Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thou Shalt Brine or Not

Ah, to brine or not to brine, that is the question. For the past five years this question arises. Personally I think brining makes all the difference in a turkey being edible or not. My DH slow roasts our turkeys and they are always tender and moist. In full disclosure here, turkey falls very low on my list of "Choices for my last meal " - just saying. But I digress.

The problem is not the brining per se, It is the details that cause the stir - so to speak. First there are the four recipes we have to "discuss" every year (simply because I forget to discard the three I think are inferior). Then there is the concept of timing (on my part). I often forget that not only does the brine need to simmer for a while but it also needs to cool. So I find myself making the brine, cooking the brine then cooling the brine by pouring the hot liquid from cold pot to cold pot (while my DH impatiently asks when the brine will be ready). 

By the time I finish I have a gallon of luke warm brine and a counter covered with every large cooking vessel I could find - not a pretty site. Naturally I have used all my Calphalon and Le Creuset, none of which go in the dishwasher so I spend the next thirty minutes washing large pots.

Next is the issue of timing. My DH never trusts a brine recipe,  his fear - the turkey will be too salty. I keep reminding him, this is not directions to salt cure a ham. So reluctantly he will tenderly put his 15 pound fresh organic turkey into the bag of brine, all the while muttering about the length of time the directions call for. Let's see an hour per pound, 15 hours . . . yes I think we need to do that on Wednesday. 

But the turkey is his deal. I just fix the brine and the rub for the turkey. I want nothing else to do with this palpable piece of poultry. My assignment is the fresh bread, pound cake, collards, and macaroni and cheese. My mac and cheese recipe calls for whole cream, half and half, butter, and three different cheeses, among other ingredients. However this year I have decided to be healthy, I am using whole grain pasta. I doubt anyone will notice that I slipped that one in there.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Geo-Politics of Teaspoons and Prairie Dogs

As some of you know I have a passion for sterling silver flatware and have been putting together a rather eclectic collection of place settings for some time. And some of you are aware that the room formerly known as my dining room has been commandeered by my DH as his office/closet, my lovely antique dining furniture sent to my older daughter's home, and new digs for a pair of prairie dogs now in place. Therefore, formal dining is long since gone - ". . .a civilization gone with the wind." (To quote Margaret Mitchell quoting Ben Hecht)

But so much for the dramatics. We still eat with "dead peoples" silver as our daughter refers to my sterling.  Each piece in my collection is of a different pattern, that holds a different story, comes from a different time, and brings delight to me. I believe in getting any joy I can in life.  I am appreciative of life's little treasures. Each time I set the table I delight in the art of each pie fork, gumbo spoon, and fruit knife. The Victorians never met a dish, food, or condiment that they did not have a special utensil for. 

Sterling silver was designed to be used - daily - not kept in a drawer to be pulled out on holidays and the occasional Sunday. My parents and grandparents used their sterling flatware every day, at every meal. Not that we were that well off or patrician, my family appreciated the utensils for what they were - utensils to make dining more enjoyable.  

Often dining at our house requires clearing a space on the kitchen table for our plates. In geo-political metaphors, my kitchen table is Greece or Turkey, taking in refugees fleeing from projects dreamed of and not started, remnants of those started and not finished, or the tools of either of the former. Through it all I am an ostrich with sand in my eyes. 

This morning as I stirred my cup of cappuccino, I admired the teaspoon I was using, with the engraving "Josephine, March 1889" on it. The pattern itself was introduced in 1885, but inscription dated this piece. I was holding a 127 year old designed teaspoon holding stories I could only imagine. Who was Josephine and what was significant about 1889? That was years before my grandparents were born. As I considered all this, I showed the teaspoon to my DH, pointing out the date. His immediate reaction was, "I cannot believe you are stirring your cappuccino with that sterling silver teaspoon."

Immediately, I started my defense of sterling and got on my soap box about how everyone needed to use their silver daily. Then I stopped. Maybe he was correct. I should not be using this spoon.  No one should be stirring their coffee with a "teaspoon", that is what "coffee spoons" or "five o'clock spoons" were designed for. What was I thinking? Next thing I will be confusing my pie fork with my cake fork.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Escape to a Snow Globe

I'll start off by saying only women will appreciate this post. Gentlemen, you may as well move along - nothing to see here, that you care about.

The holidays are upon us and with that comes the shopping lists, the angst of buying Christmas gifts. Do we get something for the McGoogles? We never have before. Then last year they showed up at our house with basket of wine and cheese. What's up with that? And I am not buying anything this year for the grandchildren of Mama's first cousin Henrietta. I don't care, we need to stop somewhere.

