Friday, November 28, 2008

James of the Marche

I really cannot do any better than the introduction from the calendar itself: "Meet one of the fathers of the modern pawnshop!" That his day should fall on what is traditionally the day we overspend, following the day we overeat is one of the first gifts of this holiday season.

James of the Marche has more or less the standard saint bio. He studied, he fasted, he founded something or other. But instead of the usual (school for young women, shelter for plague victims orphans & other abandoned people, ministry for lepers, etc.) he established the Montes Pietatis. Interest rates were high & the working poor needed to be able to get a loan. & so he created this nonprofit organization that accepted small/portable items as collateral on short-term loans.

I have to admit, I do not usually think of Franciscans having this much sense. Charisma yes intelligence yes passion yes but common sense. Not so much. & I admit I was wrong. They are selling t-shirts on their website. That makes a whole lotta sense (I am sincere; more people read t-shirts than pamphlets).

Like it or not, the whole pawnshop idea makes sense, too. & it always did. The problem with pawnshops is not that they exist, it is who might pawn (maybe a thief) & why (maybe to score). In the inevitable time & place where an ordinary person needs a leg up, grandma's old rings will not feed the family, unless they can be pawned. It does seem to run headlong into that whole "teach a man to fish" thing, but not everyone can fish everyday.

Another interesting thing I learned about pawning in general is that while James of the Marche is the father of the pawnshop, pawnbrokers have their own patron saint. You will never guess who it is.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Turkey on top

Have you ever learned that there would be unexpected Russians at your Thanksgiving dinner AFTER you had gone to the market one-last-time, stuffed the bird & were already cooking it? I would love to know what you did & here is what I did:

So there I was, in my teeny-weeny kitchen with the biggest bird my oven would hold (12 lb). I had a large, deep roasting pan, but the rack I used was still too tall; the top of the rack was higher than the edges of the roasting pan, making for very precarious sliding basting. In the end, this was lucky.

I scrounged through my fridge & found the ingredients for ....ratatouille. I often make a ratatouille in the days after, as it matches the left-overs so nicely. & so I cut up the zucchini, onions, carrots, yellow squash, garlic cloves & even some small-potatoes-that-had-not-been-mashed into bite-sized chunks. I poured a container of broth into the bottom of the roasting pan & added these veggies.

For the next two hours, every time I basted the bird, I stirred the veggies. When it was done, I scooped it all out with a slotted spoon. Some of the vegetables (potatoes in particular) were so soft they slid back into the pan. & that was fine. The veggies I did gather I put into a large serving bowl & put aside with the other bowls of stuffing etc. to hit the table soon & I turned the rest over to A to make gravy. & it really was the best gravy.

In the end there was plenty of food, even with unexpected guests. They brought with them a Russian version of three-bean salad (I am not kidding) & borscht (I am really not kidding). Thanksgiving has always been a one plate meal in my house: as many servings as you can stuff in your face, but just the one plate. Well, a small second plate for dessert, but no soup course. In the end, I think we had the soup in coffee mugs, all my bowls having been commandeered for cranberry sauce, gravy, etc.

I felt just like one of the unsung women of the Thanksgiving myth looking at corn pone, asking herself "spoon or fork?"

Monday, November 24, 2008

Three French hens

As I get closer to the arbitrary date I have chosen for the ordering of my chickens (January 6th for Chickens of the Epiphany), I am deciding on which birds this time. & I have narrowed it down to three French hens:

The Salmon Faverolle: A utility fowl according to the catalog, but I think they are rather decorative. They have coloring like a calico cat & no butts. W***** has had a few ever since I have know her. She loves them, she replaces them, but she never seems to get more than three at a time. Maybe they are divas; I will have to ask. They seem mild mannered enough. & rather petite but not bantams.

The Crevecoeur: V****** is partial to Polish which also have a goofy feather-headpiece. But I am thinking I like these more. If Cher were a chicken, this is the chicken she would be. Also, the catalog says they are non-setters which is my preference. This business of having to hunt for eggs across five+ acres & then fight a setting mama for them is, well, for the birds. Sorry but there it is. They are classified as strictly ornamental. I should find out what this means exactly.

Mottled Houdans: These just might be the best of both worlds: crazy feather heads & extra toes. What else could I want in a bird?

