Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Baking Day

I have been a Christmas Cookie making fan since forever.  Well, maybe not that long, but almost.  Ever since Rebecca was a teeny baby, the only creative thing I could manage to do while caring for an infant who seemed constantly hungry was to cook.  I made elaborate meals every day, and then, when they were ready, could not sit down to eat them, because a demanding other wanted her dinner immediately.  A cookie was quite another thing.  A babe at the breast could prevent one from sitting down to a nice meal at the table, but could not prevent one from enjoying a cookie.  Around Baby’s first Christmas, I made several Christmas specific cookies from my ever trusty Betty Crocker cookbook, and lo!  There was a revelation and a tiny miracle-let.  The Lebkuchen worked like a little mystical Madeline and transported me back to my Grandmother’s house and reminded me that these were my favorite cookies ever!  The next time I made them though, they were a disgusting flop.  The dough tasted just as it should, but it refused to ever turn into an actual cookie.  I gave it another go the subsequent year, and -- gooey mess again.  Determined, I tried yet again and the fourth time was a charm.  Delightful!  But, as I could not imagine where I had gone wrong with my two earlier failures, I switched to a surer recipe.  It was not quite as good, but it never failed.

This year, my failure was spritz – Rachael’s favorite cookie!  

My Spritz

I had never made them before, but how could one go wrong with such simple dough?  Well, easily, I discovered.  Rebecca had been valiantly, but unsuccessfully, trying to motivate herself to launch into the cookies she felt obliged to make.  I assured her that life and Christmas would go on if she didn’t make cookies.  She had to, she sadly said.  How well I know this feeling – of just being unable to start some obligatory something and the ensuing guilt and sense of worthlessness.  An hour or two later, I texted her a photo of my spritz and then called her to whine about my failure and how they were Rachael’s favorite and how I had hoped to thrill our Baby.  This sent a thrill of Schadenfreude through Becca and galvanized her utterly.  She swung into action, and later that evening, as Rachael and I were driving towards Rachael’s house, she texted me a photo of her spritz.  

Rebecca's Spritz

Rachael thought this was not nice of her, but I thought it was très funny, as Rebecca well knew I would.  She even posted a blog entry about her triumph!   My other cookies, including my sine qua non Christmas cookie, Pfeffernusse, all turned out well, I am pleased to report. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Postal Day

I think I may be one of the few folks around who loves to go to the post office. My local post office itself is funky in a friendly way, with big paintings of various people receiving mail.  There is one of a soldier getting a letter from home, an old man getting mail from his children, a family preparing a package to send off – perhaps to the soldier, and, I think, someone getting a letter from her sweetie, also perhaps the soldier.  These are all sort of Norman Rockwell-ish, (but ethnic Norman Rockwell) and in a Norman Rockwell way, make one feel good. The postal crew are an always sociable group, pleasant, knowledgeable, and willing to help – even a bit above and beyond.  Sometimes the line is long, and the waiting customers usually seem to bond and help one another endure.  The queue ennui is occasionally broken by an outraged client, who simply cannot understand why his ridiculous request, whatever it may be, cannot be acceded to, and who feels that if he just causes enough of a fuss, the postal personnel will break the rules to let him have his way.  The other customers  silently watch the drama unfold, grateful for the distraction.  Then when the disgruntled one finally stalks off, all the other waiting patrons  suddenly have a fine topic of conversation.

My earliest post office memories are of going there on Saturday mornings with my father.  All our mail, including that for his business, came to the post office, and so every morning he would drive there to get the mail and to buy a San Francisco Chronicle. (This last could not be disturbed until he had finished reading it.  He doled it out section by section, and sadly, read the sports section first, then the front page, and then finally funnies.)  I was up betimes every Saturday morning so that I could go with him.  Occasionally he would buy me a sweet from the blind concessionaire.  This was, of course, a special treat.  Years later, when Rebecca went with him, he always bought her a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, and she thinks of him whenever she eats one now.  Hers were not an occasional treats, but an expected dividend.  I guess that is one difference between parents and grandparents.

The Twins had told me that I should go the main Seattle post office in Sodo (the industrial area,) but I thought this sounded un-fun, and also I wasn’t quite sure where it was.  They rhapsodized about it, it’s great service and the tiny short line when they went -tiny lines despite it being Christmas mail season.  The line at my post office was very long, and I needed to go to the Sodo area for something else, so I thought I would give it a go.  In my usual negative way, I was sure it would be industrial and unpleasant.  Well, it was sort of industrial, but the man who waited on was a dear. He was Asian, and his command of English was not perfect, but his command of postal business seemed to be.  After mailing my package (at a huge expense,) I said I would like some cute stamps.  “What sort?” he wanted to know. “Probably not Christmas.  You are done with that.”  He got out three sets, and they were perfect.  I was amazed at his prescience.  “You picked the very ones I would love. “  “I have felt your mind,” he said.  I loved him as well as the stamps he selected.  There is just something about a post office that is wonderful.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

