Saturday, October 30, 2010

An anticipated day

I have probably noted before that my life is a little on the humdrum side, and that is how I like it to be. Thankfully, the Sturm und Drang of youthful passion are spent and are mere wisps of memory. Now, life revolves around the liturgical year with its commas, semicolons, and occasional exclamation points, as it wends its way toward the great final period. One of the momentous (for me) events, which comes every November 2nd, is the Requiem Mass for All Soul’s Day at St. James Cathedral.
The first time I attended this Mass, probably thirty years ago, I was swept away by its beauty, serenity, quiet drama and, in contrast with the amazing serenity, the intense passion. But the passion is not of the Sturm und Drang sort. It is the passion of love and redemption. This year, we celebrate once again with Mozart’s poignant treatise on the terrors of death and the ultimate mercy of God towards his erring children.

I look forward to this as anxiously as I used to look forward to Christmas - both to the general rehearsal with the orchestra the evening before, and then the actual Mass. How often does one have the opportunity to experience this monumet in its intended setting? Not often. The opening chords send shivers through me, and when I hear them, I am as happy as I ever am.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A lucky unlucky day

Well, which was it? Lucky or unlucky? What’s your opinion? I think it was definitely unlucky, but could have been a lot unluckier if a few lucky things hadn’t happened.

Becca and I were driving to Bellevue (terra incognita for me) to find material to cover her chair. To get there, we had to cross a very long bridge. As we were driving across, I said, “I think something might be amiss with one of my tires. It sounds weird.” “It’s just a weird street,” she said. I believed her. She goes to Bellevue way more often than I do (which is almost never.)

When I went to this fabric store years ago, I had an idea of the very thing I wanted. I walked in, found it, bought it, walked out. No problem. And this happened twice for two different projects. A miracle. Not so today. We both had a similar idea as to how her chair should look. Since we both independently thought up the same thing, it could not have been that far-fetched. We looked at every single bit of fabric, and none of it was anything near what we wanted. (Unlucky.) We decided to go to a different store, and her little telephone was telling us how to get there. (Lucky.) For those of you who don’t know Bellevue, it is a hybrid of freeway and posh stripmall. No sidewalks – or very few. As we headed for the next fabric store, the little “low tire” warning light came on. (Lucky that we had a warning light – unlucky that it went on.) We pulled into some sort of paved factory lot, stopped and got out to look at the tire. Very low. (Very unlucky.) Suddenly out of nowhere, a woman surfaced and asked us if we needed help. (Lucky.) We told her about our tire, and she agreed that it did not look good. She directed us to a tire repair shop, (very lucky) and with the aid of Rebecca’s phone, we found it. (Lucky again.) It would take two hours to get the tire fixed. (Unlucky.) It was in an awful neighborhood of all auto repair places. (Unlucky.) We decided that, rather than wait, we would go for a walk and try to find lunch. We walked for miles. It was wet. There were no sidewalks. (Three unluckies.) We finally came to some restaurants, but they all looked awful. (Very unlucky – I was starving.) Finally Rebecca spotted a Mediterranian Deli. “We can get falafel,” she said. That sounded good. It was good. (Lucky.) And we found lots of other nice Turkish foods there, bought some cookies, and had a pleasant chat with the proprietress. Rebecca got a huge jar of olives. (Lucky.) We toted our purchases back down the highway to the tire place, and found that our car was ready and that there was no charge for fixing the tire. (Quite lucky!) Our trip home was uneventful. (Very lucky.) We stopped at a local fabric store and still could not find a single suitable thing. (Unlucky.) Bedraggled, we came home and had some tea and our cookies. They were good. (Lucky.)

What is the consensus? Lucky or unlucky? A bit of both. And it could have been much worse, if not for the nice woman who miraculously appeared in that parking lot.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Another night at the opera!

Yes, another wonderful evening at the opera - this time Lucia di Lammermoor.

