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Tuesday, February 9, 2021

"Going Out" While Staying In: DIY Comedy Club Date Night

With Valentine’s Day coming up this weekend, I thought now might be a good time to share this celebrate-from-home party idea I carried out for my husband’s birthday. 

Sometimes, for whatever reason—personal illness, a global pandemic, financial issues, bad weather, childcare problems—there are times we can’t “go out to celebrate” things. Maybe it’s a birthday (or a whole year’s worth of birthdays), an anniversary, an entire holiday season, a promotion or other good news. Hell, even just a regular old we-made-it-through-the-week-let’s-have-a-date-night!


Life certainly means we’re often dealing with circumstances outside our control. Unfortunately, sometimes our spirits don’t get the memo. They’re still longing for something that marks a day or event as “special” or that gives us something to be excited about, or even that makes it feel like today is not the same as yesterday or tomorrow and oh yeah what day even is it?

But just because we can’t go out, that doesn’t have to mean we can’t do something at home to make it feel special or as though we are out. 


See, our go-to lately has been to lean on our typical Valentine’s Day celebration: we put the kids to bed, then pop open a bottle of nice wine, work together to make our favorite foods, and listen to our personalized playlist. (In normal times, it was a fun, relaxing way to be together, a break from the hassle of finding a sitter, the bustle of loud restaurants, and the annoyance of their weird special menus.) But at this point, even that has stopped feeling special. 


For my husband’s birthday, I really wanted to try to hit on something out of the ordinary.


In the past, we’d celebrate a birthday by going for dinner out and maybe a trip to a comedy club or play or jazz bar. 


Then I wondered: could I make my own comedy club? 


We could watch a Netflix comedy special—there’s tons to choose from. 
We could have our favorite alcoholic beverages and snacks—either made from our own stock or ordered in from a local place that does takeout. 


But a comedy club is more than that. It’s the somewhat tacky décor. It’s the darkness. It’s the high top tables. It’s the people. And guess what? 3 out of 4 of those I could do. 


Thus, I embarked on a plan to transform our family room (see photo below)—which serves as the place we watch tv, the cats’ kitchen/bathroom, and also my workout area—into a comedy club. 

BEFORE: Ho hum all-purpose family room space 

AFTER: Comedy Club space
(which looks way cooler in the dark so keep scrolling)

AFTER: full panorama of comedy club



I started by deciding on a color scheme. I went with black and red because the comedy clubs we’ve visited in the past had similar schemes, and I figured it would be easy to work with those colors and also knew I could use things I had on hand. Later, I added silver accents to the mix. 


My first major concern was the walls. I wanted to change at least 50% of the typical wall surfaces so they looked different. I wanted darkness, but also a drapey vibe, to mimic stage curtains. For that, I used plastic rectangular table covers ($1 each from Dollar Tree) –two black and two red--on opposite walls. I taped them at the top of the walls, right where the ceiling and wall meet.

Decor items

At the (smart) suggestion of my 9 year old, I also ended up taping a red tablecloth (from our table linens stash) to cover the DVD shelf next to the tv. Because our movie collection didn't need to be visible, did it?


Then I covered the coat closet, leaving what looks like a black wall. Then I did the same to the far wall by the fireplace, only draped in red. 

No more closet. Just a dark wall.

I also wanted to close off the room from the rest of our house, creating the illusion that when we entered this space, we were no longer home. So I hung silver tinsel fringe curtains (I found a 2-pack on Amazon for 8.98.) at both entry points to our family room. They made a perfect doorway, and looked especially fun when reflecting the candles I lit later. (Bonus: they had a convenient peel-off self-stick strip at the top, so they were a breeze to hang.)

Fringe for a doorway and some sparkle




First, I moved the coffee table that usually sits in the center of the room to a spot along the wall. (I covered it with another red tablecloth from my linen stash. Later, I put 3 candles on the middle of it and a pitcher of water for easy refills during the “show.”) This left the main space of the room wide open.

