Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A silly day

Today was the first day in many, and the last in just as many that I had nothing which I really had to do. I planned to spend some quality time with myself, and read and knit. Did I do either? Of course not. What did I do? Frittered the time away. I kept thinking I should go to the store, but it was sooooo cold in the morning that the thought was appalling. As a delaying tactic, I played Spider Solitaire and looked at blogs. I didn’t even read the New York Times editorials like I usually do. I did, however, do the crossword. I decided to cook the remainder of my butternut squash and to use a recipe from Rebecca’s fabulous food blog. But I didn’t have parsley, which seemed pretty essential. I looked in the garden but it all seemed to be frozen. I called Rebecca for encouragement, but she didn’t answer. Finally, feeling guilty that I was not going to the store, and knowing that I would sorely regret it in days to come when I had no food, I started my squash without the parsley. Rebecca returned my call. “What did you want?” she asked. “I wanted you to tell me to go to the store for parsley.” “Go to the store, you lazy thing!” she said. “The squash is cooking without the parsley. And besides, it is way too cold.” “It is much warmer now, at least 40,” she said, adding parenthetically that my squash would not be good without the parsley. “You go while the squash is cooking.” “What if I have an accident? The squash will burn.” “I thought you were walking.” So I gave up and went to the store. Now is that silly, or what? I knew if she told me to go, I would go, but I just couldn’t tell myself to go. Actually, I did tell myself to go many times. I just couldn’t seem to make myself obey.

A day with a disasterlet

Samos brought Rachael and I home from the movie last night, and when we opened the door there was an ominous smell. A friend was refinishing and painting windows in the basement, so I initially thought it was that. However, he came up the stairs to greet us, saying that he had had a terrible accident. I was horrified and naturally feared the worst. Like cutting off his hand, although obviously not that, since he still had two. However, it was not so bad. He had tried to make tea in my electric teakettle, but no doubt never having been to England, and not understanding electric teakettles (one of God's many great gifts to mankind), he was making it on top of the stove in the way of conventional teakettles. Fortunately, once the teakettle started to melt, he realized his error and also that our stovetop has many issues, and so he didn’t really try to clean it up. Since nothing actually caught on fire, the disaster was far less than it might have been. It reminded me of a time last summer when I came home and Tom was looking quite abashed. “What’s the matter?” I asked. “I had a terrible accident,” he replied. He had tried to bake a frozen apple turnover (at 450°) on a ceramic quiche dish, and naturally it shattered to pieces. What is it with these boys and over-heated cookware? Both are excellent cooks and know their way around a kitchen. Is it that pesky Y chromosome?

Monday, January 26, 2009

A expressionistic day

Wow! Another thrilling evening of Silent Movies at the Paramount with the amazing Dennis James. This time it was “Der Golem” directed by and starring Paul Wegener of “The Magician” which we saw two weeks ago. Not being a particular fan of Golems, I was not expecting this film to be as good as the others, but I think maybe it was even better. Usually I don’t care for German Expressionism in films (way to creepy in a really creepily creepy way), but here it was quite effective. The sets were darkly weird and moody, the story was nicely creepy, the Golem was scary! What more could one ask? How about incredible music! Usually Dennis James duplicates the original music for the movies if it is available, but more often it is not. In that case, he creates scores which are appropriate to the original time of the film. He told us that the American premier of this film was in the Boston Symphony Hall and the symphony accompanied the movie with classical music. Thus, innovation was the order of the day, both then and now. Dennis played classical organ music, mostly French Baroque, I think, and sound effects were provided by Mark Goldstein and his synthesizer. Somehow, the combination was unbelievably effective. The synthesizer gave out ominous moans at just the right times, made Golem-like clomping sounds when ever the Golem was walking around, and produced other appropriate zips and snorts.
It is sad that such an astonishing and exciting performance is so ephemeral - here and then gone. I wish I could see it over and over again. The movie would be good without the music, but the music as we heard it tonight, made it really monumental.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

