Thursday, December 31, 2009

A movie day

I’m still trying to finish my Christmas knitting projects. Can you believe it? If you know me at all, I imagine that you can easily believe it. Ana and I decided to have a day of mindless movie watching and knitting. The movies had to be mindless, because if they aren’t, I tend to get engrossed in them and then can’t knit. We rejected On the Waterfront on several grounds – not mindless, and probably not fun. First we watched Rosemary’s Baby” which is one of my favorites and certainly not mindless. But since I have seen it so many times, I didn’t need to attend quite as carefully as I might otherwise have done. We watched an episode of Lewis, a post-cursor of Inspector Morse. These also are not mindless, and in fact, they can be so convoluted that one has to really attend to follow the plot at all, but one doesn’t have to watch as carefully as to listen. Then we watched several Bulldog Drummond movies which Ana has in a set of Classic Mysteries. Bulldog Drummond was a familiar name to me, but I had neither read a story about him, nor listened to his adventures on the radio. Dakki listened to him in her youth. The first Bulldog movie was starring a very youthful Ray Milland. I always think of Ray Milland as a somewhat suavely sinister type, a definitely non-sexy sleezeball, who does things like plot to kill Grace Kelly (Dial M for Murder), look through people and then pluck his eyes out (X, the Man with X-Ray Eyes.) We saw him recently in Three Smart Girls, a Deanna Durbin movie, and he was surprisingly attractive and debonair. In Bulldog Drummond, he was super adorable – charming, delightfully handsome, witty, and dashing. What a surprise!

Pictured is some of the flower tea in the special flower teapot Ana gave me. Tea is an essential part of any movie day.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A culinarily critical day

Our family Christmas dinner was a fun evening without any intense drama. My mother used to create some sort of scene nearly every year, but sadly, she was not there to cause trouble. Everyone was on his or her best behavior. Dakki likes to buttonhole people into convoluted discussions of ecclesiastical minutiae, but everyone managed to avoid being snared into this potential morass of ennui. There was only one tiny crisis, and this one is an annual event. I was just debating whether to have more wine, when Nancy said, “Joanna! Joseph is making the whipped cream.” I sprang into action. Whipping the cream is, for some reason now lost in family history, Joseph’s job. But he needs to be carefully monitored. He has definite ideas about how it should be done, and these ideas conflict with the opinions of some other serious whipped cream aficionados. He feels that it should be beaten until nearly a solid mass. One year, I was discretely (not!) supervising, and kept telling him that I was sure it was done. “No, no,” he said, “it’s not quite ready.” Suddenly …. Butter. I have to confess to a bit of Schadenfreude here, despite the fact that we didn’t have whipped cream on our pumpkin pie that year – or at least not perfect whipped cream. Then there are discussions as to whether to put in sugar and vanilla. Joseph and I are in agreement here. No to sugar, yes to a tad of vanilla. And we, with a united front, we stand firm. This year, the whipped cream was wonderful, as was the pumpkin pie upon which we enjoyed it.
In this last picture, many seem to be supervising Paul as he deals with the ham. I was not certain what is going on, but it looked interesting so I took a picture. I never did find out.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Eve

These little crèche figures were a gift from Tom years ago. He purchased them with loving care at our annual Cathedral Christmas Bazaar, and I daresay they were handmade in some Third World country. I was a little surprised when I opened them, and asked him if there was special symbolism related to our all-woman household. He looked puzzled and asked what I meant. I pointed out that that there were two Mary’s. He was horrified at his mistake , but somehow, this makes me love them even more.
What a wonderful Christmas we had! (I say “We,” and I am hoping it was “We” and not just “I”. It was one of my nicest Christmases ever.) Rebecca was going to fix us dinner on Christmas Eve – but what to have was the question. She is a vegan, so this limits us to not very traditional meals. I mentioned that lasagna is the way to go on Christmas Eve in Italy, and that the noodles must be made the width of the youngest child’s tongue. She thought that sounded like a good idea and was eager to try it. I immediately had reservations and regretted my suggestion. Vegan lasagna? I make wonderful vegetarian lasagne, but cheese is a pretty crucial element of it. Undeterred, she prepared soy/cashew ricotta and sesame/ something parmesan, and garbanzo bean noodles. I have to confess that I was highly skeptical and worried that our dinner might be disgusting, but the results were delicious. (I made the tomto sauce. Could that have been it? I don’t think so.) Under her direction, I made a pear and beet salad. It was both colorful and yummy. This is not reflected in my photo, but trust me – it was both pretty and tasty. The recipe is below so that you can try it.

