30 November 2009

More than the blues

Thirty posts in thirty days.

On the face of it, no big deal, yeah? Except when you're trying not to dial the posts in, and find that, indeed, you are using a hand-crank phone.

In a sense, I've gotten too good at this blogging business. I can toss a post off without thinking too hard about it, and for me, that was never the point.

I'm not sure that I rediscovered the point this month. For the last year, I've had the uneasy sense that I really need to stop doing this, that it no longer serves a purpose. But the last year has been pretty wretched in many regards, and it's likely that's coloring my perspective more than I'd like to admit.

But this is no time for introspection! It's the last day of NaBloPoMo! (It's also the end of NaNoWriMo. Two hundred words this year? Hmmm. Update: I actually wrote 659 words. Yay me. Think I can get in another 49,341 before bed? Yeah, me neither.) At any rate, I posted for thirty straight days.

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:

New November, new pair of Birkenstocks! With jewels. These have no story behind them, nor have they met anyone special. I just needed a new pair of sandals, and with a torn arch, these are pretty much my only choice. Hideous and uncomfortable. That's how I like my sandals.

Now these are more like it. Party shoes. And surprisingly comfortable for all they have 3-1/2" heels. Remember, tall women: just because you're tall doesn't mean you can't be taller!

Alright, enough silliness. I'm supposed to be paying bills and inventing dinner.

Many thanks to those of you who went the distance with me as readers this month, inanity notwithstanding, and to those of you who joined in for the first time. This is the first month I've ever seen feed readership actually double, which freaks me out just enough to keep me going.

Tomorrow's a new month.

Aren't you happy?!

Go listen to some good music: "More Than the Blues" from the album Scarlet and Other Stories by All About Eve.

29 November 2009

Pleasant Valley Sunday

We usually put up the Christmas lights and outdoor decorations the weekend after Thanksgiving. The lights are pretty and festive, and it's nice to admire them for the month, though I'm a stickler for not putting up the tree until the weekend before Christmas.

Yesterday, after mowing and blowing, I wandered off to the nursery to get new flowers for the front flower beds. I haven't replanted them since March, and they're quite scraggly. Because they were on sale, I also got some poinsettias for the area around the front door. You know: pretty and festive.

A bit of weather moved through on Saturday, bringing us clouds and the mountains a little snow. Then the weather people promised us wild wind, set to begin this morning at 3 am. So the poinsettias went into the garage because the wind would make instant hash of them, and then naturally, the wind didn't materialize until later in the day, for which I am infinitely grateful because I don't like the wind anyway.

My day commenced to disappear and around 3:30 pm, the spouse announced that it was time to put up the outdoor lights. Since he's still nursing a torn biceps, this meant that I would be putting up the lights, which isn't unusual because he's just as likely to be in Venezuela as is he to be here to put up the lights.

Home Despot announced a few weeks ago that they'd give a coupon for LED Christmas lights for every incandescent string turned in, and the spouse duly went off and turned in five strings of C-7s and purchased, with coupons, LED strings. Also a gadget to attach said lights to the eaves of the house, rather than use the gadgets that attach the lights to the gutter.

With some ceremony, the spouse brought forth the new lights. It's true that the old strings really needed to go. They vaguely resembled something out of A Christmas Story, and probably a good quarter of the sockets has ceased to work. Still there was something about their soft glow, interspersed with the occasional blinking light that definitely calls to mind Christmas. The LED lights are frankly unattractive, giving off a somewhat garish and neon light, but I unfurled them and prepared to put them up nonetheless. I lost patience with the gadget in about five minutes when it turned out that only one of every five plastic anchors didn't break when I attempted to attach it to the eaves. So up the ladder I went, light string in hand.

While engaged in this labor, I came to the unfortunate conclusion that the house needs to be repainted. And that someone--hopefully not us--has termites.

It also didn't take long to come to the unfortunate conclusion that the five strings of LED lights only covered half of the linear footage previously covered by the strings of incandescent lights.

So, I'll be looking for more tomorrow to finish the job.

Or I may just settle on the poinsettias for pretty and festive.

Go listen to some good music: "Pleasant Valley Sunday" from the album The Best of the Monkees by The Monkees. And tomorrow is the end of NaBloPoMo. YAY!

28 November 2009

You light up my life

Whilst taking a break from AMC's The Prisoner to eat pie:

The son: "Wow, those writers must have been on LCD!"

Me, amused: "LCD? Really?"

The spouse faked a cough to cover a laugh.

The daughter, confused: "Liquid crystal display?"

The son, realizing his error: "I mean...I MEAN..."

The daughter: "K! Your face is PINK!"

Later, while we were watching the next episode:

The son: "This is so...so...so...psychological!"

Me: "Nah, it's all the LCD you're taking."

Son, with an audible sigh: "You're not going to let me forget that are you?"

Me, ruffling his hair: "Not EVER!"

Go listen to some music: "You Light Up My Life" from the album You Light Up My Life by Debby Boone.

27 November 2009

Glaciers melting in the dead of night


Has a ring, doesn't it? I'm not sure who coined it, but it would be funny if it weren't so predictable.

You are free to draw your own conclusions on climate change, and actually, I encourage you to do so. Read *all* the available information out there, pro and con, and don't just digest the gospel that an "expert" chooses to force feed you. Personally, I've never subscribed to the "science" that this climate stuff has been based upon but that's because I've been around the scientific publishing and peer review process far too long. I've also been around the geologic record for too long, and what the climate scientists preach really doesn't mesh with what's writ on Mother Earth's face.

But it's not politic to say so.

What is possibly most disturbing to me, is this quote from an opinion piece published in Wall St. Journal today:

'"What they've done is search through stolen personal emails—confidential between colleagues who often speak in a language they understand and is often foreign to the outside world," Penn State's Michael Mann told Reuters Wednesday. Mr. Mann added that this has made "something innocent into something nefarious."'

What I find most distasteful here is the ego. "You don't understand the language we speak because we're--SCIENTISTS!"

The WSJ piece goes on to note: "The furor over these documents is not about tone, colloquialisms or whether climatologists are nice people. The real issue is what the messages say about the way the much-ballyhooed scientific consensus on global warming was arrived at, and how a single view of warming and its causes is being enforced......According to this privileged group, only those whose work has been published in select scientific journals, after having gone through the "peer-review" process, can be relied on to critique the science. And sure enough, any challenges from critics outside this clique are dismissed and disparaged."

Of course, only approved reviewers are allowed to review the data, which then is more than likely to only appear in approved journals. What these guys have apparently created is a tidy little clique that supports their view... and their view alone.

This is not a first in the scientific community, and definitely not a first in the earth sciences community. I'm watching a dedicated band of hard-working young Ph.D.'s go head to head with another big ego that's held sway over certain aspects of the geologic community for far too long by quashing research he doesn't like.

Unfortunately, my sense of satisfaction in seeing these climate scientists exposed is tempered by my own certainty of the damage they've done. This is the most discouraging aspect of bad science: when the pendulum swings too far in the opposite direction. It will be tempting to many to say, "ok, global warming is the big lie! Back to business as usual!" rather than recognize that we continue to occupy this planet on borrowed time.

