29 December 2007

Four Calling Birds

My due date, or really my mother's due date, was Christmas Day. She had friends who were all set to arrive at the hospital with camels and myrrh. If you know me off-blog and know my last name, you'd understand that it would have been quite entertaining should I have actually been born on Christmas Day. But I wasn't. I was four days late, and I peed all over the delivery room.

Quite some time ago, Julie wrote a post that I stuck part of in my drafts folder for later use - and now the time has come. Today's my birthday.

December 29 is the 363rd day of the year (364th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 2 days remaining until the end of the year.

Events - Random and Mundane

1851 - The first American YMCA opens in Boston, Massachusetts.
1989 - Václav Havel was elected president of Czechoslovakia. He became the first non-Communist who attained the post in more than four decades.
1998 - Leaders of the Khmer Rouge apologize for the 1970s genocide in Cambodia that claimed over 1 million.

Births - Arts and Culture

1876 - Pablo Casals, Catalan musician (d. 1973)
1936 - Mary Tyler Moore, American actress
1942 - Rick Danko, Canadian musician (The Band) (d. 1999)
1946 - Marianne Faithfull, British singer
1952 - Gelsey Kirkland, American dancer

Deaths - An Assassination!

1170 - Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury (assassinated) (b. 1118)

Holidays and observances

The fourth day of Christmas.

Here's the meme:

1. Go to Wikipedia and type in your Birthday Month and day only.
2. List 3 Events that occurred that day.
3. List 2 important Birth days (I've indulged myself and listed five).
4. List 1 Death.
5. List a Holiday or Observance. (if any)

27 December 2007

Christmas in 13 Bullet Points

Christmas has come and gone, leaving pine needles and presents, sleep deprived children and many empty wine bottles in the recycling bin. Here are some of the highlights:

1 – raucous game of Mille Bornes, because someone was making up the rules and we spent so much time putting him back in his place with the rule book that he didn't want to play again (though we still love him).

2 – apple confections to bookend Christmas day: apple French toast for breakfast, and apple clafouti for dessert.

3 – batches of cookies made by me (ginger thins, cinnamon clouds, and candy cane crisps).

4 – Christmas ornaments received: 1 pair of pointe shoes, a snowman, a Santa Claus and a fuzzy sparkly red ball.

5 – CDs received: Bridge Over Troubled Water, Bonfires of São João, La Radiolina, We'll Never Turn Back, and The Polish Diva's Polka Party.

6 - copies of the Banksy book Wall and Piece that were floating about, either given or lost in transit, I think (we had trouble keeping track).

7 – articles of clothing received by Miss M: two dresses, one shirt, one fleece pullover, one pair of silver plastic mules with pink marabou trim, one pink feather boa, and one pink petal tutu.

8 – grownups at Christmas dinner: me, my mother, my husband, my brother, my sister and her husband, and two spare adopted family brothers, because we fed the children hot dogs and turned on a movie so we could have dinner in peace. How's that for the holiday spirit?

9 – gifts of food and drink received by me and W.: a bottle of Veuve Clicquot, a box of Arborio rice, a bottle of balsamic vinegar, a box of crystallized ginger, a bottle of dessert wine, a package of Beignet mix, a bottle of sherry vinegar, 2# of red popcorn, and one jar of duck rillettes.

10 - lords a leaping...

11 – handmade objects that I’ve given away (or will be, hence no photo!).

12 – picks and probes in the kit I gave to W. – for woodworking, not dentistry!

13Princess Diana died when her car hit the thirteenth pillar of a tunnel in Paris, on August 31, 1997. What does this have to do with anything? I gave copies of the Tina Brown bio of Princess Diana to both my sister and my friend Peter.

And yes, we unveiled the fruitcake. It had become dust - and so we buried it.

24 December 2007

The Fruitcake

My grandfather died in 1988.

He was a formal sort, nearly always wearing lace up boots and a three piece suit. And for Christmas, he had gift giving traditions - every year we got a fruitcake and a box of pecans. I can still remember sitting around shelling pecans with my mother's antique metal nutcracker, the kind that works like a vice with a screw. There's an exquisite delicate violence to the shelling, with the resulting simple pleasure of extracting the two halves of the nut intact.

