Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Butterflies of Brazil Flutter at Krohn Conservatory

I love nature!  That's why it's important to me that I get out and walk about each day.  I can't wait for our garden to start blooming and attract my butterfly friends.

     Tropical butterflies have emerged for the 16th annual show at the Krohn Conservatory in Eden Park.  This year the elusive insects come to us from Brazil, the "greenest" country on earth, and this is a theme that is emphasized in the exhibit.

      Guests are routed through the Desert House and Orchid Room, passing by the Butterfly Nursery where they hatch and unfold before being released in the Showroom.  The tour continues through the Bonsai Gallery with photographs and collections from Brazil, and an education area for kids to create art from recycled materials. From there, enter the Butterfly Showroom where the fragile creatures flutter and entertain.  The setting is tropical, and while it is not one of Krohn's finest displays, it's not important as the butterflies are the center of attention.  Plan to linger for a while and examine closely those camouflaged in the foliage and snacking on oranges.  There's more sights and sounds from the Brazilian Carnival in the Sambadrome as you leave the butterflies behind.  

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Virgil’s Café Should Not Be Missed, But Plan Ahead

Living just north of Kentucky, people sometimes think my meow has a southern drawl.  I don't think so, but I do notice Neil and Eric picking up certain sayings like "y'all" (although it's more like "yu'all") and one that's particular to this area, which is saying "please" rather than "excuse me" when they didn't hear what you were saying.  I really like living here as we have the influence of both the North and the South.

Virgil's Café at 710 Fairfield Avenue in Bellevue, KY
      The moderately priced jewel of northern Kentucky restaurants right now is Virgil’s Café in Bellevue, KY.  It’s five minutes from downtown Cincinnati and the only difficult thing is getting over to the right in order to take the first exit off of 471.  The other difficult thing is to get a table at Virgil’s.  Not only is it a charming place, but it was also featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives a year or so ago.  It’s none of the D words; it’s truly a Café.  We dropped by on a Sunday evening around 6 p.m. and we were seated without a reservation, but the place was still more than half full.

      The food is Southern American and everything I’ve had there – whether for lunch, Sunday Brunch, or dinner – has been good.  We decided to focus on sharing some appetizers, one entrée, and a dessert.  

Frogs' Legs and Hush Puppies

The Frogs’ Legs are fried in corn meal and served with a Pinot Grigio aioli that is smooth and rich.  Jalapeno cheddar hush puppies also accompany the dish, but we went ahead and ordered them as a side as well.  Though fried, they are remarkably light.  
Hot Slaw with Bleu Cheese

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Royal Couple Sparks Dexter's Curiosity

      Everyone’s talking about the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and there are lots of people who look up their ancestors and where they came from.  I’m wondering where I came from too so, after Neil left the computer on the web, I tapped a few keys and found fancyfelinesfoundations.  I was sure that I must be from royalty because, if you look far enough, you can always find some type of royal connection.  

      I always suspected that my ancestors might have lived on a boat because I like looking at water and I like drinking it as long as I don’t have to get in it.  I even thought it could have been a royal barge.  My coat blends in many places and I bet my ancestors blended in with silks and satins and golden thread.  After tapping more keys, I found out that I was right!  Well, not exactly, but I was on a similar kind of path.  My great-great-great-times about eight – grandfather earned his way over to America.  He worked on a ship carrying immigrants.  He had to hunt for the furry tailed things to protect everyone’s food supply.  One of the immigrants hid him in his coat when he went through Ellis Island.  He didn’t sign his name, but he did peak out of the immigrant’s pocket and I saw the picture.  He may not have been royal, but he was pretty heroic!

View the latest on the Royal Couple here:

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Spring Dessert That is a Big Hit

Neil sat me down and told me that Eric's Mom was coming for a few days.  She's allergic to me so he said I shouldn't get too close to her.  She's been here a couple of days and I can tell she already likes me.  Neil's family is coming this weekend.  They like to play with me outside so I'm hoping it's a nice day.

      I found this recipe several years ago and started making it for our family Easter celebration.  The addition of sour cream to the cake makes it rich and dense.  It's a dessert that is best eaten the day it's created as the whipped cream frosting becomes a little rubbery.  I think you'll enjoy it so much that you won't have to worry about that!


      1 pkg. white cake mix
      1-1/4 cups water
      1/2 cup dairy sour cream
      2 eggs
      1 cup mashed red raspberries or strawberries
            (I use frozen berries)
      1/2 cup sugar
      1/4 cup cornstarch
      1/4 cup water   
      4 drops red food coloring
      2 cups whipping cream
      2 tablespoons sugar
      1 teaspoon vanilla

Heat oven to 350ºF.  Lightly grease a 13x9-inch pan and line with wax paper; grease and flour.  In a large bowl combine cake ingredients; beat at low speed until moistened.  Beat 2 minutes at high speed.  Pour mixture into greased and floured pan.  Bake at 350ºF. for  25 to 30 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then remove from pan and peel off waxed paper.

