. I started buying bed-in-a-bag because to put an expensive comforter on the bed seemed shortsighted and a horrible waste of money. I’ll be buying bed-in-a-bag again now that Cooper has also discovered the joy of a California King pillow-top.

He didn’t seem to react to the smell of the coffee but he did stretch and sigh and make his usual guttural sounds. I stretched, too, and stuck one foot out from under the covers. I was cold last night, as always, and so I was snug under the covers, but the minute I woke up, I started to warm up. I find the best way to cool off, short of getting out of bed, is to simply snake one foot out into the cool air. I lay there, with most of me still under the covers and one foot out, eyes half closed which means they were open enough to see Cooper, and with my nose crinkling with the delicious acridity of Columbian and Espresso beans whirring themselves into powder at my husband’s hand.

When I was a kid, my grandfather worked at an A & P in Pittsburgh. It was one of the big grocery store chains in the northeast at the time, and even after we moved from Pennsylvania to New York we would often shop at the local A & P. It was what we knew, and we were comfortable with it. Creatures of habit. Of course, I was too young to actually shop, but I was also too young to be left home alone so I’d often accompany my mother, along with my brother and sister to the grocery store.

In the front of the store, near the coffee aisle, there was a big red grinder. It was always covered with fresh ground coffee dust and errant beans littered the floor. After buying a bag of A & P beans, people would pour the bag into the top of the grinder, close the lid, reposition the bag below, choose the texture and then hit the button. The machine would whir to life and the beans would crunch and grind into some form of coffee powder that would deposit itself into the waiting bag at the spout at the bottom. The bag could then be resealed, and off you’d go, home to brew several fresh pots.

I don’t remember if my mother ground her own coffee; I only remember the smell in the grocery store. In fact, I think my mother probably bought a can of already ground coffee. I didn’t drink coffee at that age. I started in high school when I worked in a pharmacy in Milford and on early Saturdays and Sundays the owner would buy everyone who was working a fresh cup of coffee from the River Diner. It always smelled good, too.

I started drinking coffee because of the smell. I think that’s one of the reasons I still drink it.

There is something comforting about the fragrance of freshly ground coffee beans as they waft through the house. It reminds me of my childhood, of being with my mom at the local A & P. I guess ultimately it reminds me of home. I wonder if that’s why coffee houses are so popular.

At our home there is often fresh coffee from freshly ground beans. Lying in bed, I knew there would be some this morning, as fresh as could be, plus it was Friday. As I lay there with Cooper, with one eye open and my foot sticking out into the cool, the clock rolled to 7 AM. I could hear the coffee maker gurgling and roiling, and I knew it had the makings of a good day to be home.

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live out loud

In praise of the pizzelle

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, May 23, 2012 11:34 PM

My mother is Italian. She grew up in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area. Her mother had been born and raised on Squirrel Hill, a heavily Italian immigrant neighborhood at the turn of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. It may still be heavily Italian; I don’t know. It’s been quite some time since I was there. When I was little, we would often visit. It wasn’t far from where we lived in Erie. My mother’s father’s two sisters and their husbands still lived there as did my grandmother, her husband, and my grandmother’s mother. My great grandmother still lived in the house where she and her husband lived when they first arrived in Pittsburgh from Italy. It was a small house, squeezed in between other small houses with an equally small yard and cement stoop. There were only two bedrooms and one bath. Their last name was Mercurio. My great grandmother gave birth to and raised 10 children, seven girls and three boys, all in that one tiny little house.  

Squirrel Hill in the 1930s

I called her Grandma Mercurio. She was all of about 4’ 9” tall, a tiny bundle of Italian energy who spoke only broken English. She’d sit in her rocking chair in her housedress wearing heavy black shoes, her hose down around her ankles. Her long coarse hair was gray and braided, wrapped in a bun. Small wisps of hair inevitably escaped and sprung wildly around her head. She’d gaze at us all with watery black eyes, listening to the conversation, jumping in when she had something to say, mostly just nodding or shaking her head. She scared the hell out of me. I didn’t understand what she was saying most of the time and her eyes were spooky. My mother assures me she was a tiger largely without claws but I was still frightened.

