Thursday, January 24, 2008

That You'll Wait For Me

Daria's going to have some sort of seizure when she can't call me five times a day. Today, she called me at the library. Later, she called the family store.

Daria: Have you seen those Olive Garden commercials with the rolled lasagna?
Tata: I have not!
Daria: I saw that and decided to make it myself. Where's Pete?
Tata: Working at his own job. Whatcha doin'?
Daria: Making lasagna rolls, and I'm making up the recipe as I go. What temperature should the oven be? Everything's already cooked. Some people say 350, some say 375.
Tata: You're not cooking the lasagna. You're tanning it. I'd go 350 for a Jersey Shore tan and 375 for Miami Beach. If it comes out looking like pasty Maine, your oven's broken.

Any other week, I might've gone as Ipanema as 450 on that lasagna but last weekend, Siobhan accidentally set deep dish canneloni en flambe under a broiler, peeled off the char and served it to a crowd; naturally, I was concerned. And carcinogenic. Some time later, Daria called again.

Daria: Hey...a funny thing just happened. The lasagna rolls came out great and I thought, 'I'll just call Dad - oh no I won't.' You know we put his picture in a frame and put up the inscription from the Different Drummer in the living room. So I went out in the living room and told him about the lasagna rolls.
Tata: Did he critique your sauce?
Daria: He didn't! I was surprised because I, you know, forgot.
Tata: Ten times a day, Dar. I think of something he'd find interesting or funny and - hoo boy.
Daria: Hey! Fifi took a bite out of a centerpiece apple - like, a week ago. You know what I'm eating that you're not?
Tata: You found a brown bite mark on a piece of fruit and can identify which of your little children went macrobiotic? Break it to me gently. What are you eating?
Daria: Yep. We spend a lot of time at the dentist.
Tata: I bet you do.
Daria: Delicious lasagna rolls. Duh!

But it was too late for envy. I'd already eaten.


You Gotta Have Something

According to my brother Todd, this is the cooking show our Dad should have done: Cooking And Cursing With the Grandsons Of Italy. Dad, author of such remarks as, "The best thing about that dish was its temperature," and "Constipation wasn't as much fun as I remembered," might have been a bit subtle for these brusque fellows. Moreover, Dad was no Goombah. He was foul-mouthed, hot-tempered, a culinary control freak and brilliant in a pinch. Still, these guys are pretty funny, and they have a point: Olive Garden in NOT Italian food. Don't eat that!


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Is That the Question?

Two days.

Struggling a bit to get the 5,000 things done I need to do before I desert the joint for week. Today, I made arrangements for car service. Tomorrow, I have to call Grandpa and get my teeth fixed, work two jobs and Nair my facial hair. For crying out loud, I can't let people see me in daylight with an unsubtle mustache! I'm too young for the jade green feather boa and matching faux shearling bolero jacket.

A little old lady's got to have her standards.

Tonight, I emailed the cruise line and asked them for my heart's one desire: to be able to sit daily on an exercise bicycle and watch All My Children. I realize technology is in a time of mad flux and that virtually anything is possible for a price, so on a sea-faring contraption, shouldn't I be able to pedal my way to fitness while keeping tabs on fab thing Greenlee? I believe I should be able! We'll see if the cruise line agrees.


Make Me Fries

This reminds me of the National Lampoon graffiti artist post-it, which I can only paraphrase:
Meant to write "Clapton is GOOD." Hope there's been no inconvenience.


Monday, January 21, 2008

For You Follows Wherever I Go

Yesterday and today.

Working to get ahead of the week away from the family store. I feel kind of responsible for the online aspect of what happens to Anya's and Corinne's livelihood, though I know that's silly. They could replace me in a flash with someone ten times as code savvy and they probably should but they don't. I offer twice a week; they turn me down, so it may be more difficult than it at first appears to determine who is responsible for whom.

The other day, Pete looked up from reading a cookbook and made an audacious suggestion. "How about we make bread?" Bread takes forever! Dinner was so near! How could we make fresh bread? I stuttered and backed up, believing this endeavor could only end in tears. Pete persisted, measuring flour, baking powder, salt, a little sugar and a whole bottle of beer into a big bowl and smoooooshing it together until it looked relatively dough-like. Fifty minutes int the fuuuuuture, we had fresh bread. Later, he read me recipes like stories. Oh, those ingenious leveners!


Sunday, January 20, 2008

To Relieve This Bellyache

Sometimes good advice is good advice, no matter its source. Horoscopically speaking, I should consider what I want out of life this year because with luck and hard work, I might get it. Well, I can't argue with that. Pretty much any year good luck and hard work might bring me what I want. So, there you go. What do I want? It's not as simple a question as it sounds.

