Saturday, August 28, 2010

A triumphant day

I am good at a lot of things, but not great at anything. I often think that I would like to be the very best at something. Anything, almost. But maybe not the thing I really excel at – procrastination. Why am I such an adept at this awful practice? I procrastinate about everything, but mostly the little things that take no time and just make life easier. I have them on my mental (or often actual paper) lists, fret that they are not done, stare at them ruefully, regret that I am not doing them, and then decide that tomorrow would be a much more appropriate day. Usually, when I finally do them, they often take ten minutes or less, and my relief is enormous. I then think that I have spent way more time fretting about this little task than it actually took to do, and I have endured such anxiety about it not being done. This, to me, sounds like the doings of a dodo. But there you are! I try to overcome it, but it is a very uphill battle. Actually, a losing battle.
I made myself a pair of earrings with little birds on silver chains, but when I tried them on, the chains were too long, and the birds looked silly. I left them out so that I would see them daily, and perhaps be inspired to fix them. Daily, I looked at them, and thought, “I had better do that. It won’t take but a minute. I could be wearing them right now, and they would be perfect with this outfit.” The outfit they would be perfect with is my work outfit, so I actually did think this pretty frequently. Occasionally, I would even try them on to see if anything had miraculously changed, and they had gotten less goofy looking. Nothing ever had. Then, one day, I wrote to my friend Sabine and mentioned the earrings. I sent off the letter, contemplated the earrings and the dopiness of not just doing it, and then – just did it. Now I am happy every time I wear them, and marvel at what a goofus I am.

My most dramatic procrastination feat, however, has been cleaning my living room carpet. I have had this at the top of my to do list for years. I mean, really, really years! Maybe ten! I often thought about sending it out. There were several deterrents here. It would be expensive, it was a lot of work to get the carpet folded up and into the car, and most of all, it was so disgusting that I would be humiliated to make the carpet cleaner man deal with it. And if I did it myself, I still had to get it outside and find a good place to do it. And then there was the weather. I needed guaranteed sun for a few days. This being Seattle, that was sort of limiting (but not as limiting as I let it be.) Finally, I could stand the carpet no longer, and so John and I rolled it up, lugged it out, and gave it a good wash. I was shocked to see the disgusting muck just roll off. Shocked and delighted. It is a different color now, and I am happy every time I walk across it.

Procrastination has its rewards. I am so triumphant and thrilled when the task is finally done. If I had just done it in the first place, there would be none of this ecstasy of long-delayed accomplishment.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A very adventurous day

I recently was wasting time (a perennial occupation of mine), watching some “how to cook” videos on the BBC cooking website – one of my favorite recipe sources. I learned the best way to poach an egg and how to line a cake tin with parchment paper. Such fun! Then I watched one on making crème brulée. I was instantly filled with an overwhelming desire to try it. However, one needed a little blowtorch, an item I didn’t have, and felt a little afraid of having. I actually made a foray downtown shortly thereafter, and was planning to get one. I had a list of shopping tasks, and completed them all except going to the cooking store to get the little torch. Once downtown, it never entered my mind. Was it fear that made me forget? I think maybe. A week or so later, Rebecca and I went to the cooking store, and once again I had my little list. This time, I was actually in the store, and made all my planned purchases but that! I didn’t give it a thought till I got home. Wow! I had developed a real mental block, or something, about it. Finally, I made a special trip for just that, so it would be impossible to forget it. The cooking store lady told me it was not terrifying at all, and actually turned in on, producing a flame right there in the cooking store. She was right, it wasn’t scary when she did it. Doing it oneself would be another thing however.

Ana was coming for dinner, so this was just the time to try making some nice crème brulée – with Ana for moral support. We made our ever so creamy custard, and when it was time to fill the torch, Ana was alarmingly nonchalant and brave. I was astonished. She pointed out that she was a chemist, and chemists did this sort of thing. I suppose they do, but it was very brave none the less.

