Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Pre-New Year's Day

Usually, Rebecca comes with me and helps me find the perfect new calendar, but this year she was unavailable.  For the previous several years, I had gotten a cute Dick and Jane calendar, but last year (and again this year,) I couldn't find one. Instead, she found something similar for my last year’s calendar, an adorable one with English schoolroom posters. It was so sweet that it made me happy every time I looked at it. Do you detect a calendar preference theme here?  

The store at which we usually had the most success involved a car trip, and so to avoid that, I went to a fabulous bookstore within walking distance.  I had failed there in the calendar search before, but decided to be optimistic.  While I had made a decision to feel this way, I think it didn’t really penetrate to my inner being.   It was a cold day, so I dressed up too warmly.  By the time I got there, and was looking through the calendars, I was so hot that I only wanted to go home and take off most of my clothes so as to cool off, and then to take a nap.  So I decided that all the calendars were ugly and went home.  The next day, I really had to get down to business.  Margaret was thrilled to come with me, but she did not give me much advice about my calendar selection. 

And the selection was vast!

There was something for every taste!

Except mine.  Finally, I chose two, neither the perfect calendar, but both pretty near perfect.  And so a good way to start the New Year.  

Which brings me to say,  

A most happy and blessed New Year to you and  yours!” 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Baking Day

The foremost one is from Martha's pistachio biscotti recipe. The others are date.
 I was making biscotti variations to give for Christmas presents, and was searching for the perfect recipe.  I think the winner was a recipe my friend Martha gave me for biscotti with  pistachios and orange zest, made with lots of butter.  I had made nice ones with almonds, cranberries, anise – all the usual, and they were good, but Martha’s recipe was way the best.   In need of variety, I decided to make date and orange biscotti, given that I had lots of dates and lots of oranges.  I was hopeful, but when I tried them, they were a little on the yucky side.  Actually, not a little, but a lot!  I can’t give these as presents, I thought.  The only thing is to eat them myself.  Usually, I have one or at most two biscotti for my late night snack with my last cup of tea.   On day one, I almost had to choke them down, but by the third day, I quite liked them.  By the fourth day, I liked them a lot. Now I am not sure if they improved with age, or if they are an acquired taste which it took me several days to acquire.  Or maybe both.  Anyhow, here is the recipe.

Date Biscotti

2 cups (260 grams) flour,
1 tsp. baking powder,
1/8 tsp salt,
¾ cup (150 grams) sugar,
3 eggs,
1 tsp vanilla extract,
Zest from two oranges,
1 cup (160 grams) chopped dates.

Heat the oven to 300°, and prepare a  cookie sheet by lining it with parchment or using a Silpat.

In a small bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt an set aside.  In the bowl of your electric mixer, beat the sugar and eggs together until soft and foamy.  Stir in the vanilla and orange zest. Fold in the dates and then the flour until just mixed.  Do not overbeat. 

On a lightly floured surface, form the dough into a log, about 10 inches long.  Transfer the log to the prepared baking sheet.  Bake for about 30 minutes, or until firm in the middle.  When done, let it cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes, then transfer it to a work surface, and cut into slices about 2 cm thick.  Cut on the diagonal for slightly longer biscotti*.  Bake the slices for about 10 minutes and then turn them over and bake for 10 more minutes.  Let them cool, and then store in an airtight tin.  

*Martha says that at this point, you can freeze biscotti, and then do the second baking when you are about to greet your guests.  Not having a roomy freezer, I have not tried this, but Martha knows everything, and is the world’s best cook, so I confidently pass the tip on. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Blessed Day

 I am hoping that all of you have a blessed and happy Christmas!

My friend Roseann made this paról  for me years and years ago.  It is getting a bit faded, but is still one of my favorite things!  Pictured are Little Rachael, then about two years old, Farnaby - the perfect cat, God rest his soul, and my little Cairn terrier Leslie,  God rest his also, as they all greeting Baby Jesus on his birthday in the manger.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Dark Day