The fruitcake was another story. It was always one of those commercial fruitcakes from somewhere down South, the kind that gives fruitcake a bad name. We'd duly put the fruitcake out for consumption at the big chaotic annual Christmas Eve party, and no one ate it, save a few ornery types, and children picking out the glacée cherries. Eventually, it would end up in the compost heap. But my mother always saved the tins - reusing them year after year for storing the dozens of Christmas cookies we made each December. After the cookies were gone, the tins went back into the pantry, to wait atop the freezer until the next December.

One year, round about 1992, my mother was rattling around in the pantry looking for a tin for a batch of cookies. She grabbed one and was startled to find that it wasn't empty. She opened it. Yup - fruitcake. Never opened, its cellophane wrapper intact, it looked perfect. It looked brand new. It looked like it had the the day it arrived, which, given the death of the giver back in 1988, meant it had arrived no later than Christmas of 1987. We oohed and aahed and put it back on top of the freezer. It seemed the only proper thing to do.

Since then, every year we have the unveiling of the fruitcake. For a number of years, it remained perfect, unchanged within its protective film. Then one year, we opened it and discovered that it was covered with a feathery white mold, inside the cellophane. The following year, the mold had transformed into a greyish feltlike covering. One year, we discovered that the plastic wrap had decayed and the fruitcake was oozing out. Sometime thereafter, it began eating through the tin and the tin had to be confined within a plastic bag.

We haven't yet had this year's unveiling - sometime later today, we'll retrieve it from its resting place and see how it's doing. We'll toast it with a glass of sherry, and gently return it to the top of the freezer. And Christmas will have come once again.

20 December 2007

13 Ways to Help

For many people, the impending end of the calendar year is impetus to take out the checkbook and give to charity - to get that deduction into this tax year. And it dovetails nicely with the coincident spirit of giving that surrounds Christmas and Hanukkah (and Kwanzaa, though I'm not much of an expert there).

Need inspiration? Here are thirteen ideas:

1. Last week, Oh The Joys wrote about visiting New Orleans, and about how one could help rebuild the Singleton Elementary School's library. It's easy - buy a book via their Amazon wishlist - it'll get mailed directly to the school. Books for kids - what could be better?

2. A whole mess of food bloggers are having a fundraiser for the UN World Food Programme - with a twist. For every $10 you donate to Menu For Hope, you get a virtual raffle ticket toward your choice of prize.

3. Instead of a donation, make a microloan. For small businesses in developing countries, a loan of $25 or $100 can be a real help in getting going and reaching sustainability. There are a handful of "banks" out there connecting lenders and borrowers - one that I've participated with is Kiva.

4. Your local food bank could probably use help - this article from the New York Times explains why. Do you have non-perishable food items that you could spare? Or give them a check and let them put it to the best use.

5. Last spring I wrote about two healthcare organizations in Africa, both tending to mothers with a childbirth injury called obstetric fistula - the Edna Hospital in Somalia and the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia. They both have US based non-profit organizations, so your contributions are tax deductible.

6. DonorsChoose lets you direct your contribution very specifically - to a classroom project of a teacher's devising. I've contributed to two: "Dance Classroom Needs Ballet Barres" and "Building Self Esteem Through Music and Movement". Poke around, you might find something that pushes your buttons.

7. Cancer feels omnipresent these days - despite Richard Nixon's 1971 declaration of war on cancer. This year, I've given to the American Cancer Society (by sponsoring my sister at her local Relay for Life, and by donating old clothes to my local thrift shop), to the Pan-Mass Challenge, to Susan J. Komen For The Cure (supporting WhyMommy's walkathon), and to Joan's Legacy. Likely you know someone with cancer - maybe a donation to a cancer support or cancer research organization is the one for you.

8. Schools are an easy one. I give to my college every year, because I'm a happy alumna. I also support my child's non-profit daycare, because they do a wonderful job taking care of and teaching my child.

9. Since moving to the suburbs a few years ago, I've been spending a little more time in the car. Also, we finally got our clock radio fixed. All of this means that we listen to the radio more than we used to. So I've started donating to the local public radio station. Mine's WNYC. But yours probably needs support too.

10. Doctors without Borders does a great job of providing medical care to people who need it - often in war-torn, famine-struck countries.

11. If you want a bit of whimsy with your contribution, give someone a goat! Heifer International takes care of the actual goat procurement, but you get to sleep better at night knowing that some family has a goat because of you.

