Thursday, October 30, 2008

A wonderful day

This evening was the rehearsal for Mozart's Requiem with the orchestra. This is one of my favorite evenings of the year, second only to the actual performance on All Soul's Day at the Mass for the Dead. The rehearsal is tiring, but exhilarating. The music, of course, is heavenly. The All Souls Mass will be celebrated at St. James Cathedral on Saturday at 7:30PM. I guess I didn't need to tell you that because it says so in the announcement.

A peachy (oops! I mean peary) day

Here is a recipe for the pudding we made yesterday.

Pear and Banana Bread Pudding

4 cups of old bread cubed (not too big, not to little, cubes about 1.5cm square)
2 cups of milk
Half a cube of butter (add a fat dash of salt if you used unsalted butter)
½ cup sugar
3 eggs
A teaspoon of vanilla
A large ripe banana, sliced thinly (or two small)
Two pears, peeled and diced

Scald the milk, and melt the butter in it. Whisk in the sugar. Pour it over the bread and let it sit for about 10 minutes. Whisk the eggs and vanilla, and add them to the bread and milk. In a well greased dish, layer the bread mixture and a layer of bananas and pears twice, ending with a bread layer. Bake it at 350 for about 50 minutes, until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean, and the bread tips are nicely browned.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A not very interesting day

Here is a picture of Maria, the diabolical kitty, looking out the window. Like many diabolical folks, she is cute and can be charming, but Rachael and Tom are the only ones she has ever really loved disinterestedly. She generally pays me no heed unless I am cooking. Then she sits by and offers encouragement, and as soon as my back is turned, she samples whatever I am making. Today she helped me make some bread pudding which I had promised Rachael. I used my BBB pudding recipe, but put in two chopped pears instead of the blueberries. Rachael had wanted a pear dessert with cinnamon, and I had planned to put some in, but forgot. We agreed that it was better without.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A chilly day

The frost is on the vine, the leaves are turning scarlet and gold, and the household vermin think it is time to start sleeping under the covers! My little Leslie was an expert at subtly slithering under the blankets without waking me at all. Once, when my parents were visiting, and my father was sleeping in my bed, Leslie (I can’t believe that he didn’t notice it wasn’t me in the bed) crept under the covers in his usual inconspicuous way. At four in the morning, one of Leslie’s many enemies – the newspaper – flopped onto the front porch. Leslie erupted, as he did every morning at that time, barking and ferocious, to save us from the invading intruder! My father, starting awake at the uproar, as he later told us, thought that he had died and woken up in hell. Now this is ridiculous, because my father was holier than the pope, and if he woke up anywhere, it would not be hell. My mother was quite rude and thought the whole thing hysterically funny. She welcomed Leslie into her bed, but my father was a more fastidious type.
The current vermin are not so sly. Or maybe just less adroit. In any case, they demand to sleep under the covers, but neither Michael nor Margaret is clever enough to get him or herself under independently. This means that, should I go to sleep before they are ready to retire, they have to waken me so I can lift the covers and let them under. I usually ignore their pathetic whimpers as long as possible, but I know that eventually, Margaret will scratch my head or Michael will touch my nose with his paw. One thing I can’t stand is a cat touching my nose with his paw. Michael knows and takes advantage of it. Grrrrrrr! What spoiled vermin!
PS The two large individuals above are Margaret's guests, and would not be welcome in my bed no matter how pathetic they made themselves.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A doughy day

Suzanne came to lunch and I made barley soup and pretzels again. Here the pretzels are, in their initial balls, formed into footballs and looking a bit like the poop of patients with severe liver disease, being dipped into lye, and finally coming out of the oven. Aren’t they beautiful? Unfortunately, they stuck to the parchment paper I baked them on, but after a while, the paper took on their character and became edible like the rice papers on those wonderful Asian botan ame candies.
I am nearing the end of organizing Tom’s finances, but it is incredibly frustrating, dealing with the banks and financial types. I dread every interaction with them. For example, Tom had an annuity, and I was trying to do whatever one does with annuities, and in order to do that, I had to fill out some forms they had sent me. One of the things the form asked was who the beneficiary was. I called to ask them who that might be, and they said they couldn’t tell me until I had filled out the form and sent it in!!!!!!! I pointed out that I couldn’t fill it out without knowing who it was, but they didn’t seem to see that this might be a problem, and just kept repeating that they couldn’t tell me till I had filled out the form. And this was nothing whatever compared with dealing with his bank! Grrrrrrr!!!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A reflective day