Go listen to some good music: "Supermassive Black Hole" from the album Blackholes and Revelations by Muse. Honest science isn't that which answers an opposing viewpoint with "you don't know what you're talking about." Honest science respectfully engages opposing viewpoints and creates an excellent argument for why its view is better.

26 November 2009

And dream of sheep

The cat is in a food coma. He sat in the kitchen, keeping watch over the 18-lb. turkey roasting in the oven. He was stepped on while I was trying to serve dinner. He certainly received his share of good things, and roused himself briefly to try for some pie. Now he's curled in sleep.

I, too, am ready for sleep, but not because I ate much. I never have much of an appetite when I've spent the day cooking. But watching the daughter launch herself into the leftovers a few moments ago makes it all worth it.

"Turkey sandwich!" she crowed triumphantly.

Wherever you are and whatever you did, I hope your day was good, too.

Go listen to some good music: "And Dream of Sheep" from the album Hounds of Love by Kate Bush.

25 November 2009

Recuerdos de la Alhambra

The house is beginning to fill with the smell of baking. I always make my pies the night before Thanksgiving.

For some reason, my mind keeps straying to the year I spent T-Day alone. I should be clear that my solitude was a matter of choice: I'd politely declined at least 4 invitations to spend the day with friends or colleagues. But that year, much like this, I was so physically and mentally exhausted, I couldn't even conceive of how I might be able to function at a social event. The idea of being completely on my own was sheer relief.

I was just a year out of college, and had been fortunate in getting a new job that paid much better than the work I'd been able to cobble together right after I graduated. What was unfortunate was that the new job required I commute 4 hours round trip every day, by city bus. I got up at 4:30 each morning and was on the road by 5:30, transferring in downtown Los Angeles and arriving at my destination with just enough time to walk to the building where I worked and get myself settled for the day. I started the trip home a little after 5 and arrived back at the inexpensive apartment that I shared with a friend around 7:45. Watching the reflection of my fellow passengers in the darkened bus window every night, I reminded myself that this wouldn't last forever, that I'd be able to save up to find another apartment closer to the university.

(The bus ride alone is quite a tale, and one I'll save for another time. It's easier to play it for comedy--even with two attempted assaults over the course of six months. Of course, it helps that I slugged one would-be assailant with a pipe wrench hidden in the bottom of my bag.)

I'd been at it for four months when Thanksgiving rolled around. My cousin called a few weeks before the holiday, and said he and his wife were going out of town that week, would I be willing to house sit and watch their cat for the time they were gone? Since they lived in Studio City and my job was in Westwood, I said yes, with tremendous gratitude.

I told no one that I planned to spend the holiday alone, but instead let them all believe I was spending it with one of the kind people who'd invited me to dinner. I bought a small turkey, and cranberries and an orange, stuff to make pies, a few potatoes, and on the Thursday, assembled a small feast for the cat and I. I rented a vast selection of movies I'd wanted to see, and together the cat and I ate our meal, watching movies, both of us nearly purring with contentment. I packaged up some of the leftovers for my cousins so they'd return to some home cooked food, and the cat and I ate our way through the remainder during the weekend. I slept like I hadn't slept in months, and when he had enough of my boringness, the cat would bounce on me and gently remind me that breakfast was rapidly turning into lunch. I'd brought music with me, and while I cooked and cleaned, and fed the cat and read, I listened to a few of my favorite albums, over and over, never tiring of dissecting them.

So the days passed, and on the weekend, I ventured out and walked about the area, thinking about how much easier it was to get to work from this place than where I was currently living. I returned to my apartment in east Pasadena refreshed, and hopeful. I'd seen the future and it seemed to be the San Fernando Valley. It was a few more months before I had enough for first and last and security deposit, and I found a place I could afford that was close enough so that I could easily get to work, and safe.

And I was grateful.

Go listen to some good music: "Recuerdos de la Alhambra" by Francisco Tarrega from the album Essential Guitar. I haven't quite worked out who performed the actual piece on the record.

24 November 2009

Welcome to the grand illusion...


This is a blog.

And this is a blog post.

Runs away.

Go listen to some music: "The Grand Illusion" from the album The Grand Illusion by Styx. Did anyone else completely forget that this album existed?

23 November 2009

Oranges and lemons

This isn't a surprise. I was that kid.

You know the one.

She who read far too many history books. And historical novels. She who then had to make plum pudding from scratch. To know what it was like.

(And set it on fire. Because that's what was done.)

Learn how to dip candles. Learn to weave and quilt. Sew by hand. Knit. Crochet. Embroider. Crewel work. Those were the easy things. Card wool? Haven't gotten there yet.

Renaissance Faire? Not quite. But one day, wandering through the Museum of American History, I was collared by a small elderly docent who pronounced me "perfect" and would I model for a demonstration?

(How do they know?)

A little suspiciously, I asked model what? At which point, she whipped out a corset--hearty foundation garment for Revolutionary-era women--and began lacing me into it.

"Hold your breath!" she cried gleefully and putting her foot on a bench where bemused tourists rested, she yanked on the laces until there was no breath left in my lungs. The point of a fainting couch became crystal clear.

So dress up was less my thing, but recreating recipes was always fun.

For the last two years, I've been unable to find condensed mincemeat. The son and I are both mincemeat pie fans, and I won't buy the jarred stuff because it's vile. My mother always used the condensed, and added additional apples and raisins, and it was just fine. So this year, I bit the bullet and made my own.

I looked around the 'net for recipes for meatless mincemeat. I found one at a blog called Simply Christmas that looked closest to what I was looking for, so that was my primary inspiration (the link will take you their original recipe). Most of the other recipes I read were variations on the same theme, but this one had the best proportions.

In my book, mincemeat should be flavorful and spicy without being overly sweet. It should have texture without being mush, and some firm fruit (why my mother's addition of apple and raisin to the condensed stuff was genius). None of the spices should overwhelm. So after some fiddling and adjustment, I came up with a filling the son pronounced "Epic Win."

Meatless Mincemeat

1 orange
1 lemon
3-1/2 lbs. apples (Granny Smith and Fuji work well), cored and sliced
2 c. raisins, divided usage
1-1/2 c. dried currants
4 oz. container of diced candied orange peel
1-1/2 c. apple cider
1/2 c. rum (optional)
2-1/4 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
3/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. ground cloves

Zest orange and lemon and put zest in food processor with the peeled, seeded fruit from orange and lemon. Process until coarsely chopped and set aside. Process apple slices until coarsely chopped and set aside. Process 1-1/2 c. raisins, currants and candied orange peel until coarsely chopped. Put all processed fruit in a 6-qt. pan, along with additional 1/2 c. raisins, cider, and rum, if using, stirring to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes or until most of the liquid has dissipated. Add sugar, salt and spices, stirring to combine. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes, until thick. Adjust spices and sweetness, if necessary. Cool mixture, put into clean containers and refrigerate.