She used to cook all the time. She passed her cooking skills to her seven daughters, the youngest of which was Margaret, my grandmother. Margaret, in turn, passed her skills down to my mother, Joyce. One of those skills was the fine art of making pizzelles.

Pizzelles are flat Italian cookies that look like waffles, largely because they’re made with a pizzelle iron, but they’re thin. The ingredients are simple: sugar, flour, butter and eggs, with anise extract added for flavor. They are one of the oldest known cookies and most likely originated from the ancient Roman crustulmum or pancake. It was in Salle, in the Abruzzi region of Italy hundreds of years ago, that pizzelle irons were first introduced. Legend has it that poor blacksmiths of the region used old railroad nails and pieces of track to forge irons called ferratelle, as in ferrous metal. These irons were used over open fires and had very long handles in order to keep hands from getting burned.  


As time progressed, pizzelles were introduced into festivals including a feast still held in July to honor Beato Roberto, a 12th century monk. People would gather in the town square to celebrate their patron saint on July 18th, bringing food and attaching pizzelles to tree branches. Soon irons began to be made with family crests and passed down to each generation. To many Italians, my own family included, there is no feast without pizzelles.

The word comes from the Italian word pizze, meaning flat and round. Coincidentally it’s also the word for pizza. When the dough is placed between the two plates of the iron, and cooked for the allotted time (something my mother would know), it produces a 4” or so flat wafer with a snowflake-like imprint. My great grandmother used a traditional iron; I’m sure my grandmother did as well. I think I remember my mother also using a traditional iron early in her pizzelle-making days but once electric pizzelle irons were available she availed herself of one.

I remember eating these wonderful cookies as a child; devouring one after another. The licorice taste of the anise would waft through the house and I knew it was pizzelle time. Occasionally my mother would roll them when they came out of the iron, forming a cookie tube she would then fill with some kind of cannoli cream. She would top the ends with crushed walnuts. I could only eat about one of those. They were incredibly rich. 

The crowded Italian deli

Today, I stopped at an Italian deli in Agoura on the way home from a meeting. I ran into the neighboring CVS first to get a few things and then went into the appropriately named Italia Deli & Bakery. It’s a small deli stocked with all manner of Italian delicacies. Meats, cheeses, breads, homemade bruschetta and olive tapenade dips, and wine. Even their canned tomatoes for making sauce are Italian. They have bins with fresh pasta. I could have just moved in. I ordered a sandwich and then discovered some fresh pesto sauce. I decided we needed that, too. As I was walking through the aisles, I also came across pizzelles. Freshly made and in three flavors: chocolate, vanilla and anise (though evidently some 65 flavors are available which is just sacrilege). I grabbed some of the anise ones, paid and left. I couldn’t wait to eat lunch so I could try one or three.

Kevin isn’t familiar with the whole pizzelle idea though he knew what they were. We live too far away from my family for him to have been properly indoctrinated into some of those lasting Italian traditions. My first husband, who had absolutely no Italian in him, had never had pizzelles before being introduced to my family. He took to them immediately. When we got married, my mother gave him a pizzelle iron so he could make his own. When we got divorced, he got the iron. It only seemed fair. I still had my mother, after all. And her pizzelles rule.

But mom, I have to say. The ones I bought today weren’t half bad. Since I can’t have yours, these will have to do.

Celebrating this 23-calories-per-cookie cookie today and living it out loud.

The psychology of sneakers

by Lorin Michel Friday, May 4, 2012 9:46 PM

There are many modern conveniences that bring great comfort and in many cases joy. Comfort can come in the form of food, drink, people and pets, a good book or a really good bad movie that you’ve seen a dozen times. That’s when you need comfort because you’re feeling down. I know I’m a big fan of French fries, chocolate milkshakes and Under the Tuscan Sun when I need comfort food and a movie after a bad day.

But there are also those conveniences that bring both comfort and joy when you’re feeling good about life, celebrating it, living it out loud. Those can also come in the form of food, drink, pets and French fries. They also come in the form of sneakers.