One day in the spring, Tom and I were sitting quietly doing crosswords when there was a frightful crash. All on its own, my grandmother’s mirror had fallen off the wall! Fortunately, it had come apart at the seams, but the glass had not broken. Putting it back together was going to be difficult because it had broken in the past and been reassembled poorly, i.e. obtuse angles where there should be right angles. One had to decide whether the ugly bit would be on the top or the bottom, as it would not go together properly at both ends at once. Fear of failure kept me from starting this project, and I fretted about it for a month or two. However, finally I got tired of looking at its pieces, with the help of my auntie, put it back together – but this time there were even more obtuse angles, and the whole thing seemed awfully fragile. The next problem was to hang it so that it wouldn’t fall again. It is heavy, and the weight of it had pulled the little wire-holding nails apart which was the reason it fell. Another delay of a month or two ensued while I thought about how best to solve the problem. Now it sits on a little shelf, and is firmly attached to the wall, and I can cross one thing off my guilt producing “to do” list.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A reconstructive day

On Monday, I spent the morning in my usual pre-work do-nothing-whatever mode, so as to conserve my energy for the upcoming ordeal of work. I lay about, knitted a bit, read a bit, prepared my work lunch, and then, thanks be to God, I looked at my calendar to check on something else. To my surprise, I was not scheduled to work at all that day, but rather, the next. Since I was firmly in do-nothing mode, and hadn’t planned anything for the afternoon or evening, I am afraid that I stayed in that mode for the rest of the day. Then on Tuesday, since I really was scheduled to work, I had to be in do-nothing mode yet again. Work was trying, and I had a headache -- was work trying because of the headache, or was the headache because work was trying? One cannot say! In any case, the headache was still there this morning. I didn’t have any real projects planned, other than more of the odious phone calls regarding Tom’s estate, and I feared that I would be unable to flog myself into any sort of activity yet again. However, I strove womanfully, and, to my surprise, I succeeded. There was a terrible hole in the wall in our sitting room, put there by the heater men, maybe two years ago. Rebecca covered the hole with cardboard and duck tape, and I managed to ignore it most of the time. Sadly, the prospect of fixing it was more unpleasant than the prospect of averting my eyes and pretending it wasn’t there. John, who has been helping me get some fixing up done, felt that the hole was something too horrible to ignore, and so he fixed it, but it still remained to be painted. The can of paint has been sitting next to the former hole for several weeks, just waiting to be used. Well, I decided that today would be the day, and forced myself into action. The worst of it is collecting the tools and materials, and once I did that, I was on a roll. Like so many of those tasks one puts off and off and off, it was far less a chore than anticipated, and putting my pictures up again after so long, made me quite happy. There is no “before” picture, because, as I said, I was in denial about it, and one can’t deny what has been photographically documented, so one carefully does not document it, but here is the “after” picture.
Now there is a new hole in the bathroom wall where we are trying, not too successfully to put up a new vanity. It is on its way to the “avert eyes and ignore list”, but it is harder to ignore when you have to stare at it every time you use the facilities.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A present filled day

