Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Birthday Make-up Day

I recently told you about our Epiphany Birthday party with Julie.  Her gift to me, a tea cozy that she was making, was not quite ready, and  I had tried to make her divinity fudge, but it was a sad failure – only the second divinity failure of my life!  Oh!  The very first time I made it, it was a flop too, but I don’t count that, as it was bound to fail, given the scantiness of detail in my recipe and the fact that I didn’t use a candy thermometer.  Rumor has it that you can’t make divinity on a rainy day, and I attributed my recent failure to that.  However, I knew that I had made divinity in the rain before.  This is Seattle, after all.  But I was waiting for a day on which it didn’t rain, and I didn’t work.  That combination just was not happening.  As Julie’s gift to me was ready, I invited her dinner so we could exchange our gifts, and had another go at the divinity fudge. This time, it turned out well, despite the rain. I think I just didn’t beat it long enough last time.  It seemed to take hours, and I couldn’t  have done it without my Kitchenaid.  I didn’t have a Kitchen aid in my youth, but I was more athletic then.  Also, I could make Dennis or Rebecca take a turn at stirring.  Once your arm is pained with beating it, and you see that it is beginning to lose its shine, and therefore is ready to make into little blobs, you have to work very quickly if you want it to be shiny and beautiful.  As it cools, it becomes stiff and a little curdled looking.  I realized that in the past, Rebecca had helped me quickly form it into little blobby pieces.  I was not quite fast enough by myself, and the end ones are not very attractive.  I had decided to swirl in chocolate shavings for the second half, making half of the blobs pristine white, and half spotted with chocolate.  

The combination of the snowy white pieces and the marbled chocolate pieces reminded me of an illustration in the Baltimore Catechism, a major feature (and rather a thorn) of my Catholic youth.  The catechism was illustrated with pius pictures, but the  one which most impressed me was of milk bottles representing souls in various states of sinfulness.  The white milk was the pure, sinless soul.  The spotty one was a soul with venial sins, and the black one was an evil soul in a state of mortal sin.  I would have had to make some chocolate fudge to have all three. 

Karen asked for the recipe for the divinity, and here it is.   It's from a 1967 Woman's Day

Marbled Divinity

½ cup corn syrup
2 ½ cups sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
½ water
2 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a saucepan, mix the first four ingredients. Cook, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.  Cook without stirring, until a small amount forms a firm ball when dropped in cold water (248°F).  Beat the egg whites until stiff.  Pour about half the mixture very slowly  (in a very thin stream) into the egg whites, beating all the time.  Cook the remainder of the sugar mixture until it forms hard threads (272°F).  Slowly add to the first mixture and beat until it is very stiff.  When it is ready, it will just begin to loose its shine.  Now you have to work very quickly.  Add the vanilla, and, using two spoons, drop in blobs onto waxed paper. 

For the marbled effect, at the last moment, stir in about ½ cup shaved semisweet chocolate and stir it just enough to distribute it in swirls.  Topping each piece with a walnut half is yummy too. 


Thursday, January 27, 2011

An Ordinary Day

Today was pretty run-of-the-mill, except that I took my new camera on its first outing.  It wasn’t a photo outing, but rather what I was doing anyway - lunch at Pauline’s house and grocery shopping.   Every so often Pauline and I have a little pedicure session.  I do her toenails for her,  and then we have lunch, which most often is tomato soup with saltine crackers, and a piece of cheddar cheese floating in the soup.  This is one of my favorite meals, and as I very seldom fix it for myself, it is always a treat.  So while this not a noteworthy adventure, it was a pleasant afternoon. 
The vegetables in the Madison Market seemed particularly vibrant today, don’t you think? I had planned to make a little photo essay, but I got so involved in selecting my beet and my squash that I forgot all about taking pictures. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Another fun day

I mentioned a few blogs back that I was suffering from severe camera envy after seeing Joe MacKenzie’s cute new shiny, tiny red one – a camera that took nice pictures nearly in the dark!  But when my camera was perfectly good, and met my photographic needs very well, it seemed like wanton foolishness to get a new one.  And being a good Catholic (and therefore guilt ridden) girl,  I felt evil even thinking such greedy thoughts.  But then, suddenly, the zoom on my faithful little camera stopped working.  It zoomed in all right, but then it wouldn’t focus.  What good is a camera with a zoom that won't focus?  None at all. I definitely needed a new camera! Rebecca helped me select one, we sent for it, and I could hardly wait for it to come.  On the day it was supposed to arrive, we went to the University district for lunch at a vegan café.  It was closed, due to oven malfunction, according to the sign.  We went to the vegan pizza place across the street, and it was closed for unspecified reasons.  After returning at Rebecca’s house to see if my new camera had come, we went to a third vegan café near there, and it was closed as well.  What was up with all these vegan closures?  So we trudged on to a fourth one, where we had a delightful meal and then made ourselves sick by getting dessert when we were already stuffed.  We felt we deserved it after so many disappointments, Catholic guilt notwithstanding.  
We returned, and took some pictures of Maria with her nice slimy Christmas present, and were just leaving to go feed the hungry when……   Hurray!! The UPS man came up the steps with my new camera! When we returned home, I took my first picture – of some nice slimy tangerines which I had handy.  I swear, they looked okay that morning.
PS  The tangerines are at my house, not Rebecca's.  She would never have such a thing on her kitchen counter.
PPS.  NB - Flash needed for Maria - no flash needed for tangerines!!