Makes 10 cups, which should fill approximately 3 9-inch pies.

Notes: depending on the freshness of your spices, you may need more or less than what's called for. Personal preference may also dictate how much and what you use. I love the taste of cloves, but it's a spice that easily becomes overwhelming in a recipe, so I tend to start with a little and add more if necessary. I also add the rum at the beginning of the cooking because I like the flavor without the alcohol.

Go sing a nursery rhyme: "Oranges and Lemons" is a traditional English nursery rhyme. It's been in residence in my head for the last two days, which is how it ended up here--besides, who ever heard of a song about mince pie? I first encountered it reading 1984 a zillion years ago, and of course, being THAT kid, long ago divined all the lyrics, the tune and the origin. I do have a rather ominous feeling that I might have used this as a title before. Here comes a chopper to...er...make mince pie.

22 November 2009

Somewhere a clock is ticking

London, England
July 2008

Go listen to some good music: "Somewhere a Clock is Ticking" from the album Final Straw by Snow Patrol. The daughter was quite determined to see Big Ben. The lovely driver we hired to take us to our next destination made sure that she did.

21 November 2009

Old and wise

Party season begins early this year with Neighbor B's Big Birthday Bash. He professed a year or so ago that he couldn't understand why his wife didn't want to celebrate her Big Birthday (because she's older than you, dude!), but that he intended to have a Big Blow Out for his Big Birthday.

And so tonight, we're off to Big Birthday Bash and Blow Out for B. After the daughter and I attend BFF A's play and the spouse has an MRI...gives you an idea what this week's been like.

Just in case the FTC is wondering, I have never been paid for nor received a gift for any product review I've ever posted here. Anyway, don't I tell why you shouldn't use a product or service more frequently than I recommend one? (Hi, Bosch! Though I will tell you, the Whirlpool dishwasher is REALLY useless...) I only talk about things that I use that I like and only because I choose to do so, not because I'm paid, accept advertising or gifts. So now that we've covered that...

Pancakes are a weekend breakfast favorite around here, and a couple of weeks ago, I saw a display at Trader Joe's of their pumpkin pancake mix. I made them this morning, and they are a perfect autumn breakfast treat. A bit heavy on the spice (which is ok with me, but a lot people don't like pumpkin pie spices), but they had a really nice texture and lovely flavor, especially with maple syrup. (For the record, I replaced the melted butter in the recipe called with canola oil, a substitution I usually make with goods like this. I only use butter--never margarine--but generally substitute a heart-healthy oil where the flavor won't matter). With broiled chicken-apple sausages on the side, the pancakes made a hearty weekend brunch on a slightly chilly morning.

And as a bonus, another recipe using a Trader Joe's seasonal favorite: spiced apple cider.

Hot Apple Pie

1-1/2 c. Trader Joe's spiced apple cider
Tuaca liqueur
Whipped cream

Heat apple cider in small pan. Put a shot of Tuaca in each of two mugs; divide the hot cider between the mugs and top with whipped cream. Serves 2. Makes a lovely after-dinner drink on a cold evening. The kids enjoy it, too, without the alcohol, of course.

(With thanks to the lovely bartender at the Wuksachi Lodge at Sequoia, who first suggested this drink after a freezing night-time star walk, then told me how to make them.)

Go listen to some good music: "Old and Wise" from the album Eye in the Sky by The Alan Parsons Project.

20 November 2009

American pie

This one knows what's coming.

Go listen to some good music: "American Pie" from the album American Pie by Don McLean. This was the pumpkin that went up in flames, and actually these guys aren't worth making into pie, but he didn't know that.

19 November 2009

Toys in the attic

Our pets have generally objected to the critters that tend to roam the neighborhood (and across our roof). Occasionally, something actually gets into the attic and needs to be trapped and removed, which isn't our favorite pursuit, but is one of those nasty necessities of living in an area that long thrived on agriculture.

A night or two ago, Milton was on patrol at the French doors in our living room, watching something very carefully. Then he ran full tilt to the French doors in the family room. Then back to the living room. Too curious not to look, I turned on the porch light and scanned the area beyond the patio. Just to the right of the fountain, I saw movement: the hind end of a good-sized opossum. It shuffled along toward the seating area, and like Milton, I hurried back to the French doors in the living room. It was stopped on the slate pavers, sniffing around, unconcerned by the fact that the cat and I (soon joined by the spouse and the son) were watching it. The cat was appalled that this hideous creature was in his territory, but it's fine with me: opossums eat all kinds of obnoxious things (snails, spiders, rats) that I'd rather not have in my garden.

And he's more than welcome to visit as long as he stays out of the attic.

Go listen to some good music: "Toys in the Attic" from the album Toys in the Attic by Aerosmith. I actually like the REM version better, but hey, how much of them do we need in one month?

18 November 2009

Good advices

"Consider using tact when speaking today, dear Gemini."

Kids, you are a day late with that advice...

I had a lot of errands to run this morning, so parked at the grocery where I planned to finish, and then walked to an office supply store, and from there to the farmer's market in the town center.

The market has contracted significantly since the summer, which is only to be expected as the growing season is largely over. Still, the apple lady had some lovely stuff out, and I ended up buying about 10 lbs. of various types (I cook with them, and the kids usually take one to supplement their lunches, so we go through lots of apples). I find the market keeps me honest in terms of using what's in season and what's local, and that's a good thing. I've never been big on imported produce, and I think it's just wrong to try to grow stuff out of season, like the nasty strawberries they try to pawn off on us in the winter (though my plants just set a new small crop by themselves. What's up with that?)

Even the fish guy didn't have much to offer. And mostly, I was there to buy stuff for T-Day dinner, so it was largely onions and parsley and celery. And the radishes I simply couldn't resist.

(I like radishes).

I still haven't been able to find mincemeat. Tomorrow I venture off to fancy supermarket #1 and if that doesn't yield any results then I have to wander up to fancy supermarket #2 on Friday. Honestly, are the son and I the only ones who eat mincemeat pie? I make excellent pumpkin pie (scratch, yes), but I do enjoy a nice slice of spicy mincemeat, too.

Since I missed posting a recipe on Monday, here's a quick one that has nothing to do with Thanksgiving at all.

When I worked for Big Entertainment Company, my office was in an industrial area. The company commissary actually had really good food, and the studio commissary was only a couple of miles down the road, but there was very little else amid the warehouses. We were usually pretty time-pressed and didn't want to drive into the nearby cities for a greater lunch selection. Generally, I'd either grab some sushi at the commissary or pack my own lunch, but on occassion, my buddy AKB and I would venture to a little coffee house a couple of blocks away, hidden away amongst the warehouses. They had a selection of sandwiches and a hot entree, but my favorite thing EVER was their roasted red pepper and mozzarella sandwich with a green salad on the side and a little pot of French press coffee. I still miss the sweet man behind the counter who would announce "RPM and salad" the moment AKB and I walked in the door, and then would promptly try to talk us into dessert as well. I miss the sandwich, too.