There is the calendar and trying to schedule the multiple "Christmases" we have. By last count we have four. My stepmother wants to have her Christmas family dinner on the Sunday before Christmas. That will work unless my son-in-law's family decides to have theirs that same night - they are waiting to hear from one of his sisters (who, naturally, first needs to find out when her new boyfriend's family is having their holiday dinner.) If all else fails we can meet at my stepmother's the Sunday after Christmas, but my DH's family had discussed that as a possible date for their family Christmas dinner. They are waiting for my nephew's wife to hear from her family . . .

The decorating - are we going with the traditional red and green or do we venture off into purple and gold? Should we stick with the Woodland theme we did last year or try something new? The way I am going I'll be lucky to get a tree, I don't know why I am discussing "decorating".  Then there are my plans to bake and menus that need to be planned - it just seems to go into infinity  . . . and beyond.

But this time of year also brings another tradition, something that soothes the soul, provides a respite from the holiday chaos, and shows that there is a perfect world, even if it does only live in snow globes and on sound stages. The Hallmark Channel - God bless 'em. They call it their "Count Down to Christmas". I refer to it as my little helper. Every night 2 hour movies are run back to back - Calgon Take Me Away.

There are no car chases in these films. Rarely if ever do you see a weapon and no one is ever shot. The language is normal without profanity or slang. The villains are dastardly and never get their way. The star crossed lovers always find a way to get together despite the odds. Families are reunited. Small towns pull together. And often Santa himself, and even his family, are part of the story.

I know when all Hell is breaking loose, when I am exhausted and nothing has gone my way, when I am tired of looking at a list that gets longer and few items get checked off, that I can crawl up on the sofa or in bed and turn to the Hallmark Channel. There I can watch one of these feel good, don't have to think about the plot, you know all will be well, the guy will always get the girl, it is certain to snow on Christmas - movies and I can get lost in the mush and mediocrity of the story.

Meanwhile my DH says they are silly and he cannot believe I am wasting my time. I have never asked him to watch one with me and even gone as far as changing the channel when he comes into the den to watch something else.(There are other TV's in our house I can peacefully retreat to.) I think I heard the words "disgusting", "nauseating", and "worthless" come from his mouth in response to the anything on the Hallmark Channel. My friends have told me their husbands had very similar reactions.

Whatever! If catching one of these flicks soothes my soul and helps me handle the stress of the bedlam - so be it. The holidays should not be stressful anyway. But I cannot change that. What I can do is escape to Falls River with Jim and Trisha and for 2 hours live in the fantasy land of a snow globe. Thinking is optional.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

It Is Not What Is on the Red Cup, but What Is In It.

There are some times I just want to yell, "Stop the world, I want to get off." This is one time of year I feel that way. The holidays are fast approaching. Anyone who knows me knows Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. That is the one day we gather with family and friends for a meal. It is usually chaotic, memorable, often nontraditional. 

We can count on some political difference that will arise just as we sit down to eat along with some disagreement over football predictions. There are the in-laws, the out-laws, the folks being introduced to the family for the first time (God help them), and thank goodness for the neighbors who will keep us all fairly civilized less we embarrass ourselves in front of God and everybody. But all in all it is family, our family, gnarly tree and all, with its dysfunction, warts, and skeletons. I wouldn't trade it for anything. 

No one (that I am aware of) protests Thanksgiving, having an issue with turkeys and dressing. Perhaps the most controversial thing has been the decision of late of some retailers to open their stores Thanksgiving afternoon. And I am sure somewhere there is group no doubt upset over the portrayal of the Indians Native Americans, although that is between them and the history books.   

Then less than a month later rolls around the grand kahuna - Christmas. This is where I start to have an issue. Our society has changed. As we have moved into this century and our population has become more diverse, the number of religions practiced in these united states has increased. At the same time, like it not, we have become more secular. This is not to say we have become devil worshipers or joined a Wicca cult. Life is just more complicated. 

I am tired of hearing "Keep the Christ in Christmas" just as I am weary of protests against the creche on the town square. Yes, the Christmas season was orginally the time to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the son of God and leader of the Christian faith. But Christianity is just one of many religions among us. In trying to keep Peace on Earth (or at least at home) and Goodwill Toward Men, perhaps we should look around and accept that we are a nation of many. Except for the Native Americans, we all arrived here from foreign soil bringing our many faiths and beliefs with us. My father's family came from Scotland only 4 generations ago. My mother's family was orginally from Wales and Scotland. 