I am definitely not among the opera cognoscenti, but I love going. The only operas I am very familiar with are the ones I have seen in the last few years. I am such an opera novice that I usually don’t even know the plots in advance, which makes watching them ever more exciting – wondering what will happen next. As a teen-ager, I listened to Lohengrin and Tristan und Isolde over and over when I was depressed and wanted to enhance my bad mood, and Die Zauberflote when I was cheery and wanted to enhance my good mood, but beyond those my opera knowledge was nearly nil. The only time I had heard Donizetti was in the otherwise supremely tedious film Fitzcarraldo. The delightful music in the movie made me anxious to hear more, lots more, but the opportunity just never arose. Soooooo….. finally the chance arrived. Certain aspects of the opera were a bit of a surprise. Most of the other operas we have seen have been filled with passion and lots of gloom and doom. The music and singing have likewise been passionate, gloomy, and doomy. This time, however there seemed to be a disconnect between great passion and tragedy of the story, and the sweetness and delicacy of the music. The mad scene aria was astonishing in its beauty, but Lucia just didn’t seem frighteningly mad. And the famous bloody dress, as a piece of forensic evidence, could have gotten Lucia off the hook in a murder trial. Although her hands were as incarnadine as those of Lady Macbeth, the dress looked as though she had must have just contaminated the evidence by walking through the bloody pool next to the body. The was absolutely none of that arterial spatter which our mystery novels have taught is requisite for conviction. Ghoul that I am, I was looking forward to the bloody dress, and was very let down.

At one point, Rebecca and I were confused as to what was going on and quizzed one another during intermission. She seemed astonished that I didn’t know. “Haven’t you read the book?” she asked. “I’m sure you have.” I assured her that I had not. “I know you have,” she insisted. I said, “I’ve read The Heart of the Midlothian. That’s Sir Walter Scott too.” “Oh,” she said. “I knew you had read The Something of the Something. I was wondering how the long walk was going to fit into this plot.” (The plot of The H of the M involves the heroine walking from Scotland to London to try to obtain a pardon from the queen for her sister, condemned to death for infanticide – of which, of course, she was not guilty, but was unable to prove her innocence. One of my very favorite books.) But of course, that is neither here nor there. What is here and there, is that we had a wonderful evening, and enjoyed the opera very much.

Friday, October 22, 2010

An uncool day

What is it about prune whip? Why does it have such a bad rap? I first made it as a young bride. Never having previously heard of such a thing as prune whip, I was innocent of all its implications. I found the recipe in a sort of hippie cookbook that I liked, and not realizing how totally un-cool it was, made it and loved it. So did little Rebecca and Dennis, or so they said. It was one of my favorite desserts and a real comfort food. Years later, I was having a friend for dinner – a former WWII nurse, known far and wide, and not entirely inappropriately, as “an old battle ax.” Actually, it was inappropriately. That was the image she cultivated, but like so may old battle axes, she was a wise, kind, and loving woman whom I very much admired. But that is neither here nor there. “What are you serving” Rebecca asked shortly before her arrival. I gave her my menu, which included prune whip for dessert. “What?” she gasped. “You’re not serving prune whip?” she said with a sneer. “Prune whip is good,” I replied. “She'll like it.” “Well, maybe she will,” she added with an unflattering innuendo. When Julie arrived, Rebecca hissed, “We’re having prune whip for dessert.” “Wonderful!” Julie said. “I love prune whip. It takes me back to my youth.” I felt vindicated.

So, when Rachael invited herself to dinner and told me what the menu was to be, I was stunned to find that she wanted prune whip for dessert. It was, as usual, delicious.

Here is the recipe, in case you want to try this utterly uncool, unhip, déclassé ambrosia.

Prune Whip

1 cup prune pulp (pitted is easier)

2 egg whites

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 cup sugar

1 cup yogurt (plain unsweetened)

Cover the prunes with cold water, bring to a simmer, and cook till soft. Drain the prunes and remove the pits if you didn’t use pitted. Drink the prune water. Mash or grind the prunes. Add half the sugar and the lemon juice. Cook a few minutes more until it thickens. Let it cool. Beat the egg whites until they are stiff, and beat in the other half cup sugar. Gently fold the prunes into the egg whites. Spoon into individual serving dishes and chill it. Serve the whip with a big blob of yogurt. When eating it, try to get a bit of yogurt and prune whip in each bite. The piquancy of the yogurt offsets the sweetness of the prunes, producing a wonderful taste treat.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A sick day