An Entertaining Evening (or two)

I have read lots of (well – “a few” might be more accurate) Henry James novels, and, oddly, when I think of them, the picture which immediately comes to mind is  of ladies going to evening lectures.  They seemingly were always doing it and it appeared to be their main source of outside leisure activity.  I found this sort of intriguing, and thought it a poor thing as a major amusement resource.   At the same time, across the wide waters, folks were flocking to readings of Dickens novels, most notably, readings given by Mr. Dickens himself. And I do mean flocking.  Apparently, they were blockbuster events - much like going to a Rolling Stones concert, I would imagine.

I have been to lots of lectures in school, and while they were occasionally stultifying, but more often, interesting – sometimes even inspiring – I would not really characterize even the best of them as entertaining.  Now, I know better.  I have been very Victorian recenty, and have been enjoying just these sorts of things.  Last evening, I went to an annual Cathedral event – a reading of Dickens’ Christmas Carol by Scott Webster.  While I fully expected to enjoy it, I was astonished at what an marvelous  experience it was.  Scott made Scrooge and  Bob Cratchit come alive.  One was immersed in that snowy London Christmas, shivering with poor Mr. Cratchit in his corner of the counting house, and trembling with Scrooge as he later received his comeuppance from the three ghosts.  The audience was completely rapt.  It was quite as exciting – nay, in truth, more exciting than a movie would  have been.

I don’t know why I should have been surprised, as I have always felt that Dickens is best read aloud, and adore listening to recordings.  However, I have only had a few opportunities to listen to a really good Dickens reader in person.    Once, years ago, Father Fulton dined with us, and after dinner, read a chapter or two of Pickwick Papers.  Another time, a friend read us about Aunt Betsy Trotwood and her troubles with the donkeys. Both of these readings were over twenty years ago, but they made such a vivid impression that they seem quite recent.  And last night, Scott topped them by a mile.

As for the ladies and their lecture going – I quite understand it fully now.  Corinna’s lectures on 19th Century spiritual poets were sooooooo fun!  I am sadly unpoetic, and need encouragement to delve into the depths any poem longer than a haiku, but Corinna made these giants wax vibrant and fascinating.  I am sorry there were only four lectures, and am looking forward to next year when (maybe) we will study the metaphysical poets.  I am quite looking forward to “The Flea.”

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Happy Birthday

Darling Dakki is ninety!!!!  And very spry, especially given that her lifestyle totally defies modern wisdom regarding a safe  conveyance to a healthy old age. Her main exercise (for the last fifty years at least) has been getting up, walking to the breakfast table, then to her car, driving to church, then again to the table to read her newspaper and books, do the crossword, etc., until she finally ambles back to bed.  And her diet gives hope to all.  She seldom eats a vegetable and eschews salad or anything green altogether.  She has stated that she is aging so well because she is preserved in sugar!  I think this may be true.  On the other hand, although she does not really have any of the typically espoused healthy habits, she also doesn’t have any of typically condemned bad habits.  And she is kind and loving.  This last must be her secret.

I wanted to give her a party on her actual birthday, and as she seems to prefer going to lunch over dinner, lunch it was.  Most of the people I would normally invite are working during the day, thus unable to come and easing the party preparation trauma.  Rebecca and I used to have huge parties for birthdays and name days, but I never have tried to manage one on my own, and I would probably collapse if I were to attempt it.  So this petite assembly was perfect.  Pauline is a sine qua non at any family event, and Samos and Joseph are two Dakki favorites.  I, of course,am a main favorite.  At least, I like to think so.  

 The menu was pretty retro, as is Dakki herself, and what could be more retro than a pineapple upside down cake.  Judging by her recipe photo, Betty Crocker's can of pineapple had more discs than mine did.  This was a mini disappointment, but then I don't know if another would have fit on.  Betty had eight!  Hers must have been smaller. 

  A typical Dakki pose -- waiting for more tea!

Poor Samos injured his leg at work, so the  departing guests made an interesting display of modern (and retro, of course) caneware. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Another Lazy Day

Whoa!  It’s been a while!  What’s my excuse?  Nothing blogworthy to report?  Au contraire!  There have been tons of things.  I was so tied up with doing them, that I had no time left.  Well, that is not the main thing.