Our final product was one of the tastiest things I ever ate. The glass like crust was perfect – fun to look at, fun to crack open, and most fun of all to eat. However, it was so rich that we both made ourselves slightly sick – full as ticks and bloated as poisoned pups, as my sainted Uncle Robert was wont to say.

Here is the custard with its coating of sugar.

Ana fearlessly blow torching the sugar, melting and caramelizing it,

The finished product.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Another pleasant evening

After a potential catastrophe with a bottle of wine, another fun evening with the Aunties! And an Italianate dinner. For the first time in a long time, I made manicotti, a dish which I always enjoy both preparing and eating. With a nice salad and a loaf of ciabatta, a lovely meal. And then ice cream and a card game for dessert. But what was the catastrophe? There were two bottles of wine on the table, and as I was serving, I elbowed one of them right off. To our stunned amazement, it shattered to a zillion pieces and there was wine and glass everywhere. Margaret, naturally, was thrilled and ready to lap it up, glass and all. Quick! Onto Dakki’s lap with her, while Pauline and I scurried about trying to get it up before it rolled under my cupboard. I had been freezing at work and forgotten my jacket the evening before, so I borrowed a bath blanket to wrap up in for the walk home, planning to bring it back next time I worked. With lightening reflexes, I grabbed it, and it lapped up the bottle of wine instead of Margaret getting at it and cutting her tongue – not to mention getting tipsy, which, I am sure, is not good for dogs.

The upside of this story is that, as I said, there were two bottles on the table – one a lovely bottle I received as a gift, and the other, my usual plonk. Happily, it was the plonk that hit the floor.

The manicotti is really pretty quick to make. It is similar to lasagna, but easier, and – dare I say it? Even more delicious! Here is my tried and true recipe.


For the tomato sauce

One white onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
½ cup chopped celery
¼ cup finely diced carrots
One 26 oz can crushed tomatoes
Teaspoon sugar
Ground pepper
Teaspoon dried basil

For the noodle dough:
2/3 cup flour
1 egg
one half-eggshell full of water
a little oil, about a teaspoon or less
A little salt (about 1/3 teaspoon)

For the filling:
Fresh ricotta – about a cup
Grated mozzarella – also about a cup
Freshly grated Parmesan

9 inch square baking dish, smeared with olive oil

Tomato sauce – sauté onions, garlic, celery, and carrots until the onions and celery are translucent. Add the can of tomatoes, the sugar, pepper, and basil. Heat, stirring, and simmer for a tiny while – not more than five minutes. Taste for salt if needed. Set aside.

Prepare noodle dough as you usually do, rolling it very thin – nearly thin enough to read through. Cut the noodle strips into squares about 3½ - 4 inches. There should be about 12 squares.

Place a heaping tablespoon of ricotta on each noodle square, then a tablespoon of tomato sauce, and then a big pinch of mozzarella on top of that. Using a pastry brush, dampen the edges of the noodle, and fold the corners up to the center, making a little package of cheese and tomato sauce. Place the packet in the baking dish with the sealed side down. Continue thusly with the remaining noodle squares. Spoon the rest of the tomato sauce over the top and sprinkle with some freshly grated Parmesan.

Bake it at 350° for 30 minutes. Yummy!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

An electrifying day (not really)

I purchased a bargain bag of tiny avocados who were nearing the end of their edible life span. They needed immediate attention if they weren’t going to end their days in the compost pile. What to do? Guacamole, that’s what. I thought it would nicely compliment the farro salad I had made for my work lunch the previous day. Not really being a great guacamole fan – or should I say aficionado - I had never made it before. Rebecca did a bang up job, but she was not available at the moment for advice. I consulted my second favorite recipe blogger (101 Cookbooks) for starter clues, as I didn’t really know what, besides avocados, went into it. Taking off from there, I whipped up a bowl, which, when I tasted it, was electrifyingly delicious. I thought I had better share it with you.