Roasted Red Pepper and Mozzarella Sandwich

Two slices of hearty bread like sourdough or Italian
Basil pesto
Sliced roasted red peppers packed in water, drained and patted dry
Sliced fresh mozzarella, near room temperature

Spread one side of each slice of bread with a thin layer of pesto. Layer red pepper, then mozzarella on top of pesto on one slice, then cover with second slice, pesto side down. Butter top slice of bread and place buttered side down in a frying pan with a lid or a sandwich press. Butter what is now the top slice of bread. Grill sandwich, flipping once, until bread is toasted golden and mozzarella has melted.

Makes one sandwich. Enjoy.

Go listen to some good music: "Good Advices" from the album Fables of the Reconstruction by REM. This is one of the albums that always reminds me of a long-ago Thanksgiving...but that's another story in itself. Familiar face in a foreign place...yes.

17 November 2009

And silence is another way

Of saying what I want to say

And there are days when my mouth should be stapled shut. That was today.

Someone let drop that a former neighbor of ours is applying to the daughter's school. I frowned when the last name was mentioned because I haven't thought of these people for some time, which is just as well because I do not care for them, and I definitely dislike their offspring, one of whom is a little older than the daughter. And who, I might add, slugged the daughter, completely unprovoked, in the stomach with a baseball bat when the daughter was about two.

Not my favorite people.

So, I was puzzling over who these people might be when the first names of the parents were mentioned, and the penny dropped. Unfortunately, caught completely unawares, and most definitely not wearing my diplomacy hat, I squealed quite loudly, "Oh my God! Not them!"

Although the person with whom I was speaking found my outburst quite funny, all I can do is think about the grande faux pas. And feel really embarrassed.

Just pass me the stapler, please.

Go listen to some good music: "I Drive the Hearse" from the album The Incident by Porcupine Tree.

16 November 2009

Prelude and fugue in F minor: I. Prelude


Such a great word.

At present, my life seems fraught...

...with danger.
...with peril.
...with uncertainty.
...with my constant companion, boredom.
...with unwitting chaos (not to be mistaken for my usual brand of witting chaos).
...with annoyance.
...with beauty.
...with hope. Oh, I am so hopeful!

The house is fraught with the sound of the son (sophomore in high school) freaking out because the school has demanded he create a "resume" in preparation for college.

"I haven't done anything yet!" he wails.

"So, you're starting early," I tell him in sanguine fashion.

It's going to be a long couple of years.

Visualize things that are beautiful, the horoscope said. For once I take the advice, and all day, as the sadness of the world has pulled me down, I stopped and thought about what and who I love. I thought about parrots against a sunset, music, the perfect moment in time, my son and daughter, the cat rolling around the floor in flirt mode.

And I am fraught...

...with the potential for joy.

Go listen to some good music: "Prelude and Fugue in F Minor, BWV 534: I. Prelude" from the album Bach: Complete Organ Music by Christopher Herrick.

15 November 2009

Calling all in transit

Recently, the spouse, the daughter and I watched the Mad Men episode that covered the events of November 22, 1963. There is an infamous family story about the spouse, who was a little more than 2 years old, running around the house, repeating, "Kennedy shot. Kennedy shot." over and over. The evening we watched the program, the daughter turned to me and asked if I remembered JFK's assassination.

I looked back at her bemused and said, "No."

She can be forgiven, I suppose, because ancient history is ancient history, and parents are, of course, ancient history.

Still, cultural memory is a strange thing. I've seen the films made that day and in the subsequent days so many times that I can almost believe that I did witness the events that unfolded. Years ago, when we visited the spouse's brother while he was doing his residency at Parkland in Dallas, C. insisted that we all go to the museum at the old book depository. It was really quite eerie.

It's never been easy for me to make sense of the 1960s. Though I was born during that decade, I was a child of the 1970s who came of age in the 1980s. In college, I took a class called Literature and Film of the '60s, taught by a Brit who was completely enamored of the U.S. culture of the 1960s. I slogged through an awful lot of mostly awful '60s literature and some rather eye-opening '60s cinema. I understood more about the decade by the time I was done, but little that helped me to put myself in that place. Mad Men has been more useful in that regard, even though it serves as more of a filter. The series starts in 1961, and my own birth was a ways off yet, but it's the memory of a green glass ashtray, or the sheer volume of cigarette smoke that used to circulate everywhere. The drinking. When I was really young, I remember my parents drinking martinis. I loved green olives, and I coveted the olives in their martinis...until I tasted one after it came out of the martini. Suffice to say I have never taken to martinis. I never experienced anything like Betty's "Around the World" dinner party but I remember similar menus from reading my mother's cookbooks as a child. Somehow, I was just waiting for Betty to bust out the tomato aspic.

(Who in God's name invented aspic? Talk about an abomination. My mother used to serve it--with cucumbers and celery in it! And lemon wedges on the side--and Waldorf salad, the very thought of which is still enough to make me gag. Apples, celery and mayonnaise. Yeesh. Stewed tomatoes and zucchini. Okra.)

When explaining aspects of my own childhood to my children, I am very much aware of how difficult it was for me to parse the experience of my parents with what I knew to be history. My father was a World War II veteran, but he served for only a very short period time, at the tail end of the Pacific war. My mother was a first grader when World War II ended, so she had as much recall of it as I do of Vietnam, which is virtually nothing. When my brother and I were kids, Hogan's Heroes was our reference point for World War II (isn't war funny? Damn, those Nazis were such cards!) until we were old enough to read the Time Life World War II series (talk about your unsanitized history. Dead bodies everywhere in those books. No one pulled any punches in those days). By the time we were in junior high, our school was renting old newsreels from the 1940s, which went a lot further in explaining how the war played out than anything any living person was telling us. And yet, one day I did the math and saw the barbarism that predated my birth by a generation. It changed the way I looked at the world and my fellow humans forever.

What I find interesting and perplexing is how the 20th anniversary of the Berlin wall coming down has simply bounced off the kids' consciousness. Although they are aware of the big wars and big moments in history, something that affected their parents so profoundly as did the Cold War just doesn't seem to register. I may not remember the 1960s as such, but I remember the Threat of Communism and the Iron Curtain. The old Radio Free Europe commercials did nothing but convince my preschool self that a giant curtain made of battleship chains hung between free and Communist Europe.

Go listen to some good music: "Radio Free Europe" from the album Murmur by REM. I got goosebumps the first time I heard this song, and could clearly see the Iron Curtain I'd always visualized as a little girl.

14 November 2009

Eleven saints

I love this video.

(Slightly NSFW for a single word.)

Go listen to some fun music: "Eleven Saints" by Jason Webley. You can see more of his videos on YouTube, and his music is available here.

13 November 2009

No time

The problem with NaBloPoMo is that there are days where there is nothing to say. Hello, Friday, November 13. Then I'm stuck with yammering on about...mowing the lawn. So I arrived at tonight's post by the simple expedient that "No Time" by the Guess Who happens to be the song that the spouse and the daughter are playing on Rock Band right now. Works for me.