You may have noticed that the days are getting very short, and very dark.  In fact, today is the darkest – or at any rate, the shortest.  It is nice and bright right now.  This is the time of the year when a fear of the dark arises, but I mean only a certain sort of dark.  Not the  comfy kind God sends us every December, but - Blackouts!  We seem to always be having them.  And of course, they never come at a convenient time.  (Those times would be when one is asleep or not at home.  There is no other convenient time.  If one wants no lights, one can manage that without the help of the electrical power company.)  Ever since the last one, I have been planning to become better prepared.  That time, I had to paw through drawers, searching for my Advent Wreath supplies to find a candle.  As each procrastinating day passed, I worried a bit more.  Both about being caught in the dark again, and about being such an incorrigible dilly-dallier.  I put everything off, especially if it involves getting in the car and going somewhere.  Finally, I decided to commit.  I asked Becca if she would go to the hardware store with me.  Happily, she agreed, and off we went to Madison Park Hardware, my favorite hardware store, especially now that all my other favorite hardware stores have been swallowed up by the mega monster ones.  This one is walk-to-able, but only if you have all day, and want to come up a very long, tall hill on the way home. It is lots of fun to go to, and every time I do, I find some little thing that I previously hadn’t realized that I  absolutely needed.  Margaret, who came along, loves to go because there are dog treats.  The friendly folk there helped us find the perfect blackout ware, and assured me that since I now was prepared, it was very unlikely that such a thing would happen soon.  I hope he is right, but if he isn’t, I am ready. 

"Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task." ~William James

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Another Surgical Day

The Saga of the Auntly Surgeries goes on!  Pauline went under the knife again, this time for a little nose lesion.  And, rather horrifyingly, they snipped off a bit of her ear to fill in the spot on her nose.  Yikes!  She is holding up well, despite an experience that would traumatize me utterly.  I went to visit today, and to do a dressing change.  She made me lunch, our usual favorite – tomato soup with crackers and cheese floating in it, and I brought her some tiny Mexican cream puffs – direct from the freezer section of Grocery Outlet, my favorite grocery store.  I thought they were yummy.  Pauline claimed that she had had a surfeit of lunch, and only ate one, but I, piggy that I am, gobbled up – dare I tell you? – four.  In my defense, they were really tiny.  And really delicious!  

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Yet Another Fun Evening with Friends

A fun evening with friends, family, and food!  And games!./;l----------------==””””    (Tobias typed the previous.  At least there is one person who is a worse typist than I am.  Or do cats count?  Probably not.)  Anyway, we had a great evening.  Three of the people present are very into winning.  The fourth doesn’t care that much.  This is fortunate, as she seldom wins no matter what she is playing.  Except maybe solitaire.  And that is not really a competitive sport, is it.  Perhaps she wins that because there is no one to talk to, and to distract her from the matter at hand.  I flatter myself that my poor performance at games is related to my friendly social self.  More interested in everyone else and what they have to say than in winning. 

We played several games which had “Charades” elements to them, and Rachael turned out to be a brilliant “Charade” artiste!  That was a beat-the-clock team sport, and we beat it every time!  Then we played Sorry!  No team spirit there!  Just tigerish malice as everyone leapt on another’s man, and sneered, “Sorry!”  in a manner that conveyed little sorrow.   The game was neck and neck most of the way, but in the home stretch, Rachael galloped in as the clear winner. 

Rachael the winner!

I made this cake a couple of weeks ago for Ana, and it was so good that I made it again.  I won't say it is the best cake I have ever made, but it is possibly the best chocolate cake.  And it has a mystery ingredient – Beets!  Who would think that a beet cake could be so yummy!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Wonderfully Musical Day

December is such a wonderful musical month.  There is music of every kind, everywhere. The choir room is a beehive, as we prepare for multi-musical services and events. One of the highlights of these, is our annual trip to Providence Mount St. Vincent,  a nearby retirement home run by the Sisters of Providence.  Here, in their lovely chapel, we have one of our most appreciative audiences, a great sing-along accompaniment chorus.  If I were the emcee of this event, I would stand there and say, “Um, ah – here is the St. James choir to sing for you,” – if I could even get that much out,  and that would be about the most one could expect from tongue tied me.  But our director, Dr. Savage (Jim), is a genius at bringing out the best in every audience, and making every event a real event, and a very wonderfully fun, meaningful, or sacred event, as the occasion warrants.  And today warranted a smattering of all three. 

Jim with Jeanie, and her Mom

Chorister Ward and a few of his Mt. St. Vincent friends, with Martha and her husband Joe behind them.

One of our ordinary sopranos – oops! Excuse me! Sopranos are never ordinary, are they!  One of our sopranos, Emmy Purainer, one who usually blends into the soprano crowd, has for the last several years, sung a German carol, and every time, I am totally blown away by it.  She is really extraordinary! Such simple, but soulful songs, and Emmy, usually one of many, brings her all (along with her amazingly beautiful voice) to her Weinachtslied.  It is always a tear jerker, and for me, the highlight of the event.  Emmy is really great, and I wish I could listen to her more often. 