Sneakers bring literal comfort. They’re built for comfort, built to wear every day all day. They’re like more rugged and more socially acceptable slippers. Sneakers have been around all of my life. They’ve been around all of my mother’s life, and her mother’s life and most of her mother’s life before her. They began as rubber-soled shoes called plimsolls crafted when nine small rubber manufacturing companies formed the U.S. Rubber Company in the 1800s. One of the nine was the Goodyear Metallic Rubber Shoe Company, established in the 1840s. They’re the ones who created the process known as vulcanization that uses heat to meld rubber to cloth or other components. Humphrey O’Sullivan received the first patent for a rubber-heeled shoe on January 24, 1899.

For 21 years, from 1892 to 1913, 30 different brands of rubber shoes were produced until the company decided to consolidate the footwear under one name. They chose something called Keds after having to dismiss Peds due to copyright infringement. Keds were the first mass-marketed canvas-top, rubber-sole shoes. Sneakers. This was the word coined by Henry Nelson McKinney, an advertising executive at N.W. Ayer & Son, because they were so quiet.

Sneakers quickly moved from being comfortable slip-ons to being shoes worn primarily in sports to being fashion statements. In sports, they make professional athletes and weekend warriors alike jump faster and run higher. They allow for the release of endorphins, a group of hormones that make us feel joyous or at least better. They make us feel strong and euphoric, if we’re doing it right. Endorphins are released during physical activity, the kind that often happens when wearing sneakers.

Sneakers allow us to sneak around. The myriad of colors and styles that are currently available allow us to show our personality, our own senses of style. They allow us to be in the moment, to have different types for different reasons, even for different seasons. Running shoes, walking shoes, hiking shoes, trail shoes, track shoes, tennis shoes, basketball shoes, skate shoes, slip-ons, ties, cleats. They’re canvas, leather, vinyl, plastic, or a combination thereof. With the exception of the cleats, they all fall into the sneaking category.

The shoes we choose say a lot about who we are and what we want to communicate to the world. We seek out different colors because they match our outfits, our cars, our pets. Bright colors shout look at me, muted colors are more shy, introverted. In some cases, we seek out colors to show we belong; we also seek out colors to show we don’t belong.

Certain types of sneakers can show that we are part of a group or they can announce us as a certified individual. Skate shoes show we’re cool, running shoes show we’re a little uptight. Tennis shoes are competitive, walking shoes are genial. We seek them out because we like the look, the feel, the colors. The comfort.

Sneakers can give us the ability to become superheroes in our every day lives. They can give us power, the power to change our lives simply by lacing up a pair of walkers or runners. The power of power, a power that comes by slamming a tennis ball so it just skims the net, all without losing balance. The power to put your feet up, kick back, have a glass of wine and be in the moment.

I have a pair of black Asics running shoes with twisted turquoise laces, a pair of white Reebok tennis shoes, another pair of white walking shoes with a Velcro close, a pair of black Skechers, a pair of tan K-Swiss, and a pair of blue Nike slip-ons without a back. What do they say about me? I have no idea. I bought them all for the comfort factor; some I also bought as a fashion statement. The black running shoes are my most recent addition. I bought them just last week. I’ve never had black running shoes before. They’re the brand I like though because they fit the shape of my foot, and I wanted something a little different.

Does that mean I’m trying to tell the world something? Could I secretly be dark and twisted? Perhaps not so secretly. Maybe it just means I like them, I’m comfortable in them, they make me feel good. The incredible lightness of being snug inside an airy or even a weighty sneaker also helps to lighten my mood. Maybe that’s the ultimate meaning of sneakers. To lighten and thus enlighten.

If that's the case, it's rather sneaky of them. I like that in a shoe.

It's a tapas world and we just live in it

by Lorin Michel Friday, March 16, 2012 6:54 PM

I have long been fascinated by tapas, small appetizer-sized meals. I find the concept ideal since I often don’t want or need a huge plate of whatever I decide sounds good in a restaurant. So often what arrives is a quantity of food that could feed at least two and sometimes four. I know I’m in trouble when it takes two wait-people to carry it to the table.

