30 November 2008

Catch a falling star

I stood in the freezing cold, staring up at the night sky. Over head, a thousand thousand stars flickered and glowed as I watched, and I traced the Milky Way and myriad constellations across the dark. As my gaze traveled the road of light toward the north, I saw one star flare and drop toward the horizon with a trail of fire and dust.

I made a wish.

The briefest of times passed and I got what I asked for. It was the simplest of wishes, and was answered with the simplest of actions, just a tiny moment, but I caught it, like a falling star.

Sometimes we are fortunate enough to share a bond with another person, a connection. But often we fail to recognize the small miracle that is that bond, the connection that comes through blood, through an elbow in the side that results in hilarity, through a smile, through a spontaneous sing along, through a shared moment of happiness, through what we call love. So often we take the easy way out of that connection, whether from fear or disinterest, turn away from it, turn it aside, sometimes with angry words and hateful deeds.

Our connection to one another is a little miracle, though, and like a falling star that lights up the night sky, we should cherish it and never let it fade away.




So, this is it: the end of November.

Thank you, once again, to those of you who went the distance with me this month. I think I surpassed myself in terms of sheer inanity. But you might have gotten a good recipe out of the whole exercise.

Or not.

For the sake of continuity (and because it's my last day to help blow up the Internet), I give you

The Official Last Post of NaBloPoMo Shoe Photos:
















We start with what the not-so-fashionable woman wears to a rock concert when she needs to run. Privos! This pair visited San Juan, Phoenix and...lord, where else did I go? St. Louis, possibly. Otherwise, it was those Dansko boots from last year. Admittedly, the boots are sooooo 2007, but actually, more comfortable. Just harder to run in.
















Next, hiking boots. Because I have a sense of humor. Also because the spouse says I am so cute in hiking boots (especially with my spiffy sage Smartwool half-zip. I may be less than fashionable at a rock concert, but I burn up the great outdoors with my style). And yup, I see there's still mud from Moro Rock. Appalling.
















I long ago decided that it didn't matter if I tower over the rest of world. I do it barefoot, so why should I forego high heels? Besides, these are called Annabel. How appropriate is that?

Tomorrow's a new month; aren't you happy?

I am!

Go listen to some good music: "Catch a Falling Star" from the album Platinum & Gold Collection: Perry Como by Perry Como.

29 November 2008

Let it snow

Thursday morning, we woke to snow.

A white Thanksgiving.

Of course, it didn't feel like Thanksgiving because I wasn't cooking anything. I was sitting in the lodge dining room, looking out on white-frosted pines, eating oatmeal, a roaring fire keeping us all a little too warm.

We'd driven up to Sequoia National Park on Wednesday in horrendous weather. By the time we left, fairly early in the morning, we'd gotten nearly 2 inches of rain at our house. I worried about the drive through the Grapevine; weather there is capricious at best and CHP tends to close the freeway if a snowflake is spotted. Traffic through the Grapevine is usually bad anytime, but all bets are off the day before a holiday. While we only had to contend with rain, the traffic lived up to my worst expectations, and we saw no fewer than 3 accidents as we traversed it, one involving a Jeep precariously perched atop a K-rail, and pointed the wrong direction.

Although the expected 3 feet of snow didn't materialize, Sequoia was beautiful. As I looked out the window of our room in the Stewart building, I spotted a coyote that had just spotted something interesting (and probably edible) in the snow near the parking lot. We watched with great amusement as Wile E. leaped and dug for whatever had caught its attention.





















After breakfast, we took off to explore. In Wolverton, as the sun briefly peeked out, the pines and shrubs glittered and flashed with the snowmelt hanging from their branches. There was just enough snow on the ground for the daughter to make a tiny snow person.





















We headed down to the museum, where there are several trail heads. Since it was early in the winter season, a lot of trails were still open. Usually, we visit the park later in the winter, when everything is snow covered and iced over. Since the trail was accessible and reasonably easy, we decided to do the 3-mile round trip to Moro Rock. The trail was quiet, and we saw no one but hungry deer. We kept our distance, giving them plenty of room to wander past us. It began to rain just as we hit the final approach to the rock, and we decided to forego the actual climb up to the top of the dome since it was completely shrouded in cloud and hiked back to the museum where we had an arctic picnic at the car.





















Thanksgiving dinner was back at Wuksachi Lodge's dining room, where they served up turkey and gravy and all the proper stuff. Everyone agreed that it didn't taste quite right because I hadn't cooked it (canned cranberry sauce. Horrors!), but the family decided it was ok that I have one Thanksgiving off.

(I will be cooking a proper turkey and all the real stuff tomorrow.)

We spent yesterday exploring a bit of Kings Canyon, and then today, after we'd packed up and checked out, in glorious sun, we decided to climb Moro Rock.

While the elevation gain is only 300 feet, at that elevation, it feels more like 3000 feet, but the view from the top was spectacular and more than worth the small climb.






















From below, it was hard to believe that only an hour earlier, we'd been on top of the world.





















Go listen to some good music: "Let It Snow," lyrics by Sammy Cahn, composed by Jule Styne.

28 November 2008

...and suddenly

The world opened again.

Simple enough.

But suddenly.

And suddenly
It lifts the roof off the place
It puts a vault in my step
And a grin on my face

It can't contain me
But you'll need an army
To get me back in my box
Or snap the branches off me


It's what I've been saying all along, except I don't always believe what I say.

There's never been any going back.

Possibility. Even when the world is running down.