Resident, Fr. Gallagher, who, as pastor of St. James, hired Jim 30 years ago, and Sister Ann 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Oh Happy Day!

A few months ago, maybe in July,  during a slow evening at work, I looked over the shoulder of my friend Virginia as she sat at her computer and appeared to be virtually shopping.  This was very atypical for Virginia, who is not usually an on-line shopper.  What’s more, she appeared too be shopping for Christmas lights!  “Whatcha doin’?” I asked.  “Looking at Christmas lights,” she replied, stating the obvious.  “It’s July,” I replied, stating the even more obvious.  She explained that her Christmas lights had just burned out.  “So did mine,” I moaned.  We compared notes, and discussed the joy of Christmas lights and how we wanted them all year long, as they made us so happy, and the sorrow of not being able to replace the recently deceased ones in July.  We realized that we would just have to wait.  This year, however, we would know better, and would lay in a supply. 

Oh happy day!  I had been keeping my eye peeled for the arrival of the Christmas doodads at my favorite grocery store, and finally they came!  I bought a bunch, and bought a bunch again the next week.  And now they are finally up, and up, I hope, for the whole year till the doodads arrive again in 2012.

I gave them to John, my handyman, to string up, and when I staggered home from work that night at midnight, there they were.  I was so happy to see them.  The warm glow on my front porch gave me a little rush of warm welcoming glow inside, and does again every night when I come home through the dark and cold.  “Here we are,” they say.  “Your puppy and kitty are waiting for you, and you three can all be comfy and warm now.”

I have them in my sitting room as well, and am happy every time I walk past them.  Note the UFO hovering outside over my garden.  

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Squash Soup

Squash soup

This recipe is inspired by the winter squash soup in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison.

I would have made this soup entirely with kabocha squash, and that is what I would advise you to do, but the one I purchased had way less innards than it seemed to have when I got it. In the interests of journalistic transparency, I am including the butternut squash that I actually used as part of the total squash. (See previous post.)

A large kabocha squash, (no need to peel it - the kabocha skin will be soft enough to go in the soup, but the butternut skin is very tough.)
Half a medium sized butternut squash – peeled and cut into inch cubes, (about 4 cups total squash after roasting,)
6 cloves garlic sliced,

Olive oil, about ¼ cup,
A small bunch of sage leaves,

A large white or yellow onion, chopped,
A cup of chopped celery,
3 medium carrots chopped,
6 cups vegetable broth,
About 12 grinds of pepper,
Salt if needed

About a teaspoon fresh thyme
¼ cup parsley,

¼ cup candied pepitas*
some feta cheese, crumpled.

Cut the kabocha in half, remove the seeds and fibers, and brush the halves of the kabocha  and the chunks of butternut with olive oil. (I cut the butternut into cubic inch chunks, as it was thicker, tougher, and would take more time to cook.)   Put the garlic cloves in the kabocha halves, turn them onto a cookie sheet, cut side down. Roast at 375° for about half an hour, until tender..

Meanwhile, in a small pan, fry the sage leaves for about a minute, until they are dark.  Remove the leaves from the oil, and set them aside on a paper towel.

In your soup pot, using sage leaf oil, sauté the onion until translucent, add the celery and carrot for a few turns.  When the squash is ready, add it to the vegetables, and give a few more turns.  Add the broth, the thyme, the pepper, and salt if needed.  Simmer for about twenty minutes, or until all the vegetables are softened.  Moosh it up with your immersion blender until mostly smooth, but with a few chunks remaining to give a more interesting texture.  Stir in the chopped parsley.

Garnish with sage leaves, and pass around the pepitas and feta cheese in separate bowls for a further individual garnish.

Candied pepitas

¼ cup pepitas
2 tablespoons (or more) sugar

Put the pepitas and the sugar in a small frying pan, and stir constantly over high heat until the sugar melts and the pipitas are coated.  Add more sugar if necessary.  That is all there is to it.  

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A rather rushed, but fun day

Fennel, grapefruit, avocado, and pomegranate salad

In keeping with our family tradition of seldom having our birthday or Christmas presents ready on time, Ana and Becca gave me a little birthday party – only about six weeks after my birthday, but that was fine.  Better late than never, and even better than that – when you feel like it, rather than when you are obliged to.  Ana’s birthday is the day after mine, so we were celebrating that as well. 

