Expect the Unexpected

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I got meningitis by following doctor’s orders


Chart by Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

How I got Drug-Induced Aseptic Meningitis by following doctor’s orders, a cautionary tale.

The last thing I expected when I went into the emergency room at Danbury Hospital for a viral infection was to end up getting meningitis in the process and getting even sicker. The sad thing is, it was avoidable.

How this all began. Shortly after a family gathering this past Easter I came down with what I called a bad case of the “flu.” You know the drill — nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, etc…  I thought I could ride it out a few days. My husband got it too, so did my in-laws. They were sick a few days and then gradually got better. But I wasn’t riding it out well. Sorry for the graphic description, but I was coughing up “mud” on a continuous basis, and was getting severely weakened and dehydrated.
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The BEST Irish Soda Bread?

Stir Crazy Irish Soda Bread may not be traditional, but it's darn good.

Stir Crazy Irish Soda Bread may not be traditional, but it’s darn good.

Last year, when I was looking for Irish soda bread recipes for St. Patrick’s Day, I found a gazillion online proclaiming to be “The Best Irish Soda Bread.”

For the most part, I wasn’t impressed. So many recipes were bland, dry and crumbly.

Before you yell at me, I understand traditional Irish soda bread is just that, and it doesn’t even have raisins in it. It’s meant to be eaten with stew, or carried in your pocket for a quick snack. 

But try as I might, I just don’t like dry Irish soda bread.
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Say ‘I love you’ with the best Chocolate Cake

Black Magic Cake with Buttermilk Ganache

Black Magic Cake with Buttermilk Ganache

Valentine’s Day is this Sunday and you’re not sure what to get that special someone. (Or maybe you just want to treat yourself?)

Don’t go out and spend a gazillion dollars on some overpriced roses or flights of fancy. Make this chocolate cake. It’s super moist and screams, “Eat me with a glass of milk!”

This is the chocolate cake you can slather with ganache, or chocolate buttercream frosting, or white frosting, or nothing at all. You can make it as 2 layers, a 13 x 9 x 2 big cake, or as cupcakes.

This is the chocolate cake every baker needs in her or his repertoire. This is Hershey’s Black Magic Cake.

It’s so popular that other chefs, notably Ina Garten, have published this recipe under other names without crediting it to Hershey’s. Nonetheless, it came from The Hershey Company, so let’s give credit where credit is due. It’s a great classic chocolate cake!

Make this cake for Valentine’s Day and you will be St. Valentine.
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Happy 95th Birthday Carol Channing!

Carol Channing and her late husband Harry Kullijian at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. — Patricia Gay photo

Carol Channing and her late husband Harry Kullijian at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. — Patricia Gay photo

Well hello, Carol, I’m so glad you are celebrating your 95th birthday today!

Carol Channing immortalized at Sardi's

Carol Channing immortalized at Sardi’s

I am forever grateful to you for bringing your own special brand of humor and joy to the theater. I will never forget as a little kid listening to my mom’s original Broadway cast recording of Hello, Dolly! I knew then and there I would forever be a Broadway musical and Carol Channing fan.

Singing to the record, (yes kids, we had vinyl records back then) I particularly liked how Carol sang So Long Dearie, with the drawn out opening notes. I sang this song many times when I was leaving a place, a job, or something else unpleasant.
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No Knead Brioche, Ooh La La

If I can make Brioche, you can too!

If I can make Brioche, you can too!

After failing miserably at making Jim Lahey’s No Knead Bread (The bottom was burned and the bread came out partially raw), I was reluctant to tackle No Knead-anything ever again.

But just saying I’ll never do something ever again, means I probably will do it again. So when I came across a good sounding recipe and accompanying video for No Knead Brioche, that light, slightly sweet, French favorite, I thought I would give it a whirl.

This recipe is wonderful. It makes one loaf of delicious Brioche, which is great on its own, or warmed/toasted with a bit of butter and jam. It also makes silken French Toast, and I think would be fabulous for bread pudding.

Traditional Brioche requires kneading and can be tricky. No Knead Brioche isn’t tricky at all. But it does require one important thing  — time. The dough needs to rest at least 24 hours in the fridge. (You can go several days and it’s fine). Plus, before you bake it, it will need a few hours at room temp to proof. (It does NOT double in height during the room temp rise, so don’t panic like I did thinking I blew it again.)

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Two hearty soups from one recipe

Homemade Beef Stew and French Onion Soup can share the same base, making two hearty but vastly different soups.

Homemade Beef Stew and French Onion Soup can share the same basic broth, making two hearty but vastly different soups.

It’s winter, it’s cold, there’s a storm brewing, so it’s time to make some nice hot soup. But what to make? My daughter and I had a hankering for French Onion Soup, but Jerry does not like onions, so I tried to think of a way to make us all happy — voila, made a batch of Beef Stew and a batch of French Onion Soup using the same base/broth. Two for one.

So here’s how I made the soups, and a slideshow.
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Remember The Cowsills?

If you’re an American baby boomer, and female, chances are you remember The Cowsills. An enormously talented band of five brothers, Bill, Bob, Paul, Barry, and John, plus their sister Susan, PLUS their mother Barbara.