Behold my Birthday Presents! The “Synecdoche” purse was a real surprise, made for me by Rebecca. At least ten years ago, she purchased a book on this particular South American style of crocheting, and promised to make me something from it. I admired this purse, and confidently expected it any day. She made herself a coin purse, and decided that this type of crocheting was very tough, and hard on the wrist as it is so tightly done, and she was sore after just that small project. The resulting material is quite dense, and perfect for purselike things. But there was no duck purse for me. I occasionally nagged her about it, as I really did want a duck purse like that, but to no avail. Then, recently, she made herself an ipod case in this sort of work, with ducks on it even! I asked if it was for me, and she patiently pointed out that I did not have an ipod, so of course not. So when I opened my present, I was totally surprised and quite happy. I wore my new purse with pride to the opera yesterday. I am sure it was the cynosure of all eyes.
I received a number of lovely and amusing presents from my friend Sabine in Berlin, and they were quite the success at the party. She sent some wonderful bamboo yarn from her hometown, and the aunties were incredulous at the idea of yarn made of bamboo. The thing that was most popular, I think was the Teewurst Tee (tea). Sabine tells me that there is a real sort of German wurst, similar to liverwurst, called Teewurst, so this packet of tea, done up to look just like the actual sausage, was a good joke. I am looking forward to drinking the tea, but that will have to wait a while so I can continue enjoying the packet. The blue and yellow thing in front is a Japanese egg mold. You boil the egg and then squash it into the requisite shape in the mold. Kawaii! The Japanese kitchenware section of Uwajimaya is often a rather mysterious place. Rachael got me a nice ricer from the American kitchenware store. Probably the most astonishing of all, however was Ana’s present, the lovely shawl which I showed you on an earlier post, never dreaming at the time, that it could be a present or me! I wore that to the opera too! So this time I was all warm and comfy.

A turbulent day

Margaret is a very fierce protector of our house and family. A protector against some things, that is. If the burglar were to try to visit when we were not home, she would say, “Come right in! Anything here is yours, as long as you will pet me!” However if there is inclement weather, she is determined that it will not harm us and is quite vocal in her attempts to scare it away. A gentle mist brings out her vigilant side, and the louder the weather, the louder the barks, yelps, and threats from her. You can imagine how she reacted a few minutes ago when a sudden outburst of hail came crashing down on our little home. Margaret is still barking although the hail has turned to the occasional sprinkle and a bit of wind. Rebecca was caught out in it and took this picture to show Margaret that the hail was, after all, pretty.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A festive couple of days

Every year at Birthday Time, I say, “no party, no presents. I don’t want them.” And they say, “You can’t do that! You have to have a party. You have to have presents.” (They are a little more cooperative about the “no present” thing around Christmas when hundreds are clamoring for presents from them!) Yesterday was my birthday party, and it was great. I generally egoistically assume that if I had a good time, it was a great party and everyone else did too. This may not actually always follow. The meal was wonderful -- mainly Moroccan with pear salad, gingerbread (a Joanna’s Birthday constant) cooked by Rebecca, and pumpkin soup prepared by Ana. We were so excited about eating that we did not take one single picture. Later, after most of the guests were gone, and Rachael, Rebecca, and Bill W were upstairs doing some computer thing, and I was doing dishes, I was less excited and took a picture of the last of the cleanup. This is just from the dessert, as I did the main part of the dinner dishes previous to serving the cake. Don’t feel that it is unfair for the Birthday Girl. Actually, I have always sort of enjoyed doing dishes. Perverse, eh? Everyone offers to help, but I usually maneuver to do it alone.
My gifts were beyond wonderful, and I will show them to you tomorrow or the next day. It’s getting late! I said “a festive couple of days,” and that is only one day.
Today, Rebecca and I went to the opera to see Elektra, and it was – well – electrifying! I didn’t know much about it beforehand, except that it was about a really dysfunctional family, so my expectations were on the low side. Wow, was I wrong. It was the most amazing and incredible thing. The role of Elektra required a superhuman person, and superhuman she was. The opera was wonderful, terrible, mad, passionate, the music moving, the libretto lush, the singing profound, and the soprano playing Elektra, Jayne Casselman, was astonishingly exponentially marvelous. When it was over, I had tears of amazement at the wonder of it. I just really could not believe that opera could be so good.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Birthday blog