Simple furniture rearrangement, another accent wall, 
accessorized color pop

For me, the most important element for the vibe I was looking to create was a high top table and chairs. Those were pieces we didn’t already own but, after careful consideration, were an investment I chose to make. We will absolutely use them on our deck in the warmer months. Plus, in the past, I’d considered investing in a standing desk, and I realized the bar-height table would work for that purpose, too. (I was right! I've already used it twice since getting it a few weeks ago.) Therefore, I went for it. (I found the table online through Amazon and the chairs through 

They worked perfectly! And—bonus—they all fold and can be easily stored flat/mostly flat when not in use.

Table facing the "stage" with disco ball above the table

High top table and chairs

From the other angle, showing the entry areas
(and the dog-friendliness of this establishment...)

From the door frame 

I understand if you can’t or don’t want to invest in new furniture for this type of project. Had I decided against it myself, my backup plan would have been to set up one of our folding tables with two of our dining room chairs facing the “stage” and cover it with a dark table cloth. (If we were younger and had an easier time getting up and down, I might even have considered doing away with chairs altogether and setting up a pillow lounge on the floor in front of the sofa, perhaps using the coffee table to hold drinks and snacks. You know your knees and lower-back best, though. I defer to you.) 


Extra Little Touches:


Our sofa is tan, but to transform the look of it, I covered it with red blanket from our stash. Voila!

 Off-brand Snuggie for the win


I accessorized the leather chair with a heart pillow my daughter lent me, for another pop of red. (See photo above.)


My mom found a disco ball at 5 Below ($5) which I hung over the table for an extra bit of kitsch and light-catching. (See photo above.)


I covered the table with a black tablecloth specially made to cover these types of tables. It has the feeling of a book sock, with its stretchy nylon fabric. (I jokingly called it a table condom when discussing it with people, but for some reason, that term seemed to weird people out. Ha!) It fit over the table perfectly, tucking under the legs, and made an otherwise utilitarian piece look almost elegant. (I was lucky to snag mine on sale for just under $9 on Amazon, but it’s usually 11.99.) (See photo above.) 


I made a poster with the name of our Club, which I hung behind the television (our “stage”) since many comedy clubs have the name of either the club or comic featured up on stage. Because our family room is sort of sunken in our house, and in honor of my husband’s birthday, I named ours Club 47 Underground. (I got the poster board and 2 packs of red, glittery letter stickers at Dollar Tree for $2.50 total. The rest of the lettering I printed on my printer and glued on.) 

The "stage" and club signage


I lit candles throughout the room to create the low lighting. The way the candles reflected against the metallic curtains at the doorways looked very cool. 


I created a “menu” of comedy specials from which my husband could choose which we’d watch. (I assembled the list in advance based on availability, user reviews, and a few articles I read on the internet discussing the “best” Netflix comedy specials on the site.) I thought this approach would be the best way to avoid sitting and aimlessly scrolling through Netflix for an hour when we could be laughing. Of course I also could have made an executive decision and chosen for us, but I didn’t want to get blamed if I made a poor choice. Haha. This way, the pressure was off of me. Win-win! 

Comedy options

More options


As I set it all up in the daylight, the doubt crept in. I kept thinking, “Ok, this just looks like my stupid family room with dollar store plastic tablecloths on the wall. It doesn’t feel like a comedy club. This seemed so much better in my head.” But can I just say, when evening rolled around and the lights were out and it was just candles and the glow of the tv? It looked really friggin cool. There was a definite air of "not-at-home." Best of all, my husband was completely surprised and kept remarking on the transformation. So even though we were still technically home, for a few hours, we were celebrating his birthday at the newest comedy club in town: Club 47 Underground.

The candles helped create the perfect atmosphere

The fringe catches the light just so

Ready for the headliner to take the "stage"!

I have a plan to revisit Club 47 Underground for a jazz night in the not-too-distant future, possibly swapping out the red for purple accents. 

So that's how I did it. It was easy (and actually very fun) to pull together, and I was so pleased with how it came out. Just sharing it on here in case you ever need some inspiration or ideas for at-home ideas. 

