• Barbarella

I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can't stop eating peanuts. -- Orson Welles

I wondered whether or not it mattered that I'd missed the first few episodes and decided not. It was still early enough in the season; by the end, hardly anyone would remember the first few disqualified competitors or their dismal efforts. This would be my first -- I'd never gone to any of the Lost or Sex and the City parties to which I'd been invited, mostly because I can't stand it when people talk during plot-crucial dialogue. But Project Runway has no plot, and if my memory served from the episodes I'd caught in past seasons, all the good bits are played over and over, so I needn't be concerned about missing them. Anyway, this was more than a simple gathering of TV watchers. Enticements of alcohol and gambling promised to make it an interactive social event worthy of Vegas, minus the Vegas people.

I consider TV to be an isolating medium, something one watches to wile away the hours. Isolating and divisive; those who don't watch television tend to think they are superior to those who do. It doesn't help that avid TV watchers (meaning those who can provide without hesitation the names of characters on at least two current shows) tend to be overly apologetic and are unable to mention a favorite show without clarifying that outside of this or that, they really don't watch much TV at all. I can't decide which is more annoying -- those who are ashamed of their hours on the couch or those who are proud. It makes me think of giant-car owners, as I often wonder which are more obnoxious -- conscience-stricken SUV drivers who whine about how bad they feel but aren't willing to alter their lifestyles or those bumptious Billy-Bobs who plow down the narrow city streets in souped-up Hummers. As with most things in life, the least offensive tend to fall somewhere near the middle of the spectrum.

The story of my childhood is punctuated by the cartoons and sitcoms of the day: elementary school with Thundercats and the Cosby Show, high school with South Park and That '70s Show, college with The Simpsons and Seinfeld, and living in Hollywood with reruns of Looney Tunes and Will & Grace. A good portion of my life has been spent in front of the television. Mostly, my TV was informative or entertaining. At times, it was merely white noise that filled the lonely silence.

Once I met David, my relationship with television began to change. As he had no interest in Animal Planet, I willingly gave up watching my usual in exchange for nestling on the couch with my new beau to view movies on DVD. On occasion, we would veg out to reality marathons on the Food Network or Bravo, the only two channels on which we agreed. Like candy, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Top Chef were scrumptious, but after imbibing too much at once, I was left feeling fatigued and a bit sick.

Because I could watch DVDs at my leisure, and because they were commercial-free and portion-controlled, I came to prefer the discs to scheduled programming. Soon, the television was rarely, if ever, turned on without the DVD player.

David and I have lived in our current home for almost three years, and we have yet to install any window coverings on the floor-to-ceiling glass panels in our living room. In order to see the tube without the white-blue reflection of sky obscuring the images, we must wait for sunset. This means that for the past three years, we haven't watched anything -- DVD or otherwise -- on the television during daylight hours.

When we entertain friends, we use our 70-inch screen not to flip on the big game but as a canvas on which to display David's video pieces (leaves swirling in the breeze, blurry taillights floating on a rainy night, fire licking at shiny glass, or fluffy tufts of snow falling from a black sky, all accompanied by a play list from his iPod). On those nights we find ourselves home alone, the great eye often remains switched off -- we are just as likely to opt for a game of Scrabble as the latest selection from Netflix.

Still, like a sugar-deprived child, I sometimes crave the sweet confection of cliffhangers, reality competitions, or comedy shows. Even commercials, like short films, have an appeal when you haven't seen any for a few years. One of the main reasons I hesitate to turn on the tube is that I know once it's on and I'm plucking visual bon bons from the video sampler box, turning it off will be like ripping the mainline out of my arm. So when the invitation arrived in my inbox, I thought, What better way to satisfy my sweet tooth than to attend a party at which just one sensibly portioned hour will be spent watching TV and at which the focus of the evening is as much a social interaction as the reality show at the center of it?

As this was the same crowd that had competed in the infamous Mac Down, David and I were not surprised to encounter gourmet offerings upon our arrival. Being of a similar mind, David had thought to bring an offering of his own -- a pecan-bourbon cake (heavy on the bourbon) -- which he nestled onto the kitchen counter next to Michael's turkey burgers.

Ame, our hostess, is a veteran Project Runway party-thrower. Apparently, at the end of last season, guests transcended the role of viewers. Those who didn't compete as designers impersonated the show's other personalities -- Heidi Klum, Tim Gunn, Michael Kors, and Nina Garcia. The challenge for the "designers" was to dress a Barbie doll. Ame showed me a few from last year, and I was amazed at how well they were executed. One Barbie's ensemble looked to be fashioned from a delicate silk, but Ame explained it was actually Elmer's glue, dried on and then peeled off the designer's palm.

We drank wine and nibbled Michael's tasty burgers with spicy sweet onion chutney and lemon crème fraîche, Ame's frittata, and David's boozy bourbon cake. Thanks to Ame's DVR, guests migrated leisurely from one room to the other without worrying about missing the beginning -- Lloyd wouldn't press play until everyone had shuffled into the room.

