Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday Reading Assignment: Marking Time

I was so bowled over by Elizabeth Jane Howard's The Light Years, that I had to go out immediately and get the sequel:  Marking Time.  It is every bit as good as its predecessor,  and may even be better.  The Light Years serves to introduce the family, and Marking Time solidifies the reader's relationship with them.  There's a sense that the real story has now begun, as has World War II.  While the first book gave a voice to many characters, Marking Time focuses more on the three girls of the Cazalet family: Louise, Polly, and Clary, who are in their teens.  Louise, who is slightly older, goes off to acting school, while Polly and Clary live at the family compound in the country under the supervision of a gentle governess.  The governess herself is a tragicomic figure.  The few bits of the story told from her perspective are especially well done, and the bracing little pep talks she gives herself make her seem more tragic, less comic, but one of those characters you'll remember long after you've read the book. 

I'm so glad I found this series, but I want to make the pleasure last longer, so probably will wait a bit before reading the last two books.  Next in line are The Red and the Black by Stendhal.  Also, a book called Trilby which was listed on my book list as Trilby--DuMaurier, so I was expecting a nice, comfortable romance by Daphne DuMaurier, but it turns out that Trilby was written by one George DuMaurier, which is a bit of a disappointment.  I feel very ignorant.  Has anyone heard of him?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

One Girl, Forty Martinis

The martini consumption continues apace.  Here's the latest crop.

The Circus Act: An apple martini with a drizzle of caramel sauce. You get the caramel apple taste without the nasty caramel apple texture.  Plus, it's pretty.



The Diva: White grape juice, Absolut Citron and champagne.  This one is on the tart side.  Comes sprinkled with little white flecks.  I think they were tiny edible flowers, but couldn't be sure.

The Dreamsicle:  Cointreau, vanilla vodka, orange juice and cream.  Consumed on a dessert run with the kids.  I've never been a fan of citrus combined with dairy.  My mother once told me that a reliable way to feign sickness was to drink a glass of orange juice mixed with milk, a combination guaranteed to make you throw up.  I never tried this trick myself and I am certainly not saying that the dreamsicle made me feel sick.  It's probably a good choice if you are starving and there's a long wait for a table. Or for dessert, but not combined with cheesecake, as mine was. Oy.




The Eclipse:  A wedding cocktail.  To me, it tasted like punch, frothy and sweet, with undetectable alcohol that sneaks up on you and makes you drunker than drunk.  Jon insisted it tasted like fruity pebbles.  What do I know?  My mother never bought us sugary cereals.





Monday, November 26, 2012

Turkey Day

It has come to the point where one can't absentmindedly take a swig out of a bottle of wine without one's daughter taking one's picture and putting it up on Instagram.  One feels exposed as a wino mom, but it's the thing these days to be a wino mom, although it sets such a bad example.  Get a glass!  Wine tastes terrible straight out of the bottle.

I hope everybody had a lovely Thanksgiving.  Ours was very nice, although it is hard to live hundreds of miles from our families.  I haven't been "home" for Thanksgiving in twelve years.  Jon and I both come from families who eat Thanksgiving dinner at night, and not in the middle of the day, so at least we are spared that cause of marital strife.  I can't imagine how people are able to serve such a huge meal so early.  Even if I do some of the cooking the day before, I couldn't possibly manage to get the dinner on the table before 8:00pm.  At 1:00pm on Thanksgiving, my kitchen looked something like this:


















That's Bernard Black playing me and Manny as Seamus.

Our meal must not deviate.  The stuffing, turkey, cranberry sauce, and "rolls for special occasions" are all straight out of the Tasha Tudor Cookbook. There must be mashed potatoes, there must be pumpkin pie, from my grandmother's recipe.  Alice Water's brussels sprouts gratin is becoming another indispensable dish.  I had a pumpkin pie epiphany.  My pumpkin pie always tasted a tad insipid compared to my mother's, though we used the same recipe.  I would always kill myself to bake the pies on Thanksgiving morning, so they'd be "fresh."  It occurred to me that maybe pumpkin pie tastes better if it is allowed to sit a day.  And so it does.