Here’s to making our own fun with what we have! 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

A Big Bowl of Metaphor Soup: Ina Garten's Baked Fish Chowder

Hoo boy. It has been a year, and I’ve posted no recipes. Aside from my poem-a-day posts throughout April (and a 3-ingredient scone post I drafted but never posted), I didn’t blog at all this year. 

So why am I here now, just a few days before year end? 


Well, I received a new cookbook for Christmas—Modern Comfort Food by Ina Garten—and while flipping through a few nights ago, I saw a recipe for Baked Fish Chowder. I’ve never been a particular fan of fish soups—I can occasionally enjoy a well-seasoned Crab and Corn Chowder, and have oohed and ahhed over some very decadent Lobster Bisques in my day—but, in general, you won’t find me excited for fish soup. However, when I saw this one, something about it seemed so delicious and wonderful and screamed out, “Make me!” In fact, the thought of that soup took root in my head for a few days, and so I decided, yes, this would be my maiden recipe of this book.


There’s something about cookbooks that takes me out of my world for a spell. When I read good cookbooks, I see my life differently than it actually is. I imagine myself eating, as a meal, a baked raclette (which is basically baked potatoes and sausages with cheese) served alongside a “big green salad and a crusty baguette” even though that’s not what meals at my house look like. Yet, in the moments of scanning recipes and brilliant food photography (in this case by the perfectly-named Quentin Bacon(!)), I see myself eating that way, imagine my kids delighted by their open-faced Spanish-imported tuna melts or fancy chutney-studded grilled cheeses or even, yes, the potato thing. 


That’s how I found myself salivating over the fish chowder. I decided it would be a gift to myself to try to slow down and mindfully prepare this meal (as opposed to checking it off a to-do list as mealtime has started to feel these days), and be thankful for our good fortune at having food to eat and a way to pay for it and a home in which to prepare it, especially as so many others are denied what should be human fundamentals. 


Two days ago, I set about acquiring the necessary ingredients. The list required a separate trip to the market (something I avoid at all costs these days) for items like fish stock (which I’ve never purchased in my life), saffron threads, yellow potatoes, fresh cod, dry white wine (I mean, of course I have wine here, but I wasn’t using one of my expensive wines in my soup, so I bought an $11 bottle of Sauvignon Blanc rated a 90 by Wine Enthusiast, and that’s what I used), and a little travel-sized bottle of Sambuca because it turns out I didn’t have anise liqueur among my barstuffs. I already had celery, onions, fresh thyme, bacon, butter, heavy cream, and half & half. An inexpensive throw-together recipe this was not. 


Yesterday, it was Chef Time. I put on Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and got to it.


Full disclosure: I’m not what one would call a “quick” cook. In fact, I’m pretty slow at just about every aspect. Set-up, prep, clean-up, all of it. Though not among my favorite personal characteristics, I’ve come to accept it. I know that when I cook, it’s going to be a process. For recipes I’m trying for the first time so I don’t know where to implement shortcuts, a longer process. And for recipes I’m photographing as I make them? Even longer. 


Thus, I knew going in that this particular chowder was going to take me a long time to make. 


Oftentimes, cookbooks include time estimates at the top of the recipe to give you a semblance of how long the recipe takes to prepare. I find these guidelines frequently underestimate the total time, even accounting for my aforementioned pace, so I automatically tack on an extra 15-30 minutes depending on the number of steps and/or ingredients, but I still appreciate an author including them so I don’t end up eating dinner at 10pm. This book, however, does not include any time estimates. Which means that, even though it’s something you should always be doing anyway, it’s even MORE important in this instance to read through the entire recipe before you start


Between my own tortoise pace and a recipe that--after much slicing, dicing, washing, and peeling—still required 10+ minutes to crisp up some bacon; then around 15 minutes to sauté onions, celery, and thyme; then 30-40 to bake with potatoes and stock; then another 20-30 to bake with the cod; then 5 more to rest after stirring in some final touches before serving, I’d prepared myself for a marathon cooking sesh. That said, I still wasn’t quite prepared for how long it took me. 