Santa brought Rachael a lollypop looking thing from the Mexican store. We were all eager to see what the actual treat looked like, but when she opened it up – what an unexpected surprise! (I guess all surprises are unexpected, but this was even more so than the usual unexpected surprise.)

Festive Pear and Beet Salad
2 nice pears,
2 lovely beets,
a bed of greens
lemon juice, about 2 T
olive oil, about 4 T
salt and pepper

Peel the beets and cut them into 1 centimeter cubes. Roast them at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Meanwhile peel and slice the pears, and put them in a little bowl. Mix the oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper for the dressing. Pour half the dressing over the pears and gently stir them to coat each pear slice. Let them sit until you are ready to assemble the salad. When the beets are tender, put them in a little bowl and pour the remainder of the dressing on them, stirring to coat them. Just before dinner, assemble the salad as pictured, or however you think would be attractive. The beet juice is messy, so put the beets on last. Wear an apron if you have your nice hostess (or host) attire on.

Michelle, Samos, Dakki, Rebecca, and the smallest child - the model for the lasagna noodles.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A work day

I haven’t done a blogworthy thing lately -- just mostly work, work, work at work and work, work, work, at home. There was a some cook, cook, cook, and a little party, party, but it was Dull, Dull, Dull – at least to tell you about, although usually nice while doing it. My Christmas knitting is not coming along well, and I think that by this time, if it were going to, it would have. My friends Corinna and Ward have written a very nice book with a prayer and reflection for every day of the year. I received one as a gift from the authoress herself, and I purchased another (and got it autographed) as a Christmas present for someone who doesn’t read this blog, but don’t tell anyway. Then I decided that it was such a nice book that I would get another for someone who reads this blog once in a while, but not often, so it is probably safe. I’ll bet you can guess who those two are. I went to buy it and it was sold out! Unbelievable! A smash hit! They were reordered and came today, so I picked one up on my way to work. Here is Corinna thinking about what to write as the autograph.
Then I went through the Cathedral as I wended my way towards my workplace, and I saw that there had been some busy bees working there, getting things all beautiful for Christmas. Here is one dedicated soul working on polishing the brass.
On Christmas eve, as midnight approaches, I will be processing around the altar with twenty other women, and singing as I go. This is not as simple as it sounds, since there are more than a few stairs involved, we wear long cassocks, and the person behind me tends to tread on my tail as we solemnly make our way to our positions on the altar platform, and we still have to keep track of the music. The first time I did this, I was so terrified that I thought I might faint. “I felt so exposed -- like there were several thousand eyes were right on me,” I said later to Jim, or conductor. “That’s because they were several thousand eyes on you,” he explained. It’s pretty awful, but beautiful, I think, if you are not the one doing it.

Here is a picture of the St. James Women's Schola from Christmas Past. We have endured singing in the Carol Service on the altar and are now comfortably ensconced in the West Gallery for the beginning of the Midnight Mass.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A shopping day

Every year Samos and I go last-minute Christmas shopping in the Public Market, and then we have lunch at Bruno’s. Bruno’s is a slightly funky Italian and Mexican restaurant downtown near the Market. We even have the same thing to eat every year. I have a Bruno’s Special Vegetarian Burrito, and he has black bean soup and a piece of pizza. It never varies. As we were leaving, I asked Bruno if I could take his picture. He looked puzzled. “Are you tourists?” he asked incredulously. I explained about our Christmas adventure, and he was relieved. “I was sure I knew you,” he said. I reminded him that his advert on the Cathedral bulletin says, “When you visit Bruno’s you will find your favorite place.” - “And it’s true!” Bruno and I said simultaneously. Bruno, of course, beamed.

But the Market is so exciting, especially during this season, that the outing is always a fresh adventure and a surprise. This year, since I have been thinking about donuts recently, we got some of the Market’s special tiny donuts – powdered, of course. I petted the policeman’s horse’s nose, and wanted to feed one to him, but the policeman said that, while the horse no doubt would love a donut, it would encourage him to always be looking for treats. This is, in fact, one of Margaret’s problem’s – chronic treat seeking. Not appealing in a dog, and way less appealing in a horse, I am sure.

There are a number of “tiny things” stores on the lower level of the market, and here are some of their wares. Note the Obama matrushka peeking out from behind the center Nordic Anime looking doll.

Neither Samos nor this man are tiny things!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A frenzied day!

