Friday, June 28, 2013

Friday Reading Assignment: White House Diary

I don't think any White House housekeeper has gotten more media attention than Henrietta Nesbitt, who kept house through FDR's four terms.

Henrietta Nesbitt

By all accounts, housekeeping during the Roosevelt years was GRIM.  Nesbitt was not responsible for the cooking, but she planned the menus, which were approved by Eleanor Roosevelt, and she did do the Christmas baking herself.

Here's what was served in the White House for a Chief Justice Dinner in 1936:

Clear Tomato Soup
Mushroom and Parsley Garnish
Curled Celery     Ripe and Stuffed Olives
Boiled Rolled Flounder
Sauce Alemande
Potato Balls and Parsley
Roast Turkey
Jelly Celestial
Lima Beans   Howard Beets
Scalloped Sweet Potatoes with Apples
Pineapple and Cream Cheese Salad
Macaroon Ice Cream
White Pound Cake

It's like the entire Gallery of Regrettable Food in one menu.  Apparently, the menus for all the meals ever served during the Roosevelt administration are stored in the Library of Congress.  I would love to peruse them someday.  Nesbitt gives us just a few samples in her White House Diary.

Who wants a doughnut?

Nesbitt was aware that the White House had developed a reputation for terrible food.  From her perspective, she was supposed to model thrift in the midst of the depression, and once the war started, she had to contend with rationing.  She saw it as her responsibility to make the president eat his vegetables, and insists that the Roosevelts wanted "plain" food.

Henrietta Nesbitt was not a writer.  She resorts to vague descriptions to compensate for what her writing skills were not equal to, so the years "flew by" and she did "all sorts" of things.  That said, she is a voice for the sort of person who often doesn't get a voice.

She does provide some interesting details.  For example, when the King and Queen of England came to stay, she waited until she heard the twenty-one gun salute to put the new slipcovers on the couches, so that no one would have a chance to get them dirty.  She says that Eleanor Roosevelt was beautiful and that press for unfriendly papers deliberately made her look awful in photographs. (She admits that Eleanor in general was extraordinarily unphotogenic).

The White House Kitchen was completely overhauled, which seems to have taken most of FDR's second term.  Nesbitt says she divides her time in the White House according to whether it was before or after they got "AC" which is not air conditioning, (you knew that of course) but alternating current.  When electricity was new, you could choose direct current or alternating current.  I guess it was like VHS versus beta, and direct current, like beta, turned out to be the turkey.  Too bad it's what was installed in the White House, until they had it all ripped out and rewired and took the opportunity to bring the kitchen up to Nesbitt's standards of cleanliness, although apparently they never did conquer the cockroaches.
White House kitchen in 1933, before the renovation

In addition to her diary, Nesbitt published this cookbook and I am dying to get my hands on a copy.

I want that "Jelly Celestial" recipe. 
How does one "curl" celery?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Feedly Fear

In the mad scramble to choose a reader after Google announced the end of Google Reader, I chose Feedly for no better reason than it was the first one mentioned in an article about reader replacements and because I can't get on board a site with a name as stupid as "Bloglovin'."  Feedly is so cool it doesn't even WORK on Internet Explorer, which I don't use.  Except when I do.

So, Feedly is fine and I actually prefer it to Google Reader, only lately they keep asking, "Have you migrated to the cloud yet?  Don't get left behind!"  I clicked a link and refreshed Feedly and it displayed about 100 blog posts that I'd already read and I had to delete them all, and this is behavior consistent with my experience with clouds.  Which has not been universally positive.  So I guess I am migrated--on my home desktop.  They want you to repeat this process on ALL your devices. 
Gratuitous use of Black Books gif

I feel like a pet who is worried that her family is going to move away and leave her behind.  And frankly, I don't quite trust Feedly or its cloud so I made a back up list of everything in my reader so I can start fresh, if necessary.  Which is a smart move, I think, because just today, Feedly inexplicably deleted two blogs from my feed AND reloaded dozens of entries I've marked as read.  Maybe I could just make my own reader.  I found Tiny Tiny, an open source RSS platform.  It might be fun to experiment, anyway.
Sancho is anxious too

You have one week left!  Have you made a plan for the post-Reader era?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Friday Reading Assignment: On the Radio

"...the senator, while insisting he was not intoxicated, could not explain his nudity." 

That's a line from the opening scenes to the classic TV show, WKRP in Cincinnati, which I've been watching lately.  Re-watching the TV shows you loved as a kid can be risky.  Many of them don't stand up well to the passage of time, (*cough* Welcome Back Kotter *cough*) but WKRP in Cincinnati is just as hilarious now as it was back then.  Even my mother, who loathed television, enjoyed WKRP.  I remember watching "Turkeys Away" with my parents the first time it aired, one of the greatest moments in television history.  Of course I had a crush on Andy Travis, who I now suspect was hired for his hair, and possibly for one other physical attribute.