I tied on my apron at 4:40pm and began my veggie prep (I’d already prepped my cod the night before when I got it home from the market) and I sat down and tasted my first official spoonful at 7:59pm. I could have shaved a good 20 minutes off my time had I worked smarter, but I basically cut and measured everything so I had mise en place going, rather than using the cook times to prep as I went along. 


Here’s how I suggest you tackle the project. 


Start by crisping up a half pound of bacon in a large oven-safe Dutch oven. 

While that cooks, prep your veggies: you need 6 cups of thinly sliced onions, 3 cups of diced celery, 1 Tablespoon of fresh thyme. 


When the bacon is crispy, remove it with a slotted spoon and add the veggies to the bacon grease. 


Sauté that situation for 10-12 minutes, until it gets soft and starts to become lightly browned. During that 10-12 minutes, peel and slice a pound of golden potatoes. Pro-tip: DO NOT get baby ones. Ina called for 2” diameter goldens but my market was all out, so I subbed in the babies. It was a PITA to peel that many tiny potatoes, and I shaved off a fingernail in the process. 

When the veggies are lightly browned, add ¾ cup of good white wine (scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan) 1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt (I used Morton’s which, apparently, is saltier than Diamond, which Ina uses and calls for 2 teaspoons), and 1 teaspoon pepper, and let that simmer for another 2 minutes. 


Remove half the onion mixture from the pot and then layer on half the potatoes and 2 Tablespoons of diced butter. 

Add the onions you removed back into the pot, evenly distributed over the potatoes, and repeat the process with the rest of the potatoes and another 2 Tablespoons of diced butter. 


Add the 2 15oz cans of Bar Harbor seafood stock (which, I’m seeing only now, I was supposed to have heated to a simmer prior to use, but which I didn’t—oh well!) and saffron threads (which I hydrated by stirring into a Tablespoon of hot water just before use) into the pot. 

Cover and bake for 30-40 minutes. I set my timer for 35 minutes and headed downstairs to watch the season 2 finale of Virgin River. When the timer rang, the potatoes were nearly cooked through, which was the goal, so 35 minutes was perfect for me.


Pour ½ cup EACH half & half and heavy cream and stir gently.

Then add in 2 pounds of fresh cod cut into 1”x3” chunks and sprinkled with kosher salt and pepper (I used just under a Tablespoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper) and press gently into the cooking liquids. 


Cover again and bake another 20-30 minutes. Mine took about 30 for the fish to flake easily with a fork. 


Add 2 Tablespoons of anise liqueur (I used Sambuca, but Ina suggested Pernod) and the reserved bacon (I only added half the bacon and topped individual bowls with more because stirring crispy bacon into liquid makes it suddenly soggy bacon once more) and let it sit 5 minutes before serving. Note: you might be tempted to skip this liqueur. After all, the recipe doesn’t call for that much and you probably don’t have it on hand and it can’t possibly make a difference, right? Wrong. It adds a subtle depth of flavor that makes the dish feel complete. You don’t get strong anise flavor, but you do get a little less fishiness, and a roundness that flavors the broth in a pleasant manner. For $1.49, you can buy a tiny hotel-room sized bottle of Sambuca and it is worth it. 

Now, after all this work, how was it?, you’re doubtless wondering. 

I thought about this earlier today, as I drank my coffee, and chuckled to myself as I realized my experience of the chowder was sort of the perfect metaphorical reflection of 2020. 


See, I’d gone in with certain expectations, a hope for it to taste as delicious as it looked, for it to be satisfying and, frankly, wonderful. I knew I’d have to do my part to help achieve that outcome—I’d need to use the right ingredients, follow the recipe guidelines, know when to make executive decisions if the directions outlined something that I experienced differently, etc. I thought I was ready for all the work and expense involved with making it—and I did do my best to stay enthusiastic as I went—but sometimes along the way I wished I hadn’t taken it on, wished I’d just ordered pizza instead. 