Hope.

Time to jump.

Go listen to some good music: "Disaster Button" from the album A Hundred Million Suns by Snow Patrol.

27 November 2008

Over the river and through the woods

















Well, she does live over a river, but definitely not in the woods. And there's certainly no snow. And we're not going to her house anyway--or to anyone's house, for that matter. Really, it's just a festive picture, and if you're celebrating today, have a good one. And if you're not celebrating today, have a good one.

Sequoia National Park
February 2005

"Over the River and Through the Woods" was written by Lydia Maria Child.

26 November 2008

Mystic rhythms

And then...satisfaction.

But not mincemeat.

DVD.

If ever there were any question as to why I felt the pressing need to see this show 16 times, it's right there in 3 discs. I've only had time to watch two songs, but oh man...

...I was nailed to my seat...

Go listen to some good music: "Mystic Rhythms" from the album Power Windows by Rush.

25 November 2008

(I can't get no) Satisfaction

Mincemeat.

I cannot find mincemeat anywhere.

Off to find a recipe for the meat-free variety, I suppose.

(Waiting impatiently for USPS to deliver the package they were supposed to deliver yesterday, which, incidentally, does not contain mincemeat.)

Go listen to some good music: "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" from the album Hot Rocks 1964-1971 by The Rolling Stones.

24 November 2008

Underneath the bunker

Sauveur is hands down my favorite cooking magazine. I've gleaned so many wonderful recipes from it over the years, and just reading it is pure joy (but you must realize that I'm someone who gets enjoyment from reading cookbooks. And if I can actually be said to collect anything, I collect cookbooks. And right about now, I probably have 15-20 linear feet of cooking magazines. Those will be the next thing subject to the household purge in which I'm currently engaged).

Tonight, in anticipation of our first official STORMWATCH!--that annual California festival in which everyone suddenly behaves as though s/he has never seen water falling from the sky EVER--I made Sausages with French Green Lentils, though of course my lentils were whatever green lentils I found at the grocery, and I sincerely doubt they had any sort of pedigree, let alone "French." Still, it was a hearty and warming meal, and everyone, including the teen and preteen voted it "make again." And for what it's worth, I cooked the sausages in Sauvignon Blanc, even though we ended up finishing a bottle of Riesling with the meal (which was actually quite good). It was also a reasonably unfussy meal for a week when we're all going to be cooking too much anyway.

The storm that is en route keeps strengthening, and right now, the weather folks are anticipating we will receive 2.5 inches of rain here in our lovely foothills. I'm holding a good thought for those poor souls in the burn areas who are presently sandbagging like crazy. This is the terrible part--mud and debris flows after the fires.

So, only six more days of this daily blogging escapade. And that's a good thing because you really don't want to hear about thousands of empty Bionicle canisters I removed from the son's closet today. Really, you just don't.

Go listen to some good music: "Underneath the Bunker" from the album Life's Rich Pageant by REM.

23 November 2008

Give a little bit (the holiday edition)

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving in the US next week, I can't help but think of the many blessings I have, and those who aren't so fortunate as I am. While we've all seen difficulty in recent months, many are facing very rough times right now--especially those who have lost their jobs, and here, the hundreds of families who lost their homes in last week's fires. Already appeals well beyond those we usually see are coming in. The son and I have already packed up food boxes for a local charity; the daughter has brought home appeals for both the Heart Association and toy collection for a local children's hospital; and our neighborhood is supporting a local rescue mission, Toys for Tots and a nursing home. I know that I will also be picking up gift cards for kids at the nearby foster home because I can't bear to think of a child who is already dealing with abuse or neglect feeling as though s/he has been completely forgotten.

Charitable giving doesn't have to be elaborate or even costly. Even in the years right after I graduated from college and only made enough money to cover the basics with a bit left over to go into savings, I'd buy a few boxes of pasta or other non-perishables that were on sale during the holidays to put in the collection bins for Second Harvest Food Bank. It was a tangible reminder that even though I was far from wealthy, I had a great deal for which to be thankful, and could still help someone out.

Right now, many food pantries are facing a crisis as they try to accomodate tremendous increases in demand for their services in the wake of layoffs and increased grocery prices.

And every little bit--whether it's a donation of goods or time--helps.

Go listen to some good music: "Give a Little Bit" from the album Even in the Quietest Moments by Supertramp.

22 November 2008

Saturday night






















Stirling Castle
August 2008

Go listen to some music: "Saturday Night" from the album The Bay City Rollers by The Bay City Rollers.

21 November 2008

Wizards in winter

***


***


***

(that is the sound of me not breaching one of the many confidentiality agreements I've signed.)

***


***


***

Okay, enough with the silent whining. Dinner, then off to see Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Update 11:55pm:

Ouch!

It's time to put on that wonderfully romantic outfit, rather than your usual attire of black and more black. You may also decide to take off your dark glasses, and remove that stony smile from your face, which makes it hard to tell whether you are happy or have a problem with some part of your anatomy. For once just be in love!

Okay, well, I am a little bit in love with the world and others today. Does that count? And it was forest green, not black...

(I wear red. A lot!)

Anyway, TSO was totally fun. And loud. And moving. But really, really fun. Talk about a light show! And pyro! I looked over at one point and the son was just grinning ear to ear. And, holy mackerel, gave a new meaning to "all ages show." Toddlers to 80-somethings.

Totally fun.