In a medium saucepan combine all ingredients for the filling except the food coloring.  Cook over medium heat until mixturee thickens and boils. stirring constantly.  Boil one minute, stir in food coloring.  Cool, cover, and refrigerate until mixture is chilled.

Slice the cake in half lengthwise, forming two 13x4-1/2-inch sections.  Place one half of the cake top side down on a serving platter.  Spread the filling on top and place the second cake half top side up on filling.  (You can cover and refrigerate the cake for up to one day at this point.)

In a large bowl, combine all frosting ingredients.  Beat until stiff peaks form.  Frost sides and top of cake.  Garnish with fresh berries, mint leaves, or spring flowers.  Store in the refrigerator until serving.  The cake makes 16 servings.  

HIGH ALTITUDE— above 3500 feet add 1/4 cup flour to dry cake mix.  Bake as directed.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Rascal's NY (in Blue Ash) Deli

I ran around the yard while Neil and Barbara moved some of the dirt pile that I like to scratch around in.  I wonder what they're up to?  Barky Charlie just watched us from the window.  I knew he wanted to be outside too, but I was the only one allowed 'cause it's my yard.

The Storefront Dining Room at Rascal's

      Barbara was still visiting and she and I were on our own for the day as Eric had to work.  We had done some yard work and a deli sounded like it would satisfy our appetite.  Our friend Paul had recommended Rascal's NY Deli in Blue Ash.  It was late for lunch, but the place was humming when we arrived.  We were immediately seated and brought a bowl of kosher pickles and green tomatoes.  We looked over the extensive menu where quite a few items seemed foreign, but both of us were intrigued by the chopped liver salad sandwich.  I asked Barbara if she had ever tasted chopped liver and we agreed that we had not and should give it a try.  Barbara asked our server about how it was made, which she eagerly described and asked if we would like a sample.  She brought a generous scoop and with one bite we had made our decision.  Well, part of it.  We decided that it would be best to share two sandwiches as the chopped liver salad was a bit rich.  For our second plate, we opted for the hand-carved turkey.  The sandwiches come with two potato latkes, cinnamon applesauce and a choice of breads (we went with rye for the chopped liver and Challah – an egg bread – for the turkey).  Wanting to try as much as we could on our first visit, we chose to substitute the slaw for latkes on the second platter.  

Monday, April 18, 2011

Behind the Eye: Catch A Rising Star at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park

I heard Neil ordering tickets for a play.  Eric said it's about a Vogue fashion model turned photographer.  He knew I didn't know about that stuff so they showed me what I would look like on a Vogue cover.  I like to think that I can compete with the best of them! What do you think?

      Sarah Agnew delivers a star-making performance in Behind the Eye, a world premiere written by Carson Kreitzer and directed by Mark Wing-Davey.  We saw Sarah Agnew in November 2009 in John Doyle’s very original version of Three Sisters at the Playhouse.  She played Natasha and had the guts to play her as a villainess.  The final image where she climbed on a side table and owned both the stage and the world of the play was chilling.  In Behind the Eye, she owns the stage, the audience, and seems to be channeling Lee Miller while playing her.

Lee Miller, 1929 (Man Ray gelatin silver print)
      Lee Miller (1907–1977) left the U.S. at eighteen for Paris, where she modeled, worked with Surrealist photographer Man Ray, traveled to Egypt and married, though his first wife then killed herself, and then England, where she found a lover who eventually became her second husband.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Cumin Eclectic Cuisine,— Where Indian Goes Innovative

Dexter Greets Charlie for His Visit

Eric’s Aunt Barbara came down to visit for the weekend and she brought her black, barky companion with her.  Neil had told me I had to be a good host and I tried.  I reached out a couple of times to shake his paw, but he jumped away.  After we’d jumped away from each other a number of times, we just decided to turn it into a game and sort of chase each other back and forth.  When Neil, Eric, and Barbara went out during the day, I guarded the outside perimeter of my house while barky – they called him Charlie – sat on my sill looking out the window.  Just as we were getting used to each, he and Barbara left for his home.

The Main Dining Room of Cumin
The Bar Area
and Additional Dining

      Auntie Barbara requested that we go to one of “those fabulous restaurants” that she reads about on this blog.  We hadn’t been to Cumin in a while and it was recently listed in Cincinnati Magazine’s top 10.  She remarked that cumin could refer to the spice or could be another way to say "come in".  It used to be a small Indian restaurant in Hyde Park East (sort of Oakley/Mt. Lookout), but they doubled their space a few years ago, updated to a sleek, au courant interior, and became Cumin Eclectic Cuisine.  This means that Indian has been fused with various world influences such as Italian, Indonesian, and New American.