It was a whole lot of buildup, but when I tasted it, my first thought was that it was fishy. Too fishy, not good. Oh no! Catastrophe! All this time and effort and money completely wasted! But then—right behind that initial taste, other things came through: well-seasoned onions and creamy, well-cooked potatoes, and a really rich broth with hints of fruit from the wine and just the right amount of spice from the black pepper and some floral notes from the saffron and smokiness from the bacon and whatever that roundness of flavor is that came from the anise. I didn’t love it overall, but I loved things within it. I ate everything in my bowl because this was my dinner.  


My family had their own mixed feelings—my younger daughter liked it. My older daughter said she just doesn’t like seafood (which isn’t entirely true, but she blows hot and cold about things she likes in general, so this day was one when she doesn’t like fish). My husband looked as though he was doing his best to tolerate it, but he had the misfortune of getting quite a few hidden bones in his cod (nobody else did) so that made for a tense eating experience. At the end, we had half a pot left on the stove—nobody went back for seconds—and I felt a little sad because I’m not prepared to throw it away but I also have very little desire to eat another bowl of it in the future. 


All in all, it wasn’t what I’d been hoping it would be, didn’t feel like it was worth the struggle, and I was glad when my bowl was empty.


And yet…I did go back today and have another taste. It’s still not my favorite thing. For sure, it’s not. But there are some delicious aspects of it. It’s most certainly not all bad. There’s parts of it I loved, techniques and flavors I would take with me in the future and try to replicate or improve. There were parts of the soup that were worth the added time, expense, and effort, and that were part of my experience which, fine, maybe wasn’t what I’d hoped for, but that I’m not worse off having tasted. Oddly, this baked fish chowder ended up being the perfect recipe for the end of my year, even if not for the reason I thought.


Even better is that I look forward to trying other recipes, even as I know some will be a complete triumph while others will be a disappointment. But guess what? That’s the joy of cooking, and what a gift it is to be able to do.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

April 30: "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley

The 2020 National Poetry Month poster from


by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.


Today is Poem in Your Pocket Day! That means you should carry around a poem in your pocket today. Pick one you really enjoy. Then, read it to someone or otherwise share it. If you're lucky, they'll have a poem in their pocket, too, to share with you. (If you want to read more about my background celebrating this fab holiday, I wrote a guest post for my friend's book blog back in 2014. You can read it here.) Today, I'll be carrying with me the powerful poem above. (Carrying it around the house since, you know, lockdown. But still. It'll be in my pocket per the rules!)

I had big ideas for this year's Poem in Your Pocket Day festivities, but obviously the pandemic had other plans. So my plans have to wait until we can, you know, leave our houses and come within 6 feet of one another. But we'll get there. Here's hoping we'll have a vaccine by next April (that's probably too soon to have one ready yet, but we're gonna hope for it just the same!) 

Today is also the last day of April, which means the last day of daily poems. Thank you for joining me this month. I hope you read a poem or two (or ten!) that spoke to you and made you smile or laugh or sigh or feel understood. 

Here's to all the beautiful words we shared this month. Here's to the poetry. Be well, friends.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

April 29: "My Guitar Lies Bleeding in My Arms" by Bon Jovi

My Guitar Lies Bleeding in My Arms
by John Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora
My Guitar Lies Bleeding in My Arms lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

Misery likes company I like the way that sounds
I've been trying to find the meaning
So I can write it down
Staring out the window it's such a long way down
I'd like to jump but I'm afraid to hit the ground

I can't write a love song the way I fell today
I can't sing no song of hope
I've got nothing to say
Life is feeling kind of strange
Since you went away
I sing this song to you wherever you are
As my guitar lies bleeding in my arms

I'm tired of watching TV it makes me want to scream
Outside the world is burning
Man it's so hard to believe
Each day you know you're dying
From the cradle to the grave
I get so numb sometimes that I just feel the pain

I can't write a love song the way I feel today
I can't sing no song of hope
I got nothing to say
Life is feeling kind of strange
Strange enough these days
I send this song to you whoever you are
As my guitar lies bleeding in my arms

Staring at the paper I don't know what to write
I'll have my last cigarette-well, turn out the lights
Maybe tomorrow I'll feel a different way
But here in my delusion I don't know what to say

