Monday, November 30, 2015

Thanksgiving Solutions

Given the fact that the turkey neck is incompatibly shaped with the hole it's coming out of, that pulling it out usually involves pain, bloodshed, and possibly uncouth noises, extracting the neck from your Thanksgiving turkey is somewhat akin to childbirth.

This year,  I ordered a local turkey, and other Thanksgiving perishables from Relay Foods.  I didn't have to set foot inside of a store or wait in line and simply picked up my order from the back of a truck on my way home from work.  When it came time to do the pre-roasting chores, I found the giblets and neck tucked neatly in a crevice between the leg and the breast.  High class!  Why didn't someone think of that forty years ago instead of making us risk salmonella-infected cuts and frostbite by plunging our bare hands into the hostile environment of a half-frozen turkey? Just because the turkey carcass is hollow doesn't mean you can use it as a container.  Words to live by.

My kids' reaction when I told them I was trying a new stuffing recipe this year

My response

This year, the cooking was something like a series of failed science experiments.  For the pie crust, I departed from my trusted recipe and improvised a butter + lard combo, because that's what I had on hand.  The dough was TRAGIC, but the finished crust was acceptable, although not my best.  When I made the rolls, the buttermilk curdled, but it was too late to start over so, I forged ahead and the rolls were fine, if a tad underbaked.  The sweet potato gratin didn't cook properly, even though we cooked for a half an hour longer than recommended.  The one unqualified success was the alien stuffing--Pretzel and Sausage Stuffing from Mel's Kitchen Cafe.  It's not made from pretzels, but from pretzel buns and it's super yummy.  Highly recommended if you want to get out of the Pepperidge Farm stuffing rut.

So the food wasn't tiptop, but it was a great day.  I was on call but didn't get paged.  I didn't feel stressed about getting the food done. I thoroughly enjoyed the long weekend, even if I was on call. I only got paged once on Friday, not at all on Saturday and once on Sunday.  I spent the time happily tidying, taking long walks, and reading In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin.  On Sunday, as a reward for nearing the end of the on-call week, I went to the public library and got two new books and then bought yarn for two Christmas knitting projects.  All of my children were home, all happy and in good health. What more could anyone want?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Real Housewife of Charlottesville

At work, we implemented another upgrade of our software.  (My fourth upgrade.  I remember posting about how worried I was about the first one.)  We must "go-live" with these upgrades in the middle of the night, so as to affect the fewest number of people.  Hospitals are a 24/7 operation, but in the night, they're relatively bare bones, so if we must take away the EMR for several hours and then turn it back on in a new and (we hope) improved version, the hours between 1:00 - 3:00am are the best time to do so.

Anyway, this is just a long preamble by which to say, that because I worked midnight-8:30 am Saturday, I had Friday off.  It is exceedingly rare for me to not be at work on a business day.  I got up at 5:45--which is sleeping in by an hour for me-- had a leisurely hour for tea and a book, tidied the house, and still had time to cook Seamus a proper breakfast before he left for school.  I attended the 9:15 Pilates class at my gym (such a luxury to go to the gym mid-morning!) then accomplished a long-overdue errand that it's impossible to do outside of normal business hours.  I did the grocery shopping, which I usually have to do on Thursday nights after the gym.

In the afternoon, I had time for more reading with a large espresso, then raked leaves, and tore the last section of paneling off a wall I'm demolishing in the girls' old bedroom.  I had hoped to have this room completely redecorated by Thanksgiving, but we had one of those life events that put all projects on hold.

This room needs a LOT of work.

I cooked a proper family dinner and spent the evening Kon-mari'ing the game cupboard, while watching an episode of Outlander.  What do you guys think of the Outlander TV series?  I think it's kind of awful, and I hate the gratuitous violence.  I tell myself I'm only watching for the knitwear.  I KNOW it's unrealistic (and not always desirable) to demand historic verisimilitude from Hollywood, but I just finished reading a history of housework in the British Isles which revealed shocking domestic practices in Scotland in the eighteenth century.  (I think I understand now why Samuel Johnson was so disdainful of Scotland.)  So I can't help giving the side eye to Outlander's magically illuminated and clean Scottish castle and the multi-piece wardrobe that appears out of thin air for Claire (especially the immaculate white fur collar and cuffs).  Also, I can't decide if Jamie is attractive or not, but I felt ambivalent about Michael Fassbender the first time I saw him in a movie, so what do I know.  I AM decided in the opinion that Claire is super irritating. As for the books,  I tried to read the first one in the series but it was so bad I stopped reading 3/4 of the way through. (Book Claire is really irritating too.)