1. A government that works all night for the fresh, hot and freaky common good and makes scrambled eggs in the morning.

2. A body that is ready to go, rather than a physique that signals where the mind's wandered.

Let's be clear: I'm never going to have the body I had when I ate virtually nothing and lifted weights two hours a day, but that's not the point. No matter what anyone else's body says or does, mine wants to be strong and in motion, and when it isn't, that's all my doing and it means my brain's somewhere else. This summer, my Guatemalan cousin Regina, who is my age and a couple years ago survived a very serious cancer scare, will swim around Manhattan Island. If she can get up off her death bed to run marathons I can get off my ass and do some pushups.

3. Clothes that actually fit. Damn it, no more feeling squeezed like bratwurst!

4. Projects out of my brain and seen to completion. Dad's slides will be organized and restored. My art projects wil come to fruition. More things will move from where they are to where they are needed.

5. To save a little more money. I'd like to nosh on a better grade of cat food in my old age.

In short, I want a leaner, stronger, more capable me. A few years back, I wondered if I could learn anymore, such was the brain damage I was living with. Today, I'm going to help Pete paint a hallway for fun, which would have been a preposterous notion four years ago, when I would have been dead certain I didn't know how, let alone couldn't muster the strength to do it. Woe was me! Pfffft!

So that's what I want. Seen that in a catalog?


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Everything I See Is Red

I made the mistake of setting up to write this as Julia Child introduced Alice Waters on Julia's series on master chefs. I don't think I've had many clearer invitations from the universe to shut up and learn something.

I believe I might accept.


Friday, January 18, 2008

On the Ceiling If You Want


Friday Cat Blogging: Move On Sometime

You've seen Topaz recently. How about some Drusy?

Believe it or not, this is not a picture of a giant hand. No, it is a tiny cat head. Drusy is tall and thin but her face fits in my palm. Giving her the Kitteh Face Press is a matter of some delicacy, but that's not important right now. No, what's important is that Drusy walked around my shoulders and across my chest a few times before flopping down in my arms for scritches, and I deliver! See the blinky pussycat contentment. See the glinty eyes of the purring person who is a cat. See that black cat on a red couch in a bluish sage green room.

Drusy's favorite spot.

Nearing the successful conclusion of this morning's Iron March to Workplace Domination - in the dark hallway by my front door I was donning my coat and mittens - when I stepped on invisible little Topaz. She let out an almost human scream I will never forget, in part because since I couldn't see her I didn't know which foot to lift. Pete came running. Topaz went flying. I'm hopping. I ran after the flying kitty but when I got to the bedroom, both cats stared at me. Topaz was breathing a little heavily and looked kind of freaked out but let me scratch her head a little. Then she retreated to a defensive position behind some clean towels.

She's plotting revenge. I just know it.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Drop And Give Me Twenty

I'm a union gal. I belong to a union again since my co-workers at the unnamed university voted to unionize after more than ten years of trying. Since the writers' strike began, I've heard some complaints in conversation about how the writers are spoiled millionaires wrecking it for everyone; mostly I've heard people talk about how strikebreaking is no longer inevitable, and the writers, who are mostly regular not-millionaires like you and me, may win their demands yet. When we stand up for ourselves, other people are in a better position to stand up for themselves, too. That kind of real security can only be good for us, for our neighborhoods and for the economy. I support the WGA 100%. I haven't watched The Daily Show since it came back on the air.

That said, the temptation provided by Jon Stewart's fileting of filthy idiot Jonah Goldberg and his filthy and idiotic book proved too much for me. I won't link to it. If you're inclined, you know where to find it. It's bad, choppy video of an incomprehensible interview on a galling topic, and I had to shut it off before it was over because I use dictionaries rather than my imagination to define words. So. Now you know my secret shame!

The pomegranate's on the table and I'm off to the tanning salon.


Update: alternatively...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Your Eyes Make A Circle

Gianna and I are standing in the ladies room discussing my cousin and our mutual hairdresser Carmelo, who's been AWOL since Friday night. His shop is on the main street in our little town and the front wall is glass. When the doctor is OUT, the whole town can see it. So where is he? We discover neither of us knows what Carmelo's doing besides covering our roots just as the lights fail. We are left in total darkness just as Gianna walks into a wall with a thud! and delighted laughter. I ask if she's heard what I heard on the Italian news last night: the Pope's still nursing a grudge against Galileo. Last night, I couldn't believe what I thought I was hearing, though that's perfectly okay since I don't speak Italian. But holy cow, I was right! In a related note: if you want to have fun with an Italian news report put it through Babelfish. Did you know Italian names are nouns and adjectives? It's like someone squooze all the naughty out of Mad Libs.

