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?

Monday, November 21, 2016

Thanksgiving and Despair

For this one week, I'm going to try to put aside my post-election angst. Ever since that horrible Wednesday, I've been increasingly bewildered and angered by the news. Of course it's no surprise that Trump's political appointees support his agenda of enriching himself at the expense of the earth and the American people. Did you really think Trump was going to end corruption in Washington? You got played. But the news from the liberal side also has me in a tizzy: Ignore Trump's gross behavior, focus on his policies! Stay angry! Not normal! Hamilton! Ignore Hamilton, focus on Trump's $25 million settlement of the Trump University fraud case! Ivanka! Pence is worse than Trump! No he's not! Attend the Million Women March! Boycott the Million Women March!

Do you remember the prairie fire chapter in Little House in the Prairie? When Pa barely has time to plow a firebreak, and Ma and the little girls run around the property, beating out every small fire with wet gunny sacks? That's how I feel. Steve Bannon is one fire that needs to be beaten out. Myron Ebell is another. And Jeff Sessions, and all the rest. I don't know what to do or where to look and I feel totally helpless. Meanwhile, some of my relationships are on shaky ground because of political differences. The only thing that's keeping me going are the Obama-Biden memes.

But, for the first time in eight years, I do not have to work on the day before Thanksgiving. Last year, we had just installed a major upgrade to our software and I was on 24 hour call to support it over the holiday weekend. The year before, I was on day call and trapped in my cube until 5:00 pm. So the past two years were especially awful and I am so happy to have the day off. If you need me on Wednesday, I'll be cooking up a storm.

This year, I'm going to spatchcock the turkey, which I'm keen to try. The step when you use brute force to crush the breastbone?  I'm going to imagine it's Donald Trump's face. So that should be therapeutic. Indeed, I think I'll name this year's turkey Donald Trump. He will have an orange zest and aniseed rub and he'll be delicious.

The other exciting thing about Thanksgiving this year is that now we have Wegmans. I was actually a tiny bit tearful the first time I went to the new Charlottesville Wegmans, partly because of the intense wave of homesickness, and partly from the joy of having a piece of WNY here. When we first moved to Charlottesville, I was dismayed by the poor quality and limited selection at the local grocery stores. What do you mean I can't buy New York wine? What do you mean you've never heard of sponge candy? How am I supposed to make pie crust without lard? With Crisco, like some kind of barbarian? Why are all the apples so mealy and gross? Why are the onions so mushy? Why are there only five available pasta shapes? Why does no one in the south know how to run a deli? Since when is Labatt Blue "imported?" Why does all the cheese come from Wisconsin? WHY ARE THERE NO EGG BAGELS?  For the past eighteen years, every time we went home to Buffalo, I'd have to stuff the car with a year's supply of acini de pepe, Weber's horseradish mustard, a cooler full of Sahlen's hot dogs and other foods it's impossible to obtain here. But now, at last, I have Wegmans at my fingertips. Western New York, represent!

The last exciting thing about Thanksgiving this year is that I bought my "forever shelves" for pantry items. My kitchen simply doesn't have enough space for all our food - not even with the new plumbing pipe shelves that I built last year. I'd had my eye on the "French Shopkeeper's Shelves" in the Wisteria catalog, for years, but ultimately, decided they weren't right.

The shelves I considered and rejected - Via

Instead, I bought the "French Baker's Rack" from Restoration Hardware. A splurge, but these are the shelves I'll use forever. They were delivered early Saturday morning, and I had a glorious weekend reorganizing.

Old shelves - hand me down from my uncle
and still very serviceable. Hoping to sell them.
At first, I moved all the food from the old shelves to the china cabinet (another hand me down).
I put the china in the new shelves, but was unhappy with the arrangement.

Now, the china is back in the china cabinet and the food is on the new shelves.
Between the kitchen shelves for dry goods and spices, and these shelves for canned goods and other non-perishables, my food is finally easily accessible and organized.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! And remember, if anyone in your family is especially hateful, you can make a donation to Planned Parenthood in their name.

Friday, November 11, 2016

No Room for Unity

On Election Night, I fell asleep before the winner was declared, although I stayed up long enough to realize that things were not looking good for Hilary Clinton. When I woke up at 4:45 am on Wednesday, I checked my phone and the universe played one of its most cruel jokes on me. Because the first thing I saw was a tweet giving Hilary Clinton 312 electoral votes, so for a brief moment, I thought it had turned out OK after all. Then I saw all the tweets declaring Trump the victor, and a wave of horror left me nearly incapacitated. Realizing the full extent of the disaster was truly like reliving the morning of September 11, 2001.  And finally came the insult on top of the injury: calls for "unity." At that terrible moment, as the reality of president-elect Trump sank in, the last thing I wanted to hear about was unity.

Unity, in this context, means shutting your mouth while the Trump administration runs this country the KKK way. I'm not interested in finding common ground between myself and people who think a man who claimed a woman wasn't attractive enough for him to sexually assault is an appropriate choice for President of the United States.

