30.11.10

How the Grinch Saved Christmas

My daddy told tales from his childhood of putting up the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve.  In the old Cary Grant-Loretta Young version of "The Bishop's Wife", they decorate the tree on Christmas Eve.  Donna Reed and kids are decorating the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve when Jimmy Stewart comes in with trouble from the bank examiner.  According to Anglican church tradition, Christmas decorations don't go up until after all four Sundays in Advent have been celebrated.

This year we're following suit. 

It seems that the Christmas creep gets earlier and earlier every year.  Stores were decorated this year even before Hallowe'en.  The week before Thanksgiving there were at least two houses in our neighborhood in full Christmas-light regalia.  Some of my high school friends asked on Facebook whether the day before Thanksgiving was too early to put up the tree.  And some of my close friends put theirs up on Black Friday.

Through the years, I've begun feeling that people seem to be hanging onto Christmas a bit too much.  They try to milk every last drop of party time out of December and leave up the lights on their houses until St. Valentine's Day.  I'm reminded of the Chip and Dale cartoon where they wished for Christmas to happen every day.  After a while it got old.

To appreciate the specialness of the season, it must be fleeting.  To appreciate the happiness of Christmas, we must remember Good Friday.  For to really understand and have a gauge for happiness one must understand grief and sadness.

[This is where my mind races off in tangents about non-Christians, especially those raised in the church who never darken the church door, adorning their living rooms with evergreen trees and giving presents to each other on December 25th.  But that's another rant, er, I mean, blog.]

So in these days of Advent, there is going out a decree from Mrs. Gaelic that all the Gaelic household shall observe Advent during Advent and Christmas during Christmas.  There will be no pop-guns, bikes, roller skates, or drums, no checkerboards, trikes, popcorn, or plums.  No presents, no ribbon, no wrappings.  No tags, no tinsel, no trimming, no trappings.  Not one little speck of the holiday season.  Not 'til the calendar says it's time for the Christmas season.

[Yeah, yeah, I know I'm mixing my allusions here.]

While everyone else in the world (so it seems) is decorating their trees, and mantles, and banisters, and front doors, we'll be lighting purple and pink candles.  And while everyone else in the world (so it seems from past years) will be flooding the stores for 75% off Christmas merchandise, we'll be just getting started with our celebration. 

I may sound like the Grinch with my stern decree.  But for twelve short days, my family will know that Christmas is here for only the briefest of moments before being swept away into the gift-giving season of Epiphany.

29.11.10

The Sounds of Silence

Rarely do I delve into politics on my blog.  But I just couldn't keep quiet anymore.  In my high school days, a wise older man used to tell us, "Your actions speak louder than your words."  In this situation, what also comes to mind is:

"Silence is consent."

"Silence speaks volumes."

"The most profound statements are often said in silence."

"The tree of silence bears the fruit of peace."

All of these could be true.  Of what do I speak?  China's silence on the North Korean attack on a South Korean island and the upcoming war games of South Korea and the United States.  China has been hush-hush on the recent events, and North Korea has precious little oil, and there may be a power struggle going on in North Korea for control of the country. 

Several people have said publicly that they fear another Korean war.  There might be fighting between the two Koreas.  But I doubt it'll be what it was in the 1950s.  To me, this is a good example of knowing one's history and understanding today's geopolitics.  And listening to the sounds of China's silence.

28.11.10

Menu Plan: November 29 - December 4

There was much in the media this past week about Thanksgiving and how the Pilgrims and Indians didn't overeat and then go shopping.  Apparently, during those times people were a bit more conservative with their stores of food, wanting to make the harvest last through the cold winter months.  So it's apropos that today is the first day of Advent.  A time to scale back in preparation for the Christmas season.

The first week after Thanksgiving is also a time to finish off the turkey.  When you order one from the meat co-op you order a weight range.  This year's turkey was on the upper end of the range.  Lots and lots of leftovers.
  • Monday
    • Breakfast:  cereal (Mr. Gaelic leaves for a business trip)
    • Supper:  creamed spinach, corn pudding, pinto beans
  • Tuesday
    • Breakfast:  oatmeal
    • Supper:  turkey pot pie
  • Wednesday
    • Breakfast:  cinnamon toast
    • Supper:  turkey barley soup
  • Thursday
    • Breakfast:  cream of wheat
    • Supper:  baked mac and cheese, broccoli, honeyed pumpkin
  • Friday
    • Breakfast:  soft-boiled eggs, toast
    • Supper:  pizza for girls, Mr. Gaelic and I are headed to a scotch tasting with heavy hors d'oeuvres
  • Saturday
    • Breakfast:  waffles, bacon
    • Supper:  tuna casserole, salad
  • Sunday
    • Breakfast:  sausage gravy, homemade biscuits
    • Dinner:  hot turkey salad, potatoes, green beans
It cannot be December already.  Just where did the year go?  Time for another holiday soon.  Time to pull out the cookbooks and see what can be done ahead of time.  Maybe it's time to dust off my mama's fruitcake recipe.  Lots of planning and decisions coming up.  Stay tuned to see what it'll be.

27.11.10

The Decline and Fall of the Marriage Institution

For several Spring Break holidays when the kids were younger, our family retreated to a resort in southern New Jersey, an older hotel with a huge circular dining room and gracious awnings over the floor-to-ceiling windows.  One of the nice things about a holiday is being away from the hubbub of the everyday world.  One of the grating things about a holiday is being without a newspaper for a week. 

On a cool misty Sunday morning we managed to find a New York Times at a local coffee shop.  Mr. Gaelic got the A Section while my attention quickly turned to the magazine in search of the crossword puzzle.  On the way to the puzzle, there was an article by a woman about her "radical" parents.  An interracial couple, they opted to live together rather than get married.  They raised two daughters during their many years together.