Go listen to some good music: "Wizards in Winter" from the album The Lost Christmas Eve by Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

20 November 2008

Whip it

Scene: Breakfast, this morning

The spouse: "Did the son tell you about the calculator?"

Me: "What calculator?"

The spouse: "The one he needs for school."

Me: "What?"

The spouse: "Yeah, a TI-83. It's a graphing calculator. He needs it for a Trig test tomorrow."

Me: "What?"

The spouse: "Look, I only heard about it this morning."

Me: "I've never even heard of a graphing calculator. Where am I supposed to find that on such short notice."

The spouse: "I don't know."

So I start searching online. One hundred dollars for a calculator described as perfect for high school and lower level college math classes. Great. The kid is already taking a lower level college math class.

Store A: Not available in store.

Store B: Not available at all.

Finally, I find a website that lists one, and miracle of miracles, the store is only a few miles away. And I have a coupon.

But I don't trust these guys. A couple of weeks ago, I tried to buy a laptop at the same store, and it turned out that only the Garden Grove and Long Beach store had the laptop I wanted. So, I call them.

Grumpy man: "OfficeSupplyChainStorehelpyou?"

Me: "Do you have a TI-83 calculator in stock at that store?"

Grumpy man: "I don't know."

I wait silently.

Grumpy man: "But I can check."

Me, crisply: "Would you please? Thank you."

I can outgrump anyone at 7:50 am.

My punishment is, of course, listening to horrifying blaring advertisements for Office Supply Chain Store for 10 minutes.

Grumpy man, finally: "Yeahwehaveit."

Me: "You have a TI-83 calculator in stock at that store?"

Grumpy man: "Yeah."

Me: "Thank you for checking."

Later in the morning, I set out for Office Supply Chain Store, making sure I have my coupon and my wallet. I've read all the fine print on the coupon, and everything seems to be in order. The brand is not excluded; it's not a computer or TV or camera. Once I get to the store, I find what I need relatively quickly (Grumpy walks past me three times and does not offer to help and I'm just as happy. I'm already in the mood to bite someone's head off). I also pick up a new powerstrip and a packet of Sharpies since my black Sharpies are always disappearing (courtesy of the daughter, I suspect, who loves all things office supply).

I go to the cash register armed with credit card, and coupon. Exchange pleasantries with the cashier who immediately tries to sell me some kind of extended warranty for the calculator at 10% of it's cost.

"No thanks, he'll have grown out of this in a year," I tell her.

"We send you a gift card in the mail for the full purchase price," she tells me.

"No thanks." Yeah, with stores closing and going bankrupt left and right? I don't think so.

The manager immediately shows up. "Did she tell you about our extended plan?"

"Yes, she did," I reply wearily.

"So you're going to get it?"

"No thanks," I tell him.

"Accidental damage, we replace it," he says.

"Accidental damage, he replaces it," I say.

"So you want it?"

"NO!"

The cashier rings up the purchase and scans the coupon. "It's not taking it," she tells me.

"I read the thing. It should be fine," I reply.

She starts reading the exclusions. "Oh," she says, "No technology."

"A calculator is not 'technology!'" I reply. "Technology is a laptop."

"I'm sorry," she says.

"So what, you're going to tell me an abacus is technology? Counting on my fingers?" I was on a roll.

"I'm sorry," she says.

By the time I finished with a salvo about stores that issue unusable coupons (seriously, read the list of exclusions on some of these things. You will save on $75 worth of cardboard, nothing else), I think she was pretty sorry I'd ever walked in the store.

Once out of the store, I call the spouse, and relate the whole sorry story to him.

"I can see the black cloud from here," he tells me.

"And the worst part is," I fume, "the worst part is what good is this thing anyway? I did just fine with a TI-30 when I took College Algebra and Trig. We had to draw our own graphs!"

"Yeah!" the spouse says.

We are both silent for a moment.

"You know," I venture. "We sound like the people who told us, 'I did just fine with a slide rule.'"

"Yup," the spouse sighs. "We do."

Go listen to some music: "Whip It" from the album Greatest Hits by Devo.

19 November 2008

Deck the halls

So here I was congratulating myself on having made dinner (Potato and Leek Soup, green salad and fresh French bread), put together the kids' lunches for tomorrow, and cleaned toilets all day (my soul is presently clean enough, I guess), and I was going to settle in for a nice session with the new Doctor Who DVD, when I suddenly realized I hadn't written a blog entry.

So I settled in for a nice session with "Voyage of the Damned" from the new Doctor Who DVD.

And now here I am.

I'm not cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year, and though it's generally one of my favorite meals to make, I'm fine with giving it a miss next week. Instead, I've begun to plan Christmas Eve dinner, which will be our big holiday event. We'll have a number of guests this year, and the grandparents are spending the night so as to be here for morning festivities, so Christmas Eve and Christmas breakfast are the meals I have to focus on.

(Because of family tradition--not one that I started, mind you. This one is on the spouse's parents--Christmas breakfast frequently revolves around a box of See's Candies.)

While pedaling away on the exercise bike, I started mentally ticking off necessities like china, silver and crystal, working out a seating plan for the table, considering wines and starters and sides and desserts, and I suddenly realized that I'm looking forward to the holidays this year.

Go listen to some music: "Deck the Halls" from the album Joy to the World by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

18 November 2008

Soul kitchen

Yesterday, in between rounds with the router and making computers talk to it, I was baking bread (natch. Soon, I will be breaking out the sewing machine so that I can make the daughter's black skirt for the upcoming strings and woodwinds concert. Why don't I just get a few sheep and card my own wool? I already know how to weave...)