An objective day

Today, I completed many trifling but necessary and long procrastinated tasks. And I did them without playing too many Spider Solitaire games in between. None of them were onerous, but they all were slightly icky – like paying bills or going to the hardware store. Usually, I pay my bills on the computer and it takes a few seconds and no stamps. Tom’s odious bank, however, will not let me pay his bills by computer, so I have to actually write out checks and address an envelope for each one. Not to speak to the stamp I have to purchase and then stick on. Grrrr! So while my day was gratifying, it will definitely not make an interesting story for you. However …..every month, the Smithsonian magazine has an article called “The Object at Hand,” describing some artifact, and giving its interesting history. So here is an artifact, and here is its story. It is an orange squeezer. I’ll bet you guessed that. My mother had one when I was wee, and this may be her very one. Or not. Once many years ago, Rebecca and I were helping my aunt clean her basement. By helping, I mean we were doing it while she sat by and gave occasional suggestions and would not let us throw anything out. We worked and worked. When we were nearly done, smudged and sweaty, Rebecca spotted a cache of potato mashers – at least four of them. She asked if she could have one, because the one we had had broken, and she liked the old-fashioned type better than the newfangled ones. “No”, my aunt said – “each one of those mashers a special meaning. This one belonged to Aunt Theresa, and this one to…..” Aunt Theresa, I might add, has been dead at least sixty years. We were a little disgruntled about this, as we had been slaving away all day, and only wanted a potato masher. Later, my aunt, no doubt feeling that she had been silly, gave me this orange juice squeezer which was stuck off in a corner. This was a really fabulous gift, I thought – a zillion times nicer than a potato masher. We were astonished that she parted with it when she would not part with a potato masher, but did not question her decision. We rushed home with our treasure. We used to have guests for breakfast quite often, and we used it to make juice. Once when a persnickety group was there, we got it down to make juice, opened it up, and discovered that we had failed to remove the orange the last time we used it. You can imagine the impression that made. Yuck! And double yuck! I just used it to squeeze some lemons and make lemon pudding. Every time I use it, I have a raft of happy memories – of my mother using it when I was young, and of cleaning my aunt’s basement.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A frenzied afternoon

Rebecca cooks butternut squash frequently and it is always yummy. Unfortunately, when peeling and cutting it, she also frequently peels or cuts off bits of her finger. I am always petrified when she is doing it, and have to give frequent cautions and recommendations to take care. This is, I am sure, not helpful – and in fact, probably counter-productive, as it will raise her stress level and we know that is not a good thing when working with sharp knives. But I can’t restrain myself, so usually I have tried to stay out of the kitchen while this is going on. Today, I got a butternut squash myself for the first time, and all these past bloody scenes of squash preparation were vividly before me. A butternut squash is a tough nut to crack, I found. Fortunately, my auntie was there to give moral support and to call 911 if necessary. Also fortunately, it was not necessary. There was no extra human protein in our risotto. The meal preparation was a series of fiascos, I am afraid. Usually when Ana comes, I wait till she is here, and we sort of cook together. This time, however, I decided to make a ginger cake for dessert and bread, which naturally, I could not put off till she got here. I started the bread last evening, and then forgot about it. Fortunately, I remembered at the last minute for getting it done on time. Or sort of on time. That meant that my cake and bread were in the ovens at the same time. They both had things that had to be done as certain points in their baking, and so I had two timers going. I got confused about which timer was which, but, praise the Lord, those two things came out well. But they came out much later than I had planned. And at some point, the smoke alarm went off, giving me a bit of a turn. When Ana arrived, I had all the ingredients chopped and ready to go for the squash risotto, which I was cooking in the pressure cooker. After deciding that the first cooker I put it all in was too small, and transferring it to a larger one (a messy business) I could not get the cooker to come to pressure. I thought maybe the lid was not on right, and started to take it off, but was afraid and locked it back on. I did this twice, and then on the third time, it suddenly came to pressure. So I suppose that it had not been locked correctly. I set the timer for five minutes, I thought, but moments later realized I had set it for five hours. At this point, I was a bit frantic. Timing is so crucial in pressure cooking. Ana cleverly pointed out that five minutes would be up when the timer said four hours and fifty-five minutes. So that problem was solved. But when we took the risotto out, the bottom was very burned from all the time it had been trying to come up to pressure. We carefully transferred it to a dish without getting the burnt part, and it was quite tasty. The cake was good too. It had apples, dates, fresh ginger, and lemon in it. The chard was way too cooked, but my auntie, Irish as she is, liked it that way. So after an exciting afternoon of cooking, we had a pleasant meal.

