Thursday, December 29, 2011

Big Hairy Audacious Goals

Big Hairy and Audacious
The best thing I have to say about 2011 is that it's over. Hurray! 

Turning the calendar page to 2012 makes me very happy - even numbered years are better for me and the best years are the ones that start and end with the same number. I loved 2002 which is the last time it happened and none of us can really count on being here for the next time in 2022.  I intend to really enjoy this one. The first of many gravy years.
Ready for tea

The vibe is already getting better. My good neighbor came over for tea yesterday and we indulged in a few truffles and a cup of Earl Grey. Our garden is getting straightened out and the raised beds are ready for planting. We're planning a couple of trips and will be on the road in February if we can untangle a few knots.

Chocolate Hills Bohol Philippines
My Big Hairy Audacious Goal* for 2012 is to write something every day - hardly a huge goal compared to some of the bloggers I follow, but my average number of posts has been 100/year. I'm going for a triple.  No rules except that catch-up is OK.

*Term coined by James Collins and Jerry Porras in "Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies

Marlee's First Birthday

My great grand niece Marlee Eilleen (I love the three e's in a row) had her first birthday party in early December. 20 adults and about ten kids. Flash bulbs were popping off continuously in her face, everyone gave her a tweak or a poke and made funny faces at her. They took all her clothes off but her diaper and a bib, sat her in her high chair and introduced her to a purple cupcake while we all croaked Happy Birthday off-key. Surprised at first, her little face showed bemusement, wonder and then delight as she got into sucking her fingers and enjoying the taste and texture.

She's a gutsy little thing, shrank from no one and very sociable - well equipped for life. She smiled at everything and seemed to enjoy the whole event.  Frankly it would have been too much for me at my advanced age. Just the singing alone.

Dad (my grand nephew), Mom (Brandi) and Marlee
Me, Jennifer (grand niece), Marlee and Beth the first great grand niece

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2012: Pure Gravy

"Gravy, pure gravy", Raymond Carver the short story writer and poet pronounced his last decade of life. He thought he was a dead man when he was 39 and his dcotor told him he had only six months to live unless he stopped drinking. He did quit and died of lung cancer 11 years later.

Here's his autobiographical poem:
Raymond Carver
No other word will do.  For that’s what it was.
Gravy, these past ten years.
Alive, sober, working, loving, and
being loved by a good woman.  Eleven years
ago he was told he had six months to live
at the rate he was going.  And he was going
nowhere but down.  So he changed his ways
somehow.  He quit drinking!  And the rest?
After that it was all gravy, every minute
of it, up to and including when he was told about,
well, some things that were breaking down and
building up inside his head.  "Don’t weep for me,"
he said to his friends.  "I’m a lucky man.
I’ve had ten years longer than I or anyone
expected.  Pure Gravy.  And don’t forget it."

Here's one of Raymond Carver's short stories: 

Little Things
Early that day the weather turned and the snow was melting into dirty water. Streaks of it ran down from the little shoulder-high window that faced the backyard. Cars slushed by on the street outside, where it was getting dark. But it was getting dark on the inside too.

He was in the bedroom pushing clothes into a suitcase when she came to the door.
I'm glad you're leaving! I'm glad you're leaving! she said. Do you hear?

He kept on putting his things into the suitcase.
Son of a bitch! I'm so glad you're leaving! She began to cry. You can't even look me in the face, can you?

Then she noticed the baby's picture on the bed and picked it up.
He looked at her and she wiped her eyes and stared at him before turning and going back to the living room.

Bring that back, he said.
Just get your things and get out, she said.
He did not answer. He fastened the suitcase, put on his coat, looked around the bedroom before turning off the light. Then he went out to the living room.

She stood in the doorway of the little kitchen, holding the baby.
I want the baby, he said.

Are you crazy?
No, but I want the baby. I'll get someone to come by for his things.

You're not touching this baby, she said.
The baby had begun to cry and she uncovered the blanket from around his head.
Oh, oh, she said, looking at the baby.

He moved toward her.
For God's sake! she said. She took a step back into the kitchen.

I want the baby.
Get out of here!

She turned and tried to hold the baby over in a corner behind the stove.
But he came up. He reached across the stove and tightened his hands on the baby.
Let go of him, he said.
Get away, get away! she cried.

The baby was red-faced and screaming. In the scuffle they knocked down a flowerpot that hung behind the stove.

He crowded her into the wall then, trying to break her grip. He held on to the baby and pushed with all his weight.

Let go of him, he said.
Don't, she said. You're hurting the baby, she said.
I'm not hurting the baby, he said.

The kitchen window gave no light. In the near-dark he worked on her fisted fingers with one hand and with the other hand he gripped the screaming baby up under an arm near the shoulder.
She felt her fingers being forced open. She felt the baby going from her.
No! she screamed just as her hands came loose.
She would have it, this baby. She grabbed for the baby's other arm. She caught the baby around the wrist and leaned back.