Anyway.

I returned to baking our daily bread a few months back, and I go through eye-popping amounts of flour these days. I baked three batches over the weekend (sourdough, French and honey wheat), so I ought to be good for the next month in the bread department.

I have some reasonably reliable bread recipes (still searching for the ultimate sourdough), but I needed to find a good and fairly soft whole wheat. Without weird things like instant mashed potato flakes.

Check! This one is great. It uses sourdough starter for leavening, but the sourdough taste is non-existent. It has a beautiful crumb, and a soft crust (bad joints = no hard crust. I am, after all, the one who dislocated her jaw last month with a forbidden piece of bubble gum. It was very much not worth it).

Honey Wheat Bread
Adapted from The Artistry of Sourdough Cooking, Jedediah's House, Jackson Hole, WY.

1 c. very warm water
1 tsp. honey
1 package dry yeast

Combine and set aside until it is frothy, about 10 minutes.

2 large eggs
2 c. sourdough starter
1/2 c. honey
1/4 c. canola oil
2 tsp. salt
2 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. white whole wheat flour

Combine in a large bowl or mixer, mixing well. Add yeast mixture. Mix in approximately 2-1/2 cups additional whole wheat flour, adding a small amount at a time, kneading until the dough is fairly stiff. It will still be rather sticky, but it should be workable and should not be sticking much to your hands or the bowl. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes.

Punch down and knead again.

Form two loaves and place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Let rise until the loaves have doubled in size, about 30 minutes.

Bake in the center of a preheated oven at 400F for 10 minutes, then reduced heat to 375F and continue baking for 20-25 minutes, until bread is well browned and sounds hollow when tapped.

Notes: I use my big Kitchen Aid mixer for the whole operation, and finish kneading by hand for just a couple of minutes prior to the first rising. I prefer to bake the bread on a tray that is lined with baking parchment instead of greasing the tray. Keep a close eye on the bread as it bakes because the crust is prone to over brown if the loaves are too high or low in the oven.

Go listen to some music: "Soul Kitchen" from the album Los Angeles by X.

17 November 2008

Dry bones

...the neck bone connected to the head bone...

I am currently setting up a wireless network (sigh), and I believe my head is going to explode.

At least I seem to have encrypted the damned thing.

Go listen to some music: "Dry Bones" is a traditional spiritual based on Ezekiel 37:1-14; melody composed by James Weldon Johnson. For what it's worth, I learned it as "Dem Bones." Now hear the word of the Lord!

16 November 2008

Peace of mind






















Akureyri, Iceland
July 2008

Go listen to some music: "Peace of Mind" from the album Boston by Boston.

15 November 2008

California burnin'

Well, I'm not going to let such a little thing as thousands of acres on fire keep me from finishing NaBloPoMo this year. I haven't lost power or Internet yet but because power stations have been burned up, we're under conservation orders and subject to rolling blackouts.

Oh yeah, it's hot, too. Nearly 90F, as it was yesterday.

Yay.

Last night, just after dinner, the phone suddenly rang. It was a recording that identified itself as "alertoc." My heart stopped (in my case, that's actually pretty literal), but it finally went on to tell me that it was a test. Oh. They were testing the telephone emergency alert system.

Then, we got a call from a friend a couple of hours ago that there was a significant fire within 2 miles, right around the place that OCFD stopped the Santiago Canyon fire on our end last year. We've never been able to work out if there actually was a fire there; we think he saw the smoke from Yorba Linda, about 10 miles north. And in Yorba Linda, it's bad, burning so fast, it went from nasty plume to major firestorm in a couple of short hours.















But Sylmar is simply ungodly. It's very hard to watch firefighters tear up when they're being interviewed.

Even as I sit here typing this, the Yorba Linda fire has jumped the 91 freeway at the 241 toll road. The son was supposed to go hang with friends tonight and play on the Xbox. I just checked the friend's address on the map; his home is sitting right in the middle of the newest evacuation area announced.

Go listen to some music: "California Dreamin'" from the album If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears by The Mamas and the Papas.

14 November 2008

Listen to the wind blow

I had already been up for an hour when the daughter staggered out this morning.

"We're on fire alert," she said blearily.

"No. High wind warning. Fire weather. Red flag," I corrected.

(insert obligatory "I hate the wind" comment here)

At 5:30, it was already gusting sufficiently that the ficus over our bedroom was merrily dropping little seed balls on to the roof. That was what woke me.

"Damn wind," I muttered to the spouse.

This is the time of year when good California gardeners are out doing clean up because winter is really our planting season. Because we were gone for a month over the summer, I have had more clean up than usual, and lying there in bed this morning, I thought...wind, fire, must remove 8-ft. tall dead shrub by back wall.

It was a victim of the nitwit landscaper we hired in 2004, who not only didn't plant it properly, but planted a full sun plant in the shade. It shot straight up to nearly 10 ft., and then developed root rot, and slowly perished, despite my efforts to save it.

Telling thoughts because when I appeared to gather my morning coffee, the son said, "Santa Barbara burned up."

"What?" I asked.

"Yeah, Montecito," said the spouse.

"What do you mean burned up?"

100 houses gone overnight.

On the upside, as I yanked and cut and sawed, I discovered that my avocado tree actually produced FOUR avocados this year. I knew I had three, but discovered the fourth today. They are still ripening on the tree.

On the downside, I ended up with biggest stinking splinter I've ever had, so deeply embedded in my little finger that it required blood, guts and medical instruments to get it out.