Happy day for the arch-procrastinator

Hurrah! I finally finished knitting my Christmas presents. Can you believe it? January isn’t even over yet, so I am ahead of my usual schedule. A few months ago, Ana gave me some sock yarn to knit a pair of socks for her sweetie Ken, and I had enough left over to knit her a pair too. So here they are – a gigantic pair and a dainty pair. The yarn is a bamboo/wool mix. Actually, I didn't realize it was bamboo when I was knitting them because I don’t think I got the label with the yarn. But I did realize how soft and nice the yarn was to work with. Ana and Ken came to dinner this evening and I presented their socks to them. Ana knew all about the pair for Ken, but I think she was surprised that she got a pair too. My really final Christmas knitting is this pair of mitts which I made using my Plum Blossom Gloves pattern. These were inspired by the Rainey Sisters improvisation on my design. I am having lunch tomorrow with my friend Eileen (who doesn’t read blogs, or I wouldn’t be telling you this), and I will present them then. I finished them this morning at about two A.M. and blocked them a few hours later when I got up. Talk about the eleventh hour. Actually, I guess it is about the fourteenth hour.

Friday, January 16, 2009

A suspicious day

When Rachael and I got home from choir, I was completely knackered. I had cleaned house all morning, gone to work in the Family Kitchen, and then choir practice. Often at the Family Kitchen, we take home little treats, or foods that there is too much of. Once I brought home some grapes and they were the best I had ever eaten. Another time, Rebecca and I got a posh apricot cake like thing that everyone else rejected. It was delicious. Often we bring home nice breads. This time I got a little packet of lovely cookies. I carefully hid them from family and friends so that I could secretly feast on them at my midnight snack. When I got home from choir, I changed into my jammies, made myself a nice cup of tea, got my cookies out of my Family Kitchen bag, and headed to bed, happy as a clam, and prepared for a soothing experience after a very tiring day. On the way to bed, I spilled my tea, and remembered that I had not taken Margaret for her walkies. Rats! I pulled Margaret and myself together, and we went out. When I returned, my cookies were nowhere to be found. I looked upstairs and down. I suspected Margaret and Rachael, but Rachael would not have done such a thing, especially since she was sympathetic about my bad day and my consequent grumpy mood. Margaret, on the other hand, would gladly have done such a thing. But she usually leaves evidence, and she is pretty transparent if she has been naughty. Sometimes we come home, and she is cringing guiltily, and we have to look (usually not far) for the bad thing she did. She was not acting guilty at all. Nor was she licking her chops, and there was no cookie crumb debris scattered about. Rachael denied all knowledge of my cookies. I looked and looked and they were nowhere. So I sadly toasted an English muffin and went to bed. In the morning, I looked some more. I prayed to St. Anthony, and he instructed me to go look in the little cabinet in my bedroom. Sometimes I put food there when I have to leave the room, and don’t want Margaret who is ever vigilant about unattended food, to eat it. There were my cookies. I was sure I had looked there last evening and didn’t see them. I must have unthinkingly put them there to preserve them from Maria (also ever vigilant) while Margaret and I went out. Well, all is well, because I will have a yummy midnight snack tonight.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Another horrific evening!

Yet another evening of thrilling culture! It was the second Monday Night Silent Movie Horror Series, with the fabulous Dennis James again at the Mighty Wurlitzer – this time, The Magician, directed by Rex Ingram, and it was really creepy! The magician was a Svengali like mad scientist who was bent on creating life. He had discovered an ancient document with a recipe, which called for the “heart blood of a maiden.” Actually, it was quite specific. The maiden had to be a fair-haired, blue-eyed virgin. Happily, I would only qualify in one out of three. Poor Margaret, played by Alice Terry, who qualified in every respect, came under his spell and was whisked off to his tower laboratory on the morning she was to be married. Had the evil Dr. Haddo waited a few more hours, Margaret would only have qualified in two out of three. The hero was one of the few silent movie heroes who looked like a normal guy. i.e., no eye-liner or lipstick. He was very handsome, and reminded me of my brother Frank. Buster Keaton also reminds me of my brother Frank, but this fellow, the doctor who early in the movie saved Margaret’s life (via surgery, not derring-do,) didn’t look much like Buster Keaton. Odd how that works, isn’t it? I mentioned the awfulness of the clothes in last week’s movie – ugly and horribly uncomfortable looking. The gowns the ladies wore in this movie were beautifully elegant, and actually looked comfortable. Dr. Haddo was just cutting a lovely gown off Margaret (you can see her lying on the surgical table in the background) when the intrepid Dr. Burden arrived to save her. Had she been prepped like the usual surgery patient, he would not have had to take this step, and she would have been a goner.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Day at the Opera