Electrifyingly Delicious Guacamole

3 tiny avocados*
slice of red onion, chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
2 walnut sized tomatoes, chopped
juice of one lime
pepper, a few grinds
nutmeg (!), a few grinds **
cumin seeds, about ½ teaspoon, coarsely ground

Coarsely chop the avocado, stir in the onion and tomato, and all the rest. Taste to adjust the salt. That is all there is to it.

**Nutmeg in guacamole, you ask? Well, my nutmeg grinder was next to the pepper grinder, and I wasn’t paying attention and grabbed the wrong one. Maybe this is what made it so good. However, I think the sapor explosivo was actually from an excess of lime juice.

*I later weighed three similarly sized ones (still whole with skin and seeds) and they were 238 grams,

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A happy day

This week was remarkably uneventful for me. However there were joyous events among my friends. Carmen and Bill’s baby arrived. She is a beautiful baby girl – Isolda Marisol. Most new babies are, in my opinion, not cute. Rachael and Rebecca were, of course, exceptions to this rule, and little Isolda definitely is too.

My friend Janet’s husband has been in visa limbo, sadly delaying his permanent move to Seattle to live near his children. The visa has finally come through. Janet has flown off to Dublin to get the move on the road. Happy news for her and her family.

The highlight of my week was pretty lame in comparison, but then, these things are all relative. Samos was going to a concert, and had time to kill beforehand, so we met up for lunch at our favorite Mexican restaurant. I was horrified to see that he had his concert-attending attire. That shirt! Where could he have gotten it? It was actually flocked – at least that is what you would call it if it were wallpaper. Raised fuzzy areas. Samos and I once had a discussion about things that were so awful and in such bad taste that they transcended and became beautiful. This shirt would be in that category. It was awful but fabulous at the same time. His tee shirt is a tribute to his favorite band, whom he was going to hear later in the day. He admired my earring and hair tie which happened (by accident) to match, and took a picture. A fortuitous choice of attire for me too.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A bloody evening

My friends, The Twins, were coming to dinner. Unfortunately, the only day we could manage was the day of my dentist appointment. This cut severely into my cooking time, so I decided to start my dinner the evening before. I was busy all day, and got home from the evening Mass at St. James at about seven. Then somehow, Spider Solitaire had much more appeal than cooking, and I had a hard time getting motivated. Once I pulled myself together though, I was on a roll. At ten, I had just put my cobbler in the oven and set the barley in the pressure cooker going when there was a call from Rebecca. “You have to go to Rachael right now! She cut her foot badly on a broken wine glass, and needs to go the to Urgent Care. She’s fainting and there’s blood everywhere.” Wow! What to do? Go to Rachael, of course, but my barley! My pie! So I took the barley off the heat, turned the oven off, grabbed my wound dressing kit, and scurried out. When I arrived minutes later, (she was house sitting nearby) poor Rachael staggered to the door and was indeed nearly fainting, or at least was pale as the Easter Bunny, had trembley blue lips, and little sobs were emanating from deep within. And there was indeed blood everywhere. It looked like Al Capone had dropped by. Her wound was deep, but the bleeding had stopped. I cleaned and dressed it, and we decided that it didn’t need to go to the hospital. “I’m too weak and upset to clean up all that bloody mess,” she quavered. “You have to do it.” And it was a mess. The kitchen floor was awash in blood and wine, the trail went into the dining room, and then down the hall to the bathroom, which looked like Macbeth had been trying to wash up there in the seas incarnadine. And the wine glass, wine and all, was mixed into the gore on the kitchen floor. “What were you doing? Why is there blood all over the house?” I asked. “I had to feed the cat! He eats in the dining room. And then I had to go to the bathroom for a washrag.” Yuck! So I cleaned up blood, wine, and glass, and helped her put the bath mats and towels into the washing machine, was comforting, went home and put the pie back in the oven, the pressure cooker back on the heat, and hoped it wasn’t all ruined. Next day, her foot was better, the dinner wasn't ruined, and I had a lovely evening with The Twins, playing mindless but fun games. Look here for more of the games.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A night at the opera