      Neil and Auntie Barbara were running late so I went ahead and ordered the soup of the day, which was Corn Chowder.  It was thick, highly seasoned, filled with corn and the smokiness of bacon.  It was excellent.  
Soup of the Day, Corn Chowder
Neil ordered the Lamb Naanwich (there are a variety of meats offered), which is a large portion served on naan flatbread.  He had the curry fries on the side.  They’re curry/saffron colored and sweet with the sharpness that is both curry and cumin, its main component.  Barbara had the Lamb Burger.  She generously shared part of it with both of us since it’s also a large portion.  It’s served with yogurt sauce and zatar on a brioche bun, but she asked for the curry fries instead of French fries.  It was meaty and tender, which is difficult with lamb, but it was salty.  I didn’t notice it that much because I drank a lot of iced green tea and water.  Neil didn’t drink as much, but he had to later on in the afternoon.  I had the Contemporary Butter Chicken, which was pulled chicken with tomato makhani sauce, Serrano, covered in mozzarella, and served on basmati rice.  It was like a cross between a Chicken Bolognese and a Chicken Masala or even a Chicken Paprikash that I make from time to time.  The portion was enough for two meals and it really sang.  It was spicy and sweet with an acidic tang off-set by the mild neutrality of the rice.   

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Ault-imate Park Elegance

Where's Dexter?

I love slithering around through the spring flowers and then hiding for a while.  Sometimes the air makes me sneeze and I scare all the squirrels and birds away.  They're funny.  They just wait a bit and come right back.  Little do they know that I'll still be there. 

      It was a good week for exploring the parks around the city.  We decided to visit Ault Park in Mt. Lookout, celebrating its 100th Anniversary this year.  It was perfect timing with everything in bloom.  Ault Park is home to several varieties of magnolia trees with blankets of daffodils underneath their boughs.  We took a walk along the pathway of themed gardens (cared for by various organizations) that were just beginning to green up and show some color.  

It's a grand park featuring an elegant stone pavilion with a tiered waterfall and lookout points.  Throughout the summer months, the park hosts everything from the Concours d'Elegance Car Show to private parties and events.  "Dances in the Park" offers free entertainment for all ages from local bands. There are picnic grounds and walking trails.  More than enough for anyone in the area to explore and enjoy.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

IKEA Morning (and Afternoon)

I was up prowling all night.  I couldn't sleep and heard noises outside.  Neil and Eric don't hear anything once they're asleep so I keep watch.  Sometimes when they're ready to get up in the mornings, I'm ready for a nap.  This was one of those days.

      I picked up Jan at 9:15 for our outing to IKEA for breakfast and shopping.  IKEA, in case you've been out of touch with the world, is the Swedish retailer that opened in March of 2008 in West Chester.  Not only is it worth a shopping trip for the unheard of prices and decorating ideas, but the cafeteria located around the corner from the escalator on the second level serves some fine and inexpensive mat (that's food in Swedish).  The cafeteria starts serving breakfast at 9:30 am.  We were there for the 99¢ regular breakfast consisting of scrambled eggs, diced potatoes, and bacon strips.  I opted for an add-on of the over-sized cinnamon roll.  Coffee, which is exceptional in my opinion, is free before 10 am when the store opens.  We seated ourselves at a bar height table overlooking the parking lot.  

The Dining Room Furnished with IKEA Merchandise
The Kid's Area of the Cafeteria
The dining room is large and furnished with IKEA products including an area for kids.  Our bacon was crispy and flavorful, the potatoes were properly cooked, but Jan felt her eggs were a bit too cold for her complete satisfaction.  Coming from a large family, her mother had taught them to always serve food hot and to everyone at the same time.  Mine were fine and passed my obviously less stringent family rules.  Having frequented the IKEA breakfast phenomenon several times, there are mornings when more love has been put into the fixin's.  Although certainly adequate for a morning appetite, this is more about a "deal" and the company you're with than a fine dining experience.  That said, the cinnamon rolls are quite special.  I find them to be fresh and still warm from the oven every time I visit.  

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cincinnati Fashion Week May 9 to 15

Neil and I were playing around one night when he had the idea to do a photo shoot of me.  I guess he was inspired by the upcoming fashion week.  I wasn't sure exactly what I was getting into, but I like it when he gets the camera out, mostly because it has a wristband on it that I like to bat about.  I got up on one of my favorite pillows and Neil started taking pictures of me.  He was saying things like "work it baby" and "make love to the camera".  (Sometimes I don't know what he's talking about.)  I do have to say I'm very pleased with the results of my first photo shoot.  See what you think. You'll need to download Quicktime if you don't have it.