I’m sick! Last week I had a cold which came and went fairly benignly. By Sunday, it said, “I’m leaving. You’re all better now,” and then it lurked furtively behind a bush for a day, giving me confidence that my usual awful autumn indisposition was going to be mild and short lived this year. I had been able to call in sick from work, guilt free, and then enjoy myself knitting. But Yuck! On Monday, it leapt out again with a vengeance! “Aha!’ it said! “I’ve got you now!” And it had. I am adroop, adrip, and ahack. I have taken a page from Margaret’s book, have found the sunniest place in the house, and have lain myself down in it. With the necessaries of life at my side. Too limp for even the exertion of knitting. Alternately sleeping and reading, interspersed with lots of coughing, is all I am up for. Margaret, annoyed that I had taken her spot, found that the sunniest place was still there, but she just needed to climb up a bit higher and use me for her pillow.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Another busy day

An update on the aunties: Dakki’s nose is much better, as you can see in her picture, and Pauline took a train trip to visit a friend in a nearby town. I drove her to the station, and felt guilty for not waiting to see her actually get on the train. She looked rather forlorn eating her lunch all alone there in the station. But the train wasn’t coming for an hour and I had a full agenda. A very full agenda! Sigh! Query: Why do we Catholics have to feel guilty about everything? Are the adult converts this besieged by remorse over every little action (or inaction, as the case may be)? Or does it have to be ingrained by nuns when one is little?

On the bright side, I had not been in the train station for several years, and when I was last there, it was a very dull, dreary place, festooned with signs picturing former glory, and promising an upcoming restoration. There were areas closed from view and a false ceiling, which made it even more dreary and depressing. Now, the restoration is well underway, and looks as though the finished product will be a beautiful asset to our beautiful city.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A triumphant day - sort of

I finally finished this accursed sweater. I started it in August, which doesn’t sound so bad till I mention that it was August 2009. Ana and I both admired it, and decided to have a knit-along. She, of course, finished hers long ago. We knitted them from a Japanese book, and naturally, the instructions were in Japanese. For the most part, this did not present a problem, as the pattern was largely charts. There were a few little areas, however, where one needed a bit more information than was available from just the charts. Ana, the intrepid on-line investigator, found a blog which explained the directions for the leaf tips. The chart for that, shown here, was pretty arcane from my point of view. When we figured it out, it seemed as though it should have been obvious all along. Isn’t so much of life like that?

One of my work colleagues showed me the Japanese characters for such vital words as, “stitch,” “row,” “needle,” and “gauge.” She also helped me interpret the mysterious directions for attaching the collar. When Ana and I started, we were able to figure out what gauge the pattern recommended, but we could not figure out what part of the complex design that gauge was supposed to represent. So we just started knitting a sleeve as our swatch. This is my usual practice when knitting a cabled sweater, as otherwise one has to knit a huge useless thing to get much of an idea. This way, you knit a huge useful thing, and have a part of your sweater already done. Or not. In my case, not. I knitted about 2/3 of the sleeve and decided that it was way too big. So back to square one. The body was knitted all in one piece, which made for a snail’s pace – another damper on the old enthusiasm. I paused to knit myself a useful sweater, and then Becca liked it so well that she demanded that I knit her one too. Then we decided to have a knit-along to make the EZ green sweater, and there was Christmas knitting in the mix as well. So while I felt like I had been knitting on this sweater forever, most of the time, it was just loooooming over me as an unfinished object sending out little guilt vibes. Happily, it is finally done, and I like it very well. Now if only I had put in pockets. Oh, well – next time.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A celebratory day

Ana and I decided to fête ourselves and to celebrate our nearly simultaneous birthdays. There was an orange theme to our dessert, and a quick-and-easy theme to the main dish. This was not a day for excessive salubriousness – at least where dinner was concerned. The entrée, the quick and easy part of the meal, was one of our favorites, barley soup – this time with mushrooms and butternut squash. Since we planned to spend the afternoon and evening watching movies, I had had intended to make the chocolate and orange cake and orange popcicle ice cream the evening before. I needed Grand Marnier for the ice cream, and so went to the liquor store on the way home from church in the evening. Early evening, like before seven. It was closed! I could not believe it! It had been closed since five, and there was a sign telling me where one was that was open later. I went there and it was closed as well. I even more could not believe it. Not being a frequenter of liquor stores, I am not familiar with their ways, but I know that they do have ways, and that their rules are many and convoluted. Apparently Sunday evening is temperance time in Washington. Frustrated, I went home and debated what to do. Actually, I had mixed emotions about my shopping failure, because I was really, really tired, and since I had been foiled in my cooking plans ….. maybe I should just go to bed. I elected to go with that option, planning to get up early and start. Not too early though, because it might still be temperance time in the wee hours of the morning. When I did get up, I realized that my cake didn’t even need the brandy that I was thinking it did, so I made the cake, and the ice cream up to the point of adding the brandy. Then went to the store with Ana there for moral support.

