Monday, December 31, 2012

Moving Day

Parents, you think the worst is behind you once you're past nighttime feedings and diapers, but just when you've sent your kids out on their own, a new responsibility appears:  helping them move.  During the college years, your child is likely to move once a year.  For me, that means sixteen possible moves. Ian has moved four times in two years.  This weekend was Brigid's third move in 18 months.  She was escaping a toxic mold situation in the apartment she and a roommate rented in August.

It was icing and sleeting as we left for Richmond on Saturday morning.  If it is moving day, it's moving day and you have to suck it up and go through with it no matter what the weather.  The ice turned to snow, and then rain.

I felt about 100 years old, especially when sitting in the U-haul, between the two young men who were to do most of the heavy lifting.  One of them came equipped with a green-painted hand and a two-liter bottle of Dr. Pepper.  The old apartment was accessed from an impossibly rickety wooden outdoor staircase.  The steps  wobbled crazily with every ascent and descent. Brigid and I carried the lighter things and I spent most of my time arranging everything as tightly as possible into the truck which was like doing a jigsaw puzzle with eighty-pound pieces.

The world's most dangerous deck.


Old apartment--it had charm.  It's too bad that the mold took hold.

New apartment.

It seemed like the longest day ever, but looking back, it was done efficiently.  By 4:00pm, every last 1/4 full ketchup bottle and stray sock was in the new apartment and the old one was clean with freshly-shampooed carpets.

One thing we've learned since our kids went to college: there's a breed of landlords who specifically prey on students. Now the old landlady has put up a "For Rent" sign in front of a house that ought to be condemned.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Friday Reading Assignment: The Red and the Black

I read Stendahl's The Red and the Black as part of the fifty classics project.  This was published in 1830. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I didn't realize it would be so sensational.  Sex! Seductions!  A beheading!  If Stendahl had been English it probably would never have been published, but he was French.

Julien Sorel is the son of a carpenter in a provincial French town.  He has a reputation for being bookish and is hired by the mayor to be a tutor for his children.  Julien is 19 years old and gorgeous. The mayor's wife is young and pretty her husband is a big old bore.  She and Julien are in bed together before you can say, "You know, it might not be such a great idea to seduce your boss's wife."  The affair ends, predictably, and there's a boring bit in a seminary, because Julien is going to be a priest. (WHY?)  Never mind, he leaves the seminary to be a secretary to one Marquis de la Mole, in Paris.  He's the provincial boy in Paris, but quickly learns the ropes and seduces the Marquis' daughter.  And so the story proceeds to its tragic end.

What's interesting are the manipulations Julien and his lovers put themselves through in order to gain control of each other.  Does Julien love these women?  Sometimes it seems he does, but his actions show a desire to dominate.  If you want to take on the new year with a classic, this might be a good choice.

There does seem to be something lost in translation, or maybe my library's copy is not a good one.  There's a lot of cliched language ("His joy knew no bounds") which I assume is a consequence of translation.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Mince Pies Galore

When I wrote my last post on mincemeat, I had no idea that I was following a trend.  A local historian hosted a mincemeat making class, using three historic American recipes that use bear meat and venison.  She wrote a post about the event and a C'ville blogging friend of mine who attended also wrote about it. "Mincemeat is the new oatmeal," she quipped.

Due to circumstances too boring to relate here, the removable bottoms to my brand-new mini pie tin went out to the curb with the paper recycling on Friday.  I discovered their absence on Saturday, to my great dismay.  Yesterday, I noticed a bit of flotsam at the end of the driveway where trash collects after garbage day.  I went to pick it up and there were my pie tin bottoms, all four of them, dented but perfectly useable. A mincemeat miracle!

You start with a pie crust.  We don't need to go over that, do we?  If you haven't learned to make a pie crust, I encourage you to try.  A novice homemade crust is still far superior to a purchased one.  Flour, salt, fat, water, done. I prefer Jeffrey Steingarten's recipe which can be found in his hilarious book The Man Who Ate Everything.

Pies assembled and ready to go into the oven.

Unfortunately, the cutting guide that came with my mini pie tin got thrown out too and was not kindly deposited in the street for me to find, so I had to estimate the size of my dough circles.  As a result my pies are a little sloppy.  I opened my small jar of mincemeat, fearful it might have gone off after sitting for two weeks at room temperature, but it smelt pleasantly of brandy.  I baked a few in muffin tins, with no top crust.

The finished pies had an appealing apple aroma.  Seamus and I each ate one of the tiny ones.  Delicious!  Much better than purchased mincemeat.  My pies were mildly sweet, with apple flavor dominating. The suet made everything crispy. Think deep-fried apple pie with raisins and brandy.

All these pies didn't even consume my smallest jar of mincemeat.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Merry Pinterest Christmas

This post is my contribution to Jen on the Edge's Holiday Homes tour, as well as real-life results of a few Pinterest holiday crafts I attempted this year.

I wondered where to put the 20' of pine garland, and finally draped it over the triple window in our little sunroom.  I apologize for the shitty picture.  The fuse has already blown on the lights on the left half of the garland and I can't change it.  So sorry, so fat-fingered.

These are my children's christening cups, each topped with a moss ball.  I like how each cup shows the taste of each set of godparents.

Kali looks askance at a Santa I made years ago.

Inspired by Pinterest, I'm wrapping our presents in newspapers this year.  Here's how it looks on Pinterest:

Here's how it looks in real life:

I kind of like the result, actually.  It's a use for the million-yard spool of baker's twine I bought and the newspaper is easier to work with than the brown kraft paper I used last year.  Still, your hands end up filthy, and it's surprising how many pages in a newspaper are unsuitable for wrapping, due to colored ink.  The entire Sunday New York Times yielded enough paper for six or seven presents presents. (Yes, we read it first.)