Go listen to some music: "The Chain" from the album Rumours by Fleetwood Mac.

13 November 2008

Harmony

I could actually continue to post recipes here until Kingdom Come, but no. Bored now. Out of nearly 400 posts, relatively few have anything to do with the kitchen, though, I do, indeed, live in mine.

This morning the spouse woke me at 4:30 to say good-bye; he had a day full of meetings in NoCal, and it only belatedly occurred to me that I should have gone with him and spent the day in San Francisco. I would have been home in time to pick up the kids from school.

But no. I dozed a bit longer, falling prey to spinning thoughts, as I'm wont to do at that hour. I took everyone to school. The daughter was off on a field trip, the son just to school, and I had plenty to do, including making the chicken enchiladas I'd been promising the spouse for dinner.

(Recipe? Here. Except I make mine flat, more Sonoran style, than rolled.)

I am reading Moloka'i by Alan Brennert, historical fiction, that is historically interesting, though not especially well written fiction.

It was a supremely boring day. Sometimes, that's better than interesting, though uninspiring. The kids got home from school, the spouse was back by 4:30, and dinner was served on time.

Sometimes, that's enough.

Go listen to some music: "Harmony" from the album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John.

12 November 2008

...And called it macaroni

Our neighborhood really is a neighborhood, and when a family has an emergency, everyone tends to pitch in to help them out. On a few occasions, everyone has organized to provide dinner for a few weeks for families that have had to deal with medical emergencies. One of my nights on the rota the last time this occurred, I made macaroni and cheese and took it over along with a side of veg and cupcakes for dessert (I spared them talk of pyroclastic flows, of course).

And it happened that the family liked it so much that the mom asked me for the recipe. Which I have been forgetting to write down for 18 months or so. For no other reason than I'm old or dopey or something. And because I've been making it so long, the recipe mainly lives in my head, so I actually do have to write it down.

(The daughter watched me making marinara sauce the other night and said, "How do you do that?" I don't know. I just do it.)

By way of penance, I'm now going to share my macaroni and cheese recipe with the world. Then I'm going to print it out and give it to KG. I'm sorry for taking so long! But at least now it's getting cool enough that a nice casserole won't go amiss.

Good Old Fashioned Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, 12th edition.

2 Tbl butter
2 Tbl canola oil
5 Tbl white whole wheat flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
2-1/2 c. skim milk, heated
2 c. grated Cheddar cheese, divided usage
Pinch of cayenne
Salt
Ground pepper

10 oz. macaroni or medium shells, cooked to package directions and drained
1/2 c. bread crumbs (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 1-1/2 qt. casserole and set aside.

Heat butter and oil together in a heavy-bottomed saucepan until butter is melted. Stir in flour and cook over medium heat for about 2 minutes. Do not allow the mixture to brown. Add the hot milk slowly, stirring constantly as the sauce thickens. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and add 1-1/2 c. grated cheese, stirring until all cheese has melted. Add cayenne, then add salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 2-3 minutes.

Put cooked macaroni or shells in casserole and pour cheese sauce over it. Mix gently until the sauce is well distributed, sprinkle grated cheese over top of casserole and spread bread crumbs over the cheese if you so desire. Bake uncovered for 30-35 minutes until the top is golden and the sauce is bubbling.

Serves 4.

Notes: A good medium or sharp cheddar is great in this, depending on your taste, but I've also combined Cheddar with Jack, Dubliner Irish or Cabot. It all depends on what I have on hand. Experiment!

This doesn't have to be served as a casserole. When I'm short on time, I just mix the sauce into the hot macaroni and serve it up. The pasta absorbs some of the sauce while baking, so it's a little more soupy when it's not baked.

Pairs up well with steamed broccoli or a nice green salad for a complete meal.

Go listen to some music: "Yankee Doodle Dandy" is a traditional children's song with lyrics attributed to Richard Shuckburgh.

11 November 2008

Boy (Go)

Bovine spongiform encephalopathy. It really rolls off the tongue, especially that "encephalopathy." It's fun to say!

You'd think I could make cocktail conversation in a more reasonable fashion. "I bake my own bread! My children only get cookies into which I've slipped white whole wheat flour! I use a clothesline! I took weaving and quilting classes!"

No. I'm the one talking about variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.

In a tiny basement bar in West Hollywood.

As I suddenly verbally backed up in some horror (1/2 a glass of wine and I'm talking shop?), the lovely woman with whom I was speaking assured me that such things would be table conversation at her house should she be allowed to speak of them. If she meant that, well, she'd be right at home at our table where we discuss those who happen to have the misfortune to come into contact with a pyroclastic flow. At least until it suddenly dawns on the spouse or me that what we're talking about really doesn't go with macaroni and cheese.

Disaster is my life.

Conversational faux pas aside, last evening was great fun. Living behind the Orange Curtain has left me feeling somewhat provincial these days, and there was a bit of adventure to be had traversing Sunset, haunt of my youth. I read few blogs, and amusingly enough 3 out of the 6 blog authors that I regularly read were at this event. I made the effort to speak with each of them, which I have to admit was no easier for me than leaving comments is, but all of them were pleasant people.

(I seem to veer between two extremes: utter silence and a frank inability to shut up.)