Today is the actual birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which I would have realized if I ever knew what day it was. Further: if I'd picked up a datebook in December I might've known, for instance, that today was Wednesday. Even so, I was surprised to find that on this day highlighted a king of redneck culture, NASCAR's A. J. Foyt. For me, being small and covered with fur has some distinct disadvantages. Fortunately, Digby and the littlest gator reminded me of what I was missing. I can't write more eloquently than they do on this or any other topic, so those posts speak for me, and for the loving us that we become when we work to make this world more just. We learn, we fail, we learn more. Just this morning, I marveled at my own idiocy. I was mulling over zapping an email to my local NBC affiliate asking what happened to my morning newscaster, when I have been rendered completely and utterly speechless by this by brownfemipower, via Shakes.
Lesbians sentenced for self-defense

That sound you hear is all the oxygen sucked once again from my lungs.
On Aug. 16, 2006, seven young, African-American, lesbian-identified friends were walking in the West Village. The Village is a historic center for lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) communities, and is seen as a safe haven for working-class LGBT youth, especially youth of color.

As they passed the Independent Film Cinema, 29-year-old Dwayne Buckle, an African-American vendor selling DVDs, sexually propositioned one of the women. They rebuffed his advances and kept walking.

“I’ll f— you straight, sweetheart!” Buckle shouted. A video camera from a nearby store shows the women walking away. He followed them, all the while hurling anti-lesbian slurs, grabbing his genitals and making explicitly obscene remarks. The women finally stopped and confronted him. A heated argument ensued. Buckle spat in the face of one of the women and threw his lit cigarette at them, escalating the verbal attack into a physical one.

Buckle is seen on the video grabbing and pulling out large patches of hair from one of the young women. When Buckle ended up on top of one of the women, choking her, Johnson pulled a small steak knife out of her purse. She aimed for his arm to stop him from killing her friend.

The video captures two men finally running over to help the women and beating Buckle. At some point he was stabbed in the abdomen. The women were already walking away across the street by the time the police arrived.

Buckle was hospitalized for five days after surgery for a lacerated liver and stomach. When asked at the hospital, he responded at least twice that men had attacked him.

There was no evidence that Johnson’s kitchen knife was the weapon that penetrated his abdomen, nor was there any blood visible on it. In fact, there was never any forensics testing done on her knife. On the night they were arrested, the police told the women that there would be a search by the New York Police Department for the two men - which to date has not happened.

After almost a year of trial, four of the seven were convicted in April. Johnson was sentenced to 11 years on June 14.

It turns out the newscaster was on vacation, so there was no need to write. For details of the actual outrage, please see FierceNYC. These events happened months ago, even more than a year ago. I read about this yesterday and I am still reeling.

A datebook would not have helped except to remind me it is 2008 and our futures can be deftly stolen from us, whoever we are.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

You Got It, Now You Know

My hair has grown out for the last year, which means when I wake up in the morning or from a nap, there's a nest on top of my head. One morning, I looked in the mirror and decided to call storm chasers: Hello, fearless IMAX guys? My hair is on the rampage. Last week, Pete and I began playing a new game called How Crazy Is My Hair? Here are the rules: my hair does whatever the hell it feels like, and Pete assesses the insanity. "Pete, how crazy is my hair? Is it Son of Sam-Crazy or Ed Gein-Crazy?" If I'm feeling movie madness: "Is it Errol Flynn-Crazy or Joan Crawford-Crazy?" And there's always politics: "If my hair is crazier than Giuliani, I'm getting a restraining order against my head."

It's just a game. Or is it?

At 7:17 a.m., I dropped off Pete at his house and drove to work with the camera in the car. I should carry one all the time, really. Two blocks from the bridge over the Raritan, I fell in line two cars behind... behind... Flying Spaghetti Monster, that's a truck full of portapotties. I pressed the ON button on the camera, aimed, zoomed, zoomed some more and took this crappy picture just as the light turned green. The truck turned right. I held my breath as it rounded the corner, then I drove straight over the bridge into town. That's New Brunswick in the distance, in all its self-loathing glory; in fact, those are several of the same buildings pictured above from a different angle. No truck drivers were harmed in the making of this post. The same cannot be said of my head.


