Author Archives: charlesprogers
Post by Alison Hein.
Do you have someone special in your family who, through masterful cooking, can elevate a simple recipe to the height of perfection? Or someone who, through artful mixing, can swirl a few splashes in a glass to create a bountiful ocean of flavor?
In my husband’s family, it’s Aunt Frannie. With just a handful of ingredients, she will mix you up one mean Irish Coffee. One sip of her concoction, and you will never want another mixed by anyone else.
Her secret? You must use brown sugar, and you must enthusiastically muddle it with a hefty pour of fine Irish whiskey before adding coffee. Aunt Frannie likes to use Jameson whiskey (ironically established by a Scot in 1780) for its smooth, woody depth. You must also use strong, hot fresh-brewed coffee. Aunt Frannie recommends switching to decaf if you plan on having more than one – trust me, they go down just a little too easy.
The story goes that the original Irish Coffee was created in the 1940s by Joe Sheridan, a chef who worked in the Shannon port. A group of traveling Americans was looking for something warming after arriving in Ireland on a cold winter night. When one of the passengers inquired if Chef Sheridan was serving them Brazilian coffee, he replied, tongue-in-cheek like a perfect Irishman, “No, it’s Irish Coffee.”
Even with this recipe it’s not possible to precisely recreate Aunt Frannie’s amazing Irish Coffee. (I think she secretly pours a lot of love and tradition in there!) It is possible, however, to begin your own family tradition and create an amazing Irish breakfast in bed.
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
¼ cup Irish whiskey
¾ cup hot, fresh-brewed coffee
Whipped cream, for garnish
Add sugar to a small heat-proof glass, such as an Irish coffee mug. Pour in Irish whiskey and muddle until sugar and whiskey are well-mixed. Pour in coffee and stir. Top with whipped cream and serve immediately.
Makes one Irish Coffee.
Post by Mark T. Locker.
Unnatural Creatures: short stories selected by Neil Gaiman.
One of the great aspects of short stories is that you can often dive into the story and come out the other end within a reasonable amount of time. But sometimes I feel like even a great short story author can be pretty hit or miss and I often don’t like reading collections by a single author for this very reason. What I do like is collected stories, especially those carefully curated by a respected figure in the field. And you don’t get much more respected in the field than Neil Gaiman. Known for a million novels for adults, young adults, and picture books for kids, not to mention the Sandman graphic novels, Gaiman is a beloved figure in the literary scene. So a collection of short stories by him must be pretty good.
Unnatural Creatures is a collection of stories about creatures, both magical and otherworldly. The authors are as varied as the subject matter they cover: from 19th-century authors E. Nesbit and Frank Stockton to contemporary cartoonist Gahan Wilson to Neil Gaiman himself, this collection will have something to please just about everyone. The first story, by Gahan Wilson, is a creepy and strange tale of a mysterious blot that appears and disappears at random, always growing and causing distress. What is it? Where did it come from? Frank Stockton’s tale, “The Griffin and the Minor Canon” is a sweet tale about fear and misunderstanding. It’s also about a griffin. I love this story. With sixteen stories to choose from, this collection of unusual and imaginary creatures is a wonderful way to end the day, transported to a magical world in the safety and comfort of your blankets.
Post by Mark T. Locker.
So, I think pretty much every single superhero out there, regardless how marginal and obscure, is getting either a feature-length film or their own television series. To be honest, I’m tired of it all. So when The Flash got his own series to accompany the CW’s Arrow I thought, “Yippee.” But I have to tell you, I’m watching it. My wife and son started in on it and I jumped in a few episodes in. It’s a great show! All the creators behind the series are well seasoned, all of them having been involved in a number of series, from Dawson’s Creek to Arrow to Boston Legal. And it shows. The story lines are as credible as a superhero story line is going to be; the characters are likeable, interesting, and not completely 2-dimensional. There are a few “really??” moments, but so far nothing that would put me off the show.