But he would not let go. He felt the baby slipping out of his hands and he pulled back very hard.
In this manner, the issue was decided.

"Little Things" from Where I'm Calling From: The Selected Stories Atlantic Monthly Press, 1988. Copyright © 1988 by Tess Gallagher.
The story appeared as "Mine" in Furious Seasons And Other Stories Capra Press, 1977 and as "Popular Mechanics" in What We Talk About When We Talk About Love Knopf, 1981.


Trivia - Progressive Measuring Spoons

Limbo week. Where nothing really happens. The wheels of industry cease to turn. I used to take the time between Christmas and New Year's to clean out my files and pretend to organize myself for the upcoming year. This is the first year I've had in full retirement...didn't work a single day and didn't earn a single dime. Files are a thing of the past. 

Instead of fooling with files, I continue to concentrate on arranging our living space. Organizing the accumulata. Above is my measuring spoon drawer. If someone breaks in suddenly and demands a 1/2 teaspoon of anything, I can deliver it in a hurry. No fumbling around.

The measuring spoon drawer is in my mechanics cabinet which houses all the gadgets and cooking tools. It's installed in the island right across from my sink.

I resist accumulating new gadgets because most are such disappointments, but they do make great Christmas gifts even if they end up unused. This year I noticed these Progressive measuring spoons which appear to offer a few design improvements.

They're magnetic so if you don't have a measuring spoon drawer you can stick them on the surface most convenient for your use and they nest. No annoying ring holding the set together.  There's a wet end and a dry end - if you measure a 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla and then have to measure a 1/2 teaspoon of salt, you don't have the clumping problem, nor do you have to rinse it off. The bottoms are flat so you can rest the measured amount on a counter, ready to use. There's a decent grip in the middle. I'm ordering a set from Amazon.

Here's the knife drawer in my mechanics cabinet. I'm not sure what mechanics use this drawer for but it works well for knives...the edges are protected, I can find them at a glance, there's plenty of room. If someone needed an emergency tracheotomy, I think I could find something that would do the job here..

One kitchen tool I particularly loathe is the food processor. Big and difficult to store, hard to clean,  with too many parts.  The recipe testers at Cooks magazine, Sunset, Food and Wine all love these machines because somebody cleans up after them, and cleans up as they go. They incorporate the processor in far too many recipes. For instance, I made key lime tarts the other day from a Food and Wine recipe. The crust is made of Oreo cookies and to crush 12 of them, the recipe calls for use of the FP.  For 12 cookies, any sane cook would use a rolling pin.

Yes, I have a rolling pin drawer.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Worst Recipes

I have some left-over crab meat and I was looking for a souffle recipe. It's Christmas morning after all.

From the book, "Fashionable Food" by Sylvia Lovegran, comes this horrible recipe from the fifties, in my opinion,  prelude to the foulest darkest decade in recent culinary history, the sixties. People were so engrossed in the sexual revolution that food was barely on the radar screen.

Lobster Thermidor, can-opener gourmet-style. 

1 (15-ounce) can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1/4 soup can water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
1/2 teaspoon prepared mustard
3 cups frozen cooked lobster meat, thawed and cut into chunks.

Preheat the oven to 450 F. Mix the soup, water, lemon juice, half of the cheese and the mustard in the top of a double boiler. Add the lobster chunks and heat (do not boil) over simmering water. Pour into a buttered shallow baking dish or into lobster shells. Sprinkle with the rest of the cheese. Place in oven until the cheese is browned, about 15 minutes. 

In those days, dubbed the "Casserole Decade" by food historians, "can opener" mixed with "gourmet-style" was perfectly acceptable. Canned soups and TV dinners were newish on the grocery shelves. The Campbell's Home Economists were quickly developing soup-as-glue recipes that were roaring successes, still haunting our kitchens decades later. Who doesn't look forward to the classic green bean/mushroom soup/onion ring dish (three cans!!!!) for Thanksgiving dinner?

A frozen TV dinner sold for $1.00 in the fifties. Today at Albertson's you can purchase Michelina's Gourmet entrees for the same price - a buck each.

Other fifties greats include classics like the gag inspiring, Fruit cocktail-Spam Buffet Party loaf which incorporates such snazzy ingredients as Miracle Whip, gelatin and canned fruit cocktail. How about the Velveeta crab and cheese souffle? or the fat-on-fat Barbecued Bologna for men a la Crisco from the Crisco cookbook, "Praise for the Cook". No kidding, that's the name and here's the recipe:

Barbecued Bologna for men - a la Crisco

3/4 cup Crisco vegetable shortening
2 tablespoons Kitchen Bouquet
3 - 2 pounds whole bologna sausage

Mix the Crisco and Kitchen Bouquet together. Spread over the sausage. Grill the bologna over hot coals or spit roast the bologna until it is browned and hot through. Cut into thick slices and serve on rye bread or toasted hamburger buns.