No time...to travel.
No time...to actually plan my next move.
No time...to get the son's learner's permit (so he tells me).
No time...to get the boy's wisdom teeth out.
No time...oh god, the orthodontist.
No time...to do Christmas cards.
No time...to bake cookies.
No time...to write that novel (300 words out of 50,000?)
No time...to learn the piano.
No time...to get the daughter's ears pierced.
No time...for this litany of complaint. I got the lawn mowed. That was something.

But the travel. Needs to happen. Even the horoscope is insisting.

Go listen to some good music: "No Time" from the album The Guess Who: Greatest Hits by The Guess Who. There was a story printed in the local paper today that made me so angry that I was going to take that on, but decided that something heartwarming and upbeat is better. You can read about what 16-year-old Caitlin Crommett is doing here.

12 November 2009

Red skies

Orange County, California
September 2009

Taken the first night of the Station Fire from many miles away.

Go listen to some good music: "Red Skies" from the album One Thing Leads to Another: Greatest Hits by The Fixx. Yes, I do fully expect that some time soon I will be able to do something other than cough and sleep and post photos.

11 November 2009

The finish line

It's been 12 years since we bought the house in the 'hood. My children have grown up here; this will be the place they remember when they are older. Though I remain uneasy with the realities (or lack thereof) of much of Orange County, and will never feel completely at home, I am periodically reminded of the length of time we've been here when I walk down the street and a neighbor stops me to chat or a seasonal gift appears on the doorstep or a tragedy galvanizes our little community. I am reminded that I am part of a community.

The 'hood has been here since the mid-1950s. I've looked at historical aerial photos of the area, and originally, this development was part of an orange grove. I've found weird artifacts from those days when I've been digging in the garden, and old orange trees still grace some of the yards around here. An original house, built in 1912, survives a few streets over. This is what qualifies as "old" in bright, shiny, plastic Orange County.

What sets the 'hood apart is not only the families who have lived here for 20 years, raised their kids and sent them off to college, it is that so many of the original owners stayed on, as well as those who moved in within a few years of the neighborhood's completion. A lot of them have passed on in the years we've lived here, their homes subsequently sold to younger families who are growing older alongside us. Thus the cycle repeats.

We lost one of our grande dames last week; she'd just celebrated her 100th birthday.

When we moved here, I. was still driving herself everywhere in her little car: to the store, to church. One of her daughters lived with her, and M.E. would boom out of the driveway in her Corvette every morning, to be followed later in the day by I. on her way to whatever activity she had planned. We'd see her on Sunday, tiny and wizened, stony-faced, brave in makeup and hat. Her hats made me laugh; there was something enormously comforting in seeing this little, feisty woman in her hat.

Every Halloween, I. and her daughter would put out a single decoration: a string of lights attached to some hellish sound-making device that wailed non-stop for the hours it was turned on. Every year, the spouse and Neighbor B. swore they would "de-bark" the thing, complaining bitterly about its awful noise. Early on, the son and daughter worried because they knew the rule: no pumpkin meant the occupants weren't home or didn't want trick or treaters. I told them not to worry. The string of orange lights and the howling were I.'s pumpkin, and she and M.E. would greet the children who came to the door every year.

It was one winter morning, years back that the daughter, the son and I were out for a walk around the neighborhood, and I caught I.--in hat--climbing a step ladder. Few things are more breath stealing than seeing one's 90-year-old neighbor unsteadily mounting a ladder. I called out a greeting, and asked if she'd like some help, making my standard joke that the Good Lord made me tall for a reason. A little querulously, I. told me that she just wanted to replace the front porch light bulb for heaven's sake. It was time, wasn't it? The holidays were over and she wanted things set to rights. I agreed gravely that she was correct, and she stood by to supervise as I removed the holiday light fixture and restored her incandescent bulb to the porch light. She queried me about the children, who were standing uncertainly on her grass, and I told her that if she ever needed assistance with light bulbs or what not, she was welcome to call me.

Over the subsequent years, I. would call me, though generally it was because she saw something going on at my house that interested her. Why were overstuffed chairs sitting in my driveway? she wanted to know. Because I'd donated them and was waiting for the truck to arrive to pick them up. Ah, there were places that would take furniture? That was good to know. And curiosity satisfied, she would hang up.

We noticed, as time passed, that she ceased to drive herself anywhere, though her daughter or a friend would still take her out, brave in her makeup and hat. About a year ago, the firetruck arrived, followed by the paramedics and an ambulance. I saw the flashing lights reflected in the screen of my computer while I worked, and worried, went to the kitchen window. I cursed a little under my breath when I saw the entourage stop at I.'s house. She's too young, I thought, and then tried to figure out exactly how old she was. Still, too young. And I kept watch at the window until I saw the stretcher come out, I. propped up in state, brave in her hat, looking alert and cheerful. The relief was almost enough to make my knees buckle.

But within a short period of time, the firetruck and the paramedics and the ambulance were back. Soon thereafter, a truck bearing a hospital bed arrived at the house, and I. returned home in an ambulance. The firetruck, with its flashing lights, became a frequent visitor, and the neighbors traded news, hoping for the best, joking that I. was bored by her caretakers and needed a visit from the buff firefighters to perk up her day.

On Friday, they came for the last time.

I was out lighting candles in our pumpkins on Halloween when M.E. brought out their string of lights and hung it. The sound was just as awful as it had ever been, but like I.'s hats, a comfort. While I sat out on our porch with the daughter on Halloween night, I watched the groups of little kids run up their walk and bang on the door, as they'd done all the years I've lived in 'hood.

Go listen to some good music: "The Finish Line" from the album Eyes Open by Snow Patrol.

10 November 2009

Home for the holidays

Last Thanksgiving, we took off for Sequoia N.P. for several days. Everyone was itching for a break, and the kids are always hopeful they will see snow. A funny little storm dropped a tiny dusting of snow, but hey, it was snow, and they were happy.

I was struck by the novel idea that for the first Thanksgiving in heaven knows how long, I wasn't cooking. The Lodge actually has a pretty decent restaurant, and though the turkey was dry (the son was happy with his duck), the gravy was too salty and had too much rosemary in it, and the pie was a disappointment, the meal was better than some I've had.

Of course, at the family's behest, the following Saturday, I cooked Thanksgiving dinner.

I was hoping to sneak away again this year but I was shot down ("But we like your Thanksgiving dinner!"), which made me a little sad. So come the 26th, you'll find me in the kitchen, rather than out of it.

Thanksgiving dinner menu

Assorted cheeses
Sparkling wine

Turkey with thyme gravy
Garlic mashed potatoes
Brussels sprouts
Green bean casserole
Cranberry orange relish
Cloverleaf rolls with butter
Pinot Noir

Pumpkin pie with whipped cream
Mincemeat pie (if I can find mincemeat this year!)

And when we're done, a jog around the neighborhood.

Go listen to some good music: "(There's No Place Like) Home for the Holidays," music by Robert Allen, lyrics by Al Stillman.