I made us a squash soup, which turned out to be one of the best soups I ever ate.  And Becca made a salad which was one of the prettiest salads I ever ate.  I had my morning planned to the minute so that I could have lunch on time.  I had gotten a kabocha squash, per the instructions of Rebecca, who said it would be way more delicious than my usual butternut squash.  Well, as usual, she was absolutely right, but while more delicious, it also had a lot more air in it.  When I opened it up in the morning, I realized that it would be way not enough for my soup, and I would have to go to the store and get more squash.  As I was pondering this, Becca called and said could I come get her so she could do her laundry.  Sigh.  Well, I had to go out anyway, so I told her to get it packed up and I would be there soon.  We got the laundry and another squash, and as she was trying to unlock my door, she couldn’t.  She didn't have her keys.  We realized that with the scramble to trying get the bundles of laundry out her door while not letting Maria the cat get out, the keys were left in the keyhole.  So a rush trip back.  Then we realized that we needed to stop at the store again to get more ice cream.   Aaargh!  When we got back, I made my soup, but the hour for the guests was arriving (along with the guests themselves,) so I asked her to make the salad, as I wasn’t going to have time.  She informed me that I would have had time if I were more efficient.  Hmmmmmm.   She would have been more gracious about doing this, if not that she was, in true Ryan tradition, desperately putting the finishing touches on the scarf she was making for Ana’s birthday present.  That too, was finished in the nick of time, and like the salad, was beautiful.

The soup was a treat, the salad was beautiful, as well as yummy, the party was fun, and my present was great.  It was a kit I had tried to purchase a year ago, but it had gone out of print, so to speak.  Now it was available again, and Ana and Becca combined to get it for me.  So I have a bunch of fun knitting to look forward to, and I hope, a nice sweater as well. 

 Soup recipe to follow.  

Saturday, November 26, 2011

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving, for which, of course, I am thankful. There was none of the delightful acrimonious drama that one so often reads about in the advice columns. No one misbehaved, there were no ill feelings.  But then, there never is, as we all pretty much love one another.  There is occasional drama, as the time, years ago, when my grandfather went to the bathroom which is on the back porch, and accidently locked himself out of the house.  No one missed him for quite a while.  When someone finally did, and went to let him in, he was sputtering with rage. Another time, my mother said that she was too hot, so Dakki suggested that she take her clothes off, and she did.  Not quite all of them, of course, but enough of them to seriously embarrass her daughter.  There was none of that this year, but it was a fun, lively gathering nonetheless.  

Rachael, Dakki, and Patten

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

St. Cecilia's Day

“Oh Heaven forbid!  I forgot to bring the dips!  Is there time to go home and get it before practice starts? NO!!!  Horrors!”  With that, I woke up from my nap, grateful to realize that it was only a dream, choir practice was not about to start in fifteen minutes, and I had not forgotten the dip.  We were having a St. Cecilia’s Day party during the rehearsal, and my friend Martha had volunteered to cater the event, with a little help from me.  I was making my favorite cookie recipe (actually, one of my many favorite cookie recipes, as I am a tremendous fan of nearly all cookies,) veggies, and two dips. 

A while ago, Rebecca invited the Aunties to dinner, and prepared many delicacies, but the hit of the evening was the French salad dressing she made to put on iceberg lettuce.  She selected this because Dakki is such a culinary stick-in-the-mud, and usually only likes things she has eaten since the age of three.  This dressing seemed pretty retro, and therefore likely to appeal to her.  But surprise!  We all loved it, and gobbled up the entire batch.  It was one of the best salad dressings I ever ate, zippy and zingy, but not overly so. I thought it would make a nice vegetable dip, but in its salad dressing form, would be too messy.  So I increased the cornstarch to thicken it up, and voila!  A very successful dip.

You can find the original recipe here.  I increased the cornstarch to 1.5 tablespoons, and this produced a nice thick, but not too thick dip, which stuck to the vegetables without dribbling down one’s front.  

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Make-Ahead Day

Several months ago, I got a fabulous new rice cooker.  Rebecca had been carping on the inadequacy of the one I had, and singing the virtues of the one she had.  I had to admit that I was a little jealous of hers, but was feeling a certain defensive attachment to my relatively new, but seemingly antediluvian model.  All it did was cook rice!  What good is that!  Before she goes to bed, Rebecca sets hers up to have a nice oatmeal porridge breakfast ready when she has finished her bath and is ready to eat it in the morning.  Before she goes to work, she tells it to have her dinner ready when she arrives home.  No matter what sort of rice she is preparing, her rice cooker knows just what is needed. I think the kicker might have been perfectly cooked polenta.  How can one argue against that?  Finally, I no longer could, and so I gave in and got one.   I had planned to tell you all about it at the time.  I prepared something luscious and beautiful, and  took pictures.  And then I got distracted and onto something else, so you missed out on the rice cooker news flash.