Aaaak! Actually, the day wasn’t frenzied at all. But I was.
I have gotten my Christmas list trimmed down pretty well now. Several years ago, I announced to my many cousins that I didn’t want Christmas presents, and wasn’t giving any. Our family gift giving had gotten seriously out of hand, and for me, Christmas became a nightmare. I wanted it to be more of a Dickensian sort of thing, where the focus was on gatherings with family and friends, festive music, and of course, Midnight Mass. And that is how it has been for the last several years, and it has been really a joyful celebration rather than something to be got through.
Nonetheless, there are a few folk for whom I like to make something nice, and I was firmly resolved to start my Christmas knitting in July. Actually, I did start in July, and I felt that I was off and running. When I got the first gift done, I was filled with sanctimonious pride. However, I seem to have tripped up on the way, because I now I am not running at all, but desperately limping along. Crawling, in fact . I can’t understand it. I had such plans and ideas. I certainly have not made the expected progress, and it is beyond the eleventh hour. Yesterday, I started up a little project that shouldn’t take too long – although maybe longer than the time I have allotted. And I could not get it going. It is stranded color work – usually no problem! I love doing stranded knitting, and I am actually pretty good at it. But…. the pattern had dark squares where I was doing white, and white squares where I was doing dark! Usually when knitting this sort of thing, I glance at the pattern and knit, knit, knit. This time, I had to carefully scrutinize the pattern, and had then think, think, think! The white squares are the dark yarn … the dark squares are light yarn. Not that complex. Somehow though, I just could not take it in. My sacred auntie called while I was starting over for the third time, and I am afraid that I snarled at her. She had some unappreciated advice like, “Maybe you should make something easier!” “This is about as easy as it gets,” I growled back. “Except that I am not finding it easy.” Today, however, I got it started and felt a little better. But the chances of me getting my presents done on time are slim. Sigh! Next year I will start in February. Why didn’t I think of that this year?

This picture is of some of the children in our family. They are all older now, but just as cute.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A nutty day

I was at the working at the Family Kitchen when I noticed these donuts on the counter. Those powdered sugar ones are my favorite kind of store bought donuts. I considered taking one, but I was not really hungry. However, they sat there and sat there, whispering to me. They were not only whispering, "Eat Me,” but were whispering of youthful memories. Just as with Proust with his Madeline, they summoned up thoughts of days gone by. Many years ago, when I was in college and a new bride, Dennis and I had our great friends George and Marsha over to play cards. We were smoking a then forbidden and now medicinal substance, and consequently became victims of that side effect known as “the munchies.” Everyone demanded that I go find something to eat. I went in search of something good, and there was a box of donuts! Five of them. And there were four of us. What to do? I could put the fifth donut aside for later. I could divide it into four parts and give each of us one and one quarter donuts. Or… I could quickly eat it myself. I selected the latter option. I was gobbling it down, trying to be quick so as not to arouse suspicion if I tarried too long in the kitchen, trying not to get tell-tale powdered sugar all over myself – difficult when bolting down a sugared donut, and trying to be quiet about it all. Then I started thinking about how sly I was being, and congratulating myself on my donut triumph! The more I thought about this, the cleverer I thought myself, and the more delighted I became. Finally, I started laughing and could not stop. I was laughing so hard that donut came out my nose, I was choking on the sugar, and all the while I was trying to be subtle and quiet. It seemed like I was dealing with the donut for quite a while, but when I finally came back with the four donuts nicely arranged on a plate, and feeling quite smug (me, not the donuts), no one seemed to have noticed my extended absence.
Years later, Rebecca found a Gary Larson card with a picture group of lions gathered around, eating an antelope, and one of the lions was laughing so hard at his own joke that he blew an antelope bone out his nose. She showed me the card and we both erupted into laughter, right there in the card store. Fortunately we were eating neither donuts, nor antelopes, nor anything else, so while we might have had tears of mirth, we didn’t have any nasal effluvia.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A sour day