Two new recipes I tried were a chipotle cream sweet potato gratin and a cranberry upside down cake, both from The New York Times Cookbook.  The gratin was outstanding, and very easy to make. Buy a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce and mix a teaspoon of the sauce (not the peppers themselves) into a cup of heavy cream.  You must slice the sweet potatoes very thinly, preferably with a mandolin.  We don't have a mandolin, but Seamus is developing mad chef knife skills. Layer the sliced sweet potatoes with the cream and season with salt and pepper.  Bake until the cream has been absorbed into the sweet potatoes.  The result is like a pudding.  I recommend being a little generous with the adobo sauce.

The cranberry upside down cake was not so successful.  It gets off to a promising start, in which you caramelize butter and brown sugar in the bottom of a cake pan, then dump some cranberries and a little orange juice into the caramel. Cake batter is poured over all and once it's baked you turn it out of the pan so that the cranberries are on top.  The cranberry part was OK, but the cake had the texture of corrugated cardboard.  I am a pretty good baker, but scratch vanilla cake that doesn't taste like crap is unattainable, apparently.

What was your outstanding Thanksgiving dish?  What was your Thanksgiving fail?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Friday Reading Assignment: Absalom Absalom

I read this as part of the Fifty Classics project. I can't honestly say that I have finished Absalom, Absalom, because there are still thirty-two pages to go, but I can honestly say that it is highly unlikely that those final thirty-two pages will help me understand this book any better. And this is the second time I've read it.  Pathetic. 

So it's about this guy, Thomas Sutpen, who behaves badly, and is a big black blot on the psyche of the more sensitive denizens of Yoknapatawpha county, Mississippi, including Quentin Compson who narrates Sutpen's story to his college roommate forty years after most of it happened and kills himself a few months later, although in a different book.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I will say that I am grateful I am nearly finished with Absalom, Absalom.  We can conclude that I am Too Stupid for Faulkner.  Which author are you too stupid for?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Just life.

It sucks to waste an entire Saturday being sick, but I seem to have caught the virus that is going around my office.  I forced myself out to do the shopping, but was overcome near the fish and had to leave the store in a hurry, reminiscent of the terrible Christmas Eve two years ago, when I sat in the car in the Whole Foods parking lot, throwing up into a leaky nylon beer bottle carrier, while fourteen-year old Grace and her friend Sophie did all the Christmas grocery shopping for me.  After the store Saturday I went straight to bed and stayed there for hours, starting to feel human again by dinnertime.

Yesterday I felt much better and to prove it I cleaned the refrigerator and climbed a ladder and cleaned the bird shit off the kitchen window.  Now my refrigerator is a shining receptacle for a big bloody turkey that will no doubt leak all over the lettuce and my kitchen window is satisfyingly shit free.

Window cleaning preparations:  It is a challenge to prop a ladder anywhere on our property, but I wedged a shoebox under the ladder feet.

Jon was at work, lest you think he was lolling on the couch while I was up ladders.

Meanwhile, despite the disastrous appraisal, our refinance went through.  We closed last Wednesday.  This means we will be paying off our mortgage nine years early and will be going ahead with the urban courtyard of excellence, so it's happy times at the Crabsticks'.

So, the courtyard--we had Miss Utility over to map for us the things we don't want to destroy with a backhoe.  Is Miss Utility a Virginia thing, or does everybody have her?  At any rate, Miss Utility drew a line of yellow spray paint to denote the gas line, sprayed a blob of blue paint on the water meter, refused to identify the mystery pipe in the front yard, and condescendingly informed me that the phone and electric lines are located overhead.

Jon had an idea.  As long as the gas line is going to be exposed we could buy gas lamps, connect them to the lines (pre-meter, of course) and have lovely gas lighting for our driveway.  "Where are we going to buy gas lamps?" I jeered.  "Gas lights dot com?"  Still, having come from a place where gas lights are standard and not horrible electric ones like Charlottesville has, the idea attracted me.  Don't worry, we are not going to steal gas from the city to power our very own outdoor lighting, I promise, although the idea has a certain naughty brilliance.

Meanwhile, Contractor Kyle came over and dug around the mystery pipe, in an attempt to identify it. He dug for over an hour and never reached the point at which the pipe branched off to go anywhere but down.


I am convinced it is a portal to the Underworld.

                             




Friday, November 16, 2012

Friday Reading Assignment

I have a treat for you this week:  The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard.  THIS BOOK IS AWESOME.  It's the first of The Cazalet Chronicle series, which was also a BBC television mini-series.  (I haven't seen it yet.)

