Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Toe in the Water

There is a term used in the theatre world, and probably in the world at large, it's called the "talent pool" or sometimes referred to as the "casting pool."  I like to imagine a bunch of artists stuck in a large pool and the trouble they might cause in the process, but thankfully this "pool" is merely metaphoric.  Obviously the pool in NYC is quite large, and I would venture to say the biggest in the country, if not the world.  LA certainly runs a close second, but they are so spread out  there in the West, here in the land of Broadway everyone is crammed onto one tiny island (and a few surrounding boroughs).  New York is full of talented people, all wading in the water just waiting to be plucked out and put onstage.   I am ashamed to admit it, but I have been a mere spectator sitting in a lounge chair in the shade ever since I moved out East.  It wasn't all my fault, as I made a deliberate decision not to worry about any career stuff until the new year.  Well, that has come and surprisingly I found it harder to dive in than I anticipated.

Ok enough with the extended metaphor's already.

I have never been one to really waver when it comes to career advancement. From a young age I have been very ambitious and have had no trouble putting myself out there when it comes to auditioning, networking and even creating work for myself.  For the most part I have always been focused and driven and relatively unafraid about the whole scary world of Showbusiness. However, when you take a little break and then try to throw yourself into an unknown scene, with new faces and names to learn, it's tempting to curl up under the covers and never come out.  It surprised me, this hesitation and trepidation.  I wasn't afraid to try, I wasn't even afraid of failing.  If anything my feelings were bordering on apathetic, which is even worse in my opinion.  I felt out of sorts, and unlike myself.  Was it New York that was doing this to me? Was the city already hardening me to a point where I couldn't muster up the energy to pursue my dreams?  I shuddered at the thought.

I kept thinking about some words of wisdom my friend Jenn shared with me: "Blair, you have to just put your toe in the water. You can't look back on this experience and think that you didn't make the most of it."

Just put my toe in the water....(ok more water symbolism...forgive me)

I kept thinking about this phrase, for days on end, and I slowly realized that what was holding me back was a sense of slight discouragement.  Discouraged that I still haven't found an agent (more on that at a later date..), frustration that I have to adapt to a new system when I had grown comfortable with the old one, and even a bit doubtful about my own abilities as an artist.

Thankfully after a very affirming voice lesson, and some more encouraging words from friends and Jürgen, I decided enough was enough.  I needed to do just that, put my toe in the water.  By no means did have to dive headfirst into the deep end, no I could wade at my own pace, but I had to start somewhere, and today I am pleased to report that I took my first step into the New York City Talent Pool.

Ok I am all about the water metaphors today!!!

And I am pleased to report that I lived to blog about it! Honestly, it was quite simple.  It was for an Off-Broadway play here in the city which I new next to nothing about, and truth be told I am not totally convinced I am even right for it, but it was a way to put myself out there and stop hiding.  Thankfully they provided scenes to read at the audition, so I didn't have to perform a the much maligned monologue, and the casting director was very friendly.  After I was done, she said "I love Chicago actors, they have such a reality and intimacy about them."  I appreciated her sentiment, most definitely.

So there you have it, my feat for the day, with hopefully many more to come.

In the meantime, please ponder these words "Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming."
(which wise fish said that?)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Simple Pleasures: Pieces of a Puzzle

They say New York City never sleeps, and you can have anything delivered, something new is always opening, and when you turn the corner you will find a block full of flavors, colors and a hundred and one things to do.

I believe this to be true, and you could while away the days hopping from museum, to restaurant, to shop, to theatre, to bar, to a late night diner and do it all over again the next day, and it would probably take you years, if not a lifetime, to do it all in the Big Apple. However despite all of the happenings briming outside of my door (well to be honest my neighborhood isn't that exciting, but take the train a few stops and you get my drift) nothing beats spending time at home, on a quiet night, with someone you love, enjoying a classic jigsaw puzzle.

Yes I went from 27 to 87 in two minutes flat. No shame!

I have recently fallen back in love with the joy of puzzles, and I am bringing Jürgen down with me! Apparently he didn't spend many days growing up putting them together, which was a travesty in my opinion. My family spent many days, particulary during vacations, bent over a table finding pieces to connect to one another. We were particular fans of the murder mystery puzzles where you didn't have a picture to guide you and once the picture was complete you would use clues from the image to solve a crime. It makes for some very good times I assue you.