Monday, January 14, 2008

All the Stars Are On the Inside

This afternoon, I stumbled into the dentist's office because I wished I were on drugs and had two fangs filed down. This came with a heaping helping of my favorite moment in life: being paralyzed with fright as the dentist swings a needle the size of a telephone pole from somewhere near the ceiling to the gum and rams home the plunger! Twice! Then, for ten minutes, I grip the handrests and try not to punch my dentist square in the face as he drills, then drills, then drills some more on teeth so sensitve I haven't eaten ice cream in seven years.

It goes to show you how different things can be from what you imagine and fear. Yes, I felt like I was going to throw up as that needle approached my face but my dentist is so good with the needle I barely felt the first one, which made the agony of the second one an invigorating surprise. Then he left the room to let the anaesthesia take effect. Fortunately, Bohemian Rhapsody was playing on the radio as I lost all feeling in my face. Beezebub has a devil put aside for me! For me! For me!Say that three times fast as your lips go numb!

Later, I stumbled home, trying not to offend people with the stupid expression on my face. It was exciting, all right. I couldn't tell, as I walked home, if I'd rinsed off all the alginate or if my nose dripped. Eight long, freezing blocks later, I was home and as far as I could tell on General Hospital, Lulu had been kidnapped by Jax's brother but Jax was being played by a wrinkly non-triathalon running/biking/swimming hunkalicious Aussie so I lay flat on my couch to see if everyone got better looking at a 90 degree angle. Next thing I knew, Drusy was standing on me and Pete was asking what we should do for dinner.

Poor Lulu. I wish I cared.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

To Wish These Days Would End

Yesterday and today.

Last night, Darla said PIC included little personal detail recently. I allowed as how I'm working really hard at the unnamed university job and at the family store. Further, when I get home, my brain is still tired from the December slog and it's all I can do to seductively mumble at Pete "Gaaaaaaaaaah" before I either snore or toss all night. Thus, though I may be desperately attractive, in pixel form, I might be a trifle dull. Of course, I apologize - or I would, but no self-respecting bitch would, and I like Elton John.

Today, Pete and I drove out to Daria's, where for no good reason, Pete, Daria and I dipped pretzels into crab, clam and honey-mustard dips while discussing our diets. It was time well spent, I'm sure. Pete toured the local Home Depot while Daria went through her closet for clothing I can marinate in umbrella drinks whle on vacation at the end of this month. Yes, pets, I'm leaving you for a week. No, your mother and I still love you, we just need this time apart. You're still special!

Siobhan and I are going on a Barenaked Ladies cruise. No, I can't stop singing If I Had A Million Dollars. The plan is to spend mornings on an exercise cycle, afternoons on a deck chair, evenings in a bar, and the whole time holding a chic glass containing alcohol and tropical fruit. At other points, I might visit islands and see the band, while holiding a chic glass containing alcohol and tropical fruit. If I end up in a life boat, there had better be a tiki bar. Will I drown?


Friday, January 11, 2008

Behind You I See the Millions

Pete can take a gorgeous picture of our craptastic city, can he not?

In restaurants, I order only what I can't make myself. Lately, I want soup. Today, minstrel mentioned pho at the same moment I was searching the NJ restaurant listings for a good Hungarian restaurant. The only one I could find is the one in a formal basement in New Brunswick. I've been there. It's okay, but I longed for the kasha and mushroom sauce and creamy paprikash of Aranka, a restaurant that moved from town down Route 27 to Franklin Park. One night, a friend and I drove down there and found the building painted pink and containing an ice cream parlor. We were crushed! Since then, I haven't found a new Hungarian restaurant to love. My friends and I also lost the Russian restaurant that was like a trip through the looking glass with roasted meat. So I've been thinking it's almost time to make a pilgrimage to Veselka in New York for the borscht. Pete's justifiably fussy about food. I wonder if he'll touch pink soup - which, if you haven't tried it, is as close to unsightly public rapture as you want to be unless you're Jenna Jamison. Eventually, we went to the Greek restaurant, where I had the arni fricase with artichokes. I'm reconsidering. I might be able to cook that.

I've never had pho and now I must try it.

Bonus picture of Topaz lying on the floor, adoring Pete.

She's just so gorgeous. One of these days, I fully expect her to don her napkin and gnaw on our leg bones.

Topaz is not just a gushing teenage fangirl. No. She's a wild jungle cat. I must never run out of cat food.