I got up rather grumpy because I was sure no one would notice my birthday. Rachael and I had our usual Rachael-getting-ready-for-school chat, and she didn’t mention it. She is not a natural early riser and is always rather fussed in the morning when she has to rush. She left, and I knew that Rebecca was working and wouldn’t be able to call. My aunt called but didn’t mention the importance of the day. I was resigned to go to work uncelebrated. But then Samos called and said we could go to the conservatory and then lunch at our favorite Indian restaurant. This cheered me greatly. Here is a picture of our Indian lunch and the nan which the waiter gave me special for my birthday. Samos brought me some Kinderseife – my favorite soap which, sadly, is no longer made. This soap has a sort of secret meaning (rather like the Turkish Delight and Junior Mints mentioned in an earlier entry,) so it was a very nice present! Then I got a packet from my friend Sabine all the way from Germany. I decided to open it later in the bosom of my family when we gather to celebrate on Saturday. Then Rachael called, horrified that she had forgotten earlier in the day. I got an email from Rebecca at work, so I felt loved after all. All in all, a fun morning, and a much nicer one than I ever expected.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sick day

More unnerving news! I just found a huge wasp walking up my bedroom wall. I went to the kitchen to get a cup and other equipment for catching it and putting it outside, but when I got back it was gone. Now I am waiting for it to appear and bite me or whatever it is that wasps do.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Odd day

I am sitting in the dark, trembling after just having set myself afire. Whew! I was upstairs, working on a sock pattern (soon to be posted), and suddenly the lights went out. John, who is working on my house and had been looking like poor Oliver Twist in his chimney sweep days, was taking a shower downstairs. When everything suddenly darkened, I at first thought that he had blown a fuse with his power tools. Then I realized that he wasn’t using any power tools and that the whole neighborhood was unlit. I knew that the room he was in is dark as the inside of a cow if the light is off, so I went to find a candle and rescue him. I also realized at that moment how ill prepared I am for this sort of thing – note to self – amend this situation! I found the candle I use for taking a quiet bath, but that was the only one readily available. I considered the birthday cake candles, but decided that they wouldn’t do. Fortunately, he knew where I had some more candles because he had been painting the cupboard where they were. We found them, lit a few, and suddenly my sweater was aflame. Oddly enough, I remained fairly calm and flung it to the floor. Wow! This very thing happened to my father once at a wedding, and he didn’t get burned either – just frightened. Once at a posh party in Ireland as I was filling my plate at a buffet, I noticed that my hand was very warm and then that I had set my linen napkin on fire. Later, Dennis who had not seen what I had done, knew that I had done something, because I was “creeping along the wall like a terrified giant white mouse.” I felt like a giant white mouse again this evening. Still no lights though. Oh, horrors! I just realized I can’t make tea!

Friday, October 10, 2008

The mutable day

The day promised to be not very fun, and probably annoying to boot. I was scheduled to go to a “service class” at work. Everyone had to go before the year was up. I had heard from one and all that it was awful and a waste of time, and rather insulting as well. This class was to teach us to say, “Please,” and, “Thank you,” smile at people, and say, “I’m sorry,” when we goof up – in short, just what your mother taught you before you started kindergarten. And we got to role play! Triple ugh! I hate this sort of thing. Actually, I think role playing can be very helpful in preparing for tough situations, but I had serious doubts that this particular role playing would be helpful. I had put it off until it could be put off no longer. So I had to get up about three hours after I got to sleep and stagger to the class which didn’t even offer free tea or coffee. However, I was immediately cheered to see that Virginia, one of my favorite fellow nurses and a fellow recalcitrant, was sitting there looking as groggy as I felt. Amazingly, I have to confess that the class was not that bad! In fact, I hate to say this, but I rather enjoyed it.
After the class, I ambled down to the Market, where I planned to have a lunch of pot stickers at one of my favorite spots. But to my horror, it was gone and a Vietnamese restaurant with not very appetizing looking, not very vegetarian dishes had replaced it. I am so unadventurous, restaurant-wise, but I was starving and so I was going to have to branch out. I was brave and got a mushroom, onion, and celery piroshky and it was out of this world! I had been admiring them for years, but had timidly stuck with the tried and true, and never gotten one. Super yummers! Then an ice cream cone – ginger! - to top it off. Then back to my job get my CPR card renewed. Somehow, whenever have I do this, I revert back into a nursing student quivering under the basilisk stare of the nursing instructor (a universally terrifying group.) I was rather glum about this ordeal, but it went very well too, and the folks running the show were totally non-intimidating, and utterly pleasant. Another expected ordeal turned out to be a bit of fun. Here is a picture of the bus arriving to pick me up – always a happy sight after a tiring day. The moral of this story is that if you are a total pessimist, things are bound to be better than you expect, and you are delightfully surprised. Much better than expecting to have a great time, and being let down!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A frustrating few minutes