Brittany was also a frequent puzzle companion of mine, with our proudest achievement being a whopping 5,000 piece puzzle which took the shape of a large fish. We put in together at my family's cabin during the summer of 2000 (I think!) and it took many visits to the lake to complete, but once we did we covered that baby in some kind of shalack and hung it on the wall with pride. There are few finer joys than putting in the final puzzle piece.

So you can imagine my excitement when one of my anniversary gifts (we are one year old!) from Jürg was a good old fashioned jigsaw puzzle. Traditionally year one is "Paper" so it was a perfect fit.

I would recommend puzzles to anyone, but particularly for people who may be on a tighter budget than others, they are a perfect way to add a little entertainment to your life without spending a lot of money. I'm telling you pour yourself a glass of wine (apparently I always need to be drinking), put some music on the iPod and go to town. Depending of the size and difficulty level of the puzzel it can provide days, even weeks worth of entertainment. For us, we had a puzzle with 1,000 pieces and I would venture to say it took about a week to finish. This may be the first puzzle we completed together, but it will certainly not be the last.

I recently received a new iPhone, so in an effort to better document my life through photos, here are a few images from our puzzle adventure.

Our puzzle was titled "Greetings From America!" which was a series of stamps representing America's 50 states. Apparently Barnes and Noble's selection of jigsaws was rather grim, but I think it made for a great first time puzzle challenge, and it allowed me to figure out just how many US States I have visited (total 26 for me, 31 for Jürgen).

I love the process of starting with a pile of disconnected pieces on a table top and slowly finding their place in the big picture.

*Tip* Start by separating out all of the straight edged pieces and build the border first, then organize the pieces by color. Or in this case by the number 37

Since we had a photo to guide us we were able to get a rough layout of the picture once the border was put together.  It's helpful to create structure amid chaos.

                            The anticipation mounts when you only have a few remaining pieces

And finally, you place the final piece to complete the picture, breathe a sigh of relief and give yourself a pat on the back.

Unless, you are in our situation where magically the final piece of the puzzle has gone missing! The injustice!

Looks like California is incomplete! I hear Los Angeles has lost a bit of it's soul, perhaps our puzzle piece went out west to find it?

I just did a little browsing on this site and the great majority of the puzzles fell in the $10-$25 category.  I do declare that is a bargain if there ever was one! I am so grateful to Jürgen for giving me this gift and in turn many fun filled evenings, and I am also thankful to have been reminded that even when you live in one of the most exciting cities around that is often the simple, quiet times in life that are the most memorable.

What ways do you entertain yourself when you are on a budget?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sunny Side Up: Vol 2

Well hello there! Are you givin' me a little once over as you check out my new design? I figured it's a New Year and it's time for a fresher, crisper, cooler look.  It still need's a bit of tweaking, but I like where things are going. Do you like? What think we?

New templates aside, I also felt it was time to unveil some new ideas I have for this little blog of mine, so I present to you the first one:

Sunny Side Up: Flavorful, Healthy Meals to Sustain You, and Your Wallet Throughout the Week.

(missed the first volume, which didn't have this clever title at the time? you can read it here)

It goes without saying that in times of financial challenge or strain one of the easiest ways to cut back on your daily spending, and perhaps even a few calories in the process, is to cook at home.  I know it is so tempting in this day in age when you can order food from an app on your iPhone, while you are sitting at your desk at work, or from the Chinese takeout place around the corner, to avoid the kitchen at all costs. Or to try to save a little bit of time by stocking up on a bunch of frozen, perservative packed, pre-cooked meals from the freezer section.  I used to be guilty of all of the above.  However those little choices add up throughout the week and at the end of the month can leave you with a heavy feeling in your stomach when you open up your bank statement. Cooking at home can not only be a lot of fun (particularly when you drink wine in the process, I encourage this), but a great way to keep track of what you are actually consuming.  When you order out you have no idea what was added to your food by way of salt, fat, or where the food came from.  When you make your meals with you own hands you are the one driving the ship and you have the control. It's very liberating, I assure you. Let's be real, it's way cheaper to be healthy than to be sick...I'm just sayin'.

