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Sunday, November 28, 2010

My Private Nutcracker

I went to my dance school's Nutcracker on Saturday. They did a very terrific job. I've watched a couple of the 11-year-olds at the studio since they were 7 and measured 23-23-23. Now their legs are growing long and their tummies suck in instead of pouching out. When there's a school holiday, they drop in to the adult classes, not in their baby blue uniform leotards but in bright red or sophisticated black with daring low or keyhole backs. Their dancing has grown so strong, deliberate and graceful.  It was a joy to watch them.

Almost, but not quite, as joyful as the Nutcracker that was danced in my own house. I played the Pacific Northwest Ballet's Nutcracker (my very, very favorite) for Alan and Suzannah, and halfway through, they jumped up and danced. Alan concentrated hard on his plie's, turning out his dimpled knees, costumed only in Spiderman underware. Suzannah was draped in one of my T-shirts (she forgot to pack her pamamas), her arms floating in beautiful, extended port de bras. She swayed and turned and then knelt on one knee and extended her hand to Alan. He graciously accepted it, and they twirled and jumped and laughed. That was a Nutcracker to remember!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Danger Days

When we returned from France, I had gained one pound, one (1) little pound. In a day, the pound was gone. I was so proud!  But now, the week before Thanksgiving, this is the danger zone. These are the days – more than my birthday, more than Christmas – when I pack it on.
A week ago Tuesday, in anticipation of my daughter's family's arrival and when I knew I had the time, I made Millie Kilmartin's gingerbread cookies. (butter cookies for Christmas; gingerbread for Thanksgiving) Millie was a wonderful friend from when we were both sentenced to live in Corning, N.Y. She made them for Christmas (no, no, Millie, butter cookies for Christmas), decorated them beautifully, hung them on their tree and gave them to friends and neighbors as gifts. They've contributed to my undoing, or more accurately, my expanding, even since. (I'm not mentioning dinner at the Brazilian steak house or lunch at Fudruckers or . . . well, never mind.) The cookies are damned addictive, and they disappear faster than a kiss on the wind.
In two days, the cookies were half gone. It's true that Steve helped me in decimating (or would it be halif-inating) them, but *hangs head in shame* I ate more than my share. I made a second batch on Friday. Stephanie, Scott, Pumpkin and Pie Boy (who now informs me he is NOT Pie Boy), arrived Saturday. Three days after that, there wasn't a crumb left for a mouse. (Not that we have mice. Elaine Cat takes care of that.) This is not a one-time occurrence, folks. It happens every year, year after year, constant as the sunrise. So, yes, I can anticipate the phenomenon, and, no, it doesn't seem to prevent the behavior. Or even slow it down. Fortunately, these gingerbread cookies are kind of a pain to make, so I won't have any more for a year.
You may ask, if you always eat so many and, furthermore, you don't seem to care to show any signs of self-control *my head droops in shame*, why don't you just double the recipe? Ahh, there's the rub (as in rub my bulging tummy with sugary yumminess).  It is the only recipe I've ever made that cannot be doubled.  Double it, and something goes wrong. It doesn't taste right. No, you have to make it 2 1/2 dozen at a time. *sighs* Just as well I suppose.
The cookies are gone.  All that's left is tomorrow's turkey and sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce and pie. To heck with shame. Face the danger, I say; face it and plow through it.

Millie Kilmartin's Gingerbread Cookies
(I've tweaked it a little; make it at your peril)
(in general, I don't get a big thrill out of cooking, so don't go expecting any more recipes from me.)

1 C sugar
1 Tbs ginger
1 tsp each cloves, cinnamon
1/4 C light corn syrup
1/4 C dark corn syrup
1/2 C water
1 C butter
Bring to a boil (in microwave is fine). Cool to room temperature.

Add (mixing can easily be done by hand with a big wooden spoon:
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
4 C flour
Chill. Then I set on counter for 45 min. Dough is VERY stiff.

Roll out (not too thick, not too thin) and cut into shapes. (We like gingerbread boys and girls, dinosaurs, hearts, cars, circles, turkeys, etc. We like to be able to choose.)

Bake in preheated 375 oven for 12 – 13 minutes.  They're really good iced, but they never last long enough at our house to decorate.