Recently, the Pew Research Center's National Marriage Project released study results claiming that 39% of Americans think that marriage is obsolete.  The same study concluded that 69% of Americans think it's a bad idea for single women to have children.  Apparently, the type of family that I grew up in and that we provide for our children -- working father, full-time mother -- is in the minority today.

I know several women who are single and have children.  Some do it on their own; some live with the child's father; some are a bit of both.  And I know plenty of people who aren't and never will be ready for marriage or should never have gotten married in the first place.  I know lots of people who think that being married is just having a piece of paper and they don't need a piece of paper to prove that they're a couple.

That strikes me as very odd.  Intellectually I can understand their arguments.  After all divorce is more costly than the marriage in the first place.  And there are many marriages that don't adhere to the contract of marriage.  But there's something very official about that piece of paper. 

It's brought into glaring focus in that New York Times magazine article by the woman with a black father and a white mother who never married.  The father had served honorably in the military and when he died was given a military funeral complete with a flag-draped coffin.  After close to 40 years together as a couple, through good time and bad, raising children in a loving household, the military and the federal government wouldn't recognize the woman as the man's next of kin.  They weren't married.  The honor guard presented the neatly folded flag to the eldest daughter sitting next to the woman the man had loved for so long as she looked on with tears in her eyes. 

26.11.10

The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Meat

A couple of weeks ago I kvetched about missing the deadline for the last meat co-op delivery.  You can't keep a good woman meatless.  Incensed about forgetting to hit the checkout button on my order, I emailed the farmer's wife to ask if there were any way to buy from a different delivery location.  However, driving all the way to the farm, about two hours away, was not my preferred pick-up destination.

If you've kept up with the organic, non-GMO, local, free-range debate in books and movies over the past few years, you would know the farmer.  The products he sells -- beef, pork, chicken, turkey, eggs, and sometimes rabbit, lamb, duck, and duck eggs -- are all free-range.  After seeing the farmer prominently in one of the food debate movies and discovering just how close the farm is, my research turned up several co-op delivery sites in my neck of the woods.

Meat products are as seasonal as vegetables and fruit.  Chicken lay more eggs when there's more sunlight in the summer before slacking off to almost none in the winter.  Cows and pigs and sheep give birth in the spring in the northern hemisphere.  If you want to have suckling pig or a leg of lamb for a spring holiday and expect to buy it a week before the holiday, chances are it's from Australia or New Zealand where it would be autumn and the piglet or lamb would be big enough for slaughter.  If you want local piglet or lamb, you'll need to freeze it until the spring.

The farmer's wife wrote back allowing me to pick up at a different delivery site.  Joy!  Elation!  And the delivery date isn't until the second week of December!  That means that the freezer will have been emptied a bit more with all the Thanksgiving dishes having been eaten yesterday.

Good thing.  Since this is the absolute last delivery until late spring next year, I'll need to stock up.  My order included:

1/4 cow (approximately 110 lbs. of meat)
1/2 pig (approximately 100 lbs. of meat)
plus,
2 Filet mignons
5 Delmonico steaks
10 lbs. ground beef

That 1/4 cow and 1/2 pig means a quarter of the cow and a half of the pig.  You can order a whole animal if you want, but we don't have that much freezer space.

My only regret is that the cuts won't include a standing rib roast for Christmas or a ham shank for New Year's.  He didn't have any lamb available either.  Maybe the other farmer who shows up at the farmers' market has a leg of lamb to stick in the freezer for Easter. 

The one thing about holidays from my childhood home that I never liked was back-to-back meals.  Mama served turkey for Thanksgiving and again for Christmas, and ham for New Year's Day and again for Easter.  In my house, the now tradition is turkey and dressing for Thanksgiving, beef rib roast and Yorkshire pudding for Christmas, ham, collards, and black-eyed peas for New Year's Day, and lamb and asparagus for Easter.  Oh, and pancakes on Shrove Tuesday which needs bacon or sausage as an accompaniment.

Darn it!  I didn't order any bacon or sausage.  Back to the order form!

25.11.10

Thanksgiving by the Presidents

Sure, the first official Thanksgivings in America were to give thanks for safe passage from England, good land to live on, and a fruitful harvest.  NOT for football, overeating, and sales.  But how did we come to celebrate the fourth Thursday of November as a day of Thanks and Praise?  By proclamation of the President and a bit of legislation to boot.  Check it out here.  (In the legislation, notice the other dates that are set forth as national holidays.)

24.11.10

To the Point

The house is full.  My eldest baby is home from college.  All is right with the world.  Now if only the rear defroster on my car and the water line in the refrigerator would work, everything would be perfect.

23.11.10

Bite Me

Back in my college days, the most interesting class I took was an English class, Romantic Poetry. Romantic as in Romantic period, not romantic as in romance. Romantic as in Lord Byron, John Keats, and Percy Shelley.

One of Finola’s classes for next term is entitled Bite Me: The Cultural and Critical Uses of the Vampire. What? This is considered a comparative literature course? And we’re paying for this?

But then I read the course description.

This course addresses vampire beliefs and their proliferation in cultural forms since the first legends of the undead in Europe and in cultures around the world. What have vampires been made to signify? Starting with early vampire myths and recent anthropological interpretations, we will move historically and thematically through a range of works, considering how vampires have been shaped as carriers of history and genealogy, symptoms of religious and class anxiety, central figures of postcolonial critique, polymorphous sexual identity and addiction, and challengers to prevailing ideologies of gender and sexuality, HIV/AIDS, and immigration as cultural invasion. Theoretical and critical readings will be central.

For someone who wants to major in anthropology, it makes more sense after reading the course description. And the fact that she’s read Bram Stoker’s Dracula several times just for fun can only help.