09 November 2009

Stop your sobbing, part the second

My house still smells like onion soup. Those were some powerful onions.

I did have Tom Yum, but I ordered it in. From a restaurant with which I was unfamiliar. Mistake. It was pretty ghastly. Actually, all of it was pretty ghastly (curry, rice, etc.)

(My SIL is Thai and her father is an excellent cook, and he's probably the best example anywhere of why anyone who can grow it should have his/her own kaffir lime and lemongrass plants. My kaffir lime, for the record, is now 8 ft. tall.)


I referred to this recipe and this recipe as well as my trusty and ancient Fannie Farmer. Ultimately, this is what I came up with, and while I've made this soup in various guises over the years, we liked this one quite well.

French Onion Soup with Cheese Toasts
10-12 servings

5 large red onions
2 Tbl. butter
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 c. red wine
1.5 quart of low-sodium beef broth
1.5 quart of low-sodium chicken broth
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 Tbl. balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper

Sliced sourdough bread, cut small enough to fit inside soup bowls. Allow one slice per serving of soup
Sliced swiss cheese
Asiago or parmesan cheese, grated

Slice onions very thinly. Food processor works great; be prepared to weep. Melt butter in a large soup pot or dutch oven (I use one an 8.5 qt. dutch oven) over medium heat. Add onions to the melted butter; sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. salt. Stir onions until coated with butter. Allow to cook, stirring frequently, for 40-45 minutes. Onions will be wilted and lightly brown. Do not allow to burn. While stirring, scrape up browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add wine and stir until mixture becomes syrupy. Stir in beef and chicken broths, thyme and bay leaf. Bring soup to simmer and allow to simmer for 30 min.

Meanwhile, prepare cheese toasts: turn broiler to high. Put sliced sourdough on baking sheet; cover slices with swiss cheese and asiago or parmesan. Place baking sheet on rack set 6 inches below element, and broil until cheese bubbles and bread is browned.

When soup has simmered the requisite amount of time, stir in balsamic vinegar, and add salt and pepper to taste. Ladle soup into bowls and place cheese toast on each serving.

Notes: I prefer my soup to have more broth. If you prefer less, reduce total amount of broth to 2 quarts. The wine isn't a necessary addition, but it heightens the flavor. I used Malbec because I had an open bottle in the fridge. Caramelized onions can be quite sweet, and I think Cooks Illustrated's addition of balsamic vinegar was brilliant; it really brought out the savory flavor of the soup. Traditionally, you put your soup bowls in the oven and melt the cheese over the bread there, but my bowls aren't broiler safe. Hence, the toasts.

Go listen to some music: "Stop Your Sobbing" from the album Pretenders by The Pretenders.

08 November 2009

Stop your sobbing

I am crying. I am crying my eyes out.


I'm making French onion soup (of course), and sliced the red onions thinly with my food processor.

Oh my. Eyes are burning.

(I'll post my version of the recipe tomorrow. It came out quite well and may have been what the doctor ordered. I've really only eaten soup all weekend. Not much else has appealed. And if I'm still not healthy, I'll make my favorite flu killer, Tom Yum, which I've been crediting for 25 years or so for keeping me more or less healthy.)


The daughter has conveniently grown out of most of her clothing, and she's right at the age and size where kid's clothes are too small and women's clothing is too old and large. There's not much in the way of junior stuff anymore (what ever happened to those stores?), especially not clothes that are in any way appropriate for a 12-year-old. And she's gotten tall and, well, female, so I really needed her to actually try clothes on.

So off we went to that great Mecca of shopping South Coast Plaza.

South Coast Plaza styles itself as a destination, and yup, you see the tour buses dropping off mobs of tourists on any given day. It really isn't that different from most other malls, though I have to admit that living in L.A. for so long, I got used to the Beverly Center and I trundled past Rodeo Drive every day for years. And I'm not much of a shopper anyway, so Cartier and Cole Haan and their ilk hold little fascination. And the point of going to South Coast, since I'd just spent most of Friday at the Spectrum, were the Temples of 'Tweens, Abercrombie and Justice.

We arrived at the mall just before 11 a.m., which is when the majority of stores open (Sears was already open and I threatened the daughter with a Snuggie to no avail). We'd landed right smack in the wing with the stores of desire, and I asked the girl which one she'd like to visit first.

"How about lunch?" she asked.

"Er...lunch? I thought we were here to shop."

"I'm hungry," she announced plaintively.

"Didn't I just make you about a 1,000 calories worth of scones?"

"Yeah, but I'm hungry."

Eating wasn't on my agenda, but when little Miss Skinny gets hungry, it's best to feed her.

Since we were standing right next to Abercrombie, I suggested we at least look there as the nice young woman was opening the door at that very moment.

The store was dark. And loud. And one of the sales people had spent an inordinate amount of time spritzing the outfit's new fragrance around. I was regretting my misplaced enthusiasm almost immediately.

The daughter poked at piles of clothes in a desultory way.

"Look!" I said brightly, pointing at a shelf. "Didn't you want a new hoodie?"

"No," she sighed. "I'm fine."

"Now, wait a minute," I said. "You just told me that your old sweatshirt doesn't fit."

"It doesn't," she said, her voice trailing wearily away.

"Then you are not fine. I brought you here to shop, and 'I'm fine' isn't going to cut it," I told her. "Shop!"

Eventually, grudgingly, she left with a bag, which contained a new sweatshirt, a pair of pajama pants and the one t-shirt I could find that wasn't cut too low, though the construction seemed quite flimsy.

(The men and women staffing the store were uniformly kind and enthusiastic and helpful. Bubbly, even.)

Next we stopped at Justice, which was glaringly bright. And loud. And smelled of some sort of cosmetic. The daughter began to poke at piles of clothing in a desultory fashion. Once again, I found myself faced with inappropriate and badly made.

Still, I suggested. She dismissed. Eventually, I got her into a dressing room. She slipped on the pair of jeans and tunic I'd said might be cute to wear to the dances the school holds.

She looked in the mirror, and it was then I saw her face change.

"I can wear this," she said.

"Mmm-hmm," I replied.

She struck a pose and looked again.

"I look cute," she mused.

"You do," I agreed.

She stopped. Posed again. Looked.

"Mom! I look cute!"

I nodded in agreement.

She looked in the mirror and posed once more.

"Don't worry," she said seriously. "I won't let it go to my head."

I burst out laughing.

And it's true. I know she won't.

Go listen to some music: "Stop Your Sobbing" from the album Pretenders by The Pretenders. Don't worry. I gave her lunch, too.

07 November 2009

Brandenburg concerto No. 3 in G: I. Allegro

Godafoss, Iceland
July 2008

Yes, there is something metaphoric about all that churning and vapor. Lots of internal Sturm und Drang going on.

Go listen to some good music: "Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G" from the album Bach: Brandenburg Concertos: Orchestral Suites by Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and Sir Neville Marriner. I know. The photos seem like such a cop out. But I'm still so ill all I can think about is being ill. When I'm not falling asleep somewhere.