However, I totally understand the not so pretty side of cooking at home: the clean up. And let's not forget coming home from work at 10:30pm and not having any energy to whip up a whole new meal. I totally get it, and that's why I am here to help!  In this new blog-series I will share with you some recipes tested and tasted from my very own kitchen, which are not only affordable to make but will feed you for days on end.  I will calculate how much the recipe cost to make, and how much mileage you get out of your investment each day.  So without further adieu, here we go!

                                            (photo source:

Chili With Corn Muffins: Adapted from the website Colombe du Jour.

I realize there are a bagillion chili recipes floating out there in the ether, so why this one? I picked it because Colombe is a co-worker of mine, and a super lovely lady.  She has a passion for creating healthy, accesible food, and she informed me that this recipe, unlike many of it counterparts, didn't call for any crazy, hard to find peppers to create heat.  Every ingredient on this list can easily be found at your local grocery of choice, which earns double points in my book.

You can read the full recipe here, but below is the list of ingredients, how much we paid for each, and any adaptations we made in the process.

Vegetarian Chili (ours was not Vegetarian...more on that in a moment)

Serves about 15
3 tablespoons olive oil (we already had this on hand)
1 large onion, (1 ½ cups) chopped (cost $1.29)
3 carrots, peeled, thinly sliced (cost for a bag $1.69)
2 bell peppers, seeded, chopped (cost $1.47)
1 head of garlic, peeled and minced (already had this on hand)
1-teaspoon sea salt (had)
1/4-teaspoon chili powder (had) 
2 teaspoons ground cumin (had)
2 teaspoons ground coriander (had)
3/4-teaspoon ground cinnamon (had) 
1-½ teaspoons dried oregano (had) 
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes (cost $1.99)
1 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed, drained (cost 0.99 cents)
1 15-ounce cans kidney beans, rinsed, drained (cost 0.99 cents)
1 15-ounce can pinto beans, rinsed, drained (cost 0.99 cents) 
3 cups water
¼ cup limejuice, juice of 2 limes (we bought a small container of lime juice cost $1.29)
For garnish:
Grated Cheese (we used Sargento Authentic Mexican blend which cost $3.49)
Pickled Jalapenos (we didn't use these)
1 bunch cilantro, cleaned and chopped (we didn't use these)

We also had about 2lbs of ground beef on hand, which had been sitting patiently in the freezer, so we decided to throw it in. The meat ran us about $7.50, which is totally optional.  However, due to the addition of meat we did decide to DOUBLE the amounts of spice required for the recipe, and in the end we still added a little bit more seasoning, because we are totally wild and crazy! I would encourage you to do the same if you add any sort of meat.

A word on the spices: Jürgen and I have acquired a fairly nicely stocked spice cabinet, so no extra money needed to be spent for the seasoning portion of the recipe.  None of these spices are super fancy, and I imagine most folks who have any kind of spice collection would have some, if not all of these. However, if you don't, you will have to spend a little bit more to make this dish, but it's a worthy investment. Spices last a long time, so you get a whole lotta bang for your buck.

Also, I wish I could say I made some corn muffins from scratch, but I don't want to lie, we bought two boxes of my childhood favorite Jiffy Corn Bread mix.  Really how can you go wrong? It's two for $1.00 takes no time to make and yields the most delicious results every time.  It's warm, cripsy on the bottom, sweet with a hint of corn flavor.  Yes I realize this makes me a tad hypocritical in terms of my "knowing what exactly is in your food" soapbox, but I was raised on this stuff and simply cannot give it up.  However, I can tell you in full confidence that should you choose to make Colombe's corn muffins I have no doubt you will be pleased.

We made this dish on a Tuesday night, and it fed us through to the following Friday. That's a grand total of 11 DAYS worth of Chili goodness!  Yes, I will admit towards the end of the eleven days I did start to get a little tired of chili, but it retained it's flavor swimmingly and honestly it was nice not having to think about what to pack for lunch.  The cornbread didn't last as long, as I am not one to let a cornbread muffin pass me by, plus 11 day old cornbread doesn't sound good to me, but that's just my opinion.