It's England in 1938 and the Cazelets are a rich middle class extended family.  The story is told from the perspective of most of the family members, including the children and servants.  It's like Upstairs Downstairs merged with Downton Abbey and The Camomile Lawn.

The Light Years is the sort of book you can't wait to return to after a long, dreary day.  Like real life, it's funny and tragic and awful.  I can't wait to read the remaining books in the series.

I'm a little embarrasssed about my inability to write a decent book review:  "This book is awesome.  It is about a family.  It reminds me of these other three books, one of which is not even a book, but a wildly popular TV show."

After I wrote the above, I thought of something more articulate that I could write about this book and then I forgot it, so we will have to settle for "THIS BOOK IS AWESOME!"


Monday, November 12, 2012

In which I injure a rabbit and save a dog.

The title is a bit of an exaggeration.  The rabbit was uninjured, and I didn't actually save the dog, although I thought I was saving it at the time.

I was having a cleaning tantrum.  Every item of clutter had become a personal insult.  Lately, for reasons too boring to explain here, our house has been overrun with poor-quality apples.  There was an apple on the desk in the front hall, two apples on the sunroom windowsill, another in my antique yellowware mixing bowl.  I tossed an apple off the back porch, where it hit our pergola and exploded in an unsatisfactory manner, all over the deck.  Even more angry, I took a second apple and hurled it with all my strength.  It cleared the pergola, sailed the length of the back yard and hit a peacefully grazing rabbit right on the ass.  I was mortified, but the rabbit gave me an irritated glance and continued eating as if nothing had happened.

Early the next morning, I went out for a walk.  I had hardly left the house, when I realized I was being followed by a dog.  She stuck with me for blocks, and in the end, followed me all the way home. At one point we passed a woman walking her dog on a leash and I worried there'd be a confrontation, but "my" dog sensibly crossed to the other side of the street.  At home,  I put bowls of food and water on the porch. I didn't want to bring her in because Sancho is aggressive with other dogs.

The dog had a skin condition. Patches on its hind legs were red and raw, its tail oddly swollen at the base, where it had lost most of its fur.  What fur it had was dusted with dry skin flakes.   I called animal control, but there is no animal control on Sundays.  I called the SPCA, but they didn't open until noon. I put a picture of the dog on twitter but no one responded.



Eventually, we let Luna out, since she is the sort of dog to take other creatures under her wing and organize them.  I resolved to take the stray to the SPCA as soon as they opened.  The skin condition (and lack of collar) led me to believe she'd been on her own for a long time, but her behavior showed that she was accustomed to kind treatment from humans.  I decided she'd gotten separated from a loving family and never found her way home.  As sweet as she was, I couldn't take a third dog into our already overcrowded house.

The dog had shown no signs of wanting to leave, when I saw a man walking past the house.  I could tell by the alert way that Luna was standing in the driveway, that our dog had gone.  I went out to the street, but both man and dog had disappeared.  I assumed the stray had decided to try her luck with this new man.  He'd looked like a nice man and I hoped she would fare well with him.

Two hours later, our stray returned.  I got an old leash and collar, the dog followed me trustingly into the car, and we headed for the SPCA where they exclaimed, "that dog was here last week!"  They also knew that the skin condition was caused by allergies.  They got the owner on the phone, but she was on her way home from out of town, so the dog stayed at the SPCA until her owner came that evening to collect her.

Later, through the C'ville gossip web, I learned that my picture had been spotted on twitter and the dog belongs to a classmate of my kids.  I've never met the parents, but at least now I know which house to take her to if she wanders our way again.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Friday Reading Assignment: Greater Britain

In 1866, Charles Dilke, a British politician, traveled around the world to visit most countries which had been or were colonies of Great Britain. He published the story of his travels in Greater Britain, a rather dense book of over 500 pages.

The journey starts in Virginia which was reeling from the Civil War.  Dilke traveled extensively in the United States, dipped briefly into Canada, crossed the North American continent in a stage coach, as the railroads did not yet extend to the Pacific.  From California, he traveled the Pacific islands and New Zealand.  From New Zealand he sailed to Australia and visited each state there--no simple task in such a large country with very little infrastructure.  The last leg of the journey is in India.