You can see I still have some deciding to do.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Spaghetti pie

This is the final month of hurricane season here but winter weather is just heating up (!) for most of the rest of the country. & so I am bringing you that we-got-no-power classic: Spaghetti Pie.

It had actually been a while, as in a decade, since I even thought about spaghetti pie, but my bookclub was reading My Latest Grievance & it takes place mostly, well pivotaly anyhow, during the blizzard of '78.

Ah the olden days. I remember Ella Grasso telling all the people to stay off the roads, including you poseur, workaholic junior high school teachers, & the trees completely covered in clear ice so you really could see the branches & bark, & the lovely power lines weighed down with snow, frozen to the street. Good times.

So if you have no power for days & days & days, & you have packed the contents of your refrigerator in the snow & you have access to open flame (preferably in the fireplace but any old hibachi will do) what can you eat? Why spaghetti pie, of course.

The ingredients are easy:

Cooked spaghetti. You can boil water over your fireplace if indeed you do not have any leftover in the fridge. Rigatoni also works. Or ziti. Macaroni is getting a little fussy, but I cannot think why it would not work, too.

A jar of supermarket spaghetti sauce. Ordinarily I would say jazz this up, but you may be all jazzed out after boiling spaghetti over an open fire. I once dated a guy who added mustard to the mix, but "shhh!" its a secret.

Grated cheese of some kind. Hard cheeses are easier to work with, but do not walk away from mozzarella, or anything that might crumble.

Whatever else is in the fridge that has not gone bad. I mean WHATEVER: cold cuts, zucchini, an eggroll, half a can of tuna, raisins, baby spinach, whatever so long as you avoid foods that would ordinarily be but have not yet been cooked (i.e. baked chicken good, raw chicken bad).

- Mix together your spaghetti, spaghetti sauce & grated cheese. Mix it well. Use your hands.

- Use most-but-not-all of this to cover the bottom & sides of your baking dish. Set aside what is left.

- Mix your whatever ingredients together. It helps if things are more or less bite sized. Chop the zucchini, tear up the cold cuts, really mince the onion unless you are OKay eating an entire chunk of onion in one bite.

- Fill the spaghetti-crust with the whatever.

- Spread the remaining spaghetti-mix over the top.

-You can bake this in an oven at 350 for 40 minutes. Or more. Or less. Or hotter. I would not recommend cooler. You can bake it in a dutch oven over your open flame. You can even use tin foil instead of a baking pan & make minis to bank around your fire. It does not take much, just enough to heat & melt so the spaghetti hangs together. Mostly.

Bon appetit.

//PS: I think it is good to LEARN while I BLOG. Today I learned there is no adverb form of the verb "to pivot". Ah language, how I love thee. So flexible.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Jurassic gigolo gets jiggy

If emus were into Barry White it would have been impossible to get any sleep around here. As it was, A had to proceed with caution whenever he moved in or around the emu yard because CleoPatton has been In The Mood. For reasons I would rather not consider, I am not his type.

It begins with the man-dance. Which is really more an exaggerated man-walk. He walks past you, looking at you, stops, turns & articulates each feather in a sweeping wave pattern & marches back. This goes one for several weeks. That's right, weeks.

If you let him, he will peck-bite your arms, your head & eventually the back of your neck. I am told it does not hurt. I would not know because I am not that kind of girl. No one will be surprised to learn that my husband is. A keeps trying to convince me it is amusing & I should just do it. I should be more worried that apparently he wants to swing with birds, but I just cannot seem to be bothered.

As things progress, CleoPatton will eventually get down on his haunches & start creeping up behind "the object of his desire" & mount it/her/you. I am happy to report that A does draw the line at this. Unfortunately, CleoPatton just stands & begins all over again. Once you have allowed him to bite the back of your neck, he will not take no for an answer. There is a lesson in there somewhere.

While CleoPatton goes through these motions, Antonelle, his patient partner, could not care less. At least I do not think she cares; facial expressions are a tough read on emus. She grooms her feathers & wanders off. She comes back later, sees he is all worked up & A just will not, well you know. So she gets down on the ground & he moves in on her, no preliminaries, done in 30 seconds. This is a good woman. I would not put up with that myself, but the world takes all kinds.