22.11.10

The Bucket (Book) List

Have you seen the Facebook meme about BBC’s list of 100 books? According to the reposts, the average person has only read six of the 100. The problem is, the BBC never claimed anything of the sort. Turns out that the BBC only asked Britons for their favorite book in a search for the nation’s (Great Britain’s) best-loved novel.

Funny thing about lists. Ever notice how when you stumble across something that says “The Top Five…” or “The Ten Best…” or “Six Things to…” you tend to read the list? Sort of like the Bucket List that’s also going around. “Put an X by the things you’ve done…”

Recently while reading my Facebook news feed (I actually have it set like a news aggregator), there was one list that combined both the Book List and the Bucket List. Let’s call it The Booket List. No, let’s not. That’s just cheesy.

So here is a list of books that the author of the list thinks that every man (since it was on a male-centric website) should read before he dies:

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, by Raymond Carver
Collected Stories of John Cheever
Deliverance, by James Dickey
The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy
The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Known World, by Edward P. Jones
The Good War, by Studs Terkel
American Pastoral, by Philip Roth
A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories, by Flannery O’Connor
The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
A Sport and a Pastime, by James Salter
The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
Time’s Arrow, by Martin Amis
A Sense of Where You Are, by John McPhee
Hell’s Angels, by Hunter S. Thompson
Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
Dubliners, by James Joyce
Rabbit, Run, by John Updike
The Postman Always Rings Twice, by James M. Cain
Dog Soldiers, by Robert Stone
Winter’s Bone, by Daniel Woodrell
Legends of the Fall, by Jim Harrison
Under the Volcano, by Malcolm Lowry
The Naked and the Dead, by Norman Mailer
The Professional, by W.C. Heinz
For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway
Dispatches, by Michael Herr
Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller
Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates
As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara
Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron
A Fan’s Notes, by Frederick Exley
Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami
Master and Commander, by Patrick O’Brian
Plainsong, by Kent Haruf
A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole (my current reading selection)
Affliction, by Russell Banks
This Boy’s Life, by Tobias Wolff
Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin
The Adventures of Augie March, by Saul Bellow
Women, by Charles Bukowski
Going Native, by Stephen Wright
Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, by John LeCarré
The Crack-Up, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, by George Saunders
War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
The Shining, by Stephen King
Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson
Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie
Labyrinths, by Jorge Luis Borges
The Right Stuff, by Tom Wolfe
The Sportswriter, by Richard Ford
American Tabloid, by James Ellroy
The Autobiography of Malcolm X, by Alex Haley
What It Takes, by Richard Ben Cramer
The Continental Op, by Dashiell Hammett
The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene
So Long, See You Tomorrow, by William Maxwell
Native Son, by Richard Wright
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, by James Agee and Walker Evans
Angle of Repose, by Wallace Stegner
The Great Bridge, by David McCullough
The Dharma Bums, by Jack Kerou
Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry
Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
Underworld, by Don DeLillo
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

As you can see in the above list, my 19th Century Russian literature phase has come to an end (or else is on hiatus). Goncharov and Turgenev didn’t make any list. More evidence that I really must be weird. Now my book of choice is populated with the weirdoes of New Orleans. If we’re known for the company we keep, does that apply to the company of fictional characters in our minds?


21.11.10

Menu Plan: November 22 - November 28

No matter how much prep work has been done in the preceeding weeks, the three days before Thanksgiving always make me feel like the White Rabbit.  "I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date."

So today's blog will be short and to the point so that I can get back to the kitchen.
  • Monday
    • Breakfast:  bran muffins
    • Supper:  vegetable soup (great way to use up what may still be lurking in the veggie crisper), homemade bread
  • Tuesday
    • Breakfast:  cereal (as usual on Tuesday)
    • Supper:  baked ziti, salad
  • Wednesday
    • Breakfast:  bagels with cream cheese
    • Supper:  eat out at Finola's favorite Indian restaurant (she returns from college Tuesday evening)
  • Thursday/Thanksgiving
    • Breakfast:  egg, cheese, sausage and grits casserole
    • Dinner:  turkey, dressing (NOT stuffing since I was raised in the South), giblet gravy, cranberry relish, sweet potato casserole, Brussels sprouts, cherry congealed salad (because this is really 1950 after all), homemade dinner rolls, pumpkin cheesecake (It's listed as dinner not supper because it'll be served mid-afternoon.)
  • Friday
    • Breakfast:  coffee (gotta make the Black Friday sales)
    • Supper:  hot turkey salad casserole (sounds odd but it's my mom's recipe), green salad
  • Saturday
    • Breakfast:  Krispy Kreme doughnuts (hot, now!)
    • Supper:  leftovers from Thanksgiving
  • Sunday
    • Breakfast:  bacon, eggs, grits, toast
    • Dinner:  chicken 'n' dumplin's, carrots, green beans
Back to the apron. 

20.11.10

The Secret of Women

Here's something men don't know about women.  We can tell a LOT about you by the way you dance.  How good you'll be in bed, whether you're a mama's boy, if you really wear the pants in the family, and how long any relationship with you will last.  Hope that doesn't put undue pressure on anyone. 

Now, who's up for a foxtrot?

19.11.10

I'm in the Mood for Fabric

If you ever hear me speak of Susan, she's not a real person. She's my height. Or she would be if she had a head. She also has the exact same proportions in the bust, waist, and hips as I do. But she has three legs instead of two. And she's blue.

She's not a Na'vi. Susan is my body double. My dressmakers form. And here's a secret. I can sew. And pretty darn well, too.

The last "simple" skirt I made had 18 pieces, and that's not counting the lining pieces. My favorite cocktail dress is a made-by-me sumptuous brown 100% cotton velvet completely lined and with boning in the waist. And no, I don't sew for others unless I've birthed them or married them. So don't ask.