12. Planned Parenthood is a really good organization, doing really important work. Lots of people have a knee-jerk reaction that Planned Parenthood is all about abortions. In fact, if their family planning and women's health care services weren't around, there'd be a lot more abortions. Bitch PhD says it better than I can - be sure to read her post. If you'd rather help pregnant women, an article in the Times last month profiled the San Francisco Homeless Prenatal Program.

13. Last but not least, look around at your local community. Before the year is out, I'll likely send a check to the local volunteer ambulance corps (with fingers crossed that I'll never need them), the local volunteer fire department (ditto) and the nearby hospital (where a kindly postpartum nurse gave me spare parts for my Medela pump at 8:00 on a Saturday morning right after we moved in and I'd had an accident with the kitchen sink - and, no, I hadn't given birth there).

Okay, open your checkbooks!


19 December 2007

The Heart of the Matter

Miss M. helped me decorate the tree. When I unboxed the red glass heart, she wanted to hang it buried deep within, the heart of the Christmas tree.

(Again, too many words for Wordless Wednesday, but what are you going to do?)

17 December 2007

More Little NY Moments

The other morning, I saw a child in a stroller, "reading" the Hanna Andersson catalogue. Starting consumerism early? Picking out his winter wardrobe? Looking for things for his Christmas list?

While waiting for my lunch, I heard the expeditor order "BLT, hold the bacon". Hold the bacon? Isn't that the point of a BLT? Especially when the place uses Niman Ranch bacon?

And last week, I was sitting in my boss's office, gazing out the window at the rooftop across the street, when I spotted a guy on the roof having a smoke and taking a leak.

16 December 2007

Princess Trivia

Out of the mouths of babes four year olds: Ariel wears a sea bra to protect her deese* from sharks.

* Miss M.'s word for breasts. Don't ask me, I'm just her mother.

15 December 2007

A Different Pay It Forward

I've been furiously fabricating Christmas presents, which I can't discuss in any detail because all or most of the recipients read this here blog. (Hi!) Anyway, I'm on a roll, and I've got the supplies, so, when I saw Dawn's post this morning about a "Pay It Forward" homemade object exchange, I had to sign up.

So - the first 3 commenters to commit to doing a give away of something homemade will get something homemade from me.

“I will send a handmade gift to the first 3 people who leave a comment on my blog requesting to join this Pay It Forward exchange. I don’t know what that gift will be and you may not receive it tomorrow or next week, but you will receive it within 365 days, that is my promise! The only thing you have to do in return is pay it forward by making the same promise on your blog.”

For the first 3 people that respond I have a handmade thing that I’ll send you, sometime in January. Your job?

  1. Post a comment here and make sure I have (or can find) your email address so that I can contact you for your mailing address.
  2. Put this on your own blog, and send something you make to the first 3 people that respond.

14 December 2007

CSA Week 25 - The End

This was the last week of our CSA share - all storage vegetables:

  • Potatoes (6)
  • Red Cabbage (1 head)
  • Carrots (2 bags)
  • Onions (4)
  • Beets (7)
  • Butternut Squash (1)

We now have a lifetime supply of carrots, because we still have carrots from several weeks ago and because we accidentally took two bags (Miss M. dropped one in my tote while W. was picking up another and we didn't realize it until we were home). We also have at least a winter's worth of cabbage - both red and white. Luckily I've found two simple and wonderful recipes for cabbage. The first is red cabbage braised in the oven - there's hardly any preparation beyond chopping and it cooks unattended. The second is white cabbage browned in butter - in this case, it's all about the technique, and it's good in the way that browned brussels sprouts are good.

Braised Red Cabbage (adapted from Riverford)

1 lb red cabbage (about a 1/3 of a head)
1 medium onion
1 clove garlic
1 apple
1 t. ground allspice
1 T. brown sugar
3 T. red wine vinegar
salt & pepper
2 T. butter
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 300F. Finely shred the cabbage, finely chop the onions and garlic and peel, core and finely chop the apples.
  2. Toss together the onion, garlic, apple, allspice, brown sugar and salt & pepper to taste.
  3. Arrange a layer of cabbage in the base of a large casserole then add a layer of the onions/apple mix. Alternate the layers until all the ingredients are used.
  4. Pour over the wine vinegar, dot with butter, cover the dish with its lid or some foil and bake slowly in the oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Sauteed Cabbage (adapted from Ina Garten)

1 head white cabbage
3 T. butter
1 1/2 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. fresh ground black pepper
  1. Remove the core and cut the cabbage in very thin slices, as if you were making coleslaw.
  2. Melt the butter in a large saute pan over med-high heat. Add the cabbage, salt and pepper and saute for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is tender and begins to brown. Serve hot.