Yet another wonderful night at the opera! Tristan und Isolde! We knew it was going to be long – four hours – so we prepared beforehand. I drink about one cup of coffee a year, and this was it! A lovely cappuccino with way too much sugar. And it was a good thing. The four hours didn’t include the intermissions, so it was actually five plus, and ended way past Rebecca's bedtime. But, amazingly, the time flew along with Isolde’s soaring song.
In my youth, when I was filled with adolescent angst, and wanted to intensify my turbulent emotions, I listened to Tristan und Islode again and again. Dark, brooding, tempestuous, passionate, wonderful! Now, in my hardened old age, I felt that they should just accept life’s rotten apples and get over it.
Whenever I watched it on the opera stage of my mind, it was always a Teutonic Pre-Raphaelite vision. The production this evening was definitely more Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. For me, the visual aspect is a big part of the opera experience, and in that respect, this production didn’t cut it! But otherwise, it was wonderful. At the end, there were sniffles from the seat next to me, and on the way home, shocked denials as to any resemblances to Caligari.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A nice day

A few years ago, I decided to make a webpage so that I could comfort myself at work when my patients tried my patience too far. Looking at soothing pictures of Margaret, Rebecca, and Rachael always calmed my jangled nerves. Later, Rebecca bought me a new improved program for making a website. The one I had been using was pretty pedestrian, but it had one really great advantage over any other. I could work it. The one Rebecca got me was supposed to be easier, nicer, and in every way superior. However, as is so often the case with these sorts of things, the directions were gobbledygook to me, and I not only could I not get past step one, I could not even get to step one. I thought that if I just could get started, I could figure it out. Rebecca was always disappointed that I wasn’t using it, but I tried, I really did. I visited Rachael at her office the other day, and what was she doing? Tweaking her department’s website with that very program. Wow! Here is my big chance to at least get going with it. Rachael agreed to give me some hints, but there was a condition. I had to fix her dinner. And a very particular dinner. Gazpacho, ciabatta, and blueberry bread pudding. “Remember, not just bread pudding, but blueberry bread pudding,” she said. I was happy to do this, as I had been trying to entice her over anyway. The dinner was very nice, and was my first meal of the summer served al fresco. Somehow, it seems silly to cart everything outside for just me, and Ana and I are usually in a hurry to get to our movie and our knitting, so we don’t bother. By the time Rachael got here, and the food was ready, we were both wildly hungry and raring to eat, so I took pictures very quickly. Consequently, they are not very good. You can see my attempt to put a square tablecloth on a round table with an umbrella in the middle of it. I must purchase something more suitable. By the time we were done, we were too stuffed to do much else, and Rachael had a movie date with Lillian, so we didn’t have my website lesson after all. Soon, though, I will master it, and revise the current one so that it has pictures of Rachael that are less than five years old.

Update: Rachael and I could not understand why we were feeling “bloated as poisoned pups,” ( a frequently used, rather horrible quote from my sainted Uncle Robert,) when our entire meal had been vegetable matter. Later I realized that I had used most of a loaf of rosemary bread for the croutons, and sautéed them in quite a bit of olive oil. Delightful little globs of fat they were. And we ate them all. Yikes. No wonder!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A fertile day

This evening, we went to a baby shower for Carmen and Bill’s new baby, due to arrive any minute now. Lillian will have a little sister. She has been an only child for about twenty years, and had her share of “all the attention,” so I don’t think we have to worry about sibling rivalry.

Sometimes I am invited to baby showers of youthful work colleagues, but it has been a while since one of my real life friends has needed one. Carmen looked glowing and fabulous. This amazing dress was originally worn by her mother when Carmen herself was a bun in the oven.

I was telling my Aunt Pauline that Dakki and I were going to a baby shower, and she was speculating about the sort of party it would be. I said not the kind from our youth (horrible,) where you sit around and play stupid games and drink pink punch. This will be a grown up family party. She seemed skeptical, but so it was. Not only grown up, but three generations – including a goodly representation of aging hippies. Hippies don’t play those dopy party games. Maybe other dopy games, but we won’t go there.