Later, Ana and I watched Lover Come Back (don’t see relevance of title to plot of movie) with Doris Day and Rock Hudson. The movie was extraordinarily silly, but very fun, and Rock Hudson was almost super-humanly handsome. We could not get over it. He rivaled the cake for utter deliciousness. I had adored him in my youth, but had quite forgotten how absolutely magnificent he was. We now plan to watch the Rock Hudson/Doris Day oeuvre, having nearly completed the Deanna Durbin canon.

Barley and Squash Soup
2 T olive oil
2 medium onions, sliced
10 cloves garlic, sliced or chopped
2 cups cubed butternut squash
10 oz crimini (or other) mushrooms, sliced
1 cup celery, sliced thinly
1 carrot, diced
4 tomatoes, coarsely chopped
½ cup barley
6 cups vegetarian broth

In your pressure cooker pan, saute the onions and garlic till the onion is translucent. Add the squash, celery, carrots, and mushrooms and give them a few turns. Add the tomatoes, parsley, barley, vegetable broth and pepper, and cook under high pressure for 16 minutes. Serve with a nice salad and some hearty bread. Voila! Dinner in about 30 minutes.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A nosey day

Poor Dakki has her second black (reddish purple, actually) eye within the last few months. In fact, given that she has two of them, this would be her third (as well as her second, of course.) The first was from her eye surgery in February, and the two new ones are from a dermatologic surgery on her nose last week. Initially, she had one red eye, but it grew and spread. Here she is, looking at it in consternation. She has a lot to say about the entire medical field right now (me excepted, I hope.) The whole thing was an ordeal for her, and then it got infected! It looked great on day one, but on day two, not so great. I sent her off to the Urgent Care to have them take a look, because it appeared yucky to me. Really yucky! Now, after a day or two of antibiotics – which she is making a production of taking every six hours on the dot, checking her watch every few minutes as the appointed time approaches so she can get it just right – it looks much better. When I picked her up from the surgery, I said, “Gosh, you look just like Jimmie Durante.” The next day she went to visit Pauline. "Gosh, you look just like Jimmie Durante," Pauline said as Dakki walked in the door.

Friday, October 1, 2010

A mutable day

Ana was coming for dinner and to watch a movie. I had had a rather elaborate zucchini-centric menu planned, but then the preceding evening at work had been so horrific (only a very slight exaggeration) that I was in a semi-zombie state till well after noon, and there was not time to fix what I had planned. The challenge had been to make zucchini dishes that would please the less than enthusiastic zucchini eater. I think that Ana, who is not a real zucchini aficionado, was relieved to hear that things were not going well with my original scheme. Since I got such a late start, I decided to save my giant zucchini for another day. I started with dessert, and thought an almond cake would be nice. About that time, Rachael called and said she wanted to come to dinner as well. That would be great, I said. She too was glad to hear that I had abandoned the zucchini-fest idea. Then Dakki called and wanted to come. Well, that would be fine, I said. The guest list was expanding, and so was my menu, which continued to morph throughout the day. As I was toasting the almonds for the cake, I got a little distracted. You can see the result of that. Hmmmm, this day was not going at all as planned. I retoasted the almonds – I guess I should more accurately say that I toasted new almonds – added and then rejected several other potential menu items, and miraculously had a fairly presentable dinner ready almost on time. Then another guest arrived, and she was not quite as welcome the first three, who demanded that I take her outside. Rachael was giving me advice about how to accomplish this and flustered me so that our little arachnoid guest escaped my grasp and nearly ran up Dakki’s leg, producing shrieks from three sides and grumbles from me. I eventually got her outside with all her eight legs intact, happily for everyone, and especially happily for her.
Query: Why is everyone so against zucchini? And spiders? Spiders perform valuable public services and bring good luck as well.