A comfort home fix via the movies

The Academy Awards just wrapped up over the weekend, and once again I failed to see any of the movies nominated this year. It’s not because I don’t enjoy watching movies. I do. Very much. Next to reading a good book, watching an engaging, engrossing movie is right up there with one of my favorite things to do. Especially on the big screen in a darkened theater.
However, I also enjoy another kind of movie watching. Repeat comfort movies at home. It’s like comfort food, only a comfort movie. It’s the kind of movie I might want to watch if the weather is snowy or chilly. Or if I am not feeling well either with a nasty cold or a mean case of the blues or I’m feeling a little lonely. It’s the kind of movie that gives you a you fix like a bowl of homemade mac and cheese or chili or whatever your comfort food fix. It fills you up, satiates a need and leaves you warm inside and extremely satisfied and fulfilled. And it makes you smile.

On these particular days I am drawn to movies set in what I find to be incredibly comfy, cozy, homey homes, where the home is a key, central part of the movie. It’s a home that is not extravagant , not a mansion, just something really comfortable – warm and inviting with just the right decorating touches. For example, I was feeling really run down one one recent Saturday, and I did a little channel surfing and found the movie “It’s Complicated” and watched it for a second time. If you haven’t seen the movie it features Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. The crux of the movie is set in the home of the character Streep plays. I find every part of this home so appealing, a home you would walk into and feel instantly comfortable, including the kitchen where Streep’s character whips up an impromptu gourmet meal for Martin’s character, her architect. She entertains her friends in the living area and shares her frustrations and indiscretions. The home also is where Streep’s character is given a joint by her ex-husband, Baldwin, while she is soaking in the claw foot bathtub. Who doesn’t love a claw foot bathtub?

Steven Martin also made two “Father of the Bride” movie set in cozy, homey homes. Memorable scenes include George wanting to have a barbecue wedding in the backyard and eventually settling for a wedding reception in the house, and George and Nina having a little fun on the kitchen floor and ending up with a baby on the way in their middle age years. After finding out about the baby on board and knowing the nostalgic value of a family home George buys the home back in “Father of the Bride II” after impulsively selling it.
“Driving Miss Daisy” is another movie set in a gorgeous, gorgeous home this time in the South. One visually impactful scene is where Miss Daisy is sitting in a white wicker filled sunroom with sun streaming in multiple windows framed in white curtains. Just gorgeous.

If you add an ocean outside these homey homes, I love the movie even more. Think Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson in “Something’s Gotta Give.” They stroll along the beach with the waves breaking and sending up white spray, and Nicholson’s character contemplates climbing up a flight of beach stairs after a heart attack to gain strength to be “ok back in that department.” Later the two meet up in the kitchen in the middle of the night in their pj’s to make pancakes.

One of my favorite movies combining a warm, meandering older home and the ocean, plus a great story, is “Rich in Love” with Albert Finney, Kathryn Erbe and Jill Clayburgh. It’s set in South Carolina and it has Erbe’s character, a teenager, trying to figure out why her mother has abandoned the family. The house is huge and inviting and has giant wrap around porches. The house and the movie are truly treasures and will give you the ultimate homey home movie fix.

I have lived in 15 different places in the last 30 or so years. This Victorian apartment in Wisconsin was one of the most homey homes.

I have lived in 15 different places in the last 30 or so years. This Victorian apartment in Wisconsin was one of the most homey homes.

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An Ode

One of my Devils Lake Central High School Class of 79 classmates, Brad Blazer, recently passed away after a hard fought battle with cancer. The day one of my other classmates, Roger – one of Brad’s very close friends – posted on Facebook that he was gone I was incredibly sad and I found myself thinking a lot about Brad and my high schools pals. The thing I remember most about Brad was his smile and infectious sense of humor and laugh. It was a Jack Nicholson worthy smile that encompassed his entire face – big and toothy with an ever present mischievous twinkle in his eyes. I remember Brad as being one of many guy classmates who were incredibly funny and were also collectively part of the close knit Class of ’79.