I attempted (unsuccessfully) to take a nap before going in to work and had a second espresso at 11:00pm, hoping it would be enough to keep me up.  (It was, although by 5:00am, just as we started getting post go-live help desk calls, my ability to think clearly was seriously impaired.)

I know that if I were to stay home full time, I'd be bored.  My career gives me intellectual stimulation, the opportunity to wear clothes other than jeans and sweatshirts and a chance to interact with other adults. Not to mention the all-important paycheck.  Still, something is lost when there is no one to keep the home.  My inner domestic goddess is bereft.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

On the Nightstand

Let's take a look at what's on my nightstand lately.

I apologize for this dark picture

A Woman's Work is Never Done: A history of housework in the British Isles 1650-1950 by Caroline Davidson.  (1982) I love books about housework and domestic life.  This one is a bit dry, but still very interesting and has a great selection of illustrations.

Eating in America by Waverly Root and Richard de Rochemont (1976)

Pure Pleasure: a Guide to the 20th Century's Most Enjoyable Books by John Carey (2000)

A Reader's Delight by Noel Perrin (1988)  I am reading this now and it truly is a delight. Beautiful little essays about obscure books you've never heard of and will immediately want to read.

Assorted Prose by John Updike (1965)  Essays

A Book of Mediterranean Food by Elizabeth David (1958)  David's first cookbook, written during the period of austerity in Great Britain after World War II, and meant to be a sort of consolation and vicarious thrill, since most of the ingredients were unavailable.

In Pategonia by Brush Chatwin (1977)  A classic of travel literature

Come Back, Wherever You are by Lenora Mattingly Weber (1969)  The last book in the Beany Malone series.

All Change by Elizabeth Jane Howard (2013)  The final book (published much late than the others and shortly before the author's death) in the superb Cazalet series.  I had difficulty finding it for some reason and had to order a copy (used, I always buy used) all the way from the UK.

The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams (1907)  Henry Adams was the great-grandson of John Adams and this is a memoir of sorts.  I am reading this now and I have to admit it's a bit dull.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

The Blue Castle

I thought I was familiar with all of L.M. Montgomery's books, but somehow The Blue Castle escaped my notice until I read rave reviews about it in an online forum.  It was published in 1926, which was in the later period of her writing career and like so many of her novels, features the provincial Canadian busybodies that she drew so well.

I wish I'd had this edition

Instead I had this one

Valancy Jane Stirling is twenty-nine, unmarried, skinny, (in a time when it was a bad thing to be skinny) and homely.  She lives with her overbearing mother and insufferable elderly cousin and is treated like a child that they're ashamed of.  One day, Valancy experiences one of those sudden, life-changing moments, and as a result begins to stand up for herself against her family.

This is not Montgomery's best work.  Valency is no Anne, and the busybody characters are not as deliciously comic as Mrs. Rachel Lynde.  Even so, it is satisfying to read about someone who has suddenly decided that she doesn't give a fuck, and acts accordingly.  There's a vicarious thrill in reading The Blue Castle, it's a light read that you'll finish in just a few days, and cheap, used paperback versions abound.  My little copy of this book spent the summer in Switzerland with Brigid, and later went to Ireland with me.  That's a lot of travel for a one-penny Amazon special.  Highly recommended for L. M. Montgomery fans.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Beany Malone: Something Borrowed, Something Blue

Over the last few years, I have been slowly reading through the Beany Malone series by Lenora Mattingly Weber.  I would have enjoyed these a lot when I was a kid.  It seems they were out of print then, because throughout my entire childhood, I never saw a Beany Malone book anywhere, not even at used book stores or our village library, which was otherwise overflowing with vintage children's literature.  I'm not sure why the Beany Malone books fell out of favor, but they did, until the late nineties, when, for about five minutes, they appeared on the shelves of Barnes & Noble and then disappeared again.