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Quilted And Timeless, Seldom Denied

Last night, just before I closed the family store, I heard two people talking by the half-price ornament display. I heard a man's voice deep and gruff and a woman's light and inquisitive, and where they were browsing I couldn't see them. I was reading Digby because 40% of my nephews were running around next door and I was too tired to contemplate exploding space dinosaurs. So the people were browsing. I was reading. I heard the man's voice behind the Thymes display not ten feet from me, so I looked up to greet him. He was about 5'6" and kind of squarish. His shoulder-length hair was bottle blond. He was wearing a yellow and black Catholic school girl outfit and a Hello, Kitty! backpack. My one and only thought, upon seeing him, was, "I hate plaid."

This morning, I awoke in darkness as usual. A light rain fell outside. Instantly, I regretted having to leave the coziness of my bed for the crappiness of getting ready for work. Siobhan, no mincer of words, reminded me yesterday that the 180 Days project was already in shambles.

Siobhan: Three weeks and you're fucking it up. A new record!
Tata: It's New Brunswick. Don't get that on your shoes!

Well, you wouldn't want that, would you?
And speaking of what you don't want, did you know you can get paranormal restraining orders? You sure can! Who's bugging you? Bigfoot?
No longer fear the woods! Take a hike without harassment.

Why, I would like to take a hike! And so can Santa, that bastard!
Spend your holiday free from elfin magic! Every year like clockwork he waits until you’re asleep, breaks into your house, and leaves things lying around.

No whammies...For the his and hers matching recliners -
Never fear The Lord’s wrath again!
In the fire of his jealousy the whole world will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who live in the earth. ...except you.

We have a winner! I mention this because I'm being haunted by the ghost of Richard Viguerie, which foregoes usual paranormal parlor tricks like dripping blood, flies and showing up uninvited to formal dinner parties for sending creepy and hilarious email.
While many conservatives, libertarians, and fair-minded people of all political persuasions are still disappointed at the Fox News Channel’s (FNC) exclusion of Ron Paul from the January 6 debate in New Hampshire, we are relieved that their January 10 debate in South Carolina will include all of the candidates.

In New Hampshire, Ron Paul finished just 2,111 votes behind Rudy Giuliani. It is possible that if Congressman Paul had been included in the debate, he might have gotten at least 2,200 more votes. So, FNC may have affected the outcome of the New Hampshire primary. That’s something a news organization should never do.

Seldom have I come closer to wetting myself. In life, Richard Viguerie corrupted the public discourse but now that he's haunting me, a treehugging pinko, he's hilarious. Fox isn't a news organization. It's an organ of propaganda for Viguerie's baby the Conservative Revolution. Flying Spaghetti Monster, even the living know that!

I'll take today's picture this afternoon, when things may dry out a little. New Brunswick makes its own gravy. I guess all that is obvious.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Sometimes the Real Color

Weather is coming from the south and west. I feel lucky that the weather-change headache hasn't hit yet.


Back Up To Heaven All Alone


I woke up an hour and a half bfore the alarm. My skin felt prickly. It was as if someone stood by my closet door, but no one did. Eventually, I got up, read my email and used the portable exercise cycle contraption Pete gave me during the December Gift-Giving Extravaganza. Then, at a time when I should have been jumping into the shower and running away! away! away! to work, I started breakfast. Just before 7:30, I called the office and left a message.

Tata: Good morning, Helen! I bet you've noticed I'm not there! I'll be along soon. I was doing fine until I started cooking breakfast, then I was cooking breakfast, then I was still cooking breakfast and, inexplicably, after that I was continuing to cook breakfast. There's enough for six linebackers in my kitchen! I'll be there in a little bit, and boy, will I be full!

Half an hour later, Helen was listening to her messages when I arrived. Breathless, she pointed at me and laughed until I walked away, away, away. My PC made noises like angry bees all day, which excited the unnamed university library's IT department.

One of my co-workers and I are on the same sleep schedule. I know when I'm up, she's up. When I'm sleeping, odds are good she's sawing a log. She mentioned she hadn't slept much either.

Tata: I was up before 5.
Lenore: Me, too.
Tata: You would think that would make me early for work but no! I was not! I got up and made breakfast for six people who weren't there. There's still toast in my toaster! So I was late.
Lenore: Don't you know I sat on the edge of my bed this morning and said, "Gerald, I'm going to turn over a new leaf and start eating breakfast," but I didn't! Next time you're cooking you call me.

We often dress alike without prompting.