The thing about growing up in a small town the size of Devils Lake – population 7,000ish – is you have some kind of connection to so many of your classmates, especially if you live in the same town your whole life. Maybe you went to kindergarten together like I did with my friend Stuart who I walked to and from our kindergarten teacher Mrs. Laber’s house. I remember we took a nap in the half day class, and I thought it was such a waste of time. Or maybe you were in the same first grade class like I was with my friend Donna and you remained best buds through grade school, high school and beyond. Or maybe you remember sitting with all of your classmates in the second grade wearing your first pair of glasses and fortunately nobody made fun of you – at least that you remember – and you went sledding behind KDLR. Maybe you went to your first slumber party and played Truth Dare Double Dare Promise to Repeat for the first time and you got your ears pierced without your mother’s permission, or were involved with some “Harriet the Spy” high jinks with Jennifer. Or maybe you experienced new school in the sixth grade with Mr. DeLapp with friends like Maren, JoNell and Jane where you created your own newspaper and collected beer cans for charity. Maybe you went to Bible Camp at Red Willow. And then all the grade schools converged and you met new people in the 7th grade and girls like Shelley and Shurette and more became your friends. You went to your first boy girl dance. You worked at the Barrel Drive –In and made notes about cute boys. Maybe a guy named Richard became your best guy friend and dated your pal Jane. You cruised Main. You tried your first cigarette, took your first drink and smoked your first joint with your friends and went to keggers at the Halgrens and camped by the lake. You had classes together and countless fun times with your pals like Brad and everybody else. You went to sporting events and the state hockey tournament in Grand Forks. The list goes on and on. And then you graduated and there is a lull. You went off to college. Some people remained friends, some didn’t. Then came Facebook many years later, and you reconnected with a whole bunch of them and you became a collective unit again.



And then fast forward to now. Brad was a little late to the game in joining Facebook. But there he was just a few months ago on FB. In the hospital. Sense of humor totally intact, making us all smile and laugh again via cyberspace. His friend Roger posted updates, and we all collectively prayed. And then he was gone. Heartbreaking. But even in death his uplifting spirit was intact. He didn’t want a funeral, instead a celebration of life.

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2014 in review

Some interesting stats here, including that I have some readers in Russia and other countries. I wish I had more time to spend writing my blog and promoting it! May of this year will mark four years writing my blog.. Thanks to my followers and readers for, well, following it and reading it! Here’ wishing everyone the best in 2015!!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,100 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 18 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Young Love Leads to a Starr Christmas Wedding

Happy Holidays Blog Readers!

jackandvirginiaI wrote this story for the newspaper for this week’s Dec. 24th edition. I got the idea for the story on a Facebook page called the History of Brush (Colorado). I have been profiling historic buildings in Brush in the newspaper, and I saw an old photo on the site of a Methodist church. An FB follower had commented that her parents had been married there on Christmas Day in 1940. I called her and her sister in California, and after talking to them decided to do a story about their parents Virginia and Jack, who had passed away in recent years. I interviewed the sisters’ cousin, who still lives in Brush, who was the ring bearer in the wedding (yes ring bearer) and a woman named Miriam, who knew the young couple when they were in high school. Miriam is my go to person for Brush history and is a vibrant, funny lady full of energy. Virginia and Jack’s story was, as Miriam said, beautiful love story, and as the sisters said of their parents who were married for nearly 70 years “they were totally in love to the very end.”


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Bedtime at Grandma’s

My grandparent's house. I took this picture several years ago, however it looks much like it did when they lived there.

My grandparent’s house. I took this picture several years ago, however it looks much like it did when they lived there.