Watching these re-runs has been my happy place this week and also reminded me of a great book about the wacky world of radio: WLT: A Radio Romance by Garrison Keillor.  I reviewed this book on Amazon, back when I read it, and I will try not to plagiarize myself here.  I had never listened to Keillor's radio show or read his Lake Woebegone books, but based on what may have been erroneous assumptions, I was expecting WLT to be a festival of aw shucks midwestern wholesomeness.  WLT probably has more sex and crude language than any book I have ever read.  To say it was a shock is putting it mildly.

It's set in a radio station in the midwest in the pre-TV age when people listened to radio shows the same way they came to watch soap operas.  One of the things I loved about this book was the radio show story within the book.  I also loved the contrast between the corn fed characters on the radio show and the rackety real lives of the actors.

WLT is a fun, quick read, although I should warn you that the ending is terrible.  I can't remember exactly what happens, but I do remember that the plot degenerates into something dark and tawdry and depressing. The first three quarters of the book, however, are more than good enough to make up for the awful ending.

Any Garrison Keillor fans out there?  What are his other books like?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Found Objects

Jon had to work this weekend and we missed a family wedding in Boston. (He hasn't started the no-weekend job yet.) We were at a friend's wedding last weekend, and Richmond the weekend before, so I had a lot of catch up cleaning to do.  I also went to the Alderman library and got a huge stack of books.  Due date: May 10, 2014! (At 23:59)

My sewing machine is fixed!  I used to sew so much that I had a dedicated sewing space, where I could keep my machine set up at all times.  In this house, my sewing room was demolished in 2006 for a renovation and in its place now is the dining room.
My old sewing room, mid-demolition

I packed up my sewing machine--an unchic Janome Decor Excel 5018 and haven't used it since. Everybody who is anybody has a Bernina, or a 1938 Singer Featherweight 221 that they found at an estate sale for $6 on which they make couture gowns. My Janome isn't sexy, but it has served me well and was a vast improvement over the entry level Pfaff I'd had before, or my grandmother's 1970's Sunbeam, which I had before the Pfaff.  In 2006, after years of heavy use the Janome's tension was off and it wasn't performing well. This weekend I picked it up from the repair shop.  All I've done so far is sew a Paris hem into a pair of jeans, but it sews like a dream!  Repairs cost $65.

The sad thing is, I've completely forgotten how to use it.  I sewed my jeans with the thread the repair lady left in it, because I can't even remember how to thread it or change the bobbin, much less how to use the specialty feet or the buttonholer.

Thus began a whole house search for the manual, which I eventually did find, along with other assorted oddments, such as this woolen chicken.

I ought to give the poor thing some eyes.

And these toe shoes.

 Here's the pain in the ass thing about toe shoes.  They're very expensive and they have to fit perfectly.  There is no such thing as buying toe shoes a little large to grow into.  The age at which girls start dancing on pointe is also the age at which their feet grow exponentially.  So a pair of toe shoes will have almost no wear at all, and already be outgrown.  You don't want to throw away something that cost $120 and lasted exactly six weeks, so you stash them away in different places so that forever more, every closet, box, basket, drawer, and random plastic bag will have an old pair of toe shoes lurking in it.

Pinterest (naturally) has a few ideas on how to reuse them.

This cross stitch Santa.

Part of a garland that spells out Merry Christmas.  I made it years ago.  This "S" has been missing forever!

This fake thumb.

True story: This thumb almost got us kicked out of Maya, a restaurant in C'ville.  It has a little red light inside that lights up with pressure.  Our nephew was visiting, and he and Seamus were adept at doing magic tricks with this thumb, and were playing with it while we waited for someone to take our order. They had just put it away when the hostess came marching over to our table with an angry look on her face.  She didn't say anything, just circled our table several times, staring hard at each of us. Clearly we were in some kind of trouble.  One of the servers came up to stand with us and they both stared at us some more and conferred.  Seamus took out the thumb again and something seemed to dawn on the hostess and she walked away.  I realized that someone must have mistaken the red light for a lit cigarette and complained that we were smoking, which is idiotic because the first thing you notice when someone is smoking is the smell, not the glowing cigarette ends.  Kind of an asshole move on their part.  They could have just asked us what we had that was lighting up, rather than being deliberately intimidating.