It's finally light out before I start the car in the morning. Yesterday, as I walked to the parking lot, I was stunned by the pinks and golds of the sunlight just barely above the rooftops as overhead, woolly gray clouds gathered. The first drops of rain landed on my windshield as I put the car into drive and made my embarrassingly brief commute straight at a rainbow that appeared to be anchored just south of New Brunswick. During the walk from the lot to the library, I was dumbstruck by the size and clarity of the rainbow over the city. As I stood there staring the clouds burst open and I was soaked, but I laughed all the way to the front door. My PC sounded like it was straining to take off.


I often say that when I leave the house I forget one thing I need, always at least one thing. This morning, I had to go back for my bookbag and the leftover toast. I'm having soup for lunch and this toast will taste wonderful, soaked in broth. I've been assured that when the dying part kicks the bucket my hard drive will not melt. That might be true of other people's PCs but not mine. We don't know what will happen.


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Since You Looked At Me

I got a little behind on the 180 Days project. Yesterday and today.


By Age And Careless Children

A few nights ago, Pete and I watched Christina Cooks on a PBS station, probably on WLIW Create, and I was trying to explain to him why this cooking show perplexed me. I'm smart!

Tata: I don't...why's she...what did she just...what's in that pan?...that's the first time I've heard her say vegetarian...Pete, did you see her toss pecans into that pecan bundt cake?
Pete: Nope, but I've seen guys direct traffic with less gestures.
Tata: I get emotional!

Pete did all his homework at the Culinary Institute, sometimes without a hangover. He has forgotten more than I will ever know about food. Yesterday, he called from his house.

Tata: What time will you be here?
Pete: In about 25 minutes. Why?
Tata: Dinner's almost ready.
Pete: It is?

The note of panic in his voice is barely concealed when I get up and walk toward the kitchen. "Where ya going?" he asks, as if he expects I spent forty years foraging in produce sections and Chinese buffets. I can't cook, right? That doesn't mean I don't, which brings us to this.
Foodie restaurants love this ritzy Italian corn porridge they like to call "polenta."

I can take you to places in San Francisco where a plate of simple polenta, beautifully presented for lunch and topped with a spoonful of marscapone cheese, will set you back $12, not counting the side salad and a glass of Napa gewurtz to wash it down with.

Of course, being half-hillbilly, I find this ridiculous. (Delicious, and I'll pay it, but ridiculous nonetheless.) Back in the day, in the two-room cabin I called home until I was 10, my mama made the exact same stuff, packed it with Velveeta, and called it cheese grits. Since we lived so far out that she only went into town shopping once a month, grits - served alongside some canned peas and a few pan-fried rainbow trout we caught in the creek - were standard empty-pantry fare in that last week before Mom went back into town.

This time of year, when it's cold and howling out, grits (polenta, if you insist) are a great winter comfort food.

I do insist. Wikipedia:
Polenta is a dish made from boiled cornmeal. Although the word is borrowed into English from Italian, the dish (under various names) is popular in Italian, Savoyard, Swiss, Austrian, Croatian, Cuban, Hungarian, Slovenian, Serbian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Georgian, Corsican, Argentine, Uruguayan, Brazilian, Peruvian, Venezuelan, and Mexican cuisines, and it is a traditional staple food throughout much of northern Italy.

Maize or corn was a new world crop the Mesoamericans cultivated a long, long time before the Spanish arrived, so if the question is "Whose cuisine is more authentic, the guinea's or the hillbilly's?" we're not even in the correct ethnic ballpark. That said, poor people all over the planet have subsisted on cornmeal mushes in the last 500 years. So. I get emotional! The last little tiff I had with Dad before his diagnosis a year ago was about why he was writing recipes putting heavy cream and asiago into polenta when good cornmeal, stock and fragrant herbs were all a home chef and her waistline needed. I agree with Sara that the upscaling of polenta is stupid. It's a delight we can all afford and make for ourselves. On the other hand, Quaker makes Instant Grits, and if you need it right now, that crap's microwaveable.

When Daria, Todd and I were kids, Grandma and Grandpa LongItalianLastName only took out the stock pot on special occasions. The thing about peasant food nobody mentions is that it takes all damn day to make and a lot of freaking effort, so: in modern life, for a family of modest means, the old ways can represent a substantial investment in keeping them special and viscerally important to the next generation. This is the farthest thing from ritzy. Grandma boiled salted water and added the yellow cornmeal. Grandpa, plainly in charge, wielded the polenta stick. Yes, we had a polenta stick, specifically for stirring polenta. It's in my kitchen right now. Making polenta from scratch for a big group is no exercise for the faint of heart or weak of bicep. After Grandpa died, Grandma switched to quicker cooking polenta, which involved less machismo but the same amount of wood because the exercise was still the same: someone held the pot and someone stirred until his or her arms fell off, the goo was poured out onto the polenta board - also in my kitchen - to cool a bit. Then we ate, because by this time, we were all muscle-bound and starving. Now, I make this at home all the time because, you know, I possess the freakish upper body strength.