Recently, David Liebovitz had a recipe which required preserved lemons as an ingredient. It looked really good and I wanted to try it. I asked Rebecca if she had any preserved lemons, but she was cagey in her reply. “You can get them at PFI,” she said. “Or you can make them.” “They are really expensive to buy and they take a month to make,” I whined. "And I only need one." “You need to use organic lemons,” she said, ignoring my hints. I knew she had some secreted in her stores. But she was firm. So we went shopping for the lemons and a suitable jar. It was all sort of expensive. Organic anything is expensive. There was just enough of everything – enough salt, enough lemons, and enough room in the jar exactly. I cut up the lemons, salted them generously, using the last grain of my Kosher salt, and squashed them into the jar. The next day, the lemon juice was rising, and the day after that, it had risen even more. I was watching the lemons’ progress with the tenderness of a gardener encouraging his lettuce shoots as they emerged from the earth in early spring. The third day, I came home from work, feeling tired and bedraggled, and went straight to my lemons to see how they were progressing. The jar was half empty! I was dumbfounded. What could have possibly happened to them? I asked Rachael if she knew, and of course she didn’t. I wondered if Maria or Margaret had eaten them. They are both such messy eaters that they always leave evidence of their food crimes, but there was no evidence. Maybe they dropped off the counter and someone threw them away. No signs of that either. Later, John the handyman came over and I asked him if he knew about my lemons. Well….. he thought they were destined for the compost and so he made himself some lemonade out of them. “What??!!” I screeched. “Those were semi-sacred lemons!” “Well, I guess that explains why they made such awful lemonade” Grrrrrrr!
So I started over again, with new expensive organic lemons and new inexpensive kosher salt. Now he knows not to touch them. Ever.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A fun movie evening

Another fun movie night. Ana and I watched “The Philadelphia Story,” which was very wonderful and very funny, and “The Graduate”, which was very odd. “The Graduate” is one of those films, which, even if one hasn’t seen, one feels that she has. So much has been written about it, and stills from are (or have been) so ubiquitous, that I had a very concrete idea of the entire film. Well, my idea was totally skewed. Somehow I thought that the Dustin Hoffman character was going to be a little more normal, and that the Mrs. Robinson character was going to be less of a monster. And I didn’t realize that it was going to be so funny. So despite me feeling that I had practically already seen it, it was a delightful surprise. I actually had seen “The Philadelphia Story,” but it was so long ago that all I remembered about it was that Cary Grant was suave, and that Jimmy Stewart got very drunk. So that was a delightful surprise as well.

Our dinner was sort of a surprise too. I prepared faro for the first time, and it turned out surprisingly soupy when I was expecting stewy. But no matter! I served it in bowls instead of on plates and it was yummy. I adapted (celery, carrots, and lots of mushrooms added) a recipe from my second favorite cooking blog (my top favorite is on my blog list to the right of this.) For dessert, I made cranberry frozen yogurt – also an adaptation from 101 Cookbooks. I used to put leftover cranberry sauce in plain yogurt for my work lunch, and it was very tasty. So I thought, why not make faux ice cream out of it. Here is my recipe:

Cranberry Sauce Frozen Yogurt

3 cups of full fat Greek yogurt,
¾ cup of sugar
½ cup of leftover cranberry sauce

Whirl all the ingredients in a blender, and then freeze them in your ice cream machine, according to its directions, whatever they may be. I use an old Donvier ice cream maker that Rebecca got at a thrift store, no doubt previously, someone’s unappreciated wedding present.
This is another slightly impressive dessert in minutes.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

An entertaining day

The day before Thanksgiving I was changing the linen on my bed when suddenly the lights went out! I lit a candle and finished up. An hour or two later, there was a knock on the door. When I answered it, there was a man with a huge microphone and another man with a huge camera. They asked if they could interview me for a TV show about the blackout. I said “no,” and they asked why. I explained that I was shy and didn’t want to be on television. They were persistent, pretended I hadn’t objected, and interviewed me anyway. I said I didn’t want them to take my picture but they did that anyway as well. Margaret didn’t object at all to having her picture taken, so at first I hid behind her. Then I decided that I would appear even more foolish if I did that, so I gave in to the whole thing. I was hoping that I would wind up on the cutting room floor, and then thought no more about it. At Thanksgiving dinner, I did, however, tell the Aunties of my embarrassing experience, and that I felt like a real dodo. Rachael, who had been listening from her bedroom, piped in and said that I didn’t sound THAT dumb. Then today, another Auntie called Aunt Pauline to tell her I was on the telly, and Pauline called to tell me. So Rachael looked it up and here it is. You can see the adorable Margaret in action instead of just the usual photo. Fortunately, it is not too apparent that I have my pajamas on.

I was testing some facet of my camera and took this photo in my bed. Later, I realized that all my favorite time wasters are pictured – my book, my knitting, my crossword puzzle, and my computer peeking out of the corner. And a really close examination will surely reveal some Margaret hairs.