Also found: a very nice Swiss army knife, a trial size packet of Oxi-clean, (guess I'd better clean something) and Jon's certificate for ten years of service to UVA, five years out of date, since he just got his fifteen year certificate.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Friday Reading Assignment: A Royal Affair

Stella Tillyard is a first-rate writer of approachable, non-scholarly histories.  A Royal Affair: George III and his Scandalous Siblings is an interesting look at the British Royal family in the mid-1700's.  George III was not the son of George II, but his grandson.  His own father, Prince Frederick, died young and his mother, Princess Augusta, chose to raise her nine children sheltered from worldly influences.  It's implied that this upbringing may have made some of the children turn out to be a tad rebellious.  Not George himself, who was kept strictly under the thumb of his mother's advisor, but each sibling who lived to adulthood was involved in scandals of various magnitude.

Edward, Duke of York

William Henry, Duke of Gloucester

Henry Frederick, Duke of Cumberland

Caroline Matilda: Queen of Denmark

Much of the book is about the youngest sister, Caroline Matilda, who married Christian VII, King of Denmark and had an affair with his physician.  The physician was executed, Caroline separated from her young children and exiled.  There's a Danish movie about this that I haven't seen yet.  If your interest in history is based on fashion and romantic stories, then this book might be a good choice for you.

PS  Stella Tillyard also wrote The Aristocrats, about the Lennox family.  I wrote about it for an earlier reading assignment. It was made into a fantastic miniseries for Masterpiece Theater.

Monday, June 10, 2013

One Girl, Forty Martinis V

I have now drunk more than half the martinis on the Bang menu.  I started this "project" last August.  Will I get a prize if I drink them all within the year?

Lychee Avalanche--I ordered this years ago, when it came with a waxy-looking flower floating in it.  They've dispensed with the flower--good because one wasn't sure what to do with it--but there's still a lychee nut lurking at the bottom of the glass when you've finished.  It's made from tropical fruit puree and vodka.  I'm not really into tropical flavors, so I will probably give this one a pass in the future.

Mango Tango:  Absolut Mango, red chili syrup and mango juice.  This one has a kick from the chilies, which pair well with mango.  Has a nectar consistency from the mango juice which I wasn't crazy about.
Mango Tango

Mar-toni:  This one isn't on the online menu, so I can't refresh my memory about its exact ingredients.  Remember last summer when cucumber water was trendy?  Imagine preparing it with vodka instead of water and you'll know how this drink tastes.  It's not sweet at all, so if you want a non-sweet option I'd go for this one.  I have a sweet tooth, so this is not the martini for me.

Da Bomb Basil:  Had to bump up to the "D's" on the menu because I missed one.  This one is gin (Bombay Saphire), basil and lemon juice.  I love gin-based drinks, and this one is refreshing and just sweet enough, with a hint of basil.  I would definitely order it again.

Mr Big:  A "masculine" cosmo, but it was girly enough for me.  Citrus vodka and white cranberry juice.  A nice combination and a safe choice for the conservative.  It's also pretty strong, or maybe they just mixed it strong.  I didn't feel very intoxicated, but even hours later, I still felt mildly so.

The Pantydropper:  This drink will put you under the table.  Triple tequila, St. Germaine, grapefruit juice, fresh sage leaves.  It comes in a tumbler rather than a martini glass.  I liked the taste, but could only manage to drink 1/4 of it.  If you drink the whole thing, watch out. Panties are optional, but a designated driver is a must.

Paradise Island: Rum plus pineapple juice.  Very sweet.  Too sweet even for me.

Pink Flamingo:  I loved this one!  Yummy, fun, girly, pink, and comes with a maraschino cherry skewered on a plastic pink flamingo that Jon insisted on taking home to stick in the garden somewhere. Absolut mandarin is the alcohol in this one and the menu says white grape juice, but I swear I tasted grapefruit, not grape.

Pink Flamingo

The night of the pink flamingo happened to be First Friday and a friend of ours was having a show at Bon, the coffee shop and venue in the pink warehouse building across the street from Bang.  I bought this necklace.  It's made from recycled glass, which pleases me.

Pink Warehouse, South St.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Friday Reading Assignment: Romancing the Romance

A good romance novel can be a lot of fun.  The key word here is "good."  Indeed, there are so many terrible romance novels out there, that you might want some guidance in picking out the good ones.  I worked as a page in the public library in high school and read my way through most of the historical romances in the collection.

Jean Plaidy:  I haven't actually read any Jean Plaidy since high school so I can't really vouch for her, but she dominated the romance novel scene in the 1950s and '60s.  She's definitely worth looking into.
This book taught me all I know about Margaret of Anjou

Norah Lofts: I remember that I liked her a lot, but no specific titles come to mind.
Looks promising

Anya Seton:  I loved Anya Seton's novels.  Her two best, in my opinion, are The Winthrop Woman, about Elizabeth Winthrop, daughter in law of John Winthrop, and Katherine, about the mistress of John of Gaunt, whose descendants eventually became the Tudor kings of England.  I still reread Katherine once in a while.  Another one of hers that I haven't read since high school, but has stuck with me is Dragonwyck, a sad and spooky novel set in a Hudson River Patroon family in the 1840s.