Parts of this book are boring and I admit that I skimmed here and there.  There is, however, much of interest.  I liked the musings on place names, the comparisons of geography, climate, the looks and habits of the people--both native and colonists.  He has some interesting things to say, such as his observation that the more abusive a society is to its women, the more unpleasant, savage, and generally backward they are.  But then he lost me at the end, concluding that the "cheaper races" are threatening the good English stock in many of these countries.  By "cheaper races" he meant the Irish, displaying that curious mental block among the Victorians in which they could at least express (if not practice) enlightened views (for their time) about the people they've conquered and in the next breath declare the Irish to be subhuman.  Doubly curious because the Irish and the English are both descended from the same Celtic and Scandinavian invaders.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Oh happy day

My query about the VP candidate in 1988 was answered correctly by Laoch of Chicago, whose pithy blog never fails to amuse.  Thanks, Laoch!  Dukakis' running mate was Lloyd Bentsen, who I'd utterly forgotten. (He died in 2006, by the way.)  Dan Quayle, of course, was Bush's running mate.  I can't say I've forgotten about Dan Quayle, as I think of him every time I write the word "potato," but it is a long time since I considered him in the context of a political candidate.

I don't mean to gloat--I know there are some nice people who voted for Romney--but I am very pleased that Obama carried Virginia again.  Also glad that as far as "legitimate rape" is concerned, it is not on.  I hope that the normal republicans can gain control of their party.  What the heck is going on, when people who are actually trying to court public opinion choose to pick on rape victims? 



Tuesday, November 06, 2012

It's Tuesday!



This morning I walked to our polling place (Clark elementary school in Belmont) and walked to work from there.  Expecting long lines, I left plenty early, but while they were certainly doing a brisk business, the line was not exceptionally long—not like in 2008, when people were lined up out the door at 6:00am.   I’ve been voting in the same precinct since the year 2000 and see the same Belmont neighbors there that I then don’t see again until the next Election Day.  I like this continuity.  The election volunteers at Clark school are invariably friendly and helpful.

This year, Brigid is voting in her first presidential election.  Another Virginia voter for Obama!  My own first presidential election was 1988: George H. W. Bush vs. Michael Dukakis.  I had to go to Wikipedia to see who the losing candidate was.  Failed presidential candidates seem to fall into a special black hole of forgetfulness. (If you can name their running mates without looking them up, I will admire you effusively in an upcoming post.)  I do remember my helpless rage, having to face the smug republicans at school the day after the election.  

In 1988, I was at a conservative Jesuit college with a strong college Republicans' club.  Up to that point I had been only dimly aware that there could be such a thing as a republican Catholic.  My great-grandmother believed that it was a sin for a Catholic to be a republican, as my mother was fond of reminding us.   We attended an extremely liberal Catholic church; the Newman Center at Buffalo State College.  My parents were liberal, Catholic democrats. (Technically, my mother was registered as a republican, but that was only so our household had a representative voting in all the primaries.  She always voted for the democrats.)  I grew up believing that being Catholic meant being passionate about social justice. It was the era of nuns being murdered in El Salvador,  “Marriage Encounter,” whole wheat communion wafers, and  folk music and macramé hangings at mass. 

In an earlier election year (2004, I think) a visiting priest stood brazenly at the pulpit at mass at our church in Charlottesville and gave a homily on why it was sinful to vote for the democratic candidates.  I would have gone storming out of the church, except for the fact that my father was visiting and I didn’t want to make a scene.  After mass, my father told me he was just as disgusted as I was.  I wish we’d both stormed out.

Tell me about your first presidential election.

Monday, November 05, 2012

In case you were wondering

Thanks to the city rebuilding the sidewalks along Avon St., I was forced to find a new route for my walk to work.  This was my reward:






It turns out that Fifeville has many visual delights, which I'll probably share in a photo post later on.

In other news, we have been smart-phoned.  One thing I did not consider was the terrible consequence of Jon having access to facetime. Friends and family: I do love you, but I don't always like to talk on the phone.  Now I know that the only thing worse than hearing Jon say, "Oh, here's Patience! I'll put her on the phone!" is to hear him say, "Patience!  Come say hi to X" and being confronted with someone who can actually see me when I've got all my hair pulled into a ponytail on the top of my head.