On my way to Parents' Weekend at Finola's college last month, I made a pit stop in Manhattan. There are certain places in Manhattan that require a pilgrimage. One of those is a shop in the Lower East Side, but it was too far to travel for just one store. They have beautiful fabrics and are right next door to a bialy store. But a critical mass is more than one fabulous store in a two block radius.

How about dozens of fabulous stores in a two block radius? If you ignore the gentlemen's clubs and topless bars, my pilgrimage stores dot the side streets just south of Times Square off Seventh Avenue. So Rudy cleaned up Times Square. It just means that the seedier side moved a few blocks away from where the tourists are. Back at the fabric stores, I was like a kid in a candy store.

And when in the Garment District, 'tis best to dress in black, and funky shoes if possible. I didn't mention my pit stop to a friend I ran into getting coffee before getting on the road. 'Tis best to leave an air of mystery and then show up a few weeks (or months depending on how fast my project goes) wearing expensive looking togs that were handmade for more than half the cost of ready-to-wear.

And shhh . . . keep this under your hat. I don't want Dierdre to know that I shop at Mood, where the Project Runway contestants shop. She'll want a weekend shopping trip.

18.11.10

Quote and Quiz Answer

For everyone who commented on yesterday's quote quiz, it was Jenny who came the closest.  But I think I drove her to drink.  The answer is Nietzsche. 

And as Laoch said, "there is a lot of folly in the world."

17.11.10

Quote and Quiz

Today's blog is a quote and a quiz.  Who said . . .

"Everything in woman is a riddle, and everything in woman has one solution—that is pregnancy. Man is for woman a means: the purpose is always the child. But what is woman for man?

“A real man wants two things: danger and play. Therefore he wants woman as the most dangerous plaything. Man shall be educated for war, and woman for the recreation of the warrior: all else is folly."

16.11.10

Just When I Thought I Was Out . . .

They didn't pull me back in.  I willingly stepped into it. 

It all began 12 years ago when my desperation plea to get Finola into a Brownie troop was my offer to be the Troop Cookie Manager.  Seems like no one wanted to take on that job. 

As the girls grew, Finola moved on to Junior Girl Scouts and Deirdre became a Brownie.  Somehow they suckered me into doing the Troop Cookie Manager job for both troops.  Then came the fateful day when the Junior leader needed a co-leader.  Guess who was asked to volunteer?

My stint as co-leader lasted about half a month, because at the Service Unit level (Girl Scouts in the U.S. are divided into geographic Councils which are divided into Areas which are divided into Associations which are divided into Service Units which are divided into Troops) they needed a Service Unit Cookie Manager.  This must have been a phase of not being able to keep my hand in my lap at meetings.

But when the Junior leader moved up with her daughter (and Finola) to Cadettes, the Junior troop (now with Deirdre) needed a leader.  Yes, me.  Again.  And the Service Unit Cookie Manager for two more years.

Then the Service Unit Manager wanted to move on to other things.  The SUM leads the Troop leaders' monthly meetings and attends Association and Area meetings and works with the (paid, not volunteer) Field Director at the Council office.  The outgoing SUM presented it to me as "Be the Service Unit Manager or XXX will and she doesn't follow Girl Scout procedures as she should."  In other words, do it or the Service Unit will fall apart.

Now that that's under my belt, as well as six years as the Junior leader (rather than move up with Deirdre, I stayed until Maeve moved to Cadettes), last year was mine.  Mine, I tell you!  No cookies, no troop meetings, no Service Unit meetings, no paperwork, no continuing training, nothing.

Until last weekend when Maeve's Cadette troop leader sent out a desperate plea for a Troop Cookie Booth Coordinator because the person who was to do the job moved out of state.  Oh.  My.  God.  The email reply was short and to the point.  "I can do it."  Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.

15.11.10

A How-To Guide of Menu Planning

Gail asked how I do my menu planning. It all started when I was a youngster. My mother didn’t read regular books. No dime-store romances, no New York Times bestsellers, no Book of the Month Club selection. No, she read cookbooks in the evening. And she loved to throw parties of all kinds, dinner parties, cocktail parties, open house buffets, cookouts, picnics, coffees, breakfasts, you name it, she threw it.

She taught me how to shop the ads. Take the grocery store weekly circulars and find the loss-leaders. Those are the items that are deeply discounted to get people into the store. Like the 99¢ per pound chicken legs or the 49¢ per pound baking potatoes. Then build a meal around chicken legs and potatoes. See what else is on sale, rinse, repeat.

Going organic has put a damper on shopping the ads. But it’s still helpful to have an idea about what to cook for supper on any given night. Now the formula is more along the lines of particular types of dishes on certain nights.

Ever since finding the Meat-Free Monday movement, Monday’s suppers hearken back to my childhood with a plate of three Southern-style veggie dishes and maybe a cornbread. Anything as long as it’s all vegetarian, but not vegan. That’s too foreign for my household.

The rest of the week consists of one night of a soup, one night of a nice meat-centric meal, one night of seafood, and one night of leftovers to clean out the refrigerator for the next week’s groceries. Some things get repeated during the week. Maybe it’s the meat-plus-two; maybe it’s the all-veggie meal.

Once the Crockpot has passed inspection, perhaps on nights when there is carpool duty, supper might be slow-simmered. My oven has a delay start and a cooking timer. There are nights when the meatloaf is placed in the oven with a delayed start time ensuring that it’ll be ready to come out right at supper time after the last extracurricular activity.

If you want to get started on menu planning, make a list of the things you cook regularly. Then rotate them throughout the month. There might be spaghetti, roast chicken, tacos, broiled fish, sloppy Joes, tuna casserole, meatloaf, chili, chicken tetrazzini, you get the idea. Fill in with some lighter meals such as warm winter soups or light chilled summer soups. Or something quick and fast like sandwiches and a can of tomato soup.