Rebecca and I went to the opera this afternoon, and I may say that we behaved much more decorously than Groucho and Harpo did at their Night at the Opera, but we still had a lot of fun. We usually go to a favorite Thai restaurant either before or after the opera, but this time we were a bit later than usual, so we went to a nearer by Chinese vegan restaurant. As soon as we stepped in, I realized that the room was heavily perfumed, and I initially feared that I would have to sneeze all through our meal. But, thanks be to heaven, that didn’t happen. As we were discussing the menu, I pointed out that there were a lot of eccentrics eating there. These included a serious young (sort of) man with a much older woman, probably his mother, or maybe even his grandma. He had on a quite the flashy outfit as you can see, but the overall look was pleasing. Rebecca took some pictures with her telephone, at my request, as it was less obvious than with a camera. I think she was not as enthusiastic about taking pictures as I was. There was an older woman eating by herself, and she too had a definite air of eccentricity about her. Rebecca took her picture and when we looked at it, we realized that we fit into that odd crowd very nicely. Normally I would not post such an ugly picture of myself, but this one has charm in its ugliness. Rebecca put it on her Fuzzyshot, and someone immediately posted the comment, “Senior Sunday.” That was funny too.
The opera was “The Pearl Fishers.” I had seen it before many years ago, and then thought it was kind of boring. This time, however, it was fabulous. The music was delightful, the soprano’s singing was pure and true. It even had underwater scenes with people swimming about – much like Peter Pan did, except that Peter was in the air and these folks were under water, theoretically, at least. This opera, like The Hunchback of Notre Dame, was yet another example of the serious disadvantages of, and the trouble caused by being too beautiful. The men go wild and cause all sorts of havoc.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Horrific day

Last evening, Samos, Michelle, my friend Laura and I went to the Silent Movies at the Paramount with organist Dennis James at the Mighty Wurlitzer. The current series is "Horror Movies", and the movie this week was The Hunchback of Notre Dame starring Lon Chaney Sr. My primary response to it was “Wow!!!” And “Double Wow!!!!!” Somehow, I wasn’t expecting this movie to be fabulous. I had seen a version with Anthony Quinn when I was little, and hadn’t enjoyed it at all. In fact, it is one of those dreadful youthful memories of suffering that produce a little shudder in later life. My mother loved movies and didn’t love paying a babysitter, I suppose, so I saw many movies that were pretty boring. I remember when I was about five, my mother excitedly talking to my father about “Citizen Kane,” and the fun family outing we were going to have to see it. I was rather excited myself. You can imagine what a disillusioning experience that was! I read the novel (The Hunchback, not The Citizen) many, many years ago and liked that a lot better than I had the movie, but all I really remembered of the novel was Quasimodo slithering down the rope to save Esmeralda. All I remembered of the movie was mind numbing boredom. So, I went with low expectations. To my happy surprise, the movie was absolutely amazing. The sets – Paris in the 15th century – were incredible; dark, broody, sinister. The costumes were weird, as would be expected. The sort of thing that makes one glad one lives in a more sartorially causal age. Esmeralda was beautiful. The Hunchback was ugly. The story was exciting and had us on the edge of our seats for the second half. Seeing these silent classics in an appropriately contemporary Movie Palace with the incredible organ music of Dennis James is a marvelous experience. The organ is one of the very few theater organs left in its original theater. Interesting (to me at least) addendum: My father, as a boy, discovered a way to sneak into the Paramount, and went to the movies there for free all the time! Addendum #2: You can see Silent Movies at the Paramount every Monday in January. They are wonderful fun.

Yet another snowy day!