Brown rice made in the new cooker - a success!

I made lovely brown rice (always a challenge in my old one), and some great polenta (not even possible in the old one,) but I had yet to try out its spectacular “having-dinner-ready-when-you-get-home” function.  The time had  come!  On Sundays, I sing with the Women’s Schola at the 1730 Mass, and when I get home, I am usually totally knackered and hungry as a wolf.  Knowing that when I arrived home, if there was nothing ready, I would eat something awful just to quickly fill the void, I decided to have some yummy oat porridge ready on my return.  I used Rebecca’s recipe and put in an apple, a banana, and some raisins.  It was a wonderful thing to come home - tired, bedraggled, and starving - to find this repast waiting. 

Delightful Dinner Oatmeal

The next week I had polenta and some roasted vegetables waiting.  What a delight.  Almost like having a cook preparing a meal while you are out.  Another day, I made porridge again, this time with blueberries.  Purple oatmeal!  Not very photogenic, but delicious.

As you can see, I am not one who requires breakfast food in the morning and dinner food in the evening. I think apple pie, pizza, or left over Chinese food make an excellent breakfast, and scrambled eggs or oatmeal make an delightful dinner.  

First rice prepared in new cooker
PS.  The above oatmeal is made from steel-cut oats.  I wrote about making oatmeal with rolled oats several years ago.  You can read that  here.  As you can see, I am a great fan of oatmeal.  Odd, since in my youth, the only way I liked oats was in a cookie.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Beautifying Day

Every time my home phone rings, I get a little nervous, wondering who it is, and if it is ringing to alert me to some disaster.  This fear stems from the time my parents began to get very frail, and it too often actually was someone from their residence calling to alert me to some new problem.  Now that my parents have earned their heavenly reward, and thus there are no more calls from Exeter House, and since most people call me on my cell phone,  I still worry.  The only folk who call me on that phone are the aunties , and one has to worry about them at least a little, or my job asking why I am not there (fortunately, I only get this call about once every five years when I, or more often, they, have somehow mixed up my schedule)– or could I pleeeeeese come in and work extra.  I get this call fairly frequently. Being a girl who can’t say no, I always wait for the answering machine to tell me who it is and what they want before I answer.  That way, I don’t have to say that, no, I can’t work extra.  I just consider a moment, decide I really don’t want to work extra, listen to them plead, and then say nothing at all.  So I was being my usual cautious self when the call came from my favorite grocery store.   I had won the drawing for a gift certificate!  The certificate would be for the amount of the money  that my receipt (the drawing ticket) said I had saved.  Well, thanks to my friend Marta (not the Marta with the blog on my sidebar, but a different Marta, also in my choir), I had saved quite a lot.  I often meet her there, especially after church on Sunday, and we sometimes go through the aisles together.  This Sunday, she pointed out a facial cream which she had tried and liked.  Its original price was $56, but at fabulous Grocery Outlet, it was only $6! 

What a bargain! She suggested I try it, I could not resist, and so I bought some.  At her suggestion, I also got these facial masque treatment things (60¢ each) to try as well. She had purchased one the week before, but not tried it out yet. I thought that perhaps I could transform myself from an old hag into a sparkling young beauty!  Rebecca and I gave it a go, and found it a little messy.  Also a little difficult to drink one’s tea without getting a sip of face goo along with the tea.  I used a straw, but Becca gave up on tea and just waited.  She didn’t do tea with a straw.  Not hot tea anyway.  Mine, being cooled with a judicious dollop of milk, was tepid enough to sip up like a nice ice cream soda. 
After our beauty treatment, we went to Grocery Outlet to collect my prize.  I told her I would get her a present with my winnings, but all she got was a jar of peaches and another of olives.  I would never be so restrained if my mom were treating. 