Use either method. The rotation plan is my default plan since I don’t shop the ads like my mother did. It’s hard to shop the ads when most of our food comes from the organic meat co-op or the farmers’ market. For that, you have to think on your feet about what’s fresh and what you can make with those. Or use the shop-the-ads plan basing your menus on what’s on sale at your grocery store. Here’s a hint. When I used to shop the ads, I didn’t limit myself to one store. There were three stores in a close radius whose ads I would shop.

Regardless of your method, have fun with your meals. And eat with someone else as often as you can.

14.11.10

Menu Plan: November 15 - November 21

If you've ever been to Five Guys Burgers & Fries, you know that they serve roasted peanuts from a box while you wait for your order.  I treated the kids to lunch recently at our local Five Guys.  We got a serving of peanuts to shell at the table.  After finishing our hamburgers, there were still some peanuts on our table.  Just scoop them into the bag with the leftover fries.

They're fun to snack on.  But it gave me a hankering for boiled peanuts.  Those slimy, squishy, good-when-hot-but-yuck-when-not snacks.  Most often they're found at roadside stands in the American rural South.  They are definitely an acquired taste.

Yes, it's an established fact that I'm weird.  Just deal with it.  In other foodie news, here's this week's menu plan.
  • Monday
    • Breakfast:  banana bread
    • Supper:  take-out/delivery (afternoon teacher conferences + evening ballet class = no time to cook [slow cooker on the blink])
  • Tuesday
    • Breakfast:  cereal
    • Supper:  meatloaf, mashed potatoes, carrots (save some potatoes for Friday)
  • Wednesday
    • Breakfast:  oatmeal
    • Supper:  baked eggs, salad, homemade bread
  • Thursday
    • Breakfast:  blueberry muffins
    • Supper:  baked mac and cheese, creamed spinach, beets in orange sauce
  • Friday
    • Breakfast:  soft-boiled eggs, toast
    • Supper:  butternut squash soup, homemade potato bread (use left-over potatoes)
  • Saturday
    • Breakfast:  pancakes, sausage
    • Supper: pizza for girls, Mr. Gaelic and I are headed to a party for our friends' daughter who is in graduate school in London and will be home for the holidays
  • Sunday
    • Breakfast:  bacon, eggs, grits, toast
    • Dinner:  potluck (need to clean out the fridge and freezer in anticipation of Thanksgiving)
Thanksgiving?  Already?  That means that Christmas is 41 days from today!  Didn't we just celebrate Hallowe'en?  Ack! 

Please don't send me boiled peanuts for Christmas.  They're best eaten hot and fresh.  Just like Krispy Kreme glazed doughnuts.  But that's another blog entirely.

13.11.10

A Tale of Two Outings

It was the best of nights; it was the worst of mornings.  Usually weekends are a time of rest and relaxation.  Friday nights out as a couple.  Saturdays with the family.  Sunday mornings at church. 

It started well enough.  Friday night's activity was a shindig at the church for major donors to the grand piano fund.  Four hands; one piano.  And for two pieces, piano plus organ.  The music ranged from unknown (to me) pieces to Chopsticks.  Yes, they played Chopsticks for four hands on the piano.  No, it didn't sound anything like what it did when we were kids. 

Gathering around a brand spanking new Steinway grand piano hearing its A440 quality, ahh, heaven.  The music of angels.  And sharing the night with Mr. Gaelic.  He didn't even rest his eyes once during the performance.

However, trying to eek out a few more hours of couple time on a Saturday morning wasn't the best idea.  Well, not in the way it was executed.  The local school district held a screening of "Waiting for 'Superman'".  It's a very thought-provoking movie.  Done by the same guy who did "An Inconvenient Truth".  If you think it's all lovey dovey with the teachers' unions, think again.  The movie basically rips the unions for allowing bad teachers to remain in the classroom.

Both Mr. Gaelic and I were hot around the collar after the screening.  There was a panel discussion following the screening consisting of a teacher, three students, and a parent.  Audience members could ask questions.  The teacher admitted that she's warmed to the idea of merit pay for teachers.  Afterward leaving the theatre, I equated it with choosing your doctor.  You want the best doctor.  But what about our kids' teachers? 

Neither "An Inconvenient Truth" nor "Food Inc." irked me as much as "Waiting for 'Superman'".  Mr. Gaelic noted that with the other two movies I can recycle more and buy organic.  We have a bit of personal control over those two areas of our lives.  As for the local school district, none.

Yep, I'm mad about the way kids in America, my kids, are treated by the education system.  And I really covet the school administrators and teachers who are trying to make education work for kids.  Just watch tomorrow's sermon be about wrath and envy. 

12.11.10

Where's the Beef?

After all these years of online purchases, I should know how to complete the sale and checkout with my new items.  But noooooo.  Apparently, I sometimes forget to hit the checkout button.

For our meat co-op, it's a simple one-click at the checkout.  The financial transactions happens when you actually pick up your meat from the delivery location. 

Since tomorrow is the last delivery of the year, I had planned to stock up until next spring.  The freezer was slowly being emptied to make room for a half of a hog, ten pounds of ground beef, six roasters, and ten pounds of the best steaks I could afford.  When I double checked our order, it was all still sitting in my shopping cart.  Not checked out.  No delivery pick-up for me tomorrow.

It's going to be a long winter.

11.11.10

My Howard Beale Impression

Hopefully I don’t look like Howard Beale making his famous speech. But his words ring true.

I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!!!

What has my ire up?

Usually I’m complaining about something that one of the kids did or didn’t do that has my goat. But when someone hurts my kids, even emotionally with a letter, I’ll act like the Leonean mother that I am. I’m very protective of my cubs. You hurt my kids, you have to deal with me, by God!