Cincinnati Fashion Week founder Nathan Hurst has put together an event of national and international talent to showcase fashion, retail, and philanthropy in the Midwest.  Beginning May 9 there are daily events including a tea with Mary Baskett (a former curator at the Cincinnati Art Museum and expert on Japanese fashion), an evening inspired by graphic design, and the launch of the "Cincinnati Design & Fashion Fund" to retain and grow design, fashion, and retail talent in our city.  All of this will lead up to the Spring Production Finale runway show at the Edge featuring designers from around the world, and the Merchant Fair & Trunk Show on the final day.  It's an entertaining opportunity to further exhibit the next generation of design genius.

For ticket information and additional information,

Friday, April 8, 2011

Knowing When to Leave: Ending an Acclaimed (& Lucrative) TV Series

      Mad Men’s fifth season will be delayed because AMC wants too much money from advertisers, but doesn’t want to add two minutes to the show as it has in the past or, depending upon the source, series creator Matthew Weiner doesn’t want to cut two minutes from the show or two members from the cast (though Betty and her new husband have been suggested and I concur, especially since Don’s fiancé demonstrated greater mothering instincts in two episodes than Betty had in four seasons).  Mad Men should not go beyond a fifth season anyway because, as its story line has advanced over four seasons from 1960 to 1966, it will soon be encountering the rise of the counterculture, the “don’t trust anyone over 30” ethos of the Boomer generation, and the self-consciousness and overt sexuality that overtook American advertising in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.  

Dexter's late Grandfather appeared in the
finale of The Mary Tyler Moore Show
      Six Feet Under ended after five seasons and the last two seasons felt like creator Alan Ball was intentionally setting up what would happen to the main family for the rest of their lives.  The final ten minutes encapsulated everything the show was about:  death as the final underline for a life that might not be remembered for anything else; family as something both emotionally overpowering and alienating; the everyday slog of living while looking around for something greater to do.  It was a series that ended when it should.  The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s producers also had planned that it would end after seven seasons, though it was after its ratings peak.  That ended on a wistful, bittersweet and, somehow, hilarious note.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Applewood in Aurora, IN,—a Stop Between Casino Hopping

Dexter is ready for spring
I heard Neil telling Eric that he was going to the casino with his family for an overnighter.  I knew that meant I would be out most of the day.  We were having a warm break from the cold weather so maybe some of my friends will be outside too.  I've really missed seeing them over the winter.

       My sister, two nieces, and nephew came down from Columbus for a visit and trip to the casinos a few weeks ago.  We had spent a couple of hours at Hollywood Casino and were going on to Grand Victoria to spend the night.  On the way, we stopped for dinner at The Applewood in Aurora, IN.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

You're the Top! You're a Waldorf Salad

Neil and I were out this morning.  He went to the market while I went shopping in the neighborhood.  He had these round red balls when he returned that he placed in a shiny bowl.  I just watched as he got out the knife and started cutting them.  He gave me a piece, but I didn't think it smelled very good.

The Original Hotel Waldorf
on Fifth Avenue
in New York City
      By 1934, when the Cole Porter musical Anything Goes opened on Broadway, the Waldorf salad was popular enough that it was included in the lyrics of his hit “You're the Top”.  That was 40 years after the salad was first introduced at the Waldorf Hotel in New York City.  Oscar Tschirky was the maitre d' and credited with creating the salad for a private party on the pre-opening of the Waldorf Hotel on March 13, 1893.  At that point it was a simple concoction of apples, celery, and mayonnaise.  Over the years there have been many interpretations with the most popular now including grapes, raisins, and nuts.  Your neighborhood deli probably includes a version also made with chicken.  

      In addition to song lyrics, Waldorf salad has been the title for a 1979 episode of Fawlty Towers, served by June Cleaver as part of a special dinner in Leave it to Beaver, frequently consumed by characters in Bret Easton Ellis' novel American Psycho, and part of a sight gag covering Albert Brooks in the film The Muse.

      For a more modern take on this iconic salad, try my version.  It's easy, yet lighter and more flavorful than the original.  It's also gluten free and sugar free.  Of course, if you're into tradition, I've also included Oscar Tschirky's recipe.


Peel two raw apples and cut them into small pieces, say about half an inch square, also cut some celery the same way, and mix it with the apple. Be very careful not to let any seeds of the apples be mixed with it. The salad must be dressed with a good mayonnaise.

Neil's Gluten Free, Sugar Free Waldorf Salad


    1 cup sour cream
    1/2 Tbsp. agave sweetener
    2 large apples diced 
    1 cup seedless grapes (sliced if too large)
    1/2 cup pecans (or your favorite nut)
    1/2 cup golden raisins

Stir sour cream and agave sweetener together.  You may need to add a little more sweetener to your taste.  Combine apples, grapes, nuts, and raisins with the sour cream mixture.  Chill in the refrigerator for about an hour.