P.S. Still an old hag.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Yet Another Grateful Day

Every “semester,” our choir has a “Men Only” Sunday and a “Women Only” Sunday, giving everyone one Sunday off.  I love to go to Mass on Men’s Sunday, because it is one of the rare times I can truly appreciate the beauty of the choir, even if only half of it is singing.  Often, the men are joined by the astonishing Schola Cantorum, the St. James children’s choir, and sometimes by an orchestra (or perhaps an orchestralet, as was the case today.)  Given the whole daylight savings business, and that I worked the evening before, and had to work again that evening, I decided to not set my alarm, but to strive to wake up on time naturally.  At some ungodly hour my phone rang, and my first thought was, “It’s not really Men Only Sunday, and someone is calling to see why I am not at choir practice.”  I looked at the caller ID and it was Rachael, making this an even more likely possibility, as she is not an early morning girl, except by extreme necessity.  I looked at the clock.  If I were going to make it to church on time, I would have to leap out of bed right that minute, and scurry around like a dervish – getting dressed and feeding the furry folk with lightening speed.  But I just could not stir.  I lay there and lamented my laziness, but still could not move.  When I finally did emerge and stumbled down to make my tea and reset the clocks, I got a glorious surprise.  I had mistaken the way Daylight Savings Time works, and it was TWO hours earlier than I thought it was.  Hurrah!  Now I was able to dash around, feeding and pottying everyone, and getting dressed.  The morning was autumn-glorious, all scarlet and golden, and when I got to church, the service was as exquisitely beautiful as ever, but the music….   It was divine.  As children and the men sang Kyrie from Haydn’s St. Nicholas Mass, I had to fight back tears.  Later in the Mass, as they sang the Biebl Ave Maria, I surrendered and gave up the fight altogether.  We who go to St. James are certainly blest in our wonderful parish!

It was difficult to get good photos unobtrusively, and these were the best I could do.  

A Day Full of Gratitude

Wow!  What an amazing surprise!  My birthday packet from my friend Sabine arrived a day or two late, so I saved it for the perfect moment to open it – a leisurely moment with a cup of tea and a friend to share my pleasure. I was astonished at its wonderfulness, which you cannot really appreciate from the picture.  And…. one of the best things – A  Verena sock magazine, an annual favorite, is not even in the picture, because I had it on my bed to read and forgot to put it back in the box for the photo shoot.  Thank you again, Sabine!  

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A catty day

I mentioned to a friend at work that I had a  blog, and he asked, “Oh, are you one of those people who write blogs about their cat?”  I hesitated.  “Well, maybe a little.”  But I am sure you are all interested in Tobias’s doings.  Here he is being adorable.  

 And here he is being a little naughty, sitting in my drawer, pretending not to notice me glaring at him, wanting him to move along so I can close the drawer.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Every year, I look forward to All Saints’ Day, and the Requiem Mass at St. James.  Most often, it is Mozart, but occasionally we sing another setting.  This year, it is Fauré, utterly beautiful, and absolutely comforting.  Mozart’s Requiem leads us through the horrors of hell, past the slobbering, salivating mouth of the lion, into the profound pit of darkness, and finally into the eternal light and the merciful arms of Pie Jesu, but the trip is terrifying.  Fauré, on the other hand, is confident from the beginning that the heavenly light is there waiting for him.  The music is all light and love. 

Many, many years ago, I attended this Mass at St. James, and was looking forward to being exquisitely moved by the beauty of the service itself, and by the silken music of Fauré.  Unfortunately, there was a little old lady sitting behind me, and she was chattering throughout the whole Mass. I will give her the benefit of thinking that possibly she was praying aloud.  However, I doubt that that was it.  She was pretty annoying, to say the least.  During one of the most beautiful and solemn parts of the Mass, I turned around and scowled at her.  She glowered at me, and then popped me on the head with her prayer book.  I tried to shrink into a mere nothing, but I daresay, I failed.  

Monday, October 24, 2011

Another Fun Day!

Not the Opera House, and also not Pisa!

What is it about operas and dental chairs?  As soon as I lie back into the dentist’s chair, and get all set up with wires, rubber dams, pickers and pokers, and whatever else is needed in my mouth, I am suddenly overcome with  totally irresistible need to sneeze.  Similarly, shortly after I settle into my opera house seat, the overture ends, and an expectant silence ensues as we wait for the singing to start, I am overwhelmed by an uncontrollable coughing fit.  Inevitable and Horrible. 