This isn’t as much of a problem lately because we don’t go out to dinner as often as we used to. When the economy tanked several years ago and everyone began to panic about spending money, we joined them. We’re not frivolous with how we spend but one of our guilty pleasures was going out to dinner at least once a week. We stopped doing that. Lately, however, we’ve started dipping our toe back into the restaurant stream, frequenting places that serve smaller portions of delectable delights. Tapas. We actually discovered the wonderful world of tapas years ago in Maui at a place called Vino Italian Tapas & Wine Bar in Kapalua. It closed in 2007, but I remember it fondly for both its food and the fact that it introduced us so eloquently to small proportions of wonderfully exotic foods. The wine part we already had down pretty well.

Tapas originated in Spain, though the types of food included on a tapas menu can vary greatly depending on where you live. The idea is to encourage conversation between people while they dabble in eating, rather than watching each other wolf down an entire plate of spaghetti and meatballs. The word itself comes from the verb alvarear, meaning to cover. Some believe the name actually originated sometime around the 16th century when tavern owners in Castilla-La Mancha discovered that strong tasting and smelling (read: foul) cheese could disguise, or cover up, the taste and smell of bad wine. Others believe that tapas actually started with Felipe the III who ruled Spain from 1598 until his death in 1621. Evidently one of his claims to fame was passing a law that attempted to eliminate drunken behavior, particularly among soldiers and sailors. The law was simple: you purchased a drink and the bartender was required to provide a small amount of food along with the ordered beverage. The idea being that the food would slow the effects of alcohol while also filling the stomach.

I personally like the legend of King Alfonso the XIII of Castile. He was purported to have stopped by a famous tavern in the Andalusian city of Cádiz where he ordered a cup of wine. Cádiz being a windy city, the waiter thought to cover the cup with a slice of cured ham in order to keep beach sand from the beverage. The king, after drinking the wine and eating the tapa, order another wine “with the cover.” Later in life, he recovered from an illness by drinking wine and eating small dishes between meals. When he felt good enough to pass another law of the land, he did so, declaring that no wine was to be served unless accompanied by a small snack or tapa.

Tapa is the singular form of tapas, meaning lid in Spanish.

The dishes themselves often incorporate ingredients and influences from many different cultures. From the Romans, we get olives. From the North African Moors, we have almonds and citrus fruits. The New World, which would be us, introduced tomatoes, sweet and chili peppers, corn, beans and potatoes. While the actual word tapas refers only to a particular type of Spanish cuisine – usually involving imaginative uses of vegetables and other local ingredients including seafood – it has recently evolved to mean, simply, small plates.

Tonight, in our little corner of the world, I’m making two types of pizzas in tapas sizes. One with sausage, caramelized onions and gorgonzola cheese, with a parmesan garnish; one with Swiss chard, sautéed spinach, and smoked fontina. The recipes come from a book called Wine Bites: Simple morsels that pair perfectly with wine. I bought the book when we were in Paso Robles several weeks ago, and I’ve yet to try most of the delicacies. But tonight’s the night. We’re going to channel ol’ King Alf, and eat our small portions with wine.

After all, we wouldn’t want to break that centuries old law.

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live out loud | The cooking of joy

The subject was roses

by Lorin Michel Thursday, March 8, 2012 11:34 PM

We have six rose bushes in our backyard tucked against the wall. None are in bloom right now but when they are, the backyard alights in colors of blood red, gentle pink, sterling violet and glowing yellow. They’re glorious when they bloom, filling the backyard with brilliant color that is alive and lush. Their fragrance drifts through the house on a soft breeze, light and floral and lovely.

Roses have a long history that stretches to some 35 million years ago, though the cultivation of them began much more recently, in Asia around 5000 years ago. Greek mythology tells us of the goddess of flowers, Chloris. One day while Chloris was cleaning in the forest, she found the lifeless body of a nymph and to bring the nymph back to life, Chloris turned to the goddess of love, Aphrodite, who gave the nymph beauty. Dionysus, the god of wine, added a sweet nectar, and the three graces provided charm, brightness and joy. Finally, Zephyr, the West wind, blew away the clouds so that the sun god, Apollo, could shine and make the flower bloom. The rose was born. Hindu’s have another version. In theirs, the creator of the world Brahma, and the protector of the world, Vishnu, argued over which flower was more most beautiful. Vishnu chose the rose. Thousands of years later, in the tombs of Egypt, wreaths made with flowers, roses among them, were discovered.