Heather and Jon Armstrong were both generous with their time and chat, although the whole thing was a bit odd what with TV cameras and a boom mike hanging over my head. I find Heather really quite brave in what she does because I know darn well I wouldn't be able to do it. In my case, there are fairly compelling reasons not to be transparent, but I'm also more than willing to admit that I'm happier hiding behind a wall of stachybotrys atra (another great one to rip out in conversation!) and falling mountains.

Because disaster is my life.

Go listen to some good music: "Boy (Go)" from the album Visions of Excess by The Golden Palominos. I saw The Golden Palominos not far from where I was last night. The fire department took exception to something about the venue, and kicked everyone out. Syd Straw, one of the vocalists that night, suggested to all of us standing around outside that we should all go to Canter's. So everyone did.

10 November 2008

Amsterdam














Amsterdam at dawn
August 2008

(Red sky at morning, sailor take warning. It poured the entire day, and we were incredibly late that afternoon leaving Schiphol for London. It was probably not the day I'd have chosen to be stuck in an airport lounge).

Go listen to some good music: "Amsterdam" from the album A Rush of Blood to the Head by Coldplay.

09 November 2008

Arriving somewhere but not here

So, Sundays are usually photo days. Today, however, it's looking like I'm going to have to reinstall Windows...which is putting me, oh, I don't know...in a very bad mood?

All because I uninstalled my antivirus software so I could reinstall the exact same antivirus software package, only it's provided by my ISP as part of my subscription.

Thanks, guys!

Wish me luck.

Go listen to some good music: "Arriving Somewhere but Not Here" from the album Deadwing by Porcupine Tree.

08 November 2008

Sugar, sugar

'Tis the season for all the fa-la-la-la-la to get started. I've already gotten my instructions for the neighborhood progressive dinner, and this year...I make dessert.

Which is a little too bad because it means that I can't serve up the artichoke dip that I can almost make in my sleep. It's very simple, very rich and very good; it also disappears instantly.

I've been thumbing through my old dessert recipes to see what sounds reasonable. I have a great flourless chocolate cake that I've made for years, but it seems so...1987. And usually 3/4 of the desserts are completely chocolate anyway. Last year, I think R.'s Haupia Cake was the only non-chocolate dessert.

I don't remember how many years it's been since I've done dessert for the party. I know that in two of the intervening years, I hosted it, so all I supplied then was the alcohol (8 bottles of wine and untold gallons of cocktails) and the house. I do remember what I made the last time I was assigned dessert: traditional English trifle in my enormous crystal punch bowl.

(I have a thing for complication. I've made real plum pudding, and I've made traditional mincemeat...with the meat. Usually, I only have to do something like this once to convince myself that I don't need to do it again. I also have a thing about not poisoning my neighbors, so there are some things I won't make, like custard pies with uncooked eggs. Of course, the rum cream pie that I used to make probably has enough rum in it to sanitize anything.)

I was rather taken with the whole concept of fairy cakes when we were in London. Some place we stopped to get water had lovely ones, and yes, I know they're only vanilla cupcakes, but these were so pretty, and they looked so good (and I'll probably forever regret not buying a few). But let's face it: cupcakes are so 2007.

(I could do frosting shots! I couldn't believe it when I read about bakeries offering those. I make wicked buttercream frosting. However, I have a thing about my neighbors' health. I make frosting with butter. Lots of butter. And sugar. Even more sugar. Seriously, we're talking instant heart attack in a glass. Still. It would be so easy...)

One of my best desserts ever for the holidays is...I dread even saying it...fruitcake. Now, this isn't the enormous brick of nasty fruit and suspect liquor that so many hold, uh, dear. You know, that scary stuff with enormous chunks of preserved pineapple (preserved in what is the question. Formaldehyde, I suspect). This is actually called Kentucky Whisky Cake. It's a light fruitcake with minimal fruit and some lovely pecans and a bottle bourbon. And a lot of butter and sugar (but you guessed that part, right?). Anyway, it's delicious, and I'm always loathe to share it when I make it because the relative cost is about the same as a bar of gold, especially if you factor in the amount of time it takes to put the thing together.

Finally, whilst hunting, I came across a recipe for Dulce de Leche and Chocolate Chunk Bread Pudding. Hmmm. Sounds like it might be perfect.

But, of course, I need to try it out first.

Go listen to some good music: "Sugar, Sugar" from the album The Archies by The Archies.

Post-script:

Uh-oh. The spouse had never heard of frosting shots. He loves the idea. Green and red buttercream and a few glasses of chocolate buttercream for good measure. Uh-oh...

07 November 2008

Don't bring me down

Wow.

I say I'm bored and opportunity totally knocks down my door.

My friend CL and I are going to go see uber-blogger Heather Armstrong in West Hollywood on Monday. I haven't been this excited to attend a meet and greet since I was utterly tongue-tied in Vegas in July 2007.

And I'm totally going to wear my Birkenstocks!

(No, I'm not, but I had to say it.)

To think that I was sure this would be one of those totally, utterly mundane days where I had to fight with the cashier at the grocery store for every single thing that was supposed to be on sale and blog about it. I mean, I ask you...tofu is advertised 4 for $5.00 and they have the nerve to charge me $1.69, and then neglect to give me my 20% Friday discount on frozen pizza.

Between Dooce, Trans-Siberian Orchestra (spouse's birthday present), Coldplay and Thanksgiving, I might make it out of this month alive.

Go listen to some good music: "Don't Bring Me Down" from the album Live from Soho by The New P*rnographers.

06 November 2008

Ghosts on the road

Alright, now we return to our regularly scheduled domestic programming.