On Friday, CleoPatton would not come out of the emu yard when I opened the main gate. Antonelle hung back, but stood alone. This is two-times unusual. He always wants to wander the front yard, she always stays within eyeline of him. So I went looking & found....16 eggs. He did eventually move out through the gate, but the sound or flash of my camera brought him running back. By Friday night he was sitting on them & will not be lured away, not even with apples (apples are how I get them to do anything; they will go anywhere for apples).

Last year, no one sat on the eggs until December 30 & in the end it was her, reluctantly; he just was not ready for fatherhood. We thought we had more time to get some of them away from him, but there is a very real possibility we will have a dozen or so emu babies in February.

If anyone is interested on this variation on lawn flamingos, give me a call.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Michelle Obama

I should be embarrassed to admit it, but I am learning that one of my favorite things about Obama-watching is wondering what Michelle is going to wear this time. & I really truly hope she resists whatever cookie-cutter stylist Hilary went to just before she cut off all her hair.

& that brings me to: Sarah Jessica Parker et al. For years we (me, A, others I am sure) watched Sex In The City & asked ourselves "What the HELL is she wearing?" I get that it is supposed to be cutting edge NY fashionista etc. Fine. But feathers? Really? After Labor Day? The show had long-gone from HBO when I finally did get it: it is supposed to be a fantasy & that is what women fantasize about. This business of living with a physicist & working with oilmen, lawmen & cowboys has meant that I was apart from all female contact for more than a decade. I am still relearning the culture.

In my world, the women either dress exactly like men (& by that I mean they are also commando in jeans & flannel shirts) OR they are reinterpreting men's business fashion through the filter of a lesbian undertaker. On the periphery are the female students; they were a mystery to me when I was a female student & have not gotten any clearer since. I do not care how cute your ass is, an ace bandage is not a dress.

& now there is Michelle Obama. I think I might have found my new fashion guru. I cannot quite put my finger on it, but she has a certain something. I especially liked the red dress with the black that sort of wrapped you know it? Actually, it was only in Googling a picture of the dress for this post I learned that other people HAVE noticed her clothing. & the response has been my absolute favorite kind: mixed.

I have found her just in time, because I think I might be too old to continue dressing like Eleanor Roosevelt. Well, maybe not just yet.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Man in a Miata

Every other Monday, I meet C****** at the local bookstore/cafe for lunch. Way back when, C****** was my Little Sister. Now she is a grown-up, works two jobs, bought her own house & we lunch every other Monday.

& every other Monday, starting at about the garden store & the theater, but never too far past the corner of 34th with all those schools & churches (seriously, is it me or does that one corner have three schools & three churches?), I find myself driving next to the man in the Miata. It was months before I noticed him, I am sure, but once I did he was impossible to miss ever again. This stretch of road is not long. It is not even the length of a city block & yet, there he is, more often than not. Usually passing me on the right (as it happens, I probably do not belong in the left lane, but the right lane is right turn only at the light & I do not want to turn right; I am thinking he probably did turn right which is what put him to my right. Got it? Right.).

You may have gathered it is a rather congested stretch of road, what with my having so much time to observe & you would be mostly right. Also, he kind of interests me. Please understand, this is a university town. A semi-conservative, very southern, football-is-king university but there are still a lot of you-only-see-them-in-a-university-town style oddballs out there. There is the lady who rides her bicycle with the two very well behaved dogs on leashes & her bicycle basket full of doggy bowls & bottled of water but no other worldly goods that I have ever noticed. There is the patently homeless man who wears a heavy '70s style anorak all year round, zipped up, often with the hood up over what has to be 15 lb of dredlocks. There are the Jesuses, too of course. I do not mean Jesus freaks, well not in the usual sense. I mean the long haired, glassy eyed men wandering around wearing white robes & rope sandals.

Side bar about the Jesuses: has anyone else noticed they seem to have territories? There is the Butler Plaza to the Archer Road overpass Jesus & the Downtown Plaza Jesus... I am almost certain they are not the same Jesus.

The man in the Miata is not one of them. But rain or shine, well drizzle or shine anyway, summer & now winter (56 F this past Monday, brrrrr), he has the top down. & he wears a driving cap. & this brings me to what has really been troubling me: how does he keep the cap on? & more importantly, what level of commitment to this look does a person have to have to do what they have to do to keep this cap on?