Roses became synonymous with excess during the Roman Empire. During the 15th century, the factions fighting to control England used it as a symbol with the white rose representing York and the red representing Lancaster. In the 17th century, roses were considered legal tender. Napoleon’s wife Josephine loved roses so much she established an extensive collection containing more than 250 rose varieties.

Until the beginning of the 19th century, all roses were pink or white. The red rose first came from China in 1800. Bright yellow roses entered the vase in 1900. Since then, the colors have come to symbolize very real emotions. Red means love, pink is thank you, yellow equals joy, orange is desire, peach is appreciation, lavender enchantment, black death; white roses are sometimes called the flower of light.

White roses from Maryann, to celebrate Maguire

Last night we ordered out again. I simply haven’t been in the mood to cook the last few days. Kevin called Fresh Brothers in Westlake for a smorgasbord of edible items mostly bad. Chicken wings, pizza with mushrooms, French fries and a salad to balance it all. He hung up; I poured a glass of wine. There was a knock at the door and we both looked at each other. It wasn’t possible that the food was here that quickly. Even if they’d managed to cook it, it’s at least a 10 minute drive from Westlake Village. As I stood in the kitchen as Kevin went to answer the door.

It was Maryann, with a dozen white roses, brought to celebrate Maguire. We all hugged and cried, then got to talking … about the dog, about her impending move, about life and death. We had a glass of wine together and Fresh Brothers eventually arrived and though we invited her to share our not-very-healthy meal, she declined. She had her own dogs to get home to. Lucky and Tessie. They needed to be walked; needed some attention paid.

I cut about an inch from the stem of each rose. I poured the packet of whatever it is into the bottom of a vase and filled it with water before placing the flowers inside. I stood and looked at them, inhaled their fragrance and embraced what they symbolized. Light, beginnings, purity and love. Perfect.

We were sad, we remain heartbroken over the loss of our beautiful Maguire. But our friends and family have made it so much easier to bear.

Oh, bear. Honey bear.

Celebrate him. Celebrate that. 

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The perfect couple

by Lorin Michel Thursday, March 1, 2012 11:26 PM

I believe there are two types of people in the world: those who like sweets and those who like salt. Yes, a sweets person has been known to eat a potato chip now and again and a salt person will occasionally indulge in something sweet. Though when they reach for their treat of choice, one goes for a donut and the other to the peanuts.

I’m a salt person. I like some sweets but I don’t gravitate toward them. If there were two bowls on a table, one filled with potato chips and the other with M & Ms, I’d go for the chips though after I might have an M just to curb the salt. I do the same when I have a meal with garlic and being of partial Italian descent, I have meals with garlic quite a bit.

I’ve never truly understood the “need” for chocolate. I sometimes like it but if I never had it again, I’d probably be just fine. Correction: I would be just fine. Except when there’s a really heavy red wine involved. There’s something about the velvety feel of a syrah on the tongue. It’s inky in color, thick and luscious; a meal unto itself. And when you drink it, it is a party. A really good one like a Black Bear Block Syrah or Mesa Reserve Syrah, both 2007, from Zaca Mesa, doesn’t even require food. In fact, food could ruin the purity of the bouquet, the intoxication of the taste, the wonder of the finish. Food however, does not extend to chocolate. A heavy red wine, a syrah or a petite syrah, even a port, needs a beautiful dark chocolate morsel to complement it.

Here’s why: Chocolate actually has very intense flavors that range from sweet to bitter to acidic to fruity. Much like wine. And they are the perfect companion to each other.

When we were in Paso Robles two weeks ago, we went to several places that served a Port with dark chocolate. It was a party in the mouth. It was both a bitter alternative to the sweet and a sweet alternative to the bitter, which makes perfect sense since the darker the chocolate, the more likely it will be to taste wonderfully good with the red wine. Darker chocolate with deep-roasted flavors are ideal with wines that are also dark and toasty. The general rule is that lighter chocolates (40 – 50% cocoa) should be with lighter wines and darker chocolates (75 – 90%) should be with darker wines.