Now you'll have to excuse me. We have to have a birthday party for our new doll.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

One Thing at Once

I had a Blog entry in mind about being able to do only one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is not for me. (I'd argue it's not for anyone, but it's definitely not for me.)  Anyway, I had this topic in mind, and I even jotted it down, but then I got busy doing something else, and, well, while I was doing the second thing, I forgot everything I was going to say about the one thing.  *sighs*
Instead I'll write about my hair. (Didn't see that one ocming, did you?)  I'm growing my hair. It's easy for me because it means NOT doing something (making an appointment and going to get it cut) as opposed to actually doing something. Over the course of my life, I have grown and cut off my hair in a fairly steady rhythm. I had lovely curls as a little girl, all little girls did back in the day. Then I grew into an extreme tomboy. I insisted my hair be cut very short, and I dressed for play in my brother's out-grown clothes. (I wore dresses to school, of course; girls had to wear dresses to school. With snow pants in the winter. Remember snow pants?)
Then, as a teen, my hair tumbled to my shoulders. Curly hair was out, out, out, and I was among those who laid my tresses on the ironing board and ironed them straight. I wore them spilling over my face (oh, Joan Baez, how did you do it – the sheen of that wall of hair) or, occasionally, in a pony tail on top of my head. That pony tail was the extent of my abilities to work with my hair.
In college (it was the late 60s), it grew longer, and I wore it clasped in the back with a barrette. Hairdo done. After I had my first child and dealt with sticky fingers and mucus being twined in it, I cut it off again. And so it went.

I wasn't really happy with the variety of short cuts I've had since we returned from Russia. (They really know how to cut hair in Russia.), and I thought I would grow it out and wear it in a sophisticated French twist for my son's wedding in March.
Unfortunately, it's a morning wedding, and I can't see finding a hair dresser in a strange city to fix my hair at the crack of dawn. I have to learn to do it myself. I knew it would take time to acquire the skill, so I've been practicing. With the extra inch it's grown in the past month and the constant practice over the past two months (with four month to go to perfect my mad skilz), I can pretty much get it twisted and pinned. The internet advisors will tell you that it is easier to put hair up (and keep it up – keeping it up is the trick) if it is a little dirty. My interpretation of of "a little dirty" is to goop my hair up entirely with thick, cheap mousse and then twist and pin it up. The mousse hardens and there it is: a French twist that stays up!

It will be fine as long as no one tries to stroke or, say, dent my hair. And as long as I don't get distracted while I'm putting it up or try to do anything else at the same time.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!

Some time ago, I wrote a novel.  Like me, it's unusual.  Like any first-time author, I submitted it to several agents and publishers.  While widely complemented, it was still, sadly, turned down (cross-genre works being notoriously difficult to find an agent for – that's my story, and I'm sticking to it).  The book, the characters, the idea of being published have not left me alone to die a graceful death. No, they have been repeatedly (and, yes, metaphorically) slapping me in the face for several months now. In order to get them to keep their hands to themselves, I have decided to publish on the Amazon Kindle store.

I thought, in my innocence that this would be a simple task. Find a font I like for the cover and print it over a pattern of jaguar fur, maybe superimpose a photo of a lacquer box (not that I know how to do that, but
still . . .).  Upload the entire deal and voila.  *sighs*
It's not that it's difficult to publish on the Kindle store; it's just that my computer skills – once so up-to-date and showy-offy – have become sadly elementary. I'm sure that if I could understand the directions Amazon offers, I could follow them. Unfortunately, I find them less understandable than Russian.

Fortunately my soon-to-be daughter-in-law is a programmer and is going to save me! WOOT! She can convert to the necessary HTML format to give me an active Table of Contents. She can work with graphics to get an up-loadable JPG file. Not only that, she has agreed to marry my son. Dana, I love you!