13 December 2007

Thirteen Pet Peeves

Aha! Killing two birds with one stone - pet peeves for Julie's Hump Day Hmm (okay, a day late) AND Thursday Thirteen. I'm cranky, and I just want to get where I'm going.

  1. Men who spit on the street (and it’s always men).
  2. People who amble along the sidewalk two or three abreast.
  3. Folks who go up the down staircase or down the up staircase.
  4. People who fail to stand to the right on escalators.
  5. Drivers who don’t signal.
  6. Drivers who tailgate.
  7. Anyone who talks too loudly on the train (whether on a cell-phone or with a companion).
  8. Dogs on leashes that are too long.
  9. Wheelie bags anywhere but the airport, because their owners never seem to understand where the bags are.
  10. Litterers.
  11. People who put their feet up on the seat of the train.
  12. Pushy people who fail to let the passengers off first.
  13. Anyone who stops – coming or going – in a doorway or at the top or bottom of the stairs.

Can you tell that I commute by train and subway?

Incidentally, my mother had a cat named Peeve. Yup, she had a pet Peeve.

12 December 2007

You say Lellow, I say Yellow.

She still can't say yellow.

This morning, as I was putting yellow clips in her hair, I asked her what color they were.

Her: Lellow.

Me: Why can't you say yellow? Say yes.

Her: No Mommy, I don't say that word, I say no.

09 December 2007

Gingerbread Houses

I used to make a gingerbread house every year.

In the fall of 1982, I spent four months in London. That Christmas, I decided to make the Tower of London in gingerbread. It came out looking rather more like a Moorish cloister, but it was pretty divine, in I may say so myself. It had a square tower at one corner, and a crenellated round tower opposite. The round tower was tricky - right after it came out of the oven, we rolled the still soft piece of dough around a tube made from shirt cardboard.

At some point, I stopped making a house every year - there just wasn't the time, and I wasn't likely to top the Tower of London. But we did one two years ago, with Miss M. and her cousins involved in the construction, and we only didn't do one last year because my brother got married and that party was rather all-consuming. I think it's got to be back in the annual event category - a simple house with lots of help from all the little cousins.

I've always used the gingerbread recipe from the original Times cookbook, but with some extra flour and extra spices. Start by making a template out of shirt cardboard: the front/back, the side, and the roof. You'll need two of each. Roll the dough out on parchment, so that you can slide the parchment onto a baking sheet and bake it right on the parchment. Cut out openings for doors and windows before you put it in the oven. Make sure and bake through - you might want to bake it a little longer and at a lower temperature than the recipe specifies. If you're feeling up to it, you can used crushed sourballs or lifesavers for stained glass windows, with little strips of rolled dough for muntins. You can also do some decorating with dough before baking, like making shutters, or "architectural detail" along the corners. My favorite roofing material is Necco wafers - it makes a roof that looks like Mediterranean tile. And yes, eat the house, don't store it. Or bring it to work and have the office vultures devour it. I remember taking hunks to school in my lunch bag, well into January.

The only thing to use for icing (glue) is royal icing, which is just egg white, lemon juice and powdered sugar. It's pure white, it's easily dyed with food color, and it hardens like cement to hold the house together, and hold all of the decorations in place. You can also use it as decoration on its own - make a bit of green icing and use it for vines, or make yellow shutters.

And about the roof...I always "sew" it together with a couple of loops of dental floss to "hinge" it at the top. A sturdy needle will slide right through. Sewing it together means that the roof pieces won't slide off before the icing sets up. The dental floss is the only part of the house you can't eat.

The other candy I like to use (beyond Neccos for the roof) includes Life Savers (but only white ones), candy canes, miniature marshmallows, dragees (which are apparently illegal in California), gum drops (but only spice flavored ones, because they taste better with the gingerbread), and cinnamon red hots.