 Here's how things break down in terms of cost:

If we made this dish without the meat the dish would have cost us $15.29 to make, and breaks down to $1.40 a day for 11 days.

With the meat it cost us $22.79 to make, breaking down to $2.07 a day for 11 days.

Incredible! That's a complete meal for less than $3.00 a day.  Imagine all the things you can do with the money you will be saving.  I might suggest throwing in a few extra bucks for a nice, but cheap, bottle of an Argentinean Malbec, I think it would pair wonderfully with the chili.  But you know about  my affinity for inexpensive South American wines already....

So there you have it my friends, a perfect recipe for a cold winter's night, and many days and nights thereafter.  If you make it please report back! I would love to hear how it turns out for you!

Also, do you have any recipes you would like for me to try? If so please email me at blairbrobertson at gmail dot com!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Christmas Vacation!

Happy New Year to all!

Please forgive the unannounced break I took for the past few weeks, it wasn't intentional I assure you, merely a consequence of my busy work schedule.  The holidays are a busy time for all with the buying and the baking and the signing up to work four days of double shifts the week of Christmas.  What you didn't do the same?

Christmas brought with it much joy, my family from Kentucky, and the day after Christmas brought me boarding a plane to Chicago.  Yes I returned for a week in the faire Windy City, and much to my surprise it was there right where I left it.  I was asked to travel to Chicago for work, not work of theatrical variety, but of the Day-Spa management kind.  The Chicago location of my workplace was short staffed and they decided to fly me in to help for a week. Kind of random, but kind of wonderful.

But let's be real: this week in Chicago was by no means a vacation.  I worked every day except for one, and time seemed to be on speed because before I knew it a new decade was upon us and I was boarding a plane back out east.  However, despite my busy schedule I did get to reconnect with some dear Chicago friends, spend a little time reflecting, and down a few beverages of the alcoholic variety in the process.  It was nice, and I am glad I went.

I won't lie and say it didn't occur to me to say "screw New York" and stay put in Chicago.  I was met with many feelings of conflict which have stuck with me the past few weeks since my return.  For one, I have what feels like the makings of a real adult starter home there.  I remember staring into my bedroom my first night back with it's window treatments, rug and an actual bed frame and thinking about decorating ideas.  Here in Queens we have a lovely bedroom, and a lovely home for that matter, but it feels very transient.  Neither of us plan to buy any furniture or hang any wall art in this place, because on some level we know we won't be staying put.  Sure, there are still rooms to be painted an items to be purchased in Chicago but we want to invest in wall colors and because we hope to invest in a life there.  At least that's what I think we will end up doing.  It's hard not to know, and with the stability of Jürgen's contract no longer tying us down it's hard not to throw in the towel.

On top of window treatments and flooring, I have an emotional home in Chicago: my friends.  Now let's be clear, I have my brother and some life long friends here as well (which is incredible) but I feel like I am a part of a community in Chicago.  It's hard to explain, but I realized while I was there how much I know the city, how beautiful it is and how much a part of myself I see in Chicago.  I have wine nights, a theatre company, a tree lined street, a car, an understanding of which way is East, friends with little babies who grow so fast, and so many memories.  It's challenging not to run to safety when life in a new zip code isn't wrapped in a pretty bow.  I know it will take time, and I am willing to invest the time, but packing to head back "home" when you already feel like you are home is disorienting and conflicting.

So it has been a busy and rather heavy few weeks!

But never fear I am back and ready to blog again! I have some ideas a cookin' and I look forward to sharing them with you all!

And please, worry not about little ol' me, I will be just fine.  I have made the commitment to being out here, and I know this city holds many opportunities for not only career advancement but also friendship and self discovery.  In my heart I know this move, this challenge, this change was necessary.  Perhaps I will have many places to call home for the time being, and maybe I don't need to restrict myself to one area code.  Time will undoubtedly unveil some answers and in the meantime I can continue to power through each day knowing I am growing a little bit in the process.

So onward and upward dear readers! Where twenty-ten shall lead me, lead us, know one knows, but I am certainly excited to find out.