For years, I wasted so much time at my computer reading blogs and stupid articles about movie stars with their plastic surgery disasters (such a boost of Schadenfreude those articles can deliver), playing cards with mice or ants, and  the like.  All the time, I would be thinking, “If I spent half this squandered time practicing the piano, I might actually be able to play something.“  While that concept had artistic, and even emotional, appeal, it was in direct conflict with my laziness quotient.  Then my darling friend Corinna, played her latest little piano solo for me, and I was suffused with jealously.  That was the inspiration, and I started devoting a bit of time every day to practicing myself.  Now, I am a tad obsessed.  This obsession has not really translated to positive results, as I still can’t play anything, but it makes me happy to try.  But … now I have new guilt pangs.  I don’t answer email.  I don’t write on my blog, I read the letters in my favorite on-line knotting group, but I have become an inveterate lurker, even when I have things to contribute.  I put a little yellow star next to the email, and tell myself that I will answer it later.  Sigh.  It never happens. 

So a teensy update on fun events of the past several weeks:

Runs with Becca and Rachael.  They actually run, while I trot along behind, whinging all the while, and thanking God for every enforced delay He sends us.  Here are Rachael and Becca being impatient, and me behind the camera being thrilled. 

Singing Faurés Requiem and participating in another amazing concert

Tobias's original Mom (Samos's Auntie Kree) visiting us.

Fabulous lectures on Victorian poets by Corinna followed by discussion among some very clever folk and one windbag.  The next one is on Gerard Manley Hopkins tomorrow (Wednesday) evening.

A walk to Chinatown with Rachael to meet

Diane and Michelle

At the Panama Hotel for tea.

On the way, a terrific rain storm burst upon us.  I had been in denial about the possiblility of rain, so we were completely unprepared, clothes-wise.   "Isn't this fun?" I asked Rachael. "If I were not with you though, I probably would not be thinking it that much fun."  "If I were not with you," she replied,"I would be calling a cab."

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

An Operatic Day

What is your favorite book?  Your favorite opera?  Such difficult questions!  Recently Corinna challenged me to list my ten favorite books, and I actually started making a list, but it was impossible.  My favorite would be something by Dickens, but then there is George Eliot, and across the Atlantic, Huckleberry Finn, a major contender for the "World's Greatest Novel" title.  But if Dickens, then which Dickens?  Another impossible question.  If the criterion is “most often read,” then either David Copperfield or Great Expectations would be the winner.  But then there are Bleak House and Little Dorrit  – not to mention Our Mutual Friend.  Aargh!  As for George Eliot, Middlemarch is a regular phenomenon.  Every time I have read it, it is a completely different book, no doubt because I am, in a sense, a completely different person.  The characters I once found sympathetic, I later found pathetic, and vice versa.  Just like in real life.  Remember that girl who was soooo cool in high school?  And look at her now.  A total loser. 

What is my favorite opera?  Usually it is the one I have most recently seen, but a couple consistently remain in the top tier, and the opportunity to see them again is an all too rare treat.  The first time I saw Don Giovanni, I was, as they say in the vernacular, “completely blown away.”  I wanted to go again immediately, but …..  finances didn’t permit.  This season, I was luckier.  I received tickets to the dress rehearsal, and so took Rachael, who has been hinting for quite a while that Rebecca is not the only one who should be taken to the opera.   Then again four days later with Rebecca to the actual performance.  It is soooo, soooo wonderful.  It goes without saying that the music is beyond fabulous, full of top hits.  And with the addition of a good story, wit, humor, and a satisfying ending as the Don, who refuses to repent of his sins and amend his rakish lifestyle, is sucked into the fiery pit and eternal punishment, it is a rare winner.   I wonder if I should go again this weekend.  Hmmmmmmm!

See a little preview here.

Monday, October 27, 2014

An Autumn Day

Autumn is my favorite season, both because summer is finally over – no more sweaty, sleepless nights -  and because, not only the weather, but everything else is so beautiful.  Also, being a Libra, I must have a particular affinity for these crisp, cool, magnificently hued days.  Samos and I, although it is not an official policy between us, seem, every October, to take an photography walk in the Arboretum.  Recently, the weather has been less than brilliant.  In fact, “deluge” might describe it, but even that is cozy as long as one is safe inside. 

These pictures are by both of us.  Can you tell which are which?  Hint – his are the better ones.  

We made a special little side trip to admire this tree, which is a particular favorite of Samos.   

Another hint.  His are the bottom three.   

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Triumphal Day for a Procrastinator

Horrible, isn't it?

What else has nudged its way into blogging time?  Well, everyone knows that I am the arch procrastinator.  I have lots of undone tasks, all of which I expect to finish some day, but none has, in days of late, caused me the procrastinator anxiety that my fence has.  For over two years, I have been babbling about painting my fence, whining because it was so ugly, and generally fretting about it.  Finally, as another winter was fast approaching and sunny days could not be counted on, with the help (lots of help) of dear Samos, I took the bull by the horns – or rather the fence by the scraper and paint brush, and got going on it.