I can't write a love song the way I feel today
I can't sing no song of hope
I've got nothing to say
And I can't fight the feelings
That are burning in my veins
I send this song to you wherever you are
As my guitar lies bleeding

I can't write a love song the way I feel today
I can't sing no song of hope
There's no one left to save
And I can't fight the feelings buried in my brains
I send this song to you wherever you are
As my guitar lies bleeding in my arms 

Source: LyricFind

Personal Note:

Last weekend, for a change in scenery and because I felt incredibly sad, I went for a walk in my old neighborhood. I thought a stroll down memory lane might cure what ailed me: namely, a sense of loss over my previous, less fraught way of life. 

I thought visiting my old neighborhood and walking the streets from my (mostly happy) childhood would calm me down. Or cheer me up. Or both. 

Sadly, it made it a little worse. The neighborhood looked so different. The changed landscaping made the street I’d lived on almost unrecognizable. (There used to be hedges and trees separating property lines, setting each house apart as its own little section. Now most of those were gone. Each house blurred into the next.) My elementary school has been leveled and replaced with a new housing development. The whole experience was incredibly sad. 

I shouldn’t have been surprised, of course, since I haven’t lived there in over 17 years, but it was still jarring. 

What hadn’t changed, though, were the streets. Those I walked the same way I did in the evenings with my best friend all those years ago. I even texted her while passing some of our favorite old spots. Also keeping me company on this walk was Bon Jovi’s album These Days

One of them—today’s “poem”-- stood out to me as I walked along. The lyrics resonated as I thought of this current situation and how I haven’t been able to do much writing (or even significant reading since I can’t concentrate for long spells) since sheltering-in-place started. 

Listen to the song here

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

April 28: "A Woman's Answer to a Man's Question" by Mary T. Lathrap

A Woman's Answer to a Man's Question
by Mary T. Lathrap (1838-1895)
(Written in reply to a man's poetic unfolding of what he conceived to be a woman's duty.)

    Do you know you have asked for the costliest thing 
        Ever made by the hand above— 
    A woman's heart, and a woman's life 
        And a woman's wonderful love?

    Do you know you have asked for this priceless thing 
        As a child might ask for a toy, 
    Demanding what others have died to win, 
        With the reckless dash of a boy?

    You have written my lesson of duty out, 
        Man-like you have questioned me; 
    Now stand at the bar of my woman's soul 
        Until I shall question thee.

    You require your mutton shall always be hot, 
        Your socks and your shirt be whole; 
    I require your heart to be true as God's stars, 
        And as pure as heaven your soul.

    You require a cook for your mutton and beef; 
        I require a far better thing. 
    A seamstress you're wanting for socks and shirts; 
        I look for a man and a king.

    A king for the beautiful realm called home, 
        And a man that the maker, God, 
    Shall look upon as he did the first 
        And say, "It is very good."

    I am fair and young, but the rose will fade 
        From my soft, young cheek one day, 
    Will you love me then 'mid the falling leaves, 
        As you did 'mid the bloom of May?

    Is your heart an ocean so strong and deep, 
        I may launch my all on its tide? 
    A loving woman finds heaven or hell 
        On the day she is made a bride.

    I require all things that are grand and true, 
        All things that a man should be; 
    If you give all this, I would stake my life 
        To be all you demand of me.

    If you cannot do this — a laundress and cook 
        You can hire, with little to pay, 
    But a woman's heart and a woman's life 
        Are not to be won that way.

Monday, April 27, 2020

April 27: "The Moment" by Marie Howe

The Moment
by Marie Howe (2011)

Oh, the coming-out-of-nowhere moment
when,    nothing
no what-have-I-to-do today list

maybe  half a moment
the rush of traffic stops.
The whir of I should be, I should be, I should be
slows to silence,
the white cotton curtains hanging still. 

Sunday, April 26, 2020

April 26: "I May, I Might, I Must" by Marianne Moore

I May, I Might, I Must
by Marianne Moore

If you will tell me why the fen
appears impassable, I then
will tell you why I think that I
can get across it if I try.