For the next hour, the TV was like a board game -- rather than isolating or dividing, it brought everyone together. It's interesting how invested people are in the outcome of a show when money is riding on the winner and loser. Before I met him, David had hosted Iron Chef parties, for which he devised a complicated drinking game. Now he could see that the major flaw had been to not include gambling.

After Heidi Klum told the worst designer to go home, Chris was declared the winner of the jackpot for correctly predicting both the show's winner and loser. Eventually, grumblings about Chris always winning and speculation about next week's show tapered off, and the crowd dissipated. Already I was thinking about the week to come -- who will win or lose, which outfits will amaze or horrify, and most important, which wine will I bring?

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I LOVE Project Runway! I watch too much TV and am not ashamed to admit it - usually that is, until in the presence of a holier than thou anti-TV-ite. I think the DVD solution you've hit upon is probably the best one for limiting consumption. Still, in our house the newest TV is the one we inherited from my husband's grandmother 6 years ago... no big, fancy screens for us! Wonder why we're still glued to BBC TV? Oh, b/c the original, British "Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares" is RIVETING! Not to mention "You Are What You Eat" and "How Clean is Your House". Gotta love those Brits!

I have watched it at times and like you said you just sometimes get caught up in the chaos!I'm more of a Myth Busters kinda viewer though lol.

Project Runway is one of my favorite shows! What a great idea, perhaps I'll copy your idea and have friends over to enjoy delicious dishes and great interactions. Another favorite of mine is Groomer Has It.

Thanks for all your great articles. Keep up the good work.


Ebrphoto, I love British comedy -- dry and intelligent. I haven't heard of those other shows you mentioned, I'll have to see if they're available on DVD. ;)

Jim, we saw a Myth Busters episode while staying with David's parents on the east coast. Not only did we love the show, David looks like he could be their long-lost third brother!

Davee, I'm with you, I love the idea of having themed parties. I could never commit to a weekly thing, but an occasional themed-fling sounds like it would be fun to host.

Sounds like a fun party. But I quit on Project Runway when it became clear that the final three are pretty much pre-selected. Remember that tall bearded dude from L.A., Santino? He made four horrible outfits in a row, but they kept him around because he was good TV, and willing to say snide things about other people. Look at the fine print at the end of the show. It says something to the effect of, judges make their decisions with input from the producers. That's lawyer speak for The Fix is In.

I believe it, Joaquin. Makes sense the producers would be more interested in a designer's entertainment value than design skills. After all, they're not selling clothes, they're selling ad space for television. Best, Barb

If I say PLEEEAAAAASSSSSE, will David share the recipe for pecan bourbon cake? It sounds so yummy.

I have gone through phases. In addition to following Project Runway for a couple of seasons, I've been through the Mythbusters phase, the Cesar Milan phase, the Project Runway phase, and (no, I'm not ashamed to admit it) the Dog the Bounty Hunter phase.

But now I'm in the off TV entirely phase. I'm sick of the hype of television. I just canceled my cable TV a couple of weeks ago and am currently going through withdrawal. But you know what? I'll get over it. It's too darn expensive and life is too darn expensive now. I'm finding time to do other things. Besides, TV these days is really nothing more than an advertisement delivery system. Have you ever timed the ratio of commercials to actual TV show? Try it, and you'll see what I mean.

In time I think I'll be perfectly happy with just Netflix.

cool. A dude that bakes. Barbarella, you're a lucky lady!

Joaquin, I have asked David to post the recipe as a comment, and he'll do so as soon as he gets a chance. Once he has it up, I will also post it on my blog:

Helena, I couldn't agree more. The last program I watched on regular TV (can't remember which one, and this Project Runway was on DVR, so commercials were fast-forwarded), I was shocked at that ratio - it was like 4 minutes of commercials for every 3 minutes of program time! I've also taken to watching a few things online. I catch up on Jon Stewart's Daily Show (the full episode) the next day online, for free, and all they play is one 15-second commercial. I can handle that. I hope you enjoy your phase and the additional fresh air you'll probably catch because of it! ;)

Don't I know it, Ponzi, don't I know it. Unfortunately for David, I'm not much of a cook, though on occasion I do make an attempt, if only to amuse him. ;)

Here you go Joaquin, enjoy!

Pecan Bourbon Cake

For the cake:

18.5 oz.pkg. Duncan Hines Golden Cake Mix (make sure to get "Golden" and not "Yellow" 3.4 oz. pkg. Jello brand Vanilla Pudding (NOT "Instant" pudding) 1 cup chopped pecans 4 eggs 1/2 cup bourbon 1/2 cup water 1/2 cup vegetable oil

For the sauce:

1 cup sugar 1/4 cup water 1/4 cup bourbon

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Butter and flour a bundt cake pan - mine is about 10" in diameter.

