Monday, December 05, 2016

And Now for Something Completely Different

But first, ONE LAST comment about Trump. Yesterday morning, while wiping down the kitchen countertops, I felt such a rush of happiness. My house was peaceful, orderly, and clean. I was anticipating a lovely cup of coffee and a book, some time spent knitting, and an afternoon visit from friends.  It was good to be alive and I had an epiphany that Donald Trump can't take away the simple joys of just being alive.  He's a loathsome monster who hacked his way into the White House, but we're alive and we're in this together and our joy can overcome his nastiness.

But it's the holidays and I want to talk holiday indulgences. I love having seasonal treats that I do just once a year. At Christmas time, I stick to books that are fun and cozy, and possibly Christmas -themed. I also make a point of rereading my favorite childhood Christmas stories such as The Dolls' Christmas, and Becky's Christmas by Tasha Tudor, and The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden. I think this year I'll also reread Miss Read's Christmas stories.

I don't usually buy magazines but I always indulge in the holiday issue of Bon Appetit, and usually plan our Christmas menu from whatever new recipes I find there. This year's issue is a little disappointing, but I think I'm going to do their "reverse roast" prime rib for Christmas dinner. I haven't settled on sides or dessert yet.

A newer holiday indulgence is to read the latest Hater's Guide to the Williams-Sonoma catalog. I went searching for it yesterday, but the 2016 version doesn't appear to have been published yet. However, I discovered that I'd missed the 2015 version! I had a good laugh, although I think they'll never top the first one. I hope the absence of a new one this year doesn't mean they've stopped writing it. If ever we needed a good laugh at the expense of the excesses of privilege, it is this year.  Please, Drew, don't fail us! If we can't have Hilary Clinton for president, we ought to be able to mock a $132 cookie baking kit that consists of items that are already owned by virtually everyone with a kitchen, or if not, can be purchased for under $15 at Target. Oh, but everything is HANDCRAFTED OF COPPER with GOLDTOUCH NONSTICK COATING.

I know it's basic, but I like re-watching favorite holiday movies. The ones I can't miss are Christmas in Connecticut, and Elf. Speaking of basic, I need to get my Christmas playlist together on my ipod and possibly treat myself to a few new songs. I also need to dig out the Christmas music so I can play carols on the piano.

How do you treat yourself this time of year?

Friday, December 02, 2016

Surviving in the Post-Trump World

I have gained approximately 100 pounds since Trump won the election and I feel like I've aged ten years. I have to get my act together and come up with a plan for staying sane for the next four years before I end up in an Oreo coma or a straightjacket. These are the options:

  1. Retreat entirely into a fantasy world of knitting and comfort lit.
  2. Embark on four years of rage, activism, and civil disobedience.
  3. Absent myself from Facebook and Twitter and rely on one trusted news source, to be checked no more frequently than once a week. Regularly donate to groups that can effectively fight the Trumps. Engage in periodic acts of activism, but don't try to fight everything.
  4. Move to a different country and watch our destruction from a safe distance.
Obviously, option three is the most sensible, but I really needed to write it out for myself. Option four has possibilities too, but is considerably more difficult. Given that Jon and I work in high-demand professions, with diligence, we might be able to find jobs overseas. The main problem is that I'm not willing to abandon my children here and since three of them are adults and one will be going off to a university, taking them with me might be tricky. The other problem is that Jon doesn't want to leave the US but I think life here will become intolerable. Jon himself has experienced a hate crime of sorts. He was at the grocery store, wearing a scarf that a friend bought him in Turkey. The scarf's print is recognizably Middle Eastern. Anyway, a random white man, for no reason whatsoever, came barreling toward Jon and forcibly elbowed him out of the way. The store wasn't crowded and there was plenty of room to get by, so we concluded that it was an act of aggression. It was certainly acknowledged, long before the election, that the United States is a racist country, but the fact that so many people now feel empowered to aggressively demonstrate their hatred is deeply disturbing. I think that all of us - truly ALL of us - harbor some amount of prejudice. However, decent and thoughtful people have the ability to detach from their prejudice, to examine it, and to work to overcome it. Since the election, some people have completely dispensed with decency.

Since long before the election, I've been in a constant state of outrage over the way that sexual assault victims are treated in the criminal justice system, particularly the odious case over the summer in which a rapist was given a light sentence because he's a college athlete. I wasn't the most enthusiastic Hilary Clinton supporter (I preferred Bernie) but I was optimistic that a woman president would be a huge blow to out hateful patriarchal culture. My vote for Hilary Clinton wasn't just a vote against Trump, but a vote for women. So you can imagine what a crushing disappointment it was that we elected a sexual predator instead. Now, every loathsome creeper who ever leered at me or made comments or tried to grope me on the bus is legitimized. Jon and I had a massive screaming/yelling fight the day after the election because he just doesn't get what it means to be a woman in the United States. I am still so fucking angry. This is the main reason I'd like to get the hell out of the US and take my children with me.

On the other hand, what would the US look like if everyone who had the means and education to leave did so? If an opportunity presented itself to you, would you consider leaving the United States?

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Thanksgiving Aftermath

Fun fact: Spatchcock, in addition to being a method of preparing a fowl prior to roasting, is also an incredibly awkward-looking pole dance maneuver.  Either way, it means you end up with legs that are at an acute angle in relation to the head.

I had a great deal of difficulty cutting the spine out of the turkey, and had to resort to using Jon's tin snips, because my kitchen shears are useless. It was an incredibly gory operation and my kitchen looked like a crime scene when I was finished. Apologies to those of you who follow me on Instagram and already saw this horror show.

A photo posted by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on

Once you've finished violently wrenching out its spine, you flip the turkey over and perform CPR on it until its sternum snaps and you end up with a splayed out bird that allegedly will roast much faster than if you had left it in its natural state.

I used the Bon Appetit recipe that was circulating the internet. You brine the turkey in orange zest and aniseed and then baste it with olive oil infused with more orange and aniseed.  It was mostly a success, although the orange flavor didn't really come through and I didn't wash the brine off thoroughly enough, so bits of it were salty. But also tender and juicy with a subtle hint of anise. It took a lot longer to roast than the recipe said and we finally gave up and ate it.

A photo posted by Aileen Bartels (@aileenbartels) on

Could have used about twenty minutes more in the oven.

We stick to a pretty traditional menu, but I always like to try at least one new dish. This year's newcomer was a sweet potato/swiss chard gratin from Smitten Kitchen. It was delicious and worth the time it took to prepare three pounds of Swiss chard. Five stars! Would make again!

Aside from the food, it was lovely to have all four children home for the holiday. Even Ian slept over on Thanksgiving night, though he lives only a mile away. In our quirky old house, all the bedrooms open up to each other, so when everyone is asleep, with our collective breath heating up our tiny bedrooms, it reminds me of a cozy beehive. It was wonderful to be the first one up on Friday morning and to see all of my children - even though they're young adults now - safely tucked into bed and sound asleep.

I hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving. What was your most successful dish this year?