It all boils down to a girl who used to be one of my daughter’s friends. The girl made such poor choices that her parents sent her to a wilderness program in Utah followed by boarding school in Arizona never to return home until she has graduated from high school. In the letter, the girl blames my daughter for her poor choices. Shifting the blame! Not taking responsibility!

Although I never felt at ease around the girl’s father, her mother was one of my friends. Now I’m not so sure anymore.

Even though there are rough spots in raising children, I would still take one of mine over 1,000 of the other girl.

Am I being petty if I resent the other girl’s letter telling my daughter that they can’t be friends anymore? Am I petty for wanting to cut off contact with the parents? Do I owe them an explanation of why I want to cut off contact? Do I owe them anything?

Someone talk me away from the window.

10.11.10

Eat My Roots

If you're a regular reader, you know I grew up in a small Southern town.  Today's quiz is about the food of the American South. 
  1. What is the base flavoring of benne wafers?
    1. Vanilla
    2. Chocolate
    3. Sesame seed
    4. Molasses
  2. What do you call the liquid released from collard greens as they cook?
    1. Potlikker
    2. Collard cola
    3. Green gumbo
    4. Hock sauce
  3. Hoppin' John is made with rice and what?
    1. Lima beans
    2. Green beans
    3. Pinto beans
    4. Black-eyed peas
  4. What is the traditional topping of Southern-style banana pudding?
    1. Benne wafers
    2. Vanilla wafers
    3. Pecan Sandies
    4. Butter cookies
  5. "Chitlins and maw" are what parts of the animal respectively?
    1. Pig intestines and cow stomach
    2. Cow intestines and pig stomach
    3. Pig intestines and pig stomach
    4. Cow intestines and cow stomach
  6. Sorghum is a type of what?
    1. Grain
    2. Vegetable
    3. Fruit
    4. Candy
  7. Pimento cheese is what?
    1. A semi-hard, cow's milk cheese made with pimento peppers
    2. A type of spread consisting mainly of mayonnaise, sharp cheddar cheese, and pimento peppers
    3. A melted cheese dip similar to queso that is specked with pimento peppers
  8. Country-fried steak and chicken-fried steak are the same thing.
    1. True
    2. False
  9. What is the most recommended vessel for cooking cornbread?
    1. Deep-fryer
    2. Dutch oven
    3. Muffin pan
    4. Cast-iron skillet
  10. When ground, hominy is called what?
    1. Porridge
    2. Oatmeal
    3. Muesli
    4. Grits
Answers tomorrow.  For some reason I've got a hankerin' for some fried okra right now.

9.11.10

Beneath the Kilt

What does a Scotsman wear under his kiltIt depends on the man. 

Several years ago during a parade in town, several clans had been imbibing a bit too much scotch trying to warm their innards on a cold winter day.  As one clan approached the reviewing stand, an elderly "gentleman" stumbled and proceeded to roll and roll and roll across the pavement right towards the crowd of dignitaries.  In true Scots fashion, he wasn't wearing anything except his kilt.

This past Saturday night, one of our associate priests who is the dean of a local seminary held a Murder Mystery party at his house for the Beefeaters.  The Beefeaters have nothing to do with gin or guarding the Tower.  It began as a group of men at church who would clean up the church cemetery on a semi-annual basis.  They also enjoy relaxing afterwards with a grill full of red-meat products and some good single malt.  It has grown to include Lady Beefeaters who are either honorary members or actually help with the cemetery cleanup.

One of the Beefeaters is USDA-certified AAA prime beefcake eye candy.  At a pool party in the dwindling days of summer, he was the one who wasn't embarrassed in his swimsuit.  Rippling six-pack, shaved head, earring.  And the life of party, even finding a way to attach a keg to floaties so the guys in the pool didn't have to go far for a refill.

The murder mystery party was a fancy dress affair.  Although some people dressed for the role they were assigned (my role was the actress, Mr. Gaelic's was the doctor), most people wore long dresses or tuxes.  Except BeefeaterCake.  He wore a kilt tuxedo - looks like a tux from the waist up and a kilt from the waist down.

During the opening explanation and the closing accusations, we were seated in a large circle since there were 16 of us.  (Eight characters per game so we were split into two different rooms for dinner but all played the same game.  Yes, there was another actress and another doctor.  And the Gaelics and another couple were lucky enough not to be seated with our spouses - you can interact with more people that way.)  BeefeaterCake was seated directly opposite in the circle.  And he doesn't seem to know how to keep his legs together, sitting with his knees spread.

But like a thoughtful Scotsman, he wore tartan compression bike shorts underneath.  Not traditional, but thoughtful.

8.11.10

Paper or Plastic?

My hair stylist was born in the U.S. to Serbian parents who returned to Serbia when he was a toddler.  When he was 20, he decided that Serbia wasn't the place to try to build a life (remember Yugoslavia?).  So he headed back to the U.S. to claim his American citizenship before he turned 21 and was no longer eligible.

On one of my recent trips to have him work his magic, the conversation turned to several cities that now charge 5¢ for each shopping bag.  Grocery stores were understandable since most grocery stores give a 5¢ or 10¢ per bag refund for each reusable bag.  Lots of people are now filling their reusable bags with boxes of cereal, rolls of toilet paper, and gallons of milk.  But what about department stores?  Would they charge for a shopping bag?

Neither of us knew the answer.  But it brought up a discussion of how they did things in Serbia.  Every family kept their cloth bags on the back of the door.  On the way out of the house, they would grab a few bags and use them everywhere they shopped.  Everywhere.  Grocery store, shoe store, hardware store. 

On my next shoe shopping trip, if I were to ask the shoe store for a bag refund, I wonder if they'd go for it.  And I wonder if it would catch on with other folks.