The thing about polenta made this way was the development of fantastic yellow corn flavor, which is a different corn flavor from grits. The difference starts in how the cornmeal is processed at the mill and continues in the kitchen. I don't have a special palate or anything, but I've spent enough time in an Italian kitchen, in the South and in an Italian kitchen in the South to be able to tell the difference. This is also why I love the Oaxaquenian tamales. Same stuff. Different. Ooh la la.

On Christina's Cool Products page, I was surprised to find DiBruno Bros., my favorite cheesemonger in Philadelphia, and Frey Wines. Sometimes, I understand the principles of the recipe Christina's using, sometimes I don't. She doesn't seem to use dairy or alcohol at all, so maybe I don't understand what she's doing. Much. Often. I get emotional!

That happens a lot, actually.


Sunday, January 06, 2008

Und A Motorbike

Kylie Kwong is an Australian TV chef on the Discovery Home Channel. Simply Magic is photographed like the gauziest of gauzy soft-core bow-chicka, bow-bow-bow, except with a breezy spiritual tone. The attention to light, color and atmosphere makes me sigh often. Though I seldom learn much about Chinese cooking I could use at home, I love watching her dry roast spices, skip through Shanghai or argue with her mother, whom Kylie plainly adores. I do learn things, though.

One of my favorite segments featured Kylie sitting backward on one of those miniature trucks as it rolled through ...something. She talked about "a mad fellow named Noel" who took an abandoned subway tunnel and turned it into an underground farm for high end mushrooms. I watched the reruns obsessively to see this segment three or four times, until I finally picked up enough context clues to find the aforementioned "mad fellow."
Unlike white mushrooms that grow in compost, the shitake, chestnut and other varieties of exotic mushrooms produced by Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms in Mittagong are spawned in a laboratory and grown in an old underground railway tunnel.

Owner and operator Dr Noel Arrold has been studying and growing exotic mushrooms for more than 20 years. He says the tunnel offers ideal growing conditions because it is naturally dark and the temperature sits at a comfortable 17 degrees centigrade all year round.

Holy cow, that's recycling!
The growing process begins in a laboratory in Mittagong not far from the tunnel where mushroom cultures are spawned on an agar plate.

"In order to multiply that up so that you can use it to inoculate your crops we grow it on rye grain," Dr Arrold explained.

"We boil up rye grain to get the moisture in it and then we mix it with a bit of lime and gypsum, sterilise it and then we add a piece of agar as a pure culture."

"This will then grow all through that medium and you can then transfer that from a small bottle into larger bottles and so on."

The end result is a variety of mushrooms that could not only be used in a stir-fry but for artistic displays.

"They come out in clumps much like the Sydney Opera House."

Frankly, who doesn't?

My first thought, watching the tiny, beautiful woman in an erstwhile railway tunnel was, 'SWEETIE! YOU DON'T KNOW WHERE THAT RAILROAD'S BEEN!' but the "mad fellow" has Science on his side. Delicious exotic mushrooms provide a further impetus to get over the germ-inspired heebie jeebies. I'm not totally certain about how one cleans the world's longest bathroom without a Queen Mary-size can of Scrubbing Bubbles, but I do love Science, preferably in soup or a cream reduction sauce. That's an excellent use of resources!


Saturday, January 05, 2008

The River Has Frozen Over

Not a soul on the ice.


Friday, January 04, 2008

That Make You Go Hmm

Smoke gets in your eyes. Or between Pete and the city.


I'm Up Before the Sun

We used to be a lot older.

This is Mom. Isn't she pretty? She sure is. That's her great-grandson looking mighty photogenic. For the sake of clarity, let's call him "Spanky" - or, as Daria pronounces it, "'Panky". Try it out: Hey, Panky, let's go get tattoos! or Panky, that's my walrus! I like it. So there we have Mom and Panky. When I was a kid, I calculated I'd be 36 at the turn of the millenium and I recall feeling horrified that I'd be SO OLD! Now, Sophia Loren is gorgeous after 70. It's a different life than it might be if we didn't expect to live long enough to know and love our great-great-grandchildren, which privilege brings with it an increased responsibility to our present and our future.

On the other hand, since my life expectancy is about another forty years it's pretty embarrassing that I haven't planned - say - dinner. I'm working on it!