Some people say, I just wish Christmas was like it was in the ol' days. You know like in Norman Rockwell or Courier and Ives. Well, it pretty much is - those scenes are of families gathering, festive outdoor scenes, sleighs in the snow - all the nostalgia we hold so dear. It is everyone's right to celebrate the holiday as they wish or not. It should also be everyone's place to respect those who do not share your values or norms. We have moved on, like it or not. 

No one is taking away the celebration of Christ's birth, the churches will still have their services. Yes, the commercial side is here to stay, thanks to Coca Cola's famous picture of Santa Claus in 1931 and Francis Pharcellus Church's answer to little Virginia O'Hallon's letter to the editor in 1897. Fighting among us to define the modern Christmas season is about as effective as asking 5 blind men to describe an elephant - everyone has their own personal take on it.

Rather fight for turf and declare what Christmas SHOULD be, perhaps we should realize that in this busy world when we never spend as much time as we should with one another, and never have as much time together to build memories for the future as we did years ago, let's be thankful for the holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Years. Whether you are a devout Christian celebrating the birth of Christ, a member of the Jewish faith celebrating Hanukkah, an African American sharing Kwanza with your family, or just someone who wants to take the time to stop and celebrate life and the joy of those around us - this is the one time we can. 

I was reminded of this just this morning when I was reading about Starbucks taking the "Merry Christmas" and other Christmas motifs off their red coffee cups for the season for fear of offending some. The malls no longer put up "Christmas Trees" - they are now "Holiday Trees". And it is hard to find "Christmas Cards" in the Hallmark store. Shouldn't we drop the political correctness and embrace each other. I am not offended by the menora that I may see displayed or holiday lights in blue white of the Jewish faith. Kwanza decorations do not threaten me. Instead this all reminds me that of many we are one. We should embrace our beliefs and move forward.

A horrid correlation could be to the Third Reich in Germany as they ascended to power, Germans found everything for the people homogenized - just as the Fuhrer wanted. We don't want it all the same, we don't need any one group fussing that they "were first", it is "their holiday", no more than we want laws that say it is all just a "Holiday" versus what it is to you. As far as I'm concerned, you should be able to enjoy the holidays, celebrate them as you wish, and call them what you wish. Have we become a nation of wimps with tender feelings hurt by the threat of change and diversity? 

Yes, there is a reason for the season - to celebrate life, love, and family. To carry on whatever traditions you may have, crazy as they may be. But more than that, it is a time for us to respect our neighbors as they celebrate as they wish, call it what they may, and perhaps we can learn something along the way. 

As for Starbucks and their red cups. I know still what they stand for. I would like to see "Merry Christmas" and the traditional motifs return but that is their decision. After all it is not what is on the cup - it what is in it. As for the holidays - its not what they are called but how we choose to celebrate them and more importantly that we do have the right and freedom to choose as we wish.

As Toby Kieth said;

"Red solo cup you're more than just plastic
You're more than amazing you're more than fantastic
And believe me that I'm not the least bit sarcastic
When I look at you and say [ ] you're not just a cup."

Monday, November 9, 2015

All the Time in the World or Not

I was checking out at a small grocery store yesterday. At the time only one checkout lane was open and there was a line. Of all days I was organized, knew what I needed, and had a list for the those few items.  Naturally this would be the time I was standing there carefully balancing all the items in my hands lamenting my arrogance in thinking I did not need a buggy.

The lady in front of me was obviously from the country and looking at her buggy that was loaded to the hilt, this must have been her bi-weekly shopping trip. When a cashier stepped forward and announced she was opening another lane, I smiled at the country lady and pointed out that a new line was open. 

She turned to me, smiled and said, "Oh honey I  have nothing else to do but wait. I have all the time in the world."

Meanwhile everyone behind me scurried to the open line. They could do the math. The shopper being checked out looked as if she were shopping for a family of 12 preparing for Armageddon, then this lady's buggy was filled to the brim. Meanwhile there I stood with only an arm full of items, but a little more than my arms could carry. 

As the country lady took her sweet time moving her items to the counter all the while talking to me about her philosophy on life, I was juggling groceries and asking myself, "If something hits the floor, which will make the bigger mess, the jar of olives, large jar of pesto or the glass container of garlic?"

Finally her items were on the counter just as I dropped the jar of pesto on the relatively soft conveyor belt. I carefully places the rest of my purchases on the counter.

The lady turned to me, "My dear you need to be careful, that could have broken."  Then she started on her theory that big business had put chemicals in the plastic food containers to keep everyone in line. It was a conspiracy you know. They wanted you "hooked" on their food. Personally she preferred glass but you had to be careful . . . 

