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.”