The temptation to swerve into his lane & see what happens is not very strong, but it is growing. Or I could write a note, beforehand of course, tape it to rock & just drop it in the backseat when we were in traffic. It is hard to do that anonymously, though. & also, if I asked the question, how would I get an answer?

I will drive by the man in the Miata a week from next Monday, so if anyone has any ideas, let me know.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Cranberry sauce

I made cranberry sauce this week-end & this is how I make it:

Cranberries from a bag NOT A CAN A BAG

Rum & lots of it

good old fashioned Water

Cloves, as in cloves of cloves, not cloves of garlic. I am sorry to report I know someone who thought cloves meant cloves of garlic. Very weird cranberry sauce & yet, still edible. I think she still makes it but with less garlic, even today.

Sugar: white sugar, lite brown sugar, dark brown sugar, the color of your sugar is up to you

Cinnamon stick because ground cinnamon really is just too much. Afterward you can use it to stir your cocoa, mmmmmm!

Mace. no, really. Outside of Trivial Pursuit this might be the first time this has come up for you, unless you are from The Nutmeg State. Here is the trivia: what two distinct spices come from the same plant? nutmeg & mace. Mace is the inner covering around the kernel in the nutmeg seed. Many cooks think nutmeg & mace can be used interchangeably. They are wrong but if it is not important to you, just use nutmeg. It is hard to use too much mace; it is very easy to use too much nutmeg. Also, if you are subbing with nutmeg, you might want to think about a pinch of red pepper. Less than a pinch, a few grains, really. Or you could just use mace.

Cornstarch, just in case.

-Boil the water, 5 fl oz or 1/4 pint-British or 2 cups or enough to cover to your first pinkie knuckle the bottom of your pot.

-Add the cinnamon stick, 3 whole cloves, maybe 4, never more than 5 & a full pinch of mace & the sugar. 8 oz is the upper limit for the sugar & you want to stir it slowly as it melts & use your nose. If it starts to smell like an old diabetic in a nursing home or the farthest, best concealed corner the stoners hung out at your high school STOP even if there is still sugar left in your measuring cup. White sugar will give you this smell faster without quite so much flavor on the other end. If you are using nutmeg instead of mace, use less than even a pinch; that is take a pinch & rub your fingers together without opening them over the pan.

-Once the sugar is dissolved, turn up the heat & bring to a low-but-constant boil for 8-10 minutes. Never stop stirring. I find the best way is to find some music that is 8-10 minutes long. Let me recommend: any two tracks from Joao Gilberto's Joao, almost any three songs by Sister Hazel, Aaron Copeland's Hoe-down twice & then 1/2 way again, I think you get the picture.

-Remove the cinnamon stick & the cloves. Do this with something that will let you knock the liquid back into the pot or you will have a sticky mess. I suggest toothpicks used like chopsticks or a slotted spoon. Put the cloves & cinnamon stick directly in the mug you will use for your celebration cocoa.

-Add the cranberries, the whole bag. If you are lucky enough to be able to buy them in bulk about a pound will do. You should have rinsed them first & let them dry, perhaps in that lovely cast-iron-&-enamel colander you put on your gift registry at Williams-Sonoma & have not used since the wedding. Or you could gather them in a thin kitchen towel, rinse them & use an elastic to close the towel & hang it from the kitchen faucet. They both work.

-Keep stirring & add the rum. How much rum? Well....the original recipe said 4 oz but that is more a guideline, really. Keep back just a bit for the cornstarch.

-Cook for ten minutes. Stir a lot, but once the cranberries have been well coated, you can relax a bit.

-While you are relaxing, take 2 tsp of cornstarch & dissolve it in the rum you held back. 2 tbs of rum is plenty, but more works, too.

-Stir the cornstarch in with the cranberries, keep stirring two more minutes on lowered heat.

-Scope into clean-Clean-CLEAN jars & tighten those lids. They will seal just fine for the few weeks until Thanksgiving dinner. If you are a worrier, pour boiled water into the jars & let them sit a minute. Tip them out & turn upside down until you are adding the sauce. I find rum helps. Not with the cleaning but with the worrying. It probably makes things more sterile as well, now that I think about it.