If you read all of the comments on my post about Hanukkah last week, you'll have seen one from my best friend from high school. She mentioned, among other things, those gingerbread houses of yore. So, highschoolbff, this one's for you. (And if you commented on that post, thank you - I appreciate the wisdom and heart that came from each one of you.)

08 December 2007

Question, Comment, Command

My backseat driver doesn't tell me which way to go, but she does provide a running discourse.

What do coyotes eat?

You know what a river is? A river is a kind of bath that lives outside.

Correct your body, Mama! (She wants us to lean into the curve when we're heading for a bend in the road.)

07 December 2007

La Sagna

Back in October, I wrote about the sale of the house across the street from my mother, and the accompanying tag sale, and the later dumpster diving. Well, among the items that came back from the dumpster were two index card boxes - her recipe files. Clearly, she didn't need to take them with her to a nursing home where she'll never see a stove again, but it's sad that neither of her kids was interested.

Anyway, I flipped through the cards and stopped short to scratch my head when I saw the name of one recipe. What exotic thing could La Sagna be? Well, it turns out that it's just lasagne. Or lasagna. Or La Sagna.

But so Mrs. Wright's recipe lives on in the hands of folks who might like it, here it is:

I have no idea who Mrs. Joanne Decher is, or was.

Incidentally, according to the all knowing Wikipedia, "lasagne" is derived from the Greek word for chamber pot. Yum!

06 December 2007

Riddle Me This

This week, they've been "studying" Hanukkah at our daycare. On Monday, the kids made menorahs - eight marshmallows stuck to a paper plate with frosting, with two stacked marshmallows for the shamash, and popsicle sticks for the candles. She ate hers for a snack Monday evening. On Tuesday, they had latkes for lunch. Sometime yesterday, Miss M. asked if we could light candles - more, I think, because she wants to blow them out, but spurred to ask by the Hanukkah discussions at school.

In scooting around on the web, looking for explanations of Hanukkah, I found this odd tidbit: A festival in which the right of every person to follow their own religion is celebrated.

As I've said before, I'm a Christmas-loving heathen atheist. I grew up in an non-religious household - we went to the beach every Sunday in the summer, and to the skating rink every Sunday in the winter. But we always celebrated Christmas, with aplomb - presents spread halfway across the living room, roast goose, five pound sacks of pistachios, and an enormous party on Christmas Eve every year.

Given the heathen atheist business, one could argue that my celebration of Christmas is hypocritical. However, Christmas as we know it also celebrates the winter solstice, the new year, the cyclical nature of time And, it uses elements from many non-Christian sources in its celebratory traditions: the exchange of gifts, the indoor decoration of a tree, the feasting and general revelry.

So, riddle me this: Since Miss M. has asked to light candles for Hanukkah, why shouldn't we? Why shouldn't we incorporate a menorah and eight nights of candles into our winter, December, holiday celebrations?

05 December 2007

Random Quotes

Three things that made me chuckle recently:

“Béjart and Stravinsky is one of those fabled partnerships, like Romeo and Goneril, or bacon and strawberries.” (Clement Crisp as quoted in Alistair Macaulay's Times review of the Ailey opening)

“I couldn’t refuse,” he says. “I would bite my elbows.” (Mikhail Baryshnikov, about going back on stage in a play, from this week's New Yorker)

"I would be going long on picpoul." (Joshua Wesson, quoted in the Times in an article about expected increases in the price of wine)

04 December 2007

Three Weeks 'Til Christmas

I've been thinking that there's all this time before Christmas, until I just looked at the calendar and realized that it's the 25th in three weeks. Yikes! Where'd the time go?

Over the weekend, we snuck into the Christmas boxes and extracted some tchotchkes - the Santa matrushka is on the mantlepiece, a stuffed Rudolf is the new favorite toy, and the Jingle Bells music box has already been to school once.

And we got out the Christmas books. I love that we have a collection of books that comes out for one month a year. Some are tried and true, like How the Grinch Stole Christmas! and 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. But others are newer and weren't around when I was a kid, like these two charmers:

Do you have a favorite Christmas book?

03 December 2007

One Sentence

I'm all posted out. So, here's my favorite one-sentence joke:

A skeleton walks into a bar and says "I'll have a beer and a mop".

It's about the only joke I can remember with any consistency. You?