After the calls for unity came plaintive comments from Trump voters, saying that we were sore losers, that we were not respecting their point of view. Trump supporters have actually been complaining about "hatred" coming from Clinton supporters. If you voted for this Day-Glo Pinochet, you do not get to ascend a moral high horse about anything, least of all, hatred. Where was your anti-hatred rhetoric when your candidate labeled Mexicans as rapists; called for Hitleresque treatment of Muslims?

Here is what the very first day after the election brought us.

I have no interest in being conciliatory to anyone who voted for this; to aiding Trump supporters in feeling less bad about themselves because they brought this disaster onto the American people. I have pledged to myself that I will do whatever is in my power to undermine Donald Trump, and to that end, I've donated money to Planned Parenthood, to the local Sexual Assault Resource Center, and to the Southern Poverty Law Center. I've committed to join in the Million Woman March on Washington DC in January. I will take advantage of any opportunity that comes my way to protest and block the actions of this puffed-up liar.

Trump supporters do not deserve to have their feelings protected. What they deserve is exactly what they voted for - Donald Trump.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Aspirational Dustpan

On this, the eve of of a historic election, I have a very important topic to discuss. How do all these lifestyle bloggers and instagrammers manage to turn their cleaning tools into wall art?

Like so:


Or this:


Photo from Pinterest, courtesy of the now-closed Hey Natalie Jean blog 
Seriously, what is this, and why can't I achieve it? And who got the idea to make an artful display of their broom and dust pan?

One of the many ways that my 110-year old house is inconvenient is that it doesn't have a broom cupboard. I have to prop the broom next to the refrigerator and keep the dustpan on top of the fridge. So I've been mulling over the shaker peg board broom storage method. But how do these bloggers keep their brooms so clean? Do you see that gorgeous broom? The spotless dust pan?  The snowy apron and the blue and white striped rag? The pristine white wall? If I attempted this, my walls would be black within the week. My broom and dust pan are plastic, bought at the supermarket. My rags are old cloth diapers and worn out towels. My mom used to use - prepare yourself - OLD UNDERPANTS as cleaning rags. I don't do that. One has to draw the line somewhere.

I needed a bottle brush, and instead of just buying one at the grocery store, I ordered a German-made wooden handled, horsehair bristled brush. I think it is a Waldorf bottle brush. OK, not really, but it is from Germany. It's a gorgeous bottle brush, but now I lack the peg board (and, frankly, the wall space on which to hang a peg board).

As for the bloggers who do this, I have to wonder: do they actually clean with these tools? Or are these strictly display brooms and they have cupboards for their real broom? Or, (most likely) they have cleaning help who use their own supplies.  

I have to admit, though, I am seriously tempted to get a Shaker peg board and a beautiful broom. And it's certainly true that this set up would look right in my old farmhouse. Would you ever do this?

Friday, November 04, 2016

Books in Brief - October Edition

I haven't done a book post in ages! Here's a round up of a few things I've been reading recently.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. This one has been on my to-read list for a long time. What was I waiting for? I think I felt a little intimidated, but Wolf Hall turned out to be very readable and entertaining. You're probably aware that Wolf Hall is about the Tudors, specifically during the period when Henry VIII is trying to invalidate his marriage to Katherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn instead. It's a story that's been written and re-imagined many times in books and film. Mantel's version is told from the perspective of the humbly-born Thomas Cromwell, who became Henry VIII's closest advisor and engineered the Boleyn-Tudor marriage. Mantel's strength is that she makes the characters seem so alive, particularly Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk who Mantel brilliantly portrays as a comic character. I did end up with a lot of feelings about Wolf Hall, mainly because its version of this story is so contrary to what I came to believe from my Catholic education. I was raised to believe that Thomas More was a saint and a paragon of faith, and that Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer were the villains. In Wolf Hall, Cromwell is the sympathetic character and Thomas More is fairly icky. Anyway, I can't wait to watch the TV miniseries.

Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. Continuing the story from Wolf Hall, this book is about the downfall of Anne Boleyn and the rise of Jane Seymour. I think Anne Boleyn is one of the great mysteries of history. Was she a conniving adulterer or was she a victim? I always thought it highly improbable that she was guilty of incest, but Mantel makes the case that she was raised apart from her brother, so never developed a sibling relationship with him. Still, any woman must have known it would be madness to cheat on the king. What's your opinion?

The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever. Tale of a classic New England preppy family and their sorrows and adventures. This book is included in Modern Library's Top 100 best novels in English list. The family, Leander and Sarah, and their sons Moses and Coverly, all devote energy to keeping their rich eccentric Aunt Honora happy, for she may or may not leave them her money when she dies. The sons leave home to make their way in the world and show Aunt Honora that they have achieved manhood. Leander faces personal crises at home, while Sarah arrives at a scheme to help boost the family fortunes. Overall, an enjoyable read.

The Misses Mallet by E. H. Young. Emily Hilda Young was another British mid-century writer. I loved Miss Mole, one of her other novels. The Misses Mallet is about a family of spinster sisters living in England in an unspecified time, that I'm guessing was just prior to World War I. (Motor cars are mentioned, but there are no references to war.) Caroline and Sophia are nearly elderly and live on their memories of their lively girlhood. Rose, much younger, has a complicated relationship with a local farmer who is in love with her. When Henrietta, a younger niece arrives, relationships become even more complicated.