  I cannot say that it is entirely done, because there is a bit left, and it needs a second coat, but it looks much better.  This was a hideous ordeal, but I am happy that is done – or, I should say, sort of done.  As soon as a few more dry days come, I will, I will, I will, finish it.  I promise.  

Samos helping with, er - doing, the prep work.

And where is the picture of the sparkling white fence?  Maybe I will get to that tomorrow. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Cookie Day

Whoa!  It’s been a while.  And it’s not because I didn’t have any blogworthy happenings, but because there were way too many.  I took pictures to illustrate a number of blog posts which never materialized because I was busy experiencing other blogworthy events.  I will try to catch up a bit. 

You all probably know about the “choir treats” ordeal.  It is one about which I have very mixed feelings.  On one hand, it is fun to prepare food, and fun to have other people appreciate and enjoy it, but I tend to freak out about it.   It has become much less of an ordeal since Friend John and I joined forces.  He and Peggy are the most soothing people in the world, and when he (or they) arrive to fetch me and my offerings, they immediately calm my ruffled feathers and all becomes serene.   This year, Rachael suggested that I make some molasses and some pumpkin cookies.  So I did.  The molasses cookies that I wanted to make were the ones I had made with Rachael when she was wee.  Her first cookie cooking experience ever.  I thought she would be excited about breaking in the eggs, but not she.  Rachael was a dainty one from the very first.  The thought of possibly getting egg, on her fingers was way too repellant so I did the egg.  I always enjoy cracking an egg.  The cookie making  was fun, and remains a happy memory (for both of us, I think.)  But …. I couldn’t find the recipe.  I had looked for the book I knew it was in, a Better Homes and Gardens Christmas Special, often over the years, but it seemed to have disappeared.  I’ll give it one more try, I decided.  I prayed to St Anthony, and then started to delve though my cookbooks.  But no delving was needed.  In true St Anthony fashion, but book I was seeking was right there!  And I had looked right there so many, many times before.  St Anthony is a real miracle worker.

So that I never have to worry about losing it again, here is the recipe.  These cookies are a quick to make, and very delicious, especially if you are an ginger fan, as I am.

Molasses Cookies

2 ¼ cups all purpose flour
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp baking soda
¾ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cloves
¼ tsp salt
3/4 cup butter or shortening
1 cup sugar
1 egg
¼ cup molasses
2 tbs sugar

Heat the oven to 350º

Combine the dry ingredients and mix well.

Beat the butter or shortening with the sugar till fluffy.  Add the molasses and the egg and beat some more.  Stir in the flour mixture until well combined.  Put the two tablespoons of sugar in a small mixing bowl. Form the dough into walnut sized balls and roll each ball in the sugar.  Place the balls on a cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart, and bake for about 10 minutes.  

Little Rachael helping her mom make cookies.  Note Michael Ryan, the cat, trying to come help too.  

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Stressful Day, er - Week

The last week has been very trying for Tobias and me.  Rachael’s bathroom had ick under the floor, and so the whole room had to be redone.  Given that the bathroom was her one sorrow with her otherwise stellar apartment, it turned out to be a good thing. The down side was that she and her kitties had to stay with me for a week.  I was looking forward to Rachael’s visit, but the kitties – not so much.  Bunny had visited in the past when Rachael was on vacation, and she turned out to be an unideal houseguest and a tormentrix to poor innocent Tobias. She is a great beauty, and like many of that ilk, takes advantage of her magnificence, expecting adulation at every turn.   As soon as she and her sister Keanu, who immediately went into hiding, to emerge only occasionally at meal time,  arrived, we all retired, done in by our day at the Fair.  Bunny, however, leapt onto my lap, screeched at Tobias, ripped my pajamas, fortunately not drawing blood, and then settled herself on my pillow from which she refused to be budged.  She growled, with occasional escalations into hissing, all night long, right in my ear.   Later, she took over Tobias’s couch, jumped up onto anything high, and knocked my tchotchkes from their places of honor.  

Note the picture of Rebecca on the piano -- Oh, it's not there.  It's on the floor!

Ever a lover of altitude, she climbed onto my second floor banister while I watched in horror.  

She is so fierce that I was reluctant to dissuade her.  Thinking that cats understand this sort of thing, I just stared in helpless fascination.  But when she slipped off on the non-stair side, and was hanging by her fingernails, (see photo below - same pose)  she needed to be rescued. 

I bravely grabbed her, and, rather than lacerating my hand, she seemed to be actually grateful for the intervention.  She never again tried to get onto the banister, which, now scarred by her talons, will be an eternal memento of her visit.    

By the end of the week, things were much calmer with only the occasional outbreak of hisses and screeches.  When I heard that the bathroom was not ready and I would have my guests for three more days, I was pleased.  

Everything here is mine!