06 November 2009

The unforgettable fire

I'll admit to curiosity. So I clicked on the live YouTube stream of U2's concert at the Rose Bowl. The daughter stood behind me, looking over my shoulder, and about two songs in, she announced flatly, "They're boring."

I still find myself wanting to make excuses for them: it wouldn't be as much fun watching the stream as being there, it seemed like there were some technical issues, they're...er...old?

No, "old" doesn't cut it. I've seen older musicians perform with a lot more heart, a much better sense of fun, and a lot more connection with their audience.

She was right. They were boring. Bono, in particular, looked like he was phoning in the performance, just putting on a show, separate from those who surrounded him. The music sounded dead. The politics were painful, as in painfully stagey, not as in eliciting a response to a call to action. The whole approach seemed so dated, hearkening back to all the concerts I attended in the 1980s where earnest young volunteers from whatever group--Greenpeace, Amnesty International--handed out literature and solicited donations, and I earnestly signed petitions and joined the Sierra Club.

(Greenpeace volunteers were all over the mall today. I had to take the kids shopping for new clothes, and they looked wildly terrified every time a smiling 20-something approached asking the silly question, "Do you want to save the dolphins and whales?" Of course I care about dolphins and whales, but let's get real here. My response to such questions tends to be...honest. And funny. And generally not what the questioner wants to hear, not to mention mortifying to one's teenage children.)

I don't necessarily mind bands wearing their politics on their sleeves and with some groups, like U2, you know that comes with the package. But I prefer it when the message is couched in a tacit understanding that I am smart enough that I don't need to be clubbed over the head with it, that you write and sing words that tell me something and I get it. No masks needed.

I kept the stream on until the bitter end while I was working, and never once regretted not having gone to the show. And no, I won't be going to see them at Angels Stadium next June, either. I own most of U2's albums, saw them live in 1987, and appreciate their work, both musically and for the most part, politically, but this extravaganza? Not for me.

The following day, I read reviews professional and amateur. The professional reviews tended to be rhapsodic. The common folk who attended seemed to be pretty evenly divided between worshipful and dismissive.

Sure, the very thought of trying to get in and out of the Rose Bowl with 94,999 other people isn't exactly my idea of a great time, but I've gone to much greater lengths to attend a concert (like the 48 hours spent flying into and out of San Juan, Puerto Rico, eighteen months ago, and boy, was that an experience).

What makes an unforgettable performance, a can't miss moment? Sure, it's in the eye and ear of the beholder, but I've been to an awful lot of concerts over the last 30 years. I've seen all sorts of gimmickry and pyro and confetti cannons and video walls. I've seen musicians literally swinging from the ceiling, and sometimes losing their clothing. Spectacle has its place, absolutely. Technology has its place. The sheer flood of noise, the sense that the rhythm section is driving your breath and your heartbeat certainly has it place. But nothing, absolutely nothing, matches the connection, the knowing that you and the people performing are there for the same reason: the music. I've been in the back of the hall and in the front of the hall and whether I was watching REM tear up the stage at Radio City Music Hall, Mstislav Rostropovich conduct the National Symphony or Geddy Lee play astounding bass at a Rush concert, there is nothing that replaces the experience of being enveloped in the amazing tapestry of sound that a true and passionate performer creates for an audience. There is putting on a show and there is knowing your audience. It's not the same thing. The performance I want to see is the one where the people on stage know I'm in the audience, whether I'm in the front, the back, the middle, whether they can see me or not. It's the performance where the musicians are there because they want to be, because they love the music and want to play it for those who love it, too. Those are the people for whom I will travel far (and wide). It's the performance where passion meets passion, where politics might exist, but it creates a really unforgettable fire.

Go listen to some good music: "The Unforgettable Fire" from the album Best of 1980-1990 by U2. I really was disappointed by the Rose Bowl show. I wanted U2 to be great, to be bigger than the enormous contraption they performed under. But I'll just keep saving for the next Rush tour.

05 November 2009

The morning fog

Orange County, California
November 2009

Go listen to some good music: "The Morning Fog" from the album Hounds of Love by Kate Bush. Ah, I remember buying this album when it came out. I was living in a dreadful, cold apartment in Pasadena, and I played these songs over and over and over. And over.

04 November 2009

Me in my bubble of germified air

I'm just going to go ahead and whine about it and get it out of my system.

May I please just be healthy now?

I came down with this last Wednesday (isn't today Wednesday, too? I think it is). It started just before I went to bed: my throat was suddenly scratchy and I had a stupid little dry cough. I felt sort of rotten most of the weekend, what with the sneezing and coughing both of which were helping to keep me up at night, but wasn't sure if it was *something* or allergies.

Oh, it's *something* alright. What *it* is up for debate, and I'm not going anywhere near a doctor's office unless my lips turn blue.

So, yes, yesterday's post was intended to be a lot longer, and today's was not intended to be viral (pun intended). And I'm still trying to figure out if the dentist's assistant actually did call me this morning to ask for help in writing a letter of recommendation for her niece for an internship at a local hospital, or if the whole conversation was a hallucination.


Go listen to some good music: "Lightbulb Sun" from the album Lightbulb Sun by Porcupine Tree.

Mas tarde, as in next day: yeah, I'm coughing hard enough that it feels like my head is going to explode and my lungs sound like the lovely burble you get from a deep sea diver's helmet. Frankly, it's all making me a bit sick (as opposed to ill, you know), and the recipe for this concoction posted at Hot Knives just about sent me running. Unfortunately, it also made me laugh, which sent me into paroxysms of coughing, and now I'm right back where I started. Seriously, it isn't even the list of ingredients that's making me green, it's the color. Okay, and the chile. And the idea of Southern Comfort. Gah. (Found via LA Times Daily Dish. Dear God, I'd rather run a mile right about now.)

03 November 2009

Like a million little doorways

You called my name. It shook me from sleep.

I looked around the dark and quiet room, unsure of what had just happened. The cat snored softly at my feet, and I heard the son rustle in his bed.

I strained hard, listening for other sounds, holding my breath, and the blood coursing through my body almost sounded like music.

My heart was pounding, the beat uneven as sometimes happens when I'm startled or tired or ill. Your voice still echoed in my ears. I tried to remember what I'd been dreaming and if you'd been there.

I lay back on my pillow, and seemingly from nowhere was the thought, "Call and response."

Experimentally, I whispered your name into the night and wondered if you could hear me.

Go listen to some good music: "Ghost of a Chance" from the album Roll the Bones by Rush. The phenomenon of "call and response" as it figures in communication, music and culture has long fascinated me. While it is often spontaneous, there is a distinct pattern to it, almost like a maze of mirrors, and it figures in so many of the ways in which we relate to one another. Even a blog post can be a call. Or a response.

02 November 2009

Know your chicken

Food--its preparation, consumption and pleasure--is a frequent topic of conversation around here. I've been cooking since I was quite young, and I put together most meals consumed by my family every day.