I've lost my appetite. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Keep Calm

Vivian Swift featured a link to a make your own "Keep Calm" poster.   Here's mine:
    And here's the link so you can make your own:
    The original "Keep Calm" poster you can read about on Vivian's blog right here:

    Merry Christmas

    Photo 1. Christmas Eve - through the rancho door 2011

    Photo 2. Farewell chandelier
    Which picture shall be use in our midnight Merry Christmas e-mail?

    Photo 1. A syrupy sentimental Christmas shot through our avocado front door. 

    Photo 2. Currently punishing ourselves for continuing to procrastinate about throwing junk away, we're resolved to stay put here until the junkola is gone. The other day, we got up and first thing, while still in our pj's, sleep-rumpled, grungy and before the dumpster guy arrived, we heaved the chandelier in it, said the last rites and parted with it forever. This light held sway (oh pardon me please) over many of Richard's dinners for years in DC and for a few at the rancho. In storage for ages, when we unwrapped it we found the wiring all chewed up or rusted and most of the parts cracked, chipped or broken.

    Although Richard is feigning a separation anxiety attack we were actually having a merry time thinking up captions for the shot. Our favorite:

    "Last night we had one last swing on the chandelier and we're very much worse for the wear. In fact we were thinking of diving in the dumpster after it!"
    "Their chandelier days clearly over, the McHargues prepare to face 2012 unlit, as it were."

    We held on to that chandelier
    'Til people thought us very queer.
    We rose at dawn
    To get it gone
    Consoled ourselves with lots of beer.

    December Book Club Meeting

    The book selection for December was Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome. It was selected because it's short and easy reading, appropriate for the holiday season. Some claim it's the funniest book ever written. I agree. I also think it's one of the most enjoyable travel books ever written. The humor has held up remarkably well considering it's a Victorian novel. The key features of the book are the funny perspectives of ordinary events (think Bill Bryson) and the fact that it wasn't written in the high falutin' style practised by novelists of the time. The Victorian literati thought the state of the novel had gone to hell in a hand basket when this book became a best seller. It's never been out of print.

    Another bonus: the book can be downloaded free from the fabulous site: Even an illustrated version is available and it can be downloaded to a multitude of devices.

     Roz hosted our meeting and a goodly groaning spread was enjoyed including bounty from gardens still putting out in December, one of the benefits we get from living here in Fallbrook. Fresh greens from Barbara's garden, a squash dish from Lori's garden and candy-sweet tangerines from Lori's and Rozs' trees. Roz made a pot of delicious chicken soup, a venerable recipe from her mother-in-law which includes as one of the critical components, precisely 12 peppercorns. Cookies and candies, irresistible, finished off the feast.

    Next month we read the Julian Barnes novel, "The Sense of an Ending", this year's Man Booker prize winner. Critics say there "is more to get each time you read it". I like to have a book like this around - one that becomes familiar but still surprises.

    For those of us interested in story telling whatever the medium, in this week's New York Times Book Review, there's an essay by Craig Fehrman on the "Channeling of the Novel".  As the state of film  deteriorates at a rapid pace and our beloved movies become little more than a string of dangerously loud and obnoxious sound effects enhancing car chases and explosions, cable TV is morphing into the preferred venue for serious and excellent story telling. He comments about the writers creating original cable series such as Solomon Rushdie -  "The Next People", Michael Chabon and Jonathan Franzen - "The Corrections". Jennifer Egan's Pulitzer Prize winning novel "A Visit from the Good Squad" is being made into a pilot.

    A footnote about sound effects: my friend's son was an intern on the newly released silent film, "The Artist". We're anxiously waiting for it to open locally so we can enjoy a theatre experience without ear plugs for a change.

    Wednesday, December 14, 2011

    My Rich Uncle

    Shuffling through family pictures and attempting to get them scanned and in order, I ran across this letter from my cousin. She enclosed the "rich uncle' photo above with the letter and comments that Hilda (my aunt, second from right) and Stuart Carroll (right) had a love affair for years but were cousins and never married. 

    Hilda was one of my three "maiden" aunts and the oldest of the lot. I knew her only as an elderly woman who wore lisle stockings and those awful clunky shoes with a thick wedge heel and laces up the front..."nun's shoes".  She ended up never marrying which in those days was a tragedy; this letter implies that she never got over Stuart. Instead she worked for the Canadian National Railway for 50 years, retiring with the proverbial gold watch. I wish I knew more.

    The rich uncle with all the hair acquired real estate in downtown LA and in Hawaii. Not only did he get the big hair gene he was also a driven entrepreneur. What kind of imagination and guts did it take to leave the farm in Canada,  get into the U. S. and start acquiring property? I have no idea who he used as a role model but "go west young man" was the adage of the day and he heeded the advice. His property was left in a trust, very well managed, and his brothers and sisters, one of whom was my grandmother benefited from the generated income throughout their lives. When the last of his siblings died in 1967, the remains of his estate was divided among the heirs who were all listed in the account of distribution of the estate. There are so many relatives, so many Irish names that I wonder if I'm related in some way to most of the people of Irish descent in Canada.