Armed with cough drops, pre-unwrapped, so as to avoid paper rattling during the program, Rebecca and I made our way to the Opera House for Carmen.  “Not my favorite opera,” I told her.  “In fact, I don’t like it at all.”  “Why not?"she wanted to know.   “The story is so stupid.”  She gaped!  “They’re all stupid stories,” she exclaimed.  “That isn’t usually a problem.” “This is stupid in a different way.  Everyone in it is horrible.  They deserve what they get.”  She was shocked at my callousness.  There have been other operas that were “not my favorites," but when I finally saw them, they were elevated to favorites after all - for example, Bluebeard.  Becca loved to listen to it when she was little, but I thought it was waaaaay too creepy, despite being Bartok, who actually is a favorite.  She had to listen to it when I wasn’t home. But what is too creepy to listen to as you do the dishes, or such like, may be fun in an actual opera.  I could happily listen to Carmen when I was doing dishes, or anything else, for that matter (except sitting there actually watching it,) as long as I didn’t know what was supposed to be happening. The music is wonderful – sing along fun, in fact.  Also in fact, there was an old (very old) fellow sitting right behind us who was doing just that.  We kept hoping that his equally old wife would hush him, but she didn’t. Not an opera enhancing experience.  But sort of cute, and so not as annoying as one might expect.  Years ago, Rachael’s fifth grade put on “Sound of Music,” and a little boy, about four, sitting behind us, lustily sang  along with every song.  I enjoyed him a lot, and wanted to sing along myself, but, of course, didn’t dare.  

So … Carmen is still not my favorite opera!  But on the positive side, I met my friend, the Bantam of the Opera – aka Mary Burt - whose chicken purse I had admired long ago.  It was fun to see her and her beautiful purse again.  

Also not the Opera House, but one of the county buildings I went to on a day of tedious errands.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Weird Evening

As I trudged home from the evening service on Sunday, I was planning the dinner I would fix for myself. My mouth watered as I thought about it! My idea was to slice up an onion, and sauté it till beautifully translucent, add a clove or two of sliced garlic and give that a few turns, and then dump in a bagful of spinach.  In just a couple of stirs, that would be nicely wilted and wonderful.  (I love spinach altogether and in any form.)  When the spinach was nearly ready and nicely salted and peppered, I would plop in an egg and poach it in the spinach with the pan covered so the top of the egg would get cooked more quickly.  Not too cooked though – just still nice and runny – but not too runny.   Mmmmmmmmmm!  I pictured the whole process as I trotted along through the brisk autumn air.  I could not wait, and knew that I could have this ready within minutes of stepping in my door.  And sure enough, I did.  It was so lovely that I debated getting my camera and taking a blog picture.  But no, the light was too dim, and I was too hungry! I sat down, poured myself a nice glass of wine to accompany my meal, and ….. blip ……      No lights.  No lights anywhere. My kitchen was dark as the inside of a cow.  The whole neighborhood was dark as the inside of a cow! What to do?  Eat in the dark? That didn’t sound good, especially with a poached egg.  Those are not darkness friendly.  I managed to find a candle, started my meal, and called my aunt, who lives just around the corner.  She had been in her pantry when the lights went out, and couldn’t find her way out.  She later said that she had somehow made a mental 90° turn without actually making that turn. Hence the confusion.  Our handyman John had come to rescue her, and then cycled off to check out the source of the problem.  Some car had run into a power pole and cut the electricity to a huge swath of Seattle.  John helped Aunt Dakki get bundled off to Aunt Pauline’s, but I opted to stay home and read by candlelight.  As, on the way home, I had been planning my dinner (which was a success, I might add – very tasty), I had also been planning my evening of knitting till the wee hours.  Alas, none of that in the dark!  I read my book by candlelight for an hour or so, and then went to sleep – way too early.  A waste of a good evening.  But at midnight, the light blinked on, so I reset my clock, read a bit, and went back to sleep.  All in all, it was a rather pleasant evening.  It would have been a very sad evening if the lights had gone out about ten minutes earlier, before my egg was nicely cooked.  

Some neighborhood ladies

Since I didn't take pictures of my dinner, I'm giving you some images from my neighborhood, reminiscent of the ingredients of my oeuf florentine.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

An Instructive Day

There are a few items which are requisites of civilized living – or at any rate, of civilized cooking and dining.  I used to speculate as to what, if burgled, I would have to immediately replace.  In my kitchen, it was my Cuisinart food processor.  At that time, I didn’t have a Kitchenaid mixer, so that magnificent tool was not in the running.  Now, I think I use it lots more.  In short, I couldn’t do without it. But, then there are other, more humble  things to consider ……