Like the way grapes are nurtured according to regions, encouraging distinct flavors to characterize a wine, so too are chocolates associated with the regions they come from. The soil, air and water of a region all make for a difference in flavor. The type of cocoa bean, as well as how its dried and processed, has an effect on its taste. Grapes are aged in oak and the type of oak and how long it’s aged have an effect on its flavor.

Wine and chocolate may be the perfect couple. They both symbolize love and romance. Romantic dinners often involve wine; chocolate too is part of the equation.

We’ve taken to having Nestle Dark Chocolate Morsels with our wine. It’s not the best chocolate but it does the job, especially at the end of a long day when romance is in short supply. But this perfect couple still likes the perfect coupling of dark chocolate and dark red wine. The special combination of taste makes us feel equally special.

So much for being salty.

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live out loud

Meet the Mr.

by Lorin Michel Monday, January 30, 2012 9:03 PM

Every morning I see him, staring at me, waiting, red-faced. I wonder sometimes what he would do if I didn’t venture into the kitchen after a not-long-enough rest, rub the sleep from my eyes and open the blinds. But he doesn’t really have to worry because in the morning I’m all about the routine, and the routine means standing there at the counter. We stare at each other for a little while. I think sometimes he will do something unexpected, like challenge me, but ever the gentleman, he always waits for me to make the first move. It usually isn’t long before I do just that. I reach out and grab his love handle, remove the pot from its heated cradle and go about making the morning coffee.

Meet one of my closest morning friends, my Mr. Coffee. Oh, there have been others along the way. At one point there was a pretty white Braun that was positively angelic, and the dark, brooding Krups that could always be counted on to brew up a pot or two. For a while there we even had a stainless steel Betty Crocker machine. It was very industrial and looked fabulous on the counter. But she ended up being very weak, couldn’t hold her water at all. Most mornings there was more on the counter than there was in the pot.

The original Mr. Coffee from 1972. Note the wood panel.

We flirted with an espresso machine for a while but it was too much work with the steam thing and it didn’t brew a large enough quantity so it was a constant rush to make another tiny little pot. Plus it was noisy, too noisy for early in the morning.

When I was young and had my first coffee maker, it was a Mr. Coffee. I think my dad gave it to me in college when I had my first apartment. Or maybe it was when I was in the dorm. I don’t remember. It was white plastic that was forever stained with caffeine, and had a flat sort of carafe. It served me well. So when Betty blew it, the mister and I decided to go back to the original and still the best.

It all started with a man named Vincent Marotta Sr. who had an idea for an automatic drip coffeemaker. It was the early 1970s, and he and his business partner Samuel Glazer recruited two former Westinghouse engineers. Westinghouse was the king of stove-top percolators for a good part of the industrial 20th century. The engineers, Edmund Abel and Edwin Schulze – I lovingly refer to them as the Eds – created the first Mr. Coffee for Sunbeam Products in 1972. It used gravity to pull water through a heating section and was allowed to drip freely into a waiting carafe. Mr. Coffee was a true revolution, selling more than one million makers by April of 1974. It probably helped that baseball great Joe DiMaggio was the spokesman.

Mr. Coffee produced a more uniform brewing temperature than any percolator which tended to give coffee a bitter and burned flavor. It soon began using thermosyphons to carry water up from a reservoir and drip it through the waiting dry coffee grounds. Over the years, the company went through a number of upgrades and incarnations, was sold to different companies and even almost went bankrupt.

Then they introduced their new Optimal Brew, a small flash boiling chamber that heats water to approximately 200º F before delivering it to the ground coffee beans. This allows for 10 cups of coffee to be brewed in less than eight minutes. That may be my favorite part.

Our Mr. Coffee is deep red and black. It’s tall and looks very nice in its perfect place on the counter, not too far from the sink for water and the disposal for the coffee grounds. I could set the timer at night so that it brews before we get up but I never remember unless we’re traveling. Besides, I like the routine. Clean the carafe, empty the grounds, clean the filter, pour in fresh cool water, scoop out freshly ground French roast, close the lid and press start.