The cats around here have been a bit wild, especially Maria. You may have gleaned from previous writing, that while Michael is a saintly, loving kitty, Maria is a bit perverse and frequently downright unpleasant. She is a pretty, dainty looking girl, but has a mean streak. Every morning when I am about to distribute breakfast to the three little household vermin, she comes down, walks into the kitchen, hisses, and bops either Michael or Margaret on the nose - completely unprovoked. They are both usually so stunned by this (their little memories must not span a complete diurnal cycle), that they just stare at her uncomprehendingly. Then she turns and walks over to her dish and begins to meow loudly and angrily until I serve her. The only people she really has liked are Rachael and Tom. If someone who hates cats or is seriously allergic to them visits, she will fawn on them and try to eat food off their plate, but that is it. She feigns to like me when I am cooking, and yesterday, pretending to be innocently interested in what I was doing, she got a goodly bit of the lunch I was preparing to take to work. Recently she has been doing that youthful (which she is not) cat thing of running from one end of the house to the other – back and forth like a demented creature. I suspect it is because we have been having “weather.” Michael did this in his adolescent months, and actually jumped right through a closed window. Rebecca got hysterical, envisioning a severed artery, but when we went out to get him, he was sitting there, looking bemused and seemingly asking, “How did that happen?” He did not offer to fix the window. Maria has not yet jumped through a window, fortunately. I am sure she is too fat for that, but she waits by the front door when I take Margaret out for walkies, and when I open the door to come back in, out she shoots like a bit of lightening into the bushes. I am always tempted to just say, “Ciao, Maria,” but I know that Rachael’s heart would be broken. Yesterday, it was pouring rain, I was dressed for work, all clean dainty my self, and ready to go, when out she shot, through the door, and into the dripping hydrangeas. You may imagine the choice things I called her. Happily for Maria, my love of Rachael drove me on, and I resisted the temptation to leave her to her fate. This, just after eating my feta cheese. Was she at all grateful? Absolutely not.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A busy day

Ana was coming to dinner, and while I was eager for her visit, my house was a sty and I felt more compelled to clean than to cook. So that meant that I had to think of a meal-in-minutes. Early in the day, I made David Lebowitz’s Cheese Cake Brownies. These required baking chocolate, chocolate chips, and cocoa. I assumed that we had plain cocoa, but sadly, I assumed wrong. All we had in the cocoa line was some mocha cocoa that we had because no one liked it very well. Well, it would have to do, and actually it did very well. The brownies were yummissimo, and I think the hint of coffee added to the yummistic effect. Then when Ana got here, she made us an excellent tomato and mozzarella salad and I made the risotto. It was one of the best dinners I have had in at least a week. The risotto was super quick and easy.
Olive oil, about two tablespoons
2 huge cloves of garlic, mashed
A nice red onion, chopped
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
4 cups vegetable broth
A cup of chopped very nice black olives
A teaspoon of lemon zest
About a tablespoon of lemon juice
About 5 smallish tomatoes, quartered (or if you are using bigger tomatoes, cut into eighths – each piece about the size of an almond in its shell)
A cup of shredded basil
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
In your pressure cooker, fry the garlic and onion in the olive oil until the onion is translucent. Add the rice and stir until the rice is coated with oil. Add the vegetable broth and some pepper, and bring to high pressure. Cook for 5 minutes on high pressure and quick release the pressure. Over low heat, give the risotto a few stirs until it is smooth and even. Stir in the lemon zest and juice. Stir in the basil and give it a few stirs. Stir in the tomatoes and give it a few more stirs very carefully so that the tomatoes are still sort of intact, and are just warmed. Serve it right away, passing around cheese to sprinkle on it.