Thankfully the cashier interrupted her impromptu informational dissertation and asked if she were paying with cash. The country lady immediately turned to her. "Of course, do you trust the banks these days? I only deal in cash." Only then did she start digging through her purse to find her wallet and start counting out her money. 

This cemented two things in my mind - no matter what is on my list, I always need a buggy and I prefer stores with self-check out lanes. I cannot wait for the day when I can look at someone in line and say, "Oh honey, I have nothing else to do but wait." Hopefully then I will also remember the days when maybe I didn't have so much time and consider the shopper behind me juggling the pesto and garlic. Just hopefully I will not be on a soapbox about not trusting banks or the conspiracy of big business with our plastics. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Handmade at Amazon, Perhaps Hard to See

The Oh Mighty Amazon hath brought upon this earth a new opportunity for artisans to sell their wares in the Bezo's Heralded Realm. The new part of Amazon is to be called "Handmade at Amazon".  This is not out of the kindness of Bezo's heart, he simply saw that Etsy had a lot of business and declared - "If they can do it, I can do it better".

Always trying to find a new venue for my work, I applied to be a vendor and was sent this long application that required me to give my business name, my name and address, grades I made on coloring in kindergarten, at what age did I learn to balance a checkbook, if I owned a Kindle, how often I shopped on Amazon, my shoe size, and much more - oh and what I was selling. Four weeks later I get an email that apparently all my initial information checked out and that I needed to complete the attached form, make sure my answers were thorough, and attach photos. Yes, this was the essay section.

Now remember I am a landscape photographer. I take pictures- a lot of them, edit them to find the 1 of 1000 I think is THE ONE, enhance it if I wish it make it look more like a watercolor, or an oil, or just make sure it is the best it can be. Then I send it off to be mounted on canvas. I have no loom with an alpaca in the backyard, no potter's wheel for my clay with a kiln in the basement, no wood shop with rare wood, nor area in the garage where I create works of art by soldering large pieces of metal together.  

The first 2 questions were fairly mundane. The third was Tell us why you think your products should be considered for Handmade at Amazon. In a very long polite paragraph I basically in other words said "Because my work is damn good, I think folks will buy it, and I need the money."

Describe in detail the setting of your studio or work space. Are you kidding? The world is my work space - I'm a landscape photographer. Everything else is done on my lap top. Of course I politely explained this and how after a shoot I came back to my home office where all my equipment was (which it is) and downloaded everything on my laptop (which I do) and worked from there. Once again, no loom, no kiln, no saw, no torch - just me, my camera, my computer, oh, an Ellie, my Norwich who is usually asleep under my feet as I work.

Provide detailed information about the roles of each person who works for you. Uhhh, I'm a lone landscape photographer. I went on to explain this politely in as many words as I could adding that the only other entity involved was the professional processor that did the final canvas.

Walk us step by step through your production process starting with materials to finished product. If your product process differs by product category, please list out by category. I carefully went through as much detail as possible what I did from soup to nuts making sure they understood it is a process, it does take time both in the field and back at my desk. That there is a lot effort that goes into making sure I have taken and selected the "best" shot, ect.

Describe the quality controls and inspection procedures you have put into place to ensure your products are of high quality. Here I went into full detail of how I found and selected the professional processor I use, how long I have been using them, their quality, ect. . . .

Provide up to 8 images that show your studio/work space, how you make your products, materials used, and finished products. Please group the pictures by product category and consolidate all pictures into one file to upload. File cannot be larger than 16MB.  Whoa, whoa, pictures? Of my studio? This was jumping the shark. There wasn't anything to see, just my desk, my computer, and of course Ellie's bed. Then I realized I had just put my extra canvases in storage and finally put up all my camera equipment that had been strewn about. So I brought the canvases back, pulled out of camera equipment and my office looked just like it did last week before I spent a good day cleaning it up. 

So I guess I do have a real "studio" even if I do not have an alpaca in the backyard. But then there are two prairie dogs in the room formerly known as my living room and flying squirrels in my den. Just saying. But I digress.

I photographed my studio/office. Even got a shot of Ellie in her regular spot, figured I needed to document she was real. Found pictures my DH had taken of me in the field taking pictures, adding one of those to show me in "the workplace".

After it was all done and sent it in I knew I had done my best. They said it would take 6 months before I would hear from them again. I doubt I will qualify. I think they are looking for very hands on artisans where they can showcase their studio and them hard at work over a potter's wheel, wearing a welder's mask, using a skill saw, or skillfully working on a loom. With photography, all one sees is the "product". Based on what Amazon has said, I think they want to sell the romance of the "process" as well.