Ahem, back to my topic.  Have no fears that this event will slip by unnoticed. I promise to announce on all possible venues when my thriller (nuclear smuggling in Russia) with paranormal overtones (Shamanic spirit animals) is released. You're gonna love it!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Miles on Disc

You already know how enamored I am of my Kindle, so I was disappointed to learn that two new science fiction books I had a desperate need to read were not available at the Kindle store. Taking a research view, though, I figured going back to hard cover would be a test; is this true love or merely a first impressions crush?
Which book to read first? I dithered a while but in the end selected Lois McMaster Bujold's Cryoburn. This is a new story – after a long hiatus -- in the Miles Vorkosigan series, and I anticipated with delight sinking deep into the story. Unhappily, I did not sink as deep as I'd like because I had to keep moving my book mark and turn pages (don't let them stick) and, when I read in bed, I had to shift from one side of the book to the other. Then the book fell closed and I saw the bonus CD that had been included (since I'd received these books before we went on vacation, I'd forgotten about it). I figured it was extra material, artwork, fan material, things of that nature. I popped it into my computer and, low and behold, it was the entire book just waiting to be copied to my Kindle! Not only that, but the gods bless Bujold, it seems to include (I haven't compared feature by feature yet) the entire Miles collection plus extra essays of hers and art. Okay, I couldn't care less about the art, but the other stuff? JACKPOT!
I'll still be stuck reading Connie Willis' All Clear in hard copy, and while I must admit that I like having the hard copy of both these books around – just to complete my sets, you know – I really DO prefer an e-reader. Never thought it would happen, but there you are.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Well Worth a Pound

We were two weeks in France, and I never described food. I ask you, how is one supposed to say anything new about French food?  Not that that will stop me.  I mean, butter, cream, eggs:  the holy triumvirate!
Sunday morning in Lyon, my friend Jan and I skipped out on the included tour of an art market and headed for the daily grocery market. The smell of the freshly baked breads and pastries, cheeses, vegetables and chickens made us jealous of the French.  Well, except for the roasted chickens we saw with the heads left on, little roasted crests and eyes facing us mournfully as we walked by. We imagined rolling out of bed, strolling down the market, picking up bread, cheese, roast chicken (sans head) and wine and then retiring to a tastefully decorated apartment to leisurely enjoy our newspaper, eating our way through the day.

All the food was so fresh and beautiful, but, of course, it meant we couldn't buy any to bring home until . . . UNTIL we came to a cheese and pate counter. There in little tureens were jars of pates, two for five Euros. The only thing I understood on the labels was that they were made in cognac.  Cognac had to be good, right?  I blindly picked  two. Back at the ship, the local guide translated for me: one is pate of poultry and the other pate of reindeer. I do wonder if she meant it was venison, but either way, we opened the reindeer last night, and it was good! Bound to be – it's French.
In Tournus (At least, I think it was in Tournus. I didn't keep notes and the some of the ports blend), we had lunch at a little café where we ordered escargot as an entrée (an appetizer in English). I would like to say that snails are entirely superfluous to this dish . You may as well toss the little snail bodies in the garbage and fill their shells with the garlic saturated butter, and drink up. 
The coup de gras (like my French?) came our last night in Paris when we were walking up and down the Rue de Rennes. We enjoyed the window shopping but had walked almost to the Seine and back and were pretty beat. We examined brasserie (bar) after brasserie looking for a menu with more than hamburgers and French fries and an ambience more delicate than smoke. We rounded the corner onto boulevard du Montparnasse and found it. The restaurant Le Montparnasse 1900 was not quite opened at 6:50, but they seated us 10 minutes early and paid lavish attention to us. For my entrée I downed green salad with sautéed scallops ('cause I wanted to be healthy with a salad, don't you know) followed by my plat (main dish) of duck breast (fat, fat duck breast, still tinged pink) with au pauve sauce (or whatever the spelling is for pepper sauce). I can tell you right now that you could eat that sauce over cardboard, and it would still be delicious, delicately filling the back or your mouth with creamy yumminess, its flavors blending with the duck juices just as they hit the tongue. The manager suggested a medoc with it, and its higher edge was the right counterbalance for the duck. There was one point in the meal when I sat with my eyes closed and lost awareness of everything except what was happening in my mouth. Steve spoke to me, and I came to with a jolt.  Food doesn't get any better than that.
For dessert, we decided to order crepes suzette, but the manager suggested a dessert off the menu of fresh strawberries slightly sweetened with sugar (slightly, my foot) and lightly whipped in egg yolk. It was a good thing we shared one order because It came in a pasta plate.  We kept telling each other we didn't have to eat it all, but, of course, we did.  Iff you're in Paris on the left bank, head over to 58, boulevard du Montparnasse.  And do you know, I got on the scale this morning and had only gained one pound?
PS We explored Versailles on Wednesday and were able to stop in the Lauderee there and come out with a lovely little green shopping bag of macaroons. All hopes fulfilled.