7.11.10

Menu Plan: November 8 - November 14

Having exhausted all my ideas on why my photos won't properly upload on Blogger, there are no pictures of the cake we took with us to the Murder Mystery Party last night.  (And no pictures of Thing 1 or Thing 2, either, for those of you who asked.)

It's a flourless cake.  Just three ingredients - 1/2 pound of unsalted butter, 1 pound of bittersweet chocolate, and 6 eggs.  My preference of bittersweet chocolate is Valhrona Amer, which is 71% cocoa.  It's like the Darth Vader of chocolate.  Beware the Dark Side! 

To cut through the richness, my choice of accompanying sauce is a raspberry puree.  Again, three total ingredients - raspberries, lemon juice, and superfine sugar (not powdered).  Because only the raspberry juice is boiled down, not the pulp, it retains a fresher, tarter taste.  And the dark red against the dark brown almost black looks so cool.

Even though another couple brought a cleverly decorated cake, mine tasted better.  Rolled fondant takes so much time that the red velvet cake underneath was a bit on the dry side.  My one attempt at a fondant cake wasn't as moist as most of my cakes.  But the hand-painted fondant flowers were really memorable.  (It's was Mr. Gaelic's birthday cake the first year we were married.)

But enough about desserts.
  • Monday
    • Breakfast:  carrot-raisin muffins
    • Supper:  butternut squash soup, homemade potato bread
  • Tuesday
    • Breakfast:  cereal (as always on Tuesdays)
    • Supper:  barbecued ribs, homemade white bread, sauce (Ask anyone who's ever tried Dreamland BBQ, it's the only way to eat ribs.)
  • Wednesday
    • Breakfast:  soft-boiled eggs, toast
    • Supper:  fried okra, black-eyed peas, picked beets, spoon bread
  • Thursday
    • Breakfast:  cereal (Veteran's Day = no school = sleep late)
    • Supper:  French onion soup, salad (Veteran's Day = remembering my daddy who landed on Normandy Beach on D+14 = French food)
  • Friday
    • Breakfast:  English muffins, fig preserves or honey (We're currently out of Tupelo honey, so I'll poke around the condiment section for something interesting.)
    • Supper:  cheese soufflĂ©, asparagus
  • Saturday
    • Breakfast:  pancakes, bacon
    • Supper:  pizza for girls, Mr. Gaelic and I are headed to a party at church for major donors of a new grand piano
  • Sunday
    • Breakfast:  sausage gravy, homemade biscuits
    • Dinner:  roast chicken, potatoes Anna, green beans
Sometime during the week, we'll finish off the last five slices of chocolate cake.  The slices are quite thin since the cake is quite rich.  As well as the almond cookies that Maeve made last night while we were trying to solve the murder mystery. 

My budding chef.  Following in her sisters', and mother's, and father's footsteps.

6.11.10

Work It, Boys and Girls, Work It

We have our own personal catwalk in our bedroom.  Just for two.  His and hers.  Seven feet off the ground.  And it gets used on a daily basis.

It didn't start out as a catwalk.  The designer would probably be insulted to know of its current use. 

The catwalk is actually the canopy of our bed.  Now I know I'll get lots of mail about this, but I was always taught that if a bed had four tall posts but no frame between the tops of the posts that it was a tester bed.  If it had a frame at the top of the posts (with or without linens hanging from the frame) then it was a canopy bed.  Our canopy bed has no linens hanging from the frame.

That frame is the catwalk.  And it's used by cats.  Thing 1 and Thing 2 figured out how to jump onto the frame from the headboard.  Not only do they walk on it, they perch on it to watch while we putter around the bedroom.  They also stalk each other on it. 

Thing 1 has a habit of following Thing 2 closely and swatting at her back legs to trip her and knock her off.  He doesn't share well.  There are countless scratch marks where Thing 2 has tried to hold on for dear life, her ears back in fear, and her eyes wide, as she's tried to push herself back onto the catwalk.

The worst part of having the catwalk right over our heads is when one or both are sitting on the rail when it's time for the humans to go to bed.  First the lights go off, but sleep doesn't follow quickly.  We're waiting to the muffled thud of a cat jumping onto the mattress from the frame. 

It's that fear that one of them will land on our heads.

5.11.10

Where Does the Time Go?

So it's a proven fact.  As we age, time actually speeds up.  Well, maybe it's not proven nor fact but it sure feels that way.  When we were kids, it took FOR-EVER for Christmas to get here.  Now we barely get the lights off the house and, voila, it's time to start planning your Thanksgiving feast.

Okay.  I can deal with that.  Life is whizzing by me way too fast.  But now?

Now it's the days, not just the years, that are breaking the speed limit.

When I signed up for the e-mail daily meditations from the Episcopal Cafe, I thought there would be one in the morning, sort of a paperless Forward Day by Day.  It's the environmentally conscious thing to do.  And I forget to pick one up at the back of the nave until halfway through the current quarterly publication.

But nooooooo!!!!!!

Not only do they send me the e-mail daily devotion, but they send me other devotions throughout the day.  Morning Prayer arrives in my inbox around 8:00 a.m.  The Noonday Office arrives around noon.  The Evening Prayer at 4:00 p.m.  And Compline around 8:00 p.m.

For any non-Episcopalians out there, Morning Prayer, Noonday, Evening Prayer, and Compline make up the Daily Office.  These are services for individuals throughout the day when we should offer prayers.  Episcopalians just don't use an adhan to remind us to pray.  Although some of us (me) need the electronic reminder to slow down during my busy day.

But those electronic reminders don't feel like my day is slowing down.  On the contrary, whenever errands have kept me busy for long stretches of time and I check my inbox to see if there are any urgent or funny e-mails, the Daily Office e-mails remind me that "It's already time for Evening Prayer?!?  Where has the day gone?"