Monday, January 17, 2011

A disgusting day (or a disgusting tiny bit of a day)

There are many substances, mostly bodily excrescences, excretions, exudates,  or effluvia related to my job that some folks find abhorrent.  I can deal with them all.  Before I became a nurse, I was a little worried about vomitus, but I have even gotten used to that, and now view it with dispassion.  But there is one thing that really fills me with absolute revulsion.  Not bodily debris, but  an everyday, run of the mill moth.  They are horrid, evil seeming things covered with horrible hair!  They flutter and flap about, scattering moth dust in their wake.  Ugh!  Disgusting! One evening, years ago, I sitting in the garden with Dennis, and admiring a hummingbird, when I noticed that it was flapping and flopping oddly and in a very unbirdlike way.  Suddenly, at the same time, we realized that it was not a hummingbird at all, but was a giant moth!  Horrible!  Dennis was delighted and intrigued at the discovery, but I ran into the house gagging. How can such a beautiful little creation be so utterly repellent? 

When Rebecca lived in the bedroom was next to mine, she dealt with all moths.  Occasionally, I would have to wake her in the middle of the night to come and get rid of one which had invaded my territory.  She would lovingly and carefully capture it to take outside and set free, while I watched on in fascinated disgust.  And Farnaby Ross, the perfect cat, was a very good moth-er.  I would simply point a moth out to him, and in seconds it would be gone.  Yum!  For an hour or two, I rejected his kisses, but I petted and caressed him so that he would know that he had been a good boy.

When I got up this morning, I looked at the greasy butter dish I had left in the kitchen sink the evening before, and…….    Blech!  There was a moth stuck to it.  Gently wafting its wings, ever so slightly.  I was horrified, and debated what to do.  Rebecca was not there, nor was Farnaby. I knew that Margaret would be of no help.  She is a good mouser, but seems to feel as I do about moths.  I could barely bring myself to look at the dreadful little creature, let alone pick up the dish and dispose of it, but finally managed to do so.  Ick!  What a start to the day.  Happily, the remainder of the day did not live up to the unpromising start, and was instead quite pleasant.

The moral of this story:  Never leave dirty dishes in the sink overnight.  Not even one butter plate.
PS  Top photo is Farnaby Ross, the perfect cat.  The moth mentioned was too disgusting to photograph, so I have provided a more agreeable substitute.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A very fun evening

I probably sighed, many years ago, when, in my college Great Directors film class, I heard that we were going to watch Stagecoach.  I am not a great fan of Western’s, I assure you.  But this wonderful John Ford movie was so much more than a Western.  It was really all about personal relationships, hypocrisy, snobbery, and the true self coming out in a tough situation.  With the exception of the obligatory Apache attack and last minute rescue by the thundering Calvary, it could have happened on the Orient Express.  Well, I guess it couldn’t have, because the very diverse folks travelling in the cramped stagecoach would have been in very different sections of the train, rather than confined in one small space.  The seeming good guys were a banker, (“What’s good for banks is good for America,” he says) fleeing with the bank’s funds; a Southern “gentleman” – really a suave gambler with some implied disreputable background; an Eastern lady travelling to meet her Calvary officer husband in the Wild West; and a sweet little whiskey salesman.  The seeming bad guys were escaped convict John Wayne in his first big role - we know he couldn’t be really bad because he was John Wayne after all, a prostitute with a heart of gold, and a drunken doctor (played by the wonderful Thomas Mitchell) who samples up all Mr. Peacock’s whiskey samples. The fallen woman and the doctor are on the coach because they have been driven out of town by the Ladies’ Law and Order League, the most prominent of whom is the banker’s wife.   The interactions of these diverse characters forms the grist of this wonderful movie.
I loved this movie because it is a fabulous movie, but also because John Carradine, playing the suave gambler, reminded me so much of my then husband Dennis, both in looks and mannerisms.  (I have to confess that Rudolph Valentino also reminds me of him.  He was quite the guy!)  So watching this film, was in several ways, a flashback to my youth.  