Their hit songs included: Hair, Indian Lake, We Can Fly, and Love American Style. But their most popular song was the 1967 “flower power classic,” The Rain, The Park & Other Things, commonly called “The Flower Girl,” for its catchy refrain — “I love the flower girl… she could make me happy, happy, happy.”

In the late ’60s, you couldn’t miss the Cowsills, who had quickly become pop icons. They were on every variety and TV talk show and had massive concert tours across the country.

If you were like me, you bought their albums, and every week you read about them in 16 magazine. You cut their photos out and taped them to your bedroom wall. And you went to bed dreaming about your favorite Cowsill, (most likely Barry, although Bill’s voice was to die for). I even got to saw them perform live at the Brockton Fair in Massachusetts.

Riding on the crest of popularity, in just a few short years the Cowsills were raking in millions of dollars. In 1970, they served as the model for the TV show The Partridge Family, starring Shirley Jones as a single mother performing with her children in a rock band.

But then, poof… they were gone. No more songs, no more TV appearances.

At the time, fans didn’t know what happened. There was no social media or TMZ to tell us what was going on. All we knew was the Cowsills weren’t making records together anymore.

What happened to the Cowsills remained something of a mystery for nearly 40 years, until a documentary by filmmaker Louise Palanker came out in 2011, titled Family Band: The Cowsills Story, which aired on Showtime. Narrated by Bob Cowsill, the film reveals that in contrast to the band’s likable public image, behind the scenes, their life was miserable, controlled by their overbearing alcoholic father Bud, who acted as the band’s manger.

It was Bud who insisted the boys add their sister and mother to their act (even though Barbara was incredibly uncomfortable and suffered from stage fright). It was Bud who handled their booking arrangements and all their money. If the boys disagreed with Bud, they would be met with was iron fist. Bud also had a volatile temper in public. Ed Sullivan liked The Cowsills so much he signed them up for 10 appearances on his show. But during their second appearance, one of the microphones went dead on the air. Bud yelled and screamed at the sound engineer — who turned out to be Ed Sullivan’s son-in-law. Sullivan canceled the rest of their appearances.

The final blow came in Las Vegas in 1970. Bud was arrested by state troopers in Las Vegas after getting into a drunken physical altercation with son Bill.

The next day, Bud fired Bill, the group’s lead singer and guitarist — not only from from the band — but from the family. Bill had to go live elsewhere.

The other kids were unable to assume Bill’s role in the band, and that was the end of the Cowsills’ ride.

The millions the family had earned were gone, squandered by Bud on bad investments. The Cowsills went from rags to riches to rags again.

I consider The Cowsills not only American pop icons, but American family icons. So many families were like them back then. It was an era when fathers were still trying to rule the roost and kids were rebelling. Women were seen but not heard. But they were rebelling too. Domestic violence was rampant, and what happened often stayed behind closed doors. No one knew your family’s private business.

Over the years, the Cowsill siblings stayed in touch but went their separate ways and had to deal with even more tragedy. Barry went missing in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and wasn’t found until months later. He had died from drowning.

During Barry’s memorial service the family learned that Bill had died after a battle with emphysema. Last year, Bob’s twin brother Richard (who was not in the band) died.

But the amazing thing about the remaining Cowsills is they haven’t given up on music — or family. Bob, Susan, and Paul are still performing together as The Cowsills, joined by Bob’s son Ryan on keyboard, Paul’s son Brendon on guitar, and Susan’s husband Russ Broussard on drums.

On Sunday, Jan. 31, the Cowsills are coming to the Ridgefield Playhouse in Connecticut, and I’ll be there. I am bringing my daughter Katie to show her who my idols were, and hopefully she will like the joyful sunshine of their music, like I do, I do, I do. Because they make me happy, happy, happy.

Birdman, J.K. Simmons soar at Oscars

Birdman takes the Oscar for Best Picture.

Birdman takes the Oscar for Best Picture.

Congratulations to Birdman for winning the Oscar for Picture.

Glad to see the Academy recognizing creative original films. In the past, films like Birdman might have been considered too strange for mainstream viewers.
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Will Birdman take flight at the Oscars?

Michael Keaton and his Birdman alter ego.

Michael Keaton and his Birdman alter ego.

Birdman: The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, was the strangest film I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen strange.

I’m not counting bizarro sci-fi flicks, like Mesa of Lost Women, about a mad scientist who injects spiders with human growth hormone to create a race of beautiful women, or David Croneberg’s Videodrome (David Cronenberg, ’nuff said). Those films are in a strange category all their own.

Birdman falls in line with more mainstream films such as Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda, Barton Fink, Mulholland Drive, and Donnie Darko. Strange films geared toward a general audience. That’s where Birdman feathers its nest as the strangest of them all.
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Whiplash: Not quite believable but unbelievably good

Miles Teller with J.K. Simmons  as the teacher from Hell, in a scene from Whiplash.

Miles Teller with J.K. Simmons as the teacher from Hell, in a scene from Whiplash.

Whiplash is the most captivating film I’ve seen in a long time.

Sure, it has holes in the plot the size of the ones in the Dead Sea, but the movie is so intense, that a climactic concert scene elicited loud audible gasps from the audience.

Throw in some bodacious acting, bodacious jazz, and the bodacious ability to be parodied, and you’ve got yourself one bodacious hit.
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