I have wonderful memories of both sets of my grandparents, especially from around the holidays. We typically spent Christmas Eve in Devils Lake, N.D., with my paternal grandparents who tended to have a little louder, looser and larger gathering – think a fair amount of booze being consumed – than my maternal grandparents. My mother’s parents lived in a very small town called Oberon, N.D., about 30 miles from D.L., where we went for Christmas day, much more sedate and smaller affair, often including only our immediate family, as my mother’s two sisters had moved away. My sister and I also spent a week there each summer, which we looked forward to with great gusto every year. Even though my grandparents had a television I don’t remember ever watching it those weeks – although my grandparents would sometime listen to a baseball game – the Minnesota Twins – on the radio. Mostly we spent our time in this teeny, tiny town doing outdoorsy stuff such as riding horses with the neighbor girl or indoors helping my grandmother bake or cook, looking through volumes of old comic books (the Archie series), playing dress up in my mom and her sister’s old prom dresses, playing games, playing the piano – you get the idea. I vividly remember the room we slept in upstairs and my grandmother reading us bedtime stories. The room was long and narrow and we slept in twinphoto (5) beds, each on opposite ends of the room. I made decoupaged plaque for my Grandma one Christmas about those memories. Since it’s a little hard to read, here is what it says.

Grandma and Grandpa’s House

“It’s time for bed,” says my Grandma to my sister and I. “Give your Grandpa a kiss good-night.”

The wooden steps are cold on our bare feet as we walk to the bedroom where we always sleep when we come to visit Grandma and Grandpa. Grandma opens the wooden door and my sister and I scramble onto the twin beds in which we sleep. My bed has a steel headboard with a turquoise night lamp on it. My Grandma sits down on a wooden chair between our two beds. She opens an old brown book and begins to read us a story. I snuggle between the covers and lay my head on the big soft pillow. I always love coming to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. I especially like sleeping in this room. The pillows are filled with feathers and the covers are quilts.

A lamp from my Grandma's house - not the one with the sheep, but very similar.

A lamp from my Grandma’s house – not the one with the sheep, but very similar.

Grandma looks up and smiles at us when she is done with the story. She tucks my sister and I in and we each give her a hug before she goes downstairs. She lets me leave the turquoise lamp on. I look up at the scene on it before I go to sleep. Little Bo Peep and three fluffy little sheep smile down at me.

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Lasagna Heaven

photo-2This column appeared in a recent edition of the Devils Lake Journal newspaper in my hometown of Devils Lake, North Dakota.

Since I started writing this column, I have written a lot about recipes and foods I enjoy that have been long standing traditions in my family and have ties to my North Dakota roots. Two recent columns talked about how two different HGTV cooking shows brought back memories of lutefisk and Lutheran church suppers and also green Jello salad. But what kinds of new recipes and dishes have I discovered and enjoy cooking as a grownup? My adult pallet has been affected by the traveling I have done for work, restaurants I’ve dined at and my circle of friends, which has changed over the years as I have moved around. I do enjoy cooking, but I’m not much of a baker. I’ve never had a family to cook for, so during the week I don’t make anything too fancy. When I do cook, I tend to favor dishes that can be frozen into individual meals.

I enjoy trying new recipes from cookbooks, magazines – I’m a longtime subscriber to “Bon Appétit” – and cooking shows and so still to this day I’ll find a recipe I like that I add to the mix of favorites. My most recent new favorite recipe is actually an old favorite restaurant dish. Some of you may remember the Lavosh at the old John Barleycorn restaurant in Grand Forks, which I think has been closed for awhile now. Some of you also are likely familiar with Trader Joes, which has a location in the Minneapolis area. About five Trader Joe’s have opened in the Denver area over the last year or so, and I finally visited one a couple of weeks ago when I spent a weekend in Denver getting a much needed city fix (and also to enjoy a couple of quiet nights as where I live is sandwiched between a semi truck speedway and a very busy train track). Prior to my Trader Joe’s visit, I asked friends on Facebook what were some of their fav items to buy there. Trader Joes is well loved and I immediately got at least 10 suggestions, including one from an old college and sorority pal who said it sold lavosh bread – just like what was served at John Barleycorn. And it was inexpensive – just a couple of bucks for a package with about 10 large sheets of lavosh bread.