Other than my husband, this mister may be one of the most important in my daily life. Like my husband, I plan to keep him around for quite some time. I think it’s the love handle. On the Mr., not the mister.

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live out loud | The cooking of joy

Can I get a cookie now? A vintage puppy update

by Lorin Michel Sunday, December 4, 2011 10:57 PM

Last Saturday night, our boy got very, very sick. We have no idea why but starting around 1 am, he exploded. Then he exploded again around 3:30, and so it went all day Sunday, Sunday night, Monday and Monday night. He was unsettled, obviously uncomfortable and generally miserable; sick as a dog, as the saying goes. We wanted so badly to help him but we didn’t know what he needed. If ever the art of mindreading was needed, it was then.

The vet came Tuesday and he’s been on five different types of medication ever since. We joked that he’s officially turned into old person, complete with prescription medications lined up on the kitchen counter in the order they need to be administered. The difference, of course, is that most old people take their pills by themselves. Our vintage puppy fights us every single time. We pry open his mouth and do our best to place the pill as far back in his throat as possible before closing his jaws, holding them together, gently stroking his throat, blowing on his nose and generally try to coerce him into swallowing. We promise cookies, chicken, undying devotion. Most of the time he pretends that he’s swallowed, punctuated with an actual swallow. He pushes the tip of his tongue out between his front teeth and blinks his eyes. He’s done fighting us; we relinquish our grip and stand up.

At which point he looks at us and spits the pill out onto the floor. The routine begins again until we win.

Maguire, snoozing on the floor in the sun; today

It is now a week later and he seems to be on the mend. He’s eating his prescription dog food – moist food, which we’ve only given him previously when he’s sick, which luckily hasn’t been often – inhaling it actually. He stands near me as I prepare his food, staring up, ears forward, waiting, waiting. His tongue snakes out occasionally as if to imply that he’s ready to eat. As if I didn’t know that. Any time now. Please. Can you put that on the floor, mom? I’m so hungry. Did I tell you I was sick?

Yes, baby. I was there.

After he cleans the bowl, and I mean cleans the bowl to the point where it looks like it’s just been washed, he saunters toward the bedroom to simultaneously ram and flip his bed while also wiping his whiskers. This has been a good development.

A better development happened on Friday night. Kevin and I were on opposite couches, enjoying the fire. The TV might have been on. If it was, whatever was playing was completely forgettable. I glanced over to see where the dog was. He was at the foot of the stairs. He had a toy. Ordinarily this would not be cause for celebration, but we knew that we would truly be on the road to recovery when he started bringing out toys.

We felt like we’d won the vintage puppy lottery.

The phrase “sick as a dog" dates back to at least the 17th century, and perhaps as early as the 1500s. It doesn’t appear to be negative so much as descriptive. Anyone who knows dogs knows that while they can and often will eat absolutely anything, occasionally their diet disagrees with them and the results can be quite dramatic.

To truly appreciate the original sense of "sick as a dog," imagine being seated in the parlor having tea with the Vicar on a lovely Sunday afternoon, when the dog staggers in from a meal of sun-dried woodchuck and expresses his unease … all over the heirloom oriental carpet.

That was Maguire, sans the woodchuck.

On a related note, sick as a dog should not be confused with sick puppy, used to describe someone that behaves oddly. That phrase seems to have been used first by a reporter in The Indianapolis Star on May 7, 1911 when he wrote: "When a noted actress is in town," said one detective yesterday, "lots of times some poor fool, wearing a carnation in his coat lapel, will whine around after her like a sick puppy."

Can I get a cookie, mom?

Regardless, our vintage puppy was sick as a dog. But he’s better now. His fur looks brighter, he’s not as haggard, he’s even gained back a little weight.  As I write this, he’s standing here gazing up at me. He’s shifting his feet, he’s putting on the cute.

If I could read his mind I’d swear he was saying: Can I get a cookie now? Pleeeeeezzzzzeeeee?

Welcome back, little man!

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live out loud

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