Ana was coming for dinner and a movie, and for once, I actually had the meal prepared on time.  Just about the time she was due to arrive, I had everything ready - even Margaret and Tobias were fed and Margaret had gone potty – and I was about to open a bottle of wine.  I turned, and somehow my sleeve got caught on the corkscrew.  It fell onto the floor and into its three pieces, and went scuttling across the room.  I found two of the parts, but could not find the third, and the most important, part.  Margaret offered to help, but the two of us were flummoxed.  It was nowhere.  I got out a flashlight and looked under the stove and the refrigerator.  Nothing! I looked in my “things drawer,” for a spare, but apparently, I only had the one.  How can one possibly have dinner if one does not have a corkscrew?  Ana arrived, and was horrified at our dilemma.  We could not have wine with our meal without a corkscrew!  We had a moment of silence, and both prayed to St. Anthony to help us find the corkscrew.  Being a Catholic, and an Italian Catholic at that, he would certainly understand the absolute necessity of this little bit of plastic and metal.  Sure enough, as soon as we had prayed, I looked under the refrigerator again, and there, among the dust mice, was the rogue corkscrew.  We thanked St. A, and sat down to a very nice meal of barley soup (the first of the season,) and a pear salad – also the first of the season. 

My little corkscrew is a bit of a miracle.  It works every time, and pulls that cork straight out.  I first read about it years ago in some cooking magazine (probably Gourmet,)  and as I always had cork pulling troubles, I rushed out and got one.  Given its plasticness and unimpressive looks, it was sort of expensive, but it was altogether worth it.  As my father was a lover of both wine and gadgets, I got him one for a Christmas present that year.  I could tell that, when he opened his gift, he was shocked that I had gotten him such a humble present.  But when he opened the bottle of wine for dinner, his face lit up.  “This is really nice,” he said.  “I can see why you knew I would like it.”  Vindicated by technology!  This was probably thirty years ago, when hot technology consisted of such things.  Incidentally, I got Pauline one too, and we both are still using the same ones all these years later.  I am now thinking that maybe I had better invest in a backup, just to avert some future dinnertime disaster.  

Very Basic Pear Salad   

For the vinaigrette:

1 tablespoon rice vinegar,
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard,
3 tablespoons olive oil,
salt and pepper

For the salad,

2 ripe pears, peeled and sliced,
a nice bed of rocket,
a sprinkling of walnuts, and
a sprinkling of broken feta.

Very Qwik-N-EZ! 

Thoroughly mix the vinaigrette ingredients.  Artistically lay the pear slices on the bed of rocket, pour the vinaigrette over them, and sprinkle on the walnuts and feta.  So simple!  So yummy!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Clean sheet day

Rebecca and I both agree that one of the most delightful moments of the day is that longed for one in which we finally slips between the sheets with our arduous diurnal travails behind us.  A bit of reading, a bit of knitting, and then peaceful oblivion, snuggled next to the kitty and pup.  And the most delightful moment of the week is when one slips between freshly laundered linens – as yet unsullied by man (in this case, woman,) or beast.  The anticipated ecstasy of this moment was something Rachael could not (or would not) grasp.  She could not understand why I would be so irked when I changed all my bed linen, went out – usually to choir practice, as Thursday is my bed changing day and also choir practice evening – and then came home expecting this wonderful “clean sheet moment,” only to find her hot sweaty little self in a tangle of my sheets and blankets, my bed now a rumpled mess and absolutely not the crisp, lovely arrangement I had left.  At first, she argued against the delight of clean sheets – why was I so finicky, what was the big deal, and why should I feel that it was a treat just for me.  Well, I countered, it was after all, my bed.  She had her own bed and I never mussed it up.  Then when she felt that these arguments were no longer viable, she feigned ignorance, claiming that she could not possibly know when my sheets were clean, (and, once again, what was the big deal anyway?)  So I made a little laminated sign that I put out on the bed every clean sheet day.  She often missed this --- once her contacts were out, she couldn’t see… etc, etc, etc.   Aaaargh!  Her bed was very nice, and in the summer, much cooler than mine, but mine seemed to have irresistible charms. 

Once, years ago, after a really, really horrible evening at work, I came home at midnight, desperate for the solace of my bed.  I flipped back the covers, only to find that Leslie, my darling cairn terrier had crawled under the covers and thrown up potatoes on the sheets.  I got hysterical, really hysterical.  Rebecca, noble girl that she is, got up, came in and totally changed the linen on my bed while I sobbed in the corner.  Finding Rachael in my bed was no where near this.  In fact, I was often happy to find her there, just not on clean sheet night. 

Now that she has moved into her own apartment, I miss her often and wish she were her with her interesting prattle and good company.  But on clean sheet night, I always give a little sigh of relief that Rachael will not be in my bed when I get home, and Margaret is too old to get up on it and mess it up until I assist her.  There will be virginal sheets, clean and untainted by any occupation but mine.   Aaaaaaaah!