Isn't that ironic, my work of all they are looking at doesn't photograph well. It is hard to SEE the process - so much for the final product.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Our Brand is Crisis - A Movie Review

Often times the snippets you see in movie trailers either show the only funny parts of a weak comedy or they turn out to be random scenes that really misconstrue the movie. The parts of Our Brand is Crisis I saw in the trailers show what the movie is about without giving away too much of the story. 

The movie has a strong cast anchored by Oscar winning actors Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thorton. These two are supported by broad talent such as Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker, Million Dollar Baby), Ann Dowd (Side Effects,Marley and Me, Garden State), Scoot McNairy (Twelve Years a Slave, Argo), and Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks, What If) just name a few. Together they take a well written screen play about a very plausible scenario, and run with it.

No spoiler here - Jane Bodine (Bullock) plays a burnt out political campaign consultant who has a reputation for being incredibly effective, but after loosing several races she is out of the game living on top of a mountain making pottery. When one the presidential candidates in Boliva needs a big gun, his staff convinces Jane to come out of retirement. 

Thorton plays Pat Candy, the consultant for Jane's candidate's rival in Boliva. There is history, bad blood, and fireworks between these two. It goes beyond snarky. One begins to wonder if the goal is to win the election or better - outdo your opponent's consultant. Joaquim de Almeida plays Castillo, the candidate Jane is working for. He does an excellent job playing the character. 

There is a lot to this story, and I honestly was not sure how this was going to end. The character development is very good. One weak point was movie goers see that Bodine and Candy have issues with each other and obviously they have a past but you are never sure what the past was. There are vague allusions to a relationship, but that is never confirmed.

The humor is subtle and often under stated. Bullock uses her physical talent like most actors cannot. So much of her "dialogue" is in her facial expressions and actions. Often just the way she stands or sits conveys very clearly what she is thinking. Thorton's role suits him well since Candy is a snarky, arrogant, SOB who will say anything to Bodine to play with her mind. And he does that so well.

This is 107 minutes of your time that will be well spent. Once again we see Sandra Bullock stretch her talent into another character beyond the mother in The Blind Side, the goofy undercover officer in Miss Congeniality, the astronaut in Gravity, and the uptight executive in The Proposal to name a few.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Slips in Fashion and Ditching the Pantyhose

My Mama, my dear Grandmama, my holier than thou Aunt J'nelle, and my sweet Aunt Kat all counseled me from a young age - "Never leave home with dirty underwear - what happens if you are rushed to the hospital, what would the doctors think?" Of course they went further to drill in me that a young lady never wears a dress without a slip. I doubt young women these days even know what a "slip" is. But, I digress.

I remember when the teachers at our private school in the late 1970's requested, albeit very politely, to the board of trustees that they be allowed to wear proper "pant suits" to work in lieu of the required regime of dresses. After much ado behind closed doors, the board relented. No doubt the fact that some of the members were married to teachers and wished for peace at home may have had a bit to do with the concession. Life went on and the morals at the institution did not digress into a full "women's liberation" movement as was predicted by some of the old stalwarts.

Although I still enjoy dressing well,  am very comfortable in dresses and skirts, and even "high" heels don't bother me, two years ago I took a bold personal wardrobe step and quietly ditched all my pantyhose. In the winter I will wear tights, which I have always adored, however, the diabolical sadist who designed such a thing as pantyhose had it in for women. And women bought the itchy, uncomfortable, and ugly scheme with sheer (no pun intended) joy thinking they had been freed. 

My generation was born well after the hose and garter years. Well, long after that style was relegated to the bedroom and Victoria's Secret. So I have no skin in that game - so to speak. As long as I show up presentable - as in clean clothes (especially underwear) that coordinate (no red plaids with fushia polka dots and orange stripes) that fit correctly and are stylish but not too trendy who gives a damn if I shirk masochism and ditch the pantyhose?

All this aside my DH has one major fashion issue. He often asks, "Do these people have a mirror at Home?" Didn't someone want to stop them from making a fool of themselves or exposing us to their disgusting failure in fashion? One does not have to have money to dress in a way that does not make them look like buffoons. Or worse yet, thinking they are a Milan model in their size 24 body - it ain't pretty. Like my daddy used to say - you can't put two tons of fertilizer in a one ton truck.

A prime example of all this came to mind last week when I was attending the Celtic Festival and Highland Games. Many people were dressed in costume for the affair. There were colorful kilts and tartan scarves and wraps. Many of the outfits were down right elegant. Then there was this "lady" who either did not have a mirror at home, friends who cared about the impression she made, or she thought she still was that size 2, 16 year old girl she fondly remembered from years ago. And someone wants to castigate me for shucking my pantyhose. Seriously?

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