I was fussing today about blogging; I've hit a dry spell, and nothing much seems worth talking about. Physically, I am busy, but it has to do with gardening and cooking and cleaning and lots of catch up. Not things that inherently have much discussion value unless there is an analogy or metaphor to be drawn from them, or I can relate a funny story about falling off a six-foot ladder because I'd only gotten three hours of sleep (except this time, it wasn't funny and no, I didn't get hurt). Nearly going over the 12-foot fence during the last Santa Ana while I was trimming the enormous lavender starflower that grew about 30 ft. when I was in Europe...now that would have been funny.

Which brought me back to...why exactly do I do this?

To force myself to write in a particular way, publicly. Knowing that there is the potential for perfect strangers to read what I've written. To have the opportunity to play with words and try out different ways of communicating various ideas. To tell stories, true ones, but stories nonetheless. Storytelling is a form of magic, a form of discovery.

I started keeping a journal when I was 10. I was desperately worried that I might forget major events of my life (10-year-olds have so many of those, of course, although, astonishingly, I frequently wrote about world events), and so wanted to keep a record. After about the age of 14, I never could actually bring myself to go back and read what I'd written. I was extremely unforgiving of my young, idealistic, and mildly hysterical, very 10-year-old self. And so it went with each subsequent year; I would write, but would never return to read what I'd written. These pages and notebooks have been sitting in a bankers box for years, my black dog, a somewhat menacing and unfortunate reminder of a frequently not very happy existence. I can only hope that I have sufficient warning so I can dispense with the whole mess before I wander off into eternity.

(It amuses me no end when I start NaNoWriMo every year that I had written 5 very long novels prior to turning 18. Mercifully, I had the good sense to burn them all before I left for college. I also wrote a novella in partial fulfillment of my Advanced Baccalaureate degree. Unmercifully, the college library has a copy.)

I still keep a journal, and I always keep a notebook with me. I love my notebooks, the little ones that fit in the palm of one's hand. I love the physical act of writing, the tactile sensation, the flow of ink on cool paper. Although all my serious writing has been done on computers for untold years, I still take notes. My notebooks go on planes, are updated in taxis and hotel rooms. Memorably, in Chicago, after telling D. I would never EVER sleep that night, I sat down to make notes, wrote four words and woke up still fully dressed, maquillage intact, about five hours later with the notebook clutched in my hand. So much for not sleeping.

I had a lot of time for writing and thinking while on all those planes this spring and summer, and the result was a germ of an idea that is actually turning into a novel, more handily than I would have expected. But the price has been going back into those old journals, mostly for authenticity, for voice. Talk about cringing. Talk about humiliating.

At least at the outset. Once I retuned my internal ears to the voice of that other me, I found some fairly interesting things. For one, I wrote a very observant and highly journalistic account of the Eagles concert I saw, my first concert ever. But there were other incidents, too, more disturbing memories I'd clearly sanitized with time to protect myself, and they came full circle to the sense of unease that has been dogging me since last year.

When I read books, I like to look beneath the surface, to see the threads that make up the warp and weft of the story. I like the structure, the framework. At the moment, I am engrossed in the warp and weft of my own life. As I laid one ghost to rest in San Juan in April, another appeared the same day and that old, old voice resonated fiercely, even as the words came out of someone else's mouth, someone I'd never seen before in my life. And for the first time, I am beginning to understand why it is that I trust neither my own instincts nor the goodwill of others.

Go listen to some good music: "Ghosts on the Road" from the album Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man by Guadalcanal Diary.

05 November 2008

Wednesday

McCain was gracious.

Obama was the most charismatic I have ever seen him.

"C" is for change. That's good enough for me.

But "c" is also for cautious. And I am cautiously hopeful.

Still, I'm more hopeful than I have ever been after a presidential election. That's saying something. Happy with the outcome, but you know...politician. So, for the moment, cautiously hopeful. Cautiously optimistic.

A new day has dawned.

Wednesday.

There is work to be done. Time to get to it.


...and ahem! where is my recycling bin? It vanished the day before Halloween and WM was supposed to deliver another one...

Go listen to some good music: "Wednesday" from the album Scarlet's Walk by Tori Amos.

04 November 2008

"C" is for cookie

This post is guaranteed election free!

We had quite the morning.

I always know it will be a good day when I wake up with a headache.

There is usually a morning parade into my room. It used to be the cat, tail up, heralding the arrival of morning coffee. Now, more often than not, it's the son, gallumphing down the hall and in the door. The kid sounds like a herd of stampeding elephants.

"It's raining," he sang out, as I tried to untangle myself from the clinging web of a very weird dream where his school insisted that all the parents take a history class (taught by the son's math teacher). I was seated in a huge cathedral with about a thousand other people, taking a test (no pencil, of course).

It wasn't raining 10 minutes later when I took him over to school, though it was cool and overcast. The son was horribly perky for someone who'd kept me up until midnight as he tried to finish a political cartoon about apartheid for his history class (if you wondered why I was taking a history class in that dream...)

It started pouring as I returned home, and my hair sprang up in horrifying little curls everywhere.

Shoveled the daughter out the door.

The spouse was scheduled to be deposed this afternoon on a huge case that's been going on for several years. Depositions are unbelievably festive affairs, and depo prep comes second only to trial preparation in the amount of stress it generates.

(If you were reading here last summer, I was helping with trial preparation for an equally awful case when I got a very happy phone call whilst in New Hampshire that the portion I was working on had settled. That doesn't happen often, and I'll tell you, I was one happy camper that night).