Lavosh John Barleycorn style. Not the best presentation in this pic, but it tasted yummy!

Lavosh John Barleycorn style. Not the best presentation in this pic, but it tasted yummy!

I’ve since made the lavosh John Barleycorn style a couple of times, using my college pal’s general tips for preparation, topping it with havarti cheese and caramelized onions, to which I added balsamic vinegar and a little brown sugar. It was delish and all it needed for perfection was one of John Barleycorn’s also infamous Long Island Iced Teas!

Other favorite dishes of mine include my own variation of spaghetti, spaghetti pie, and chili – mine doesn’t have kidney beans as I don’t like them. I also really dig grilling and some of my favorite recipes include different types of kabobs – veggie, pork and beef, and I have a killer recipe for grilled salmon that next to family dishes is the oldest recipe I own, having cut it out of a Glamour magazine back when I was in my 20s.

My hands down favorite recipe is Red Pepper Lasagna, which I found about 15 years ago in a copy of Better

Red Pepper Lasagna

Red Pepper Lasagna

Homes and Gardens. At one point I lost the recipe but thanks to Google I found a copy of it on the Internet. The author of the recipe actually makes his own lasagna noodles. That’s way too much work for me, and sometimes I use the jarred roasted red peppers rather than roasting them myself. The lasagna has layers of lasagna noodles, a béchamel sauce, parmesan cheese and a red pepper sauce. It truly is to die for! The recipe’s author was interviewed in the magazine and said “I could eat this every day.” I would have to agree!

The recipe follows:

Red Pepper Lasagna

One 28 oz can crushed tomatoes 1/3 cup flour
Four medium red peppers OR ½ t salt
28 oz jar roasted red peppers ½ t nutmeg
1 T olive oil 3 cup milk – preferably whole
½ cup parsley 1 ¼ cup parmesan cheese
4 cloves garlic minced ¾ t black pepper
1/3 cup butter 12 lasagna noodles

If using whole peppers make a red pepper sauce. Half peppers, remove insides. Place peppers cut side down on a foil lined sheet. Bake at 425 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes until bubbly. Wrap peppers in foil. Let stand for 20 to 30 minutes or until cool enough to handle. Peel skin. Cut into thin strips. In large pan cook peppers (or strained jar peppers) in hot oil over medium heat for about one minute. Stir in undrained tomatoes, parsley, garlic and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes uncovered, stirring often. Set aside to cool.

For béchamel sauce, in medium pan melt butter. Stir in flour, salt and nutmeg until smooth. Add milk all at once. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir for one minute. Set aside to cool.

Cook lasagna noodles. Immerse in cold water. Grease bottom of three quart rectangular dish. Cover bottom with ¼ of the pasta. Spread about one cup of red pepper sauce, followed by ¾ cup of béchamel sauce and 1/3 cup of parmesan. Repeat twice. Top with remaining pasta, béchamel and parmesan. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes or until bubbly and light brown. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Make ahead directions. Refrigerate up to 24 hours. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes covered with foil. Remove foil and bake another 15 to 25 minutes.

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Island Writing

British Virgin Islands

British Virgin Islands

When I started writing my blog some three and half years ago, I had no idea where it would lead me, although I hoped it would land me a job as when I began writing it I was unemployed. I certainly didn’t think it would lead me to spending nearly a year writing for the newspaper in my home town of Devils Lake, North Dakota, or out here on Colorado’s northeastern plains writing for the newspaper in the town of Brush. And in my wildest dreams I didn’t think it would lead to a regular freelance gig writing for a business news web site in the British Virgin Islands. However, that is exactly what happened recently. To date I have written three stores for a web site called BVI (British Virgin Islands) Business. Check out my first article posted on the web site last week. Of course I am hoping for a trip to this lovely, picturesque island! Ya man!


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