Rachael and I sing at two Masses on Sundays, one in the morning and the other at 5:30. The practice for the 5:30 Mass begins at four o’clock. Usually, I walk to the morning Mass, and then either work on a project till time to go to the second Mass, or – more likely – take a nap, and then drive to the evening mass. When I stepped out my door to leave, there was a horrifying little white flitter flutter of snowflakes. The weatherman had predicted a tiny bit of snow and immediate rain afterwards. No stickies. He promised. Soooooo, my dilemma was whether to walk and not risk driving in the snow or to believe the weather reports that this snow would not stick. I thought about driving in the snow. I thought about how tired and cold I would be at seven o’clock on this deep winter’s evening. I thought about how I would probably be late if I walked. I opted to believe the weatherman. When Rachael and I came stepped out of the Cathedral, there was snow everywhere. Deep snow. It always astonishes me how the weather report says two inches of snow and I can clearly see two feet. Have you noticed that? During the previous snow, Rachael had been nagging me to drive here or there, and had made allusions to wimpiness when I refused to even try it. Well, here we were with no choice in the matter. We set off. Initially our progress seemed not too bad, but then we saw the Volkswagen in front of us going sideways up a tiny incline. A tiny incline that we were about to go up. Rachael immediately checked her seatbelt. One of my theories of life is that Volkswagens, being of German ancestry, should do well in the snow. It is their nature. My car is Japanese, and so it is not in its nature. Now, intellectually, I know that it gets very cold and snowy in Japan, but I always think of it as all cherry blossoms and wisteria, and always spring. (See pictures.) So I did not expect much from my poor auto. However, it went up the hill face forward, and performed well till we were nearly home. Some man shook his fist at us as we were struggling up the big hill by our house. Usually, when we are driving along, Rachael gets upset and feels sorry for the other drivers or pedestrians when I call them bad names. This time, she pointed out the man and felt that he should be called a bad name. As we approached our house, she suggested that we park on the street rather than trying to get into our garage – sometimes a slithery business when it is just raining. Of course that would not do. We have to drive across the sidewalk to get into the garage, and the maneuver was initially much like that of the poor Volkswagen. Rachael said, “Let’s leave the car here. The police will understand and won’t mind.” Well, that would not do either – to leave the car parked in the middle of the sidewalk. Finally, we succeeded and were very relieved. I suspect that there will not be any more hints about snow wimpiness. And this snow was probably officially only about an inch deep, I am sure.

Friday, January 2, 2009

A day to forget

Tis the season of forgetfulness – astonishing forgetfulness in my case. On Christmas Eve, we had our little family dinner, cooked mostly by Rebecca with me giving the occasional helpful hand. My aunt joined us, and afterward Rachael sang at the evening Mass, we both sang at Midnight Mass and at the two Masses in the morning. So my focus was rather on Christmas Eve and church. On the way home from the noon Mass on Christmas Day, I suddenly remembered that I was supposed to fix dinner for Rachael and my aunt, as Rebecca was working. Unbelievably, I had not given this a thought. My aunt was going to bring scalloped potatoes (she brought raw potatoes for me to cook), and I was going to plan a meal to go with them. I had some vague idea of a squash and broccoli dish I had seen, and I had actually purchased some broccoli. However, that is as far as it went, and I served the broccoli in another dish before the big day. So no plan, no food. We went to the one store open and got the ingredients for …. I can hardly say it – green bean casserole, which was what Rachael wanted. I got some carrots to make carrot soup. The soup was good but everything else was dreadful. Another facet of my feeble excuse is that we usually have our big family dinner on Christmas Day at my other aunt’s house. She was visiting her children in Hawaii for Christmas, so that meant a major change in routine. Not much of an excuse for such a gross dereliction of duty, is it? Well, we had the big Family Event on New Year’s Day instead. My assignment was to bring scalloped potatoes and some festive bread that I would make. I woke at the crack of dawn, as scalloped potatoes are not the work of a moment, and got cracking. I was sprinkling the flour on the potatoes, and was thinking that maybe I should have used some other variety of flour than my nice unbleached bread flour. Bread? Bread? A sinking feeling. I had planned to start it the evening before, but all day I was desperately trying to finish a few long put-off tasks before the year ended. I finally finished the last one at 11:45 PM. And I hadn’t given the bread a thought since the day previous. So I had to go to the store on the way to the party and purchase some outrageously expensive and not-as-good bread and that bummed me out, as they say. I took my camera so I could show you pictures of our happy family eating scalloped potatoes, but I forgot to take any pictures. Aaargh! So here is a picture of Christmas Past. All these cute children were there this year, but they are much bigger now. Sadly, Tom and my Uncle Bill were not there.