Sprinkle the nuts around the bottom of the pan.

Mix all the cake ingredients together and pour into the pan on top of the nuts.

Bake 1 hour.

While the cake is baking, make the sauce by mixing the sauce ingredients together in a pot over medium heat until the sugar has melted.

When the cake comes out of the oven, immediately pour the sauce over it while it is still in the pan. (If you want, you can use a wooden skewer or chopstick to poke holes in the cake to allow the sauce to reach deeper into the cake first, but I usually don't).

Cool, and then remove pan by inverting cake onto a serving plate.

Thanks for the nice compliment Ponzi, but I have to admit that I feel a bit guilty accepting it for a recipe that uses Duncan Hines Cake Mix and Jello pudding.

So, just to make myself feel better, here are a couple of other recipes for you. :)

Snowball Cookies


3/4 cup unsalted butter (that’s 1 1/2 sticks of butter) 1/2 cup of sugar 1 egg 2 tsp. vanilla (the real stuff, not the imitation crap)

2 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour (I like King Arthur brand) 1/2 tsp. salt 2 cups of shelled walnuts (they can be already chopped, but they don’t have to be)

1/2 cup powdered confectioner’s sugar


Preheat an oven to 350 degrees and adjust your oven racks so there is one in the middle.

In a large mixing bowl, using an electric hand mixer on high, or an electric stand mixer, blend the butter, sugar, egg and vanilla until uniform and fluffy (about 5 minutes):

Next, grate the walnuts using a nut grater (Mouli brand is ideal). If you don’t have a Mouli grater you could also use a blender or food processor to grind the nuts quite fine.

Add the grated nuts, flour and salt to the fluffy butter, egg, sugar and vanilla.

Mix with a wooden spoon until everything is mixed together and it looks like cookie dough.

Take about 1 TBS. of the dough and roll it into a ball between your two palms and then place the ball on an ungreased cookie sheet. Continue until all the dough has been formed into balls.

Bake cookies on the middle rack until pale golden brown (about 33 minutes in my oven).

Remove cookies from oven and cool to room temperature (you can hasten the cooling by putting the cookies on a plate or in a plastic container in the freezer).

Once cooled, place all the cookies in a gallon sized plastic ziploc bag and add the powdered sugar.

Gently roll the bag around in your hands until the cookies are uniformly coated with the sugar.

Store cookies in the freezer (eat them directly from the freezer).

Beigli (Hungarian walnut pastry/cookies)


4 cups all-purpose flour 1 pound lightly-salted butter 1/2 cup milk, warm (but not hot) 1 tablespoon sugar 1 package dry yeast (or 1 cube) 3 egg yolks 3 tablespoons sour cream 1 egg, well beaten powdered sugar to sprinkle

Walnut Filling

1 1/2 cup sugar 6 tablespoons white wine 2 pounds walnuts, chopped medium 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon zest (or grated lemon peel) 3 tablespoons apricot jam 3 tablespoons orange marmalade 1/2 cup golden raisins

Combine sugar and wine and bring to a boil; pour over all the other filling ingredients and mix well.


For pastry, put flour in a large bowl and cut in butter with a fork, pastry blender or food processor, until the size of peas.

Make a well in the center and add warm milk, sugar, and yeast. Mix the milk, sugar, and yeast well until the yeast dissolves (do not incorporate the flour yet).

Let stand for 10 minutes or until bubbles appear in the yeast mixture.

Add egg yolks and sour cream. Mix until ingredients come together.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured board and knead until smooth.

Cover with a towel and let stand for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, cut the dough into 4 sections. Roll out each one, one at a time, on a lightly- floured board, until rectangular, and roughly the size of a placemat (or a little smaller).

Cover each of the 4 rolled-out pastry with 1/4 of the filling.

Spread the filling out to about 1 1/2 inches from the shorter edges of the pastry, 1 1/2 inches from one of the long edges, and about 3 inches from the other long edge.

Fold the 1 1/2 inch long edge over onto the filling. Now fold the 1 1/2 inch short edges in towards the center of the pastry, so that the filling will not come out the ends when the pastry is baked. Continue to fold (or roll) the long edge of the pastry over onto itself until the whole thing is rolled up like a towel.

When all rolled up, place pastry on a cookie sheet, and pat down a little to form a slightly flatter pastry (i.e. not round).

Brush the pastry with beaten egg, and with a knife, make about 8 half-inch cuts in the top of the pastry.

Allow to stand for 20 minutes then brush again with egg.

Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes (or until done, i.e. cake-like, not doughy inside). If the top starts getting too dark (before the center is done) you can lay a piece of aluminum foil on top of the rolls to stop the top from browning further.

When cool, slice thinly, (3/8 inch slices are good) and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

After baking, the beigli can be kept in a plastic bag in the refrigerator (if it lasts that long!), or in foil and a plastic bag in the freezer for several months.

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