Breathe.  Relax.  Just move everything that didn't get done today to tomorrow's to-do list.  And remember to slow down.

4.11.10

Wham, Bam, Arigato, Mrs. Roboto

Sex with robots?  It could happen. 

It's widely reported that men's and women's sex drives are in opposition to each other.  Younger women and older men have compatible sex drives, as do older women and younger men.  The former set tend to end things much sooner than the latter set.

Except for one British woman who at age 62 went on a two-year sex binge encompassing more than 200 one-night stands.  So there are some exceptions to the general rule.  Somehow it's easier imaging Olivia Newton-John bed-hopping than a grandmother from Leeds.

Another bit of news of recent days was the remarkably life-like Japanese robot.  She looks like an average late-20s or early-30s Japanese woman with long black hair, dark eyes, perfect skin, and a pink jacket.  She nods and shakes her head, blinks her eyes, smiles, and bows geisha-style.  She even raises her eyebrows.  Her speech needs work.  She still sounds robotic.

Given American men's proclivity to porn featuring Asian women (admit it guys), there could be a huge market for this.  For younger men who tend to date younger women, she could go at it literally like the Energizer Bunny.  If they ever develop a male version, older women might never knit again.  And it might save countless men in north central England from being another notch in the lipstick case of a nymphomaniac grandmother.

3.11.10

Because Everyone Has a Price

Several years ago, there was a joke going around.

Guy to gal:  Would you sleep with me for a dollar?

Gal to guy:  No!  (Or Hell, no!  Or some variant.)

Guy to gal:  Would you sleep with me for a million dollars?

Gal to guy:  (Usually would say...) Yes.

Guy to gal:  Now that we know what you are we just need to agree on a price.

It goes with the premise that everyone has a price.  In keeping with that, there's a very addictive website that asks you questions and let's you name your price.  Such as, How much it would take for you to go without the Internet for a year or to take a vow of celibacy for a year.

[If, for some reason, the above link doesn't work, google "howmutch".  It should be howmutch.com but I'm having trouble checking the link.]

2.11.10

A House Divided

Was it Jesus or Abraham Lincoln who said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand"?  Saint Mark says it was Jesus and that Lincoln just paraphrased.

There are many houses today that are divided.  The husband State fan and the wife Tech fan.  The husband Cowboys fan and the wife Redskins fan.  The Lutheran husband and the Jewish wife.  Or as in the case of Mary Matalin and James Carvelle, a Republican wife and a Democratic husband.

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past several months, you know that today is election day in the U.S.  For some people voting is very easy.  They feel that the Republican party or the Democratic party better represents what they believe.  Even though they claim to be unbiased, they vote the party line.

But for those of us who are truly independent, even though we label ourselves as one party or another, voting is an arduous task.  It takes much work to decide on which candidate to vote for.  Take today for instance.

If you're my Facebook friend, you'll notice that I do list a political affiliation on my profile page.  But that doesn't mean I've never voted for the other party.  And labels are about as helpful as sand traps at a tennis match.  (Because if you ever sat down and listened to my views and beliefs on all the different issues, you'd claim that I was schizophrenic and have me committed to the nearest institution.)

In trying to vote today, I went to three different precincts before I found a representative from both major party candidates.  I explained that I wanted to hear both sides at the same time, rather than read information that one side put out against the other side.

"Why should I vote for them?"

They looked dumbfounded for a moment as if it was some kind of joke before launching into the reasons to vote for their particular candidate.  (Although the first question out of one of their mouths was who did I work for.  As if that matters when I'm asking them both the same question.)  Much more enlightening than reading their glossy fliers, which never give specifics, only broad statements.

Now as I write this, Mr. Gaelic, who is staunchly in one camp, is giving political commentary (part of his real-world job) to no one in particular as he sits beside me with his laptop checking the results of all the different districts across the country.  After spending two hours out of my day today trying to vote (the actual voting process took less than five minutes, the rest of the time was driving around to find representatives from both parties and then listening to their arguments), the last thing I want to do is listen to the play-by-play.

I'm this close to throwing him out of the house for the night.

1.11.10

I've Got a Witch to Scratch

My very first time Trick-or-Treating was such a big deal.  My mama took me to Sears and Roebuck to pick out a costume.  (At least I think it was Sears.) 

This was back in the day when every costume came with a full-face plastic mask with a thin elastic string stapled onto each side near the ears.  There were cutouts for the eyes and the mouth.  (I think there was one for the mouth.)

But then somebody somewhere shoved a razor blade into an apple and handed it go some unsuspecting kid.  Soon the hospitals would let you bring your candy over to be x-rayed.  Thankfully, these events coincided with my becoming a teenager.

When we turned 13, we were cool.  We didn't want to do all that baby stuff like Trick-or-Treating.  We were middle schoolers.

Through the years things have changed a lot.  People don't make homemade goodies to hand out.  (One year I did but only to the kids I knew very well.) 

Children these days won't fondly remember their first Trick-or-Treating.  Not because they had a bad time, but because their parents insist on dressing babies up like little pea pods and going door-to-door.  (Are you going to save that candy until the kid is old enough to eat it?  I think not.)

And I wonder when children today will ever grow up.  At least the high schoolers who knocked on our door were wearing costumes.  One year we had a bunch that didn't even bother with costumes.  It seems there are as many adults in costume as there are kids.  And not just the college kids hanging out in the neighborhoods close to the local colleges.  I'm talking people with salaries, not just paychecks.

I've been watching too much "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" and not enough "Girls Next Door".  I've been struck with nostalgia for a 1950's-style Halloween.  The kind where witches weren't sexy and a sheet could become a ghost.  Not a toga.