This project involves decoupaging "vintage German papers" onto ornament balls.

As it happens, we're fresh out of vintage German papers, but pages torn out of an old paperback copy of Shogun worked fine.  I can't say I'm blown away by the finished project, but it isn't exactly awful either.

Acorns are plentiful and can be made into a number of decorations.
Source: via Aileen on Pinterest

I went out to collect acorns and discovered that the squirrels had eaten them all.  Still, I gathered up some acorn caps, thinking they could be made into a garland, or a different pinterest project, such as the one pictured below.
Source: via Aileen on Pinterest

Here's what I have now.  I am already bored with this project.  These will probably end up in the trash. When it comes down to it, acorn caps are just not that interesting.

Is it wrong of me to covet the cutters that made these cookies?  (Pinned from Belgian Waffle's twitter.)

Source: via Aileen on Pinterest

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Mrs. Beeton's Mincemeat Pie

When someone offers you a mincemeat pie, is it your instinct to flee?  Mine too, which is why I have decided to make this dessert myself and discover why it is so beloved in the British Isles.  My own Irish family always ate mince and pumpkin pies for Christmas and Thanksgiving, or "pince and mumpkin" as was our corny family joke.  We kids hated it, of course, and wondered why it was called mincemeat when it didn't even have meat in it.  My mother explained that long ago, mincemeat pie was made with meat.

Actually, not all that long ago.  I have a handwritten mincemeat pie recipe from my grandmother that instructs you to buy mincemeat at the butcher shop, doctor it up with apples, leftover jam or apple butter, and then douse the pie with rum or brandy.

I doubt you can waltz into a butcher shop and ask for mincemeat nowadays, and anyway, I wanted to make it from scratch, so I used Mrs. Beeton's recipe, which is included in Jane Grigson's English Food.  Mrs. Beeton published her Book of Household Management in 1861 and it became the English household Bible for generations.

The players.

The suet came all the way from London, and yes, that's an actual hunk of meat.  The process isn't all that exciting.  You mince the meat and mix it with the mountain of raisins and currants, pictured above. I had to use my very largest mixing bowl.

Here's Seamus mincing.

And we've added the suet.

You add candied peel, nutmeg, apples, lemon juice, lemon rind, a generous amount of brandy.  Here's the finished product. The meat in proportion to the other ingredients is such a small quantity, you can see why people stopped bothering with it.

 Then you pack it into jars and let it sit for a "fortnight."

I'm not so sure about this although Jane Grigson says that the brandy preserves everything nicely and I think Jane Grigson can be trusted.  At any rate, this isn't intended to be canning and the ingredients are 95% dried fruit.

There was a little mincemeat leftover, so I baked a few crustless "mince muffins" just to see how the suet would behave in the oven.  It melts and essentially deep fries all the other filling ingredients. It tasted pretty good, actually.  Deep fried raisins, anyone?

Tune in  a fortnight hence when we bake the pies.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Friday Reading Assignment: A Room of One's Own

I know it's a cliche, but I am afraid of Virginia Woolf.  Her fiction is so intimidating.  I don't think I've ever finished one of her novels.  Last year I read A Common Reader, which isn't exactly easy, but did introduce me to some fantastic books, including two unfinished novels by Jane Austen that I'd never heard of. (Lady Susan and The Watsons--my review here.)

So anyway, I tackled A Room of One's Own, which has been on my to-do list for over twenty years.  I suppose it's lucky I didn't read it when I was twenty, or I might have gotten some particularly poignant line from it tattooed somewhere onto my body.

What does a woman need to be a writer?  She needs money and a room of her own.  These are precisely the things that women lacked, all through history, hence the great silence of women in literature, up to the early 19th century.   It's not like I was unaware that women in history are all but invisible, but Woolf has such a way of putting it, particularly her description of Shakespeare's imaginary brilliant sister. 

This is definitely a book to read and re-read.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Weekend Report, or I can't believe I ate that.

My sister and her husband came to town, and after meeting their train, we went to Bang for martinis.  I had the espressotini, which I have been looking forward to.  You are asked if you want it with cream or without, and I chose without.  I would have preferred the cream, but a fear of calories held me back.  This martini tastes like an iced coffee and is garnished with floating coffee beans.  It's not very strong, but sometimes you want a drink that doesn't knock you on your ass.

Here's my sister and me with our martinis.  She had the "bangarita."

We went to a different restaurant for dinner, which was excellent, although in the morning I woke up with symptoms very suspicious of food poisoning.  I inventoried what I'd eaten the night before and came up with an appalling parade of suspects: oysters, four kinds of sushi, and a cod liver pate. Or maybe it was the turkey salad I'd eaten for lunch, made from leftover Thanksgiving turkey, that I suddenly realized would have been eight days old.  I imagined myself sitting in a doctor's office, rattling off this list of potentially toxic foods and being told that my eating privileges were being revoked for criminal stupidity.   At any rate, there was no need for a doctor, the symptoms were short-lived, and I was up and around by mid-morning.

Sunday we put up the Christmas tree.  There are still some decorating decisions to be made.  What to do with the twenty feet of pine garland that was a free gift with purchase of our tree.  Festoon the porch?  Wrap it around something?  What thing?  I would like to do another Christmas craft, as last year's advent guillotine was such a smashing success.

This year's tree--not much different from last year's tree. Ever since the year we accidentally brought home a two-story tree, we put it up in the hall.

I like colorful glass baubles and whenever I see 1950's ornaments in antique shops, I buy them.

This Santa was my great-grandmother's.

Sancho uses body language to show he disapproves of Christmas trees.