The day will come when you can get the heat & the sugar just right & you will not need the cornstarch. This may actually happen on your first try, but you won't know for sure until you open those jars again. When you get that perfect balance, cut the cornstarch, keep the rum.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Saint Carlo Borromeo

Today, Election Day in the US, is also the day of Saint Carlo Borromeo. That is, November 4th is. It is important to remember that November 4th has belonged to Carlo Borromeo for a while now (he was canonized in 1610). But that it should fall on Election Day, that is just sweet.

Carlo Borromeo was from a poor/rich family in Milan. His father was a Count, his mother a de'Medici. Every article I can find bends over backwards to make sure we are all clear she was a de'Medici from Milan & not one of those Florentine poisoners. Her younger brother was also a pope, Pius XI, but the similarity ends there I am sure. Also, CB is only one of only a handful of cardinal-nephews to be canonized, so nepotism could not have played a role.

Carlo Borromeo is one of the better documented saints I have come across. Michael Chabon could take his life story & make quite the swashbuckler a'la Gentlemen of the Road. CB was very big on 'reforming' or 'counter-reforming'. I get confused: which came first the reform or the reform? Anyway, his reforming gave him many adventures.

I think my favorite reform was creating the Golden or Borromean League. The function of this group was to expel heretics, by armed force if necessary. Coincidentally, one of his allies in this league made his living supplying mercenaries to the pope. Gotta love those reformers.

His reforms were not always widely welcomed. He was shot at by the Brothers of Humility. Apparently the humble were armed, even in the 16th century.

I truly do not know where to go from here. The links abound, but they all turn back in on themselves so maybe I will just move on to his patronage. He is the man you call upon for help with all manner of stomach ailments, ulcers, colic, intestinal disorders, etc. although the only vaguely health reference I found in my very cursory search was that he had a speech impediment. How this ties into the whole digestive tract thing I really could not say.

He is also patron of apple orchards, which was a new one on me, lots of church admin-type stuff & starch makers. I think maybe this guy is just too well documented. Some where in the masses of material there is no doubt a story that loosely connects to an orchard-dwelling starch-maker with irritable bowel syndrome, but I do not have the time to read everything that has been written about him. Also, it is either all the same or all false or both or neither & I cannot tell which. The only thing I know for sure is he had a profile only Goya could love.

This overload of information, misinformation & myth reminds me of something, but my head hurts & I cannot think what that might be.

Happy Election Day.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

This is the time of year I like to rip-off Frida Kahlo

Earlier this week, "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" was on & I loved every moment. Then began the seasonal descent into madness culminating on Dia de los Muertos, which I love just as much. I used to think the bible-South did not really observe Hallowe'en but I have learned it is like the seasons: it is subtle, but the change is there.

I reminisce about the drag queen parades of my young adulthood with the fondness usually reserved for Louisa May Alcott/Currier & Ives ice skating memoirs. O' callow youth, ba-blah, ba-blah. I am so fond of drag parades that I am always disappointed that drag races will not include the same cast of characters. I never thought they would, but still I can dream...

The earlier Hallowe'ens of my memory are blissful & free, when packs of costumed children roamed the neighborhoods & hardly a prank was played. The great apple-razor/poisoned candy hoaxes were not yet upon us. It was indeed a Golden Age.

& then there is a gap. Not having children (& not being a drag queen) I more-or-less lost track of this holiday for many years. Right up until the year after we moved here. That year, Hallowe'en fell on a Sunday (as it did again, 5 years later). For those of you that missed it, there was, I swear to G*d, a movement to trick or treat on Saturday instead so as not to sully the sabbath with this pagan ritual. Oy. Now that I think about it, I am not sure why football is permitted on Sunday. After all it a sanitized re-enactment of brute force acquiring territory through the carrying of a symbolic pig skin. But that is probably just me being difficult.

At around the same time, I discovered Frida Kahlo. Not that she was missing. Or that I had not ever heard of her or seen her work before. But something fell into place & I found my inner Frida. Every year, I take this reminder to enjoy these last flowers of the year, wear every outlandish article of clothing I own all at once & generally stop worrying about what other people think. I have decided against taking up smoking though. & I think I will try to avoid divorcing A just to marry him again.