My mother's copy had this book jacket

Georgette Heyer:  The queen of the regency romance.  Her novels are witty, rather than gothic.  Try The Grand Sophy.  It's the one that got me hooked on her.

Mary Stewart: Wrote some cracking suspenseful romances.  The Ivy Tree is a good one to start with.  It's a contemporary romance,  if you can consider 1960 "contemporary."  This one had a plot twist that I totally did not see coming.  I also liked My Brother Michael.  Her novel The Moon-Spinners was made into a movie starring Hayley Mills. (Love her!) Mary Stewart also wrote a very good King Arthur trilogy and The Little Broomstick, one of my favorite children's novels.

Kathleen Winsor: Forever Amber.  As far as I know, this is the only thing she ever wrote, but it's so much fun to read.  Forever Amber is notorious for being banned in fourteen states and listed on the "Index"--the list of books that Catholics were not allowed to read.   I think I've written about it before, as an example of what a trashy book ought to be.  What's really impressive about Forever Amber is the dialogue.  Set in the 1600's when the English language was rich in colorful insults, which all get used in this book.
Awesome Vintage Cover

What are your thoughts on romance novels?

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

A "Day Off"

I scheduled a day off from work today, ostensibly to attend Seamus' 8th grade graduation, but when you find yourself not working on a business day, you must RUN ALL THE ERRANDS.  Such as returning Seamus' bass to school.  We've had the bass in the house for four years.  That's four years that I haven't had full access to the pantry shelves, because the least obtrusive place to store it was in the dining room.  Can't wait to go wild in the pantry all summer until Seamus brings home another bass from the high school and I will be blocked from the pantry for another four yeas.

We also plan to renew the kids' passports, another pain-in-the ass errand that must be conducted on a business day, with both parents present.  Not that we're going anywhere, but they're about to expire. I got a tip from a twitter friend that it's faster and easier to renew passports at the clerk of court's office in Waynesboro, rather than at the main post office in Charlottesville.  And while we're on the other side of the mountain, I'll drop off my sewing machine for repair, because I've decided it's high time I resumed sewing.

The graduation--I thought we would skip it and just go out to eat, but Seamus wants to attend.  I haven't attended a Buford graduation since Ian left 8th grade, and he is now finished with college.  Then there was Grace's sixth grade moving up ceremony, from which I was kicked out for being a fire hazard.  In my experience, these ceremonies are excruciating, but also entertaining, in their way.  I know Grace and her best friend, both former Buford students, are eagerly awaiting it.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Birthdays, Bunnies, and Broad Appetit

I hope I spare you cute kid stories enough that you will indulge me this once.  Twenty years ago yesterday, Brigid's first action ever in the world was to punch the obstetrician in the face.  We'd been planning to name her Anna, but it seemed too passive a name for a baby who was assaulting people before she was even fully born.  Brigid, a Celtic goddess and an Irish saint was deemed appropriately bad ass.

And last Monday was Ian's 21st birthday so now I have two children in their twenties.  We went to Richmond to visit Brigid and attended the Broad Appetit festival.  Some Cvillains may not like this, but I prefer Richmond to Charlottesville.  To me, it's more diverse, less provincial and doesn't have the suffocating small town atmosphere of Charlottesville.  Having a major art school has made the residents tolerant of eccentricity, especially since VCU students sometimes do performance style art assignments out in the community.  Brigid once walked around for an entire day, running errands and transacting in different shops with both arms encased in long cardboard tubes and the only comment she got was, "Art project?"  In Charlottesville, you get the side eye if your yoga mat is the wrong color.

Since Seamus wants to be a chef, we stopped at the Culinary Institute of Virginia's booth to see what the students are cooking which was pulled pork cubes, a chutney, and an unidentifiable "foam," all served on edible, spoon-shaped crackers.  The plates at the festival were compostable, and there seemed to be far less trash than is typical at street festivals of this type.

The kids play a fair game.

The Farm bus--inside was a well-stocked farmer's market.

Then it was back to Brigid's house for chocolate Guinness cake.  The recipe is Nigella Lawson's, by way of the New York Times Cookbook.  It's supposed to look like a pint of stout with foam at the top, but the weather was so warm that the frosting wasn't stiff enough to emulate a good Guinness foam.  It was an exceptionally delicious cake, though, as was Ian's last week, a cocoa based cake with cocoa-mascarpone frosting.

At home, Seamus got a picture of the baby bunny in the garden.

My two twenty-somethings, twenty years ago, with Jon.