Went off to buy a crate on wheels to transport files to the deposition. Then, milk, lettuce, lunch meat.

Attended to civic duty.

The spouse grumbled over documents.

"Hey," he laughed, suddenly, as he flipped through a pile of papers, "here you are in the billing."

I did quite a bit of work on this case two years ago.

"I promised the kids I'd make cookies," I announced.

My family is spoiled rotten.


Molasses Crinkles
This recipe came from my mother's Fannie Farmer Cookbook. I don't know her edition, but my 12th edition (1980) did not include it, so I'm sharing it here.

Mix well:
1 c. vegetable shortening
3/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. molasses
1 egg

Sift together:
1 3/4 c. flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. clove

Heat oven to 350F. Stir dry ingredients into first mixture, blending well. Shape dough into 1" balls (if dough is too soft, chill 1 hour). Dip tops of balls innto granulated sugar. Arrange on cookie sheet. Bake about 12 minutes.

Go listen to some music: "'C' is for Cookie" from the album "C" is for Cookie - Cookie's Favorite Songs by Cookie Monster. While the world changed and we talked last night, the son suddenly said, "Work. Cookies. I get it now."

03 November 2008

It could be sunshine

I've tried to keep quiet on tomorrow's election to the extent that's been possible.

For one thing, I know that all my friends in the U.S. are sick to death of it.

For another, about half my traffic comes from outside the U.S.

For yet another, I really try to maintain the high ground, and that's becoming increasingly difficult as this stuff wears on. And my natural optimism is being stomped on left and right not only by the election, but the global financial disaster. It angers me to read about what is happening in other countries, and how the lives of many have been so damaged by the greed of a few. And even though we're fine, the anxiety is catching, so much so that I wake up at 3am in a panic, and I don't even know why.

My children are old enough this election to really take...I can't even say "an interest." They've taken ownership of this election. The daughter has been pestering me for weeks about my voter registration status.

The daughter: "Are you registered to vote in this election?"

Me: "I've been registered to vote since I was 18 and eligible, and I have voted in every single election ever held, except one."

(This is true. The only one I ever missed was a small local election in La Canada, and I think I'd just had a baby or something.)

The daughter: "But are you registered to vote in this election?"

Me: "Yes."

The daughter: "And you're voting?"

Me: "I always vote!"

The daughter: "In this election?"

Me: "YES!"

I'm beginning to wonder if she's going to walk me to the polls tomorrow.

I also had no idea that I was raising a budding activist. Not only is the daughter (who is 11, I hasten to add, and known for her shy nature) completely irate over certain propositions, she actually boycotted houses on Halloween with signs supporting what she opposes.

And I am proud of her for that. Both the kids have educated themselves as to what's at stake this year, and they've formed opinions and voiced them.

There is hope yet.

But I wasn't going to talk about the election.

So I'll turn the music up louder to drown out the annoyance.

We had rain yesterday, only a bit, with the possibility for a little more tomorrow. It's suddenly gotten cool enough that I was actually cold when I went out without a jacket this afternoon.

And so my thoughts lightly turned to autumn food: White bean and sausage stew in bread bowls (the daughter's request, and yes, I baked the bread bowls), and cherry apricot cobbler.

Later this week, if it stays cool, I'll make my favorite potato garlic soup. I suddenly seem to have about 12 pounds of potatoes floating around.

And now I really have to make lunches and come up with about 1600 words for a novel...

Go listen to some good music: "It Could Be Sunshine" from the album Express by Love and Rockets.

02 November 2008

Life is a highway






















Setesdal Valley, Norway
July 2008

Go listen to some good music: "Life is a Highway" from the album Mad Mad World by Tom Cochrane. You're in my blood.

01 November 2008

Post punk progression

You won't be around forever, girl,
You've gotta grab life with both hands

What, I thought, was the salient point? What would explain me in a single thought?

That I almost always have ear plugs in my carry-on luggage?

Possibly.

Like Betty Draper in Mad Men, I was raised to believe that it is impolite to talk about myself. Telling stories on my blog is ok, but talking about myself is quite uncomfortable.

So, this is how it started:

I got on a plane.

I got on a plane and had an interview for college or a job in Washington, D.C. or Los Angeles. I got lost in a blizzard.

I got on a plane and almost had a stroke trying not to laugh in Lenin's tomb because the guys with bayonets made me so nervous.

I got on a plane and when I got off, I wandered around Pensacola with a bunch of Marines (one of whom was my brother) in an old avocado green station wagon with a flamingo head wired to the grill.

I got on a plane and went kayaking in a fjord in Iceland.

I got on a plane and spent an afternoon lying in a sand dune talking about life, the universe and everything with my closest friend from high school.

I got on a plane and got lost when we got off the Autobahn and the signs pointing both directions said Hof.

I got on a plane and saw a concert at Radio City Music Hall.

...saw a concert in Puerto Rico.

...went to a beach in Puerto Rico and rethought the way my life runs.

...went to Santa Monica beach on a grunion run.

...went on a Tommy's run.

...went on a Burrito King run.

...went on a run and tore the arch of my foot.

...tore the ligaments in my knee while skiing.

...tore my nail while baking bread.

...make the school lunches with home-baked bread.

...made all the lunches in advance before I got on the plane in May and made new bread when I got back.

...I got on a plane.

And I almost always have ear plugs in my carry-on luggage.

Go listen to some good music: "Post Punk Progression" from the album Final Straw by Snow Patrol.