The premise of the series is that a huge science facility in Center City (aerial shots are of my hometown, Portland Oregon; holla!) called Star Labs was about to start their particle accelerator. Unfortunately, something went haywire and a crazy pulse went out, causing massive destruction. What most people didn’t realize is that it also gave a few people superhuman abilities. Called metahumans, their powers range from the ability to control the weather to the the ability to shapeshift into anyone the metahuman comes in contact with. Oh yeah, there’s also a guy who can run super fast. Star Labs finds Barry, who can run super fast and equip him with cutting-edge technology to allow him to use his speed without destroying his body in the process.
Between battling metahumans, trying to live a normal life on the side, and trying to figure out the relationship between the death of his mother and someone known as Reverse Flash, Barry is a very busy guy. It’s an exciting show but also pretty minimal with the violence so older children should be able to watch most of it without fear. Season one is available streaming and season two is on the air right now. Run over and check it out and dream of being super duper speedy.
Post by Tracy Kaler.
A mattress is a major purchase, and not just for financial reasons, but also because you’ll sleep on the bed you purchase for years to come. For this reason alone, it’s crucial to have your ducks in a row before you go mattress shopping. Heed these tips to make the decision an easier one.
Know your budget from the start.
Like other home furnishings, mattress prices run the gamut. Know your budget before you begin, and stick to it to avoid buyer’s remorse later on.
Research mattresses before you shop.
Learn as much as you can about mattresses before you hit the stores. Pillow top? Firm? Soft? Know what you need in advance, and you’re less likely to stress when buying.
Shop the right retailers.
Don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations. Chat with friends and family and ask about their mattresses. Do they like what they sleep on? Would they purchase again? Selecting the right stores could help you make your decision faster.
Ask the salesperson questions.
Make a list of questions before you get to the store. Get as much information as possible about the mattress including warranty and reviews. Ask what other people are saying about a mattress you’re considering, or take the time and Google the model before you make a purchase. You can always return to the store the next day and finalize the purchase then if needed.
If your salesperson isn’t knowledgeable, ask for another, or move on to the next retailer.
Test any mattress you’re considering.
Narrow down the candidates to three or four, and spend at least 15 minutes on each mattress. Try different positions and see how you feel. Trust your gut when you buy.
Get details on the return policy.
Before you pull out your credit card, ask about the return policy. You might get the mattress home and sleep on it for a few nights, only to discover that it’s not the right model. You’ll want to return it and get a refund, or at least a full merchandise credit for another mattress.
Have a you purchased a mattress lately? How did you make your decision?
Post by Alison Hein.
My husband’s firm conducts charitable activities each year during the month of November. The company comes up with different ideas to get people to donate money to various charities. Lo and behold, last week they decided to hold a bake sale in the office to benefit City Harvest, a New York-based food rescue organization which we support. Kevin asked me if I wanted to provide something tempting for the sale.
And so I baked. Benne Wafers, Green Tea Macadamia Cookies, and Pistachio Biscotti. Only one tiny problem – I didn’t have any pistachio nuts. I did, however, have a nice fat bag of crunchy, plump hazelnuts. And, a couple of tiles of bittersweet chocolate mixed into the batter added rich depth and a lovely tan color to the cookies.
The toughest part of baking biscotti is slicing them into strips after the first baking. They tend to crumble if not cooled enough, or if overcooled and too crispy. After a little practice (all mistakes are deliciously edible!), you will have it down to a science.
So, you should add Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti to your cooking repertoire – whether you are baking to support your favorite charity or to serve your favorite person a charitable breakfast in bed.
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 ounces baking chocolate, melted and slightly cooled
2½ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup hazelnuts
Preheat oven to 350°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
Beat butter and sugar together until fluffy. Stir in eggs, one at a time, mixing thoroughly each time. Mix in vanilla and melted chocolate. Stir in flour, baking powder, salt and hazelnuts. Dough should be thick and moldable.
Wet or flour hands, split dough in half, and shape into two long, mounded loaves (approximately 8 inches long by 3½ inches wide). Place loaves on prepared baking sheets and bake for about 30 minutes, until lightly golden. Transfer to wire racks and let cool at least 15 minutes.
When cool enough to handle, slice loaves into roughly ¾-inch slices. Place slices cut-side down on parchment paper and bake for another 30 minutes or so, turning biscotti once during baking, until golden brown. Remove to wire rack and cool.
Makes about 20 to 25 biscotti.