Wednesday, January 02, 2008

But I Was Only Dreaming

I've had a splitting headache most of the day.

Pete made us a fantastic dinner of turkey tenderloin, fingerling potatoes and sauteed snap peas. I'd baked a loaf of whole wheat bread that turned out pretty well, which we can attribute to the brand new food processor. It's not like I suddenly aquired the magical yummy breadmaking skillz. Nope! So tastiness must be chalked up to the shiny shiny new machine. Whooosh! Nice crust!


Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Nothing You And I Won't Do

It's New Year's Day. I've been thinking a lot about how I do stuff, however small, for the common good and urge you to do stuff for the common good. It's possible to assume all kinds of things are wrong or would be productive and make stupid, humiliating mistakes with the best of intentions. Kali knows years ago I threw benefit events where none were wanted or especially needed because I felt the want and need to do something. In my old age and sloth, I slow down and listen to people who actually know what they're doing. Case in point: the blogosphere has put a great deal of effort into successful fundraising for Pretty Bird Woman House. I didn't have a spare nickel to my name, so I sat that one out. I didn't think I could help. A few days ago, Melissa pointed out a detail that had escaped my notice: the house needs stuff. I slapped my forehead. Of course it does.
Material Donations Also Needed

In addition to monetary donations for the house fund, PBWH is in need of the following items for women seeking emergency shelter: towels and washcloths, twin and full size sheets, toothbrushes and toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner, women's hygiene items, diapers of all sizes, baby wipes, first aid kit items, and analgesics such as ibuprophen and aspirin.

Since winter is approaching, there is a need for new or gently used winter clothing for women and children as well.

UPS, FedEx and DHL will not ship to P. O. boxes. If you use one of those services, use the building address:

Pretty Bird Woman House
302 Sale Barn Rd.
McLaughlin SD 57642

If you are using the USPS, send your package to the address at the top of the page.

It also turns out that the shelter specifically needs NEW sweat suits, underwear and bras for women who have been sexually assaulted, since they often must leave their clothes behind at the hospital as part of the evidence gathering process. Recently a hospital released a woman in only her hospital gown and blanket. Wow, that one has to change doesn't it!

PBWH would also like to offer victims of sexual violence information on coping with sexual assault, but does not have the budget for this. An inexpensive yet good booklet is available for $2.50 ea. at If you would like to contribute by buying some of these pamplets, that would be greatly appreciated as well (there is a minimum order of 50).

Thank you!

At the beginning of a new year, one thing we all have is extra stuff. I'm not materialistic and I despise shopping, but I opened my lingerie drawer and found five bras with tags still on. I have extra coats I've been lugging around. I have sheets and towels that I don't love above and beyond what I truly need. These things weigh on me. Their presence does not enrich my life. Yesterday, I called my sisters and asked them to go through their closets and their children's closets for things gently or never worn but no longer needed. We each have separate social structures that involve the re-circulation of clothing and household items. In this case, I asked them to give me what they don't need and I'd send it to South Dakota.

Tomorrow, I'll send two big boxes out. I will never miss these things, no matter how I acquired or once loved them. I feel lighter already, especially knowing that what space I clear out the universe will fill with what I actually need. I'm hoping for artichoke dip.

People in need come in all shapes and sizes. I am sometimes overwhelmed by the problems we face, and that we absolutely must face them, but that sense is out of proportion. I can't solve the world's problems. What I can do is be a connection between something stuck and in excess and the place where that stuff is needed. You can do it, too. Take five things out of your closet and send them to Pretty Woman Bird House, if you are a woman. Then ask your friends to do the same. Money is tight everywhere, but all it will cost to help is postage, and probably less than $20.

It would be easy to say, "What about the homeless or abused where I live? Don't they deserve help? Shouldn't I help them first?" It's not a competition. No. No, it's not. Recently, I asked you to consider helping the good people at Vandenberg Air Force Base and I discussed my little project with a few of my co-workers, who at first did not seem receptive. They didn't share their concerns with me, so I have no idea what they were. Just before Christmas, one came to me and told me what happened. I almost burst into tears. See: this woman discussed my little project with her granddaughter who works at Conair. Her department pitches in and their boss matches the group contribution. This year, they chose to use the money to buy stuff for deployed soldiers from Fort Dix in a project parallel to mine. So at first I worried that a particular set of soldiers might lose out because I hadn't articulated their need properly - then I realized a large group of people had just recognized one way they could contribute to the common good that had never occurred to them before.

So. Tell me how you'd like to start this brilliant new year.

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