After that brief glance at Barnes & Noble, I started a frustrated search for these books, always disappointed until the miracle of Amazon came along, which made it easy for me to acquire the series.

The Beany Malone books are about the Malone family (mainly the youngest daughter, Catherine Cecelia, aka "Beany") but the other siblings, Elizabeth, Mary Fred, and Johnny, are important characters.  Their mother is dead and their father, Martie Malone, is a newspaper columnist.  The family lives in Denver and the books are set in the 1940s and '50s.  They're relentlessly wholesome, but the series as a whole touches on some serious issues: war, death, poverty, classism, delinquency, crime, and domestic abuse.  The modern reader might bristle at the occasional fat-shaming and cringe at the ethnic stereotypes from when Beany starts working at Lilac Way, a community center that serves mostly immigrant children.

Something Borrowed is one of the last books in the series.  Twenty-year old Beany is getting married. This book was written in 1963, so we may be able to claim that Beany Malone is the first recorded bridezilla.

When the story opens, there are only two months until the wedding and Beany is disappointed that no one in her bustling family is showing much interest in her wedding plans.  To make matters worse, their roof springs a leak, so any money that might have been spent on the wedding is eaten up by a new roof.

Enter Nonna, the Malone kids' step-grandmother, who stops in Denver one night on her way home to Kansas City.  Nonna appeared as an elegant, snobbish, coldhearted villain in an earlier book in the series, and Beany claims to loathe her.  Nonna had been an interior decorator, but at dinner she announces that she has just launched a new career for herself as--OMG you'll never guess--a wedding planner.

Nonna offers to put on a wedding for Beany; is even willing to pay for the whole thing and Beany quickly lets go of her professed loathing.  The offer seems too good to be true, but she insists that this is her wedding present to Beany and her groom. You'd expect Beany's father to squash the plan, but he accepts it, rationalizing that since Nonna made off with an inheritance that should have gone to Beany's mother, this might be her way of making amends.

With Nonna in charge, the wedding quickly assumes a monstrous scale.  Beany begins to have misgivings.  How can she expect her friends and sisters to shell out for the expensive bridesmaid dresses that Nonna has chosen?  How can she let her beloved priest know that she will be married in the cathedral, rather than her parish church?  How can she tactfully prevent the rough-edged Lilac Way kids from participating?  The groom (I don't want to reveal his identity and spoil the whole series for those of you who might want to read it) is unhappy.  He doesn't like being dictated to by Nonna, he's offended when Beany turns down his mother's offer of her prized roses for the wedding, and he definitely doesn't want to force his groomsmen to buy tuxes.

Despite the misgivings, Beany doggedly insists that she would like to have ONE day that is entirely hers, in which she is the star of the show, rather than a helper in the background.  Can't everybody just go along with her this one time?  Beany's friends and family, because they love her, do their best to play along, but a serious rift develops between Beany and her fiance.  How she escapes the wedding juggernaut is a neat little plot twist that I wasn't expecting.

I really enjoyed this book.  I'd count it as among my favorites in the series.  It also got me thinking about the circus that the modern wedding has become.  Beany's cathedral wedding seems simple compared to the extravaganza weddings of today.  With two daughters who will be probably be getting married sometime in the next ten years, I'm starting to worry about this.  The whole point of Something Borrowed is that a wedding is supposed to be a joyful event in which the bride and groom share their happiness with their loved ones and should not bring stress and unhappiness to those involved.  I'm hoping that when my daughters get married, we can escape the overdone wedding trend and still provide an event to remember for our friends and family.

There is only one book in the series that I haven't read yet--Come Back, Wherever you Are.  A used copy is on its way from Amazon and my newly Kon-Mari'd bookshelf has a space waiting for it.  The whole series is highly recommended for those of you who like vintage teen lit.