Most of the folks with whom I usually watch movies were not terribly interested in seeing Stagecoach – and I must admit that I probably would not have been that interested either, if I didn’t know what a marvelous film it was – but I knew that Dakki would be enthusiastic.  She knows a good movie when she sees one.  Plus, she is an avowed John Wayne fan, and will be happy to tell you about driving him in her taxicab, him  being a very pleasant fellow, and giving her a big tip.  So, finishing up a day of cleaning up Christmas and other debris, I called her up to have a tomato soup and poached egg dinner and watch a fun movie.  We had a very good time.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A not so divine day

Once again we are celebrating Julie’s Epiphany birthday with a wonderful dinner which she has prepared.  And once again, we are exchanging our often home-made gifts.  And once again, some of the gifts are not quite ready.  This must be part of our tradition, I think, as at least one present is not ready every year.  I usually feel that I have forever to prepre my gift, now that my Christmas gift making hysteria is by, and the Twelfth Night is a long way off.  I become overconfident, and thus less frenzied about getting done on time. This year, Julie made lovely tea cosies for Rebecca and I, and mine is not quite done.  But it soon will be.  Sadly, I cannot say the same of my present for Julie.  It never will be done, in the sense of ready to present.  Also sadly, it probably will soon be done, in the sense of eaten up. 
I have made divinity fudge many times, but not for a long time.  I first learned to make it in the eighth grade class of that termagant, Sister Hilda Marie.  After observing her making it in our school kitchen, carefully transcribing the recipe, noting the elusive sugar threads and all Sister Hilda Marie’s other culinary techniques, I tried it at home.  It was a disastrous gooey mess.  Later, as a young bride, with a cookbook and a candy thermometer (no arcane thread watching for me now!), I tried it again, and this time with signal success.  It became one of my signature dishes.  However, it has been many years since I made it, and I was anxious to make it again.  If it were a gift, I could eat one or two pieces, thus not making myself sick or fatter, and have a lovely present.   I knew that it was rumored to be trickier, if not fatal, to make it on a rainy day, but my recipe said to heat the syrup two degrees hotter if it was raining, and I was quite certain that I had made it on rainy days.  This is Seattle, after all.  Well, in this case, the rumors turned out to be too true, and my efforts resulted in another gooey mess.  Instead of delightful little melt-in-your mouth puffs, I had sticky, oozey puddles of sugary glue.  I considered throwing the whole batch down the sink.   But --- they didn’t taste bad at all.  Rather like little blobs of seven-minute frosting, my favorite.  I didn’t quite have the fortitude to toss them, and now every time I walk by them, I have to take a sticky blob – just to test it and see if it still tastes like divinity, even if it doesn’t look or feel like it.  It does. It tastes wonderful - a dangerous for the waistline situation.

Years ago, I made a batch of divinity for my Great Aunt Agnes, who loved it.  I asked Dakki, then a young thing, do deliver it.  She agreed.  When I next visited Aunt Agnes, I asked her if she had enjoyed the divinity.  She looked perplexed.  Dakki looked very embarrassed.  Maybe, on the next clear day,  when I make another batch for Julie, I had better make some for Dakki too.  Don’t tell her.  It will be a nice surprise.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A droopy day

There has been one word to describe Seattle in recent days:  Cold!  And also one word to describe me:  Overworked!  Holidays are a difficult time for in-patient nurses, and I imagine for hospital doctors as well.  One might think that there would be fewer patients during these times, and indeed that is true.  But there is also less staff.  Most people would rather be basking in the love of their families at Christmas time, or rooty-tooting with their friends on New Year’s Eve, than cleaning up poop (or worse), and caring for  super sick patients.  For that is who is in the hospital during the holidays – the desperately ill.  Any basically healthy person getting elective surgery – my usual patients – elects to get the surgery at some other time.  So four work days with no meal (or any other) breaks, and run, run, run the whole eight hours.  Then charting when one is too tired to think, making that task take twice as long.  Staggering home with my uneaten dinner, and then being too tired to eat it.  Yuck!   Yesterday, my day off, I drooped around the house recovering, and didn’t do a single productive thing. I barely even read or knitted.  (I count reading and knitting as productive things, by the way.)  I did, however, make up for missed eating.   And later today, back to work for more.  But I think my work routine will have returned to normal, now that the Year End and Year Beginning festivities are over.  N.B.  I love my job, but sometimes it is too much work crammed into too little time. 

The photos are of the Seattle University fountain, which was left on for the first super frigid day, and produced a giant icicle.  It was most beautiful, and I’m afraid my pictures didn’t adequately capture its magic.  The fountain always cheers me on my way to work because it is so lovely and is generally surround by studious students, happy families, and Frisbee chasing dogs, and on my way home from work because I know that when I pass the fountain that I am almost there.