I came of age in the 1980s, but the recession of the 1970s informed my buying habits, and I still plan meals accordingly, with an eye toward what's on sale and what's in season. Add a busy schedule to that, which means I tend to cook a lot of food at one go, so I have leftovers for lunches or subsequent dinners. Besides, it's always comforting to know that there's enough posole in the freezer should I need a really quick meal.

Cooking enough for a few meals isn't as daunting as it sounds. Take the humble chicken. One good-sized roaster will feed a family of four dinner at least twice, possibly with a few chicken sandwiches and a pot of soup thrown in for good measure. Around here, how much I have left over depends on where my teen and preteen are in the growth spurt cycle. The following recipes are generally geared toward 4 reasonable meal servings, with leftovers as noted. They're are supposed to be easy to understand and put together. I've included suggestions for other dishes to round out each meal, but the great thing about meals like this is that they are susceptible to plenty of variation. Don't like rice? Serve boiled or mashed potatoes instead.

Roast chicken is great, mostly because you toss it in the oven and it does its thing for a couple of hours, requiring no intervention until its done.

Dinner #1: Roast chicken with gravy

4-5 lb. roasting chicken
Dried thyme leaves


3 Tbl. chicken fat
3 Tbl. flour
1-1/2 c. chicken stock
Dried thyme leaves

Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Remove neck and giblet packets from the body cavity, reserving them for later use (be sure to refrigerate them unless you're making stock immediately).

Pre-heat oven to 325F. Place chicken on a rack in a roasting pan. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper and 1-2 tsp. of dried thyme leaves. Place in the middle of the oven and roast for about 25 minutes per lb. until a meat thermometer inserted in the thigh reads 165F. (USDA safety guidelines on meat temperatures and correct use of thermometers are here and here.)

When the chicken is finished, remove from roaster to platter and tent with foil to keep it hot. Pour off three tablespoons of chicken fat from the roasting pan into a small saucepan. Over medium heat, whisk flour into the fat and allow to cook for a minute or two. Slowly whisk in stock in four additions, making sure mixture is smooth before adding more stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Correct seasoning, adding more salt, pepper and thyme to taste, if necessary.

Serve chicken and gravy with steamed rice and steamed carrots or green beans.

After the meal, remove all the additional chicken meat from the bones, and promptly refrigerate or freeze the meat. If you plan to make stock from the bones, refrigerate the carcass as well, though you should plan to make your stock the next day.

Basic chicken stock:

Chicken carcass
Reserved neck and giblets (excluding chicken liver) from the body cavity
2 stalks celery with leaves, cut into quarters
1 onion, sliced
2 carrots, cut into quarters
Bay leaf
1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
1/8 tsp. ground pepper

Put ingredients in a large pot and cover with 8 cups of cold water. Bring to a boil, skimming off any scum that forms on the surface. Cover pot and reduce heat, allowing broth to simmer for about 4 hours.

Remove carcass and discard. Strain broth through a fine mesh strainer into a large container. Allow to cool briefly and refrigerate uncovered. When the broth is cold, any fat that has formed on the surface can be skimmed off. Divide into smaller containers, cover and freeze or use stock promptly.

Dinner #2: Quick Chicken Vegetable Soup

2 quarts chicken stock (homemade or boxed)
1/2 c. water
1-1/2 c. frozen mixed vegetables
1/2 c. cut fideo
1-1/2 c. leftover chicken meat, chopped

Bring stock and water to a boil. Add frozen vegetables and return to boil; cook for five minutes. Add fideo and return to boil; cook for four minutes. Add chicken and cook until chicken is heated through. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with green salad and rolls.


Dinner #2: Chicken fajitas

1 Tbl. canola oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 onion, sliced
3 c. leftover chicken meat, shredded
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 lime

Flour tortillas
Shredded cheddar cheese
Sour cream
Additional lime wedges

Heat oil in large frying pan over medium heat; saute garlic until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Increase heat to medium high, and add bell pepper and onion, and stir constantly until onion becomes limp and begins to brown. Add chicken and heat through. Sprinkle cumin and juice of one lime over the chicken and vegetables. Serve with tortillas and condiments, with a green salad alongside.


Dinner #2: Chicken "curry"

This is how my mom used to make curry when I was growing up, and even though I tend to make more traditional curries these days, this one is fast and easy.

4 Tbl. canola oil
5 Tbl. flour
2-1/2 tsp. curry powder
3 c. milk
2 c. leftover chicken meat, chopped

Steamed rice

Salted cashews
Chopped green apple

Heat oil in a medium saucepan. Whisk in flour and cook for a minute or two. Slowly whisk in milk in four additions, making sure mixture is smooth before adding more milk. Whisk in curry powder and cook until sauce is hot but not boiling. Add chicken and heat through. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve over steamed rice, with condiments.

Happy dining!

Go listen to some music: "Know Your Chicken" from the album Viva! La Woman by Cibo Matto. Watching me flail away in the kitchen years ago, one of my friends termed me an "intuitive" cook. I think it was a compliment, but I also think he meant that I just do things...there's little actual thinking going on. I've done so much of this for so long that having to actually sit down and think my methods through was a little challenging. As long as a dish tastes good and looks attractive, I'm happy.

01 November 2009

...I say hello

It's November.

That, of course, means it's Nablopomo.

Also, NaNoWriMo.

And as I have for the last three years, I've signed up for them both.

Because I like to make myself crazy.

I've been doing NaNoWriMo for five or six years now. I've done a fabulous job of never finishing a novel in the allotted time. That used to bother me. Now, it's a badge of honor not to finish.

(I think my best attempt yet was Naked Mole Rats Dreaming...or something like that...for which I managed to write all of about 32 words. I was working full-time plus that year, and I rarely took more than 32 seconds to breathe on any given day. One year I wrote about 27,000 words, while last year, I wrote a bit more than 6,000. And those were actually good words! I'd recycle them, but that would be cheating. Maybe you'll get to read them.)

I've always finished Nablopomo, even though blogging daily is a pain in the rear and it drives me crazy that about three days into the exercise, any notion of quality goes straight out the window.

I guess I can try to change that this November.

Last year, I did a rather whimsical post introducing myself, because I was cross posting on the Nablopomo website. This year, I am not feeling whimsical; the intervening 360-odd days have been anything but whimsical, though probably not too much worse than say...the Second Ring of Hell.

Here are the basics:

Female. 40's. Married. Mother of an almost 16-year-old boy and an almost 13-year-old girl. And a cat. Who might be part goat and loves dogs.

I'm a writer, editor, and I do freelance research, too.

I have opinions. Sometimes I write about them.

I cook. Sometimes I post recipes.

I read. Sometimes I talk about the books I read.

I don't watch much TV.

I loathe grocery shopping.

I love music. I go to concerts, which makes me very happy. Sometimes I write about those.

I love to travel. If I don't have a good reason to travel, I will invent one. And then I write about it. And post pictures!

Isn't November going to be fun?

Go listen to some good music: "Hello Goodbye" from the album Magical Mystery Tour by The Beatles.