Friday, January 30, 2009

Okay, so I...

so I wrote a Friday Five which was absolutely nothing but me whining about the things I would change about our house. But here is the thing - I love our house. Yeah, I wish it was in, I don't know, Fells Point or Red Hook or London or someplace fascinating. Yeah, I'd rather have a different kitchen floor. And a living room ceiling without a hole. And a yard where grass will grow. and and and and

honestly, who cares.

We are very happy here. We could use a maid, and a landscaper, and a professional organizer (incidentally, DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH MONEY PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZERS MAKE? A lot. The answer to that question is "a lot.")

I had to stop watching HGTV because pretty much the only show I ever saw was "Why Your House Sucks So Bad" And "Why Your House Sucks So Bad II" and "OMG, No One Would Ever Even Consider Buying Your Completely Suckass House." Some real estate professional would sniff, "well, these countertops could obviously use some updating," and I'd think, I bet our countertops need updating. It was not relaxing, I finally realized. I wasn't getting new ideas for things I could do myself. I was just feeling inadequate. This is why HGTV makes money. I would invest in it. I just can't watch it.

Our counters don't need updating. They look fine, and they stand up to massive abuse every time I cook. The problems aren't the house's problems, they're ours - we have stuff we don't need, we aren't disciplined enough to get rid of stuff or decide where it should go. We changed businesses, we had a baby, we have a lot of junk. None of this is the house's fault, and nothing would make it better. Not even more room, because we'd just fill that! Not even some excellent storage like custom-built shelving - until we figure out what we need to keep, and what we need to dispense with, that would just give us more leeway to be undisciplined.

The point is: we are happy in our house. My kitchen is extremely modest. Small. Cheapo appliances (the fridges were free, in fact.) Imperfectly planned. But every time I walk into the kitchen itself, I think about some fun time I've had there, some culinary triumph - making that massive carmel cake, for example, or feeding our family 3 dinners with a dollar's worth of dried beans. Or this Christmas, improvising side by side with my brother, laughing our heads off and having everything come out insanely good! (and also: all hot at the same time.)

So Santa can bring all new floors and a French door to replace the clouded slider. And someone to fix the ceiling. I will never get around to it. (The getting-rid-of-stuff and organizing - that I am nibbling away at. It's frustrating, but I remind myself that it didn't get this way in a weekend, and it won't get fixed in a weekend either.) I'd rather be cooking. Or reading. Or writing. Or playing dinosaurs.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Via the blog at Bosco Peter's helpful site

There's something about this - maybe the physical constraints of a webcam reinforce the feeling of deep emotion and hard thinking. I'm a Penn fan, as I've mentioned, though I think I would be kind of frightened of him in person (just that he would be dismissive and hurt my feelings, not frightened that he would, like, eat me or anything.)

(Well, look at him. Stranger things have happened.)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

"there is absolutely no way in hell that I am going to spend two minutes and twenty-seven seconds watching some random video of some guy's KITTEN."

"Honestly, I know. And from Cute Overload, too. Really, Betsy?? REALLY? Way to waste an evening."

yeah, I'm so sure.

Dinner Tonight: Sorta like marinara

Before Dinner:
Husband: Spaghetti sauce? Are you going to put in some sausage or something?
Me: Not tonight. Tonight, just tomato sauce.
Husband: Hmmmph.

After Dinner:
Husband: WOW! That was great! Was that a new recipe?
Me: Sorta.
Husband: (suspicious) 'Sorta' how?
Me: well, sorta new, as in I've never tried to make it this way before.
P taught me how to make it. But it's really only 'sorta' a recipe.
(This 'sorta recipe' has impeccable credentials: P, a co-worker of mine, is from Philadelphia, and she is Irish, and this is the sauce that she used to win over her Italian inlaws.)
She sent me an email, really mostly just some ideas for ingredients, with kind of vague amounts. I think you really can't do it wrong if you keep stirring and tasting, I guess.

Husband: You should go write down exactly what you did! So you can make it again!


P's Red Sauce by Betsy:

warm about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a deep skillet.
Dice one quarter of a huge sweet onion, and add to that a couple of spoonfuls of minced garlic. You can also dice up a couple slices of pepperoni - P suggests pancetta, which would be lovely, but we had a plastic bag of pre-sliced pepperoni.

Cook these in the oil for 3-8 minutes with salt and pepper.

When the onions start to get a little brown, slippery and a little softer but not yet actually soft, open a can (26 oz) of diced tomatoes in juice. (P suggested crushed tomatoes, you know, like a normal person would, but the can I grabbed out out the cupboard was diced.) Pour that in.

Bring that to a light boil, and reduce the heat to keep it simmering.

Simmer for 10 minutes. Taste.

I added: dried oregano, dried parsley, fresh (well, frozen) rosemary - just a few needles

(An aside: I got a boatload of rosemary when Tony pruned his outdoor plant, which I believe is on his balcony and has the size and density of a prison privacy hedge. I stripped 2 branches and froze the needles, and put the other 2 branches in a vase of water on the windowsill. I am hoping it takes root. The avocado is setting a good example.)

(I would really love having a garden bed that I've grown exclusively from garbage - like the avocado seed - and cuttings from friends. So every plant would have a story.)

P suggests a lot of fresh basil, of course, but I have used up my frozen basil from this summer and have not gotten any dried yet. She adds red wine. I used pasta water by the ladle-full when it looked like it was getting too sticky.

And we are unanimously in favor of sugar. Add a fairly small amount at a time - like a tablespoon - and give it time to disperse before you taste again.

Salt. Pepper. I didn't add pepper flakes, but that's hardly out of the question.

Just keep simmering and stirring occasionally - about 30 minutes total. It's chunky but also saucy.

It was really good. And I really believe that you cannot mess this up if you keep tasting.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday Five: Beating Cabin Fever

Here in Maryland, we had a beautiful day - warm and sunny, with air that smelled like fresh laundry. I was at home for most of it, hand-picking pine needles out of particularly stubborn patches of carpet and trying to reason with a 3-year-old. (Yay me.)

But over at RevGal, Singing Owl is in a pickle:
Here in snow country we are settled in to what is a very long stretch of potentially boring days. The holidays are over. It is a very long time till we will get outside on a regular basis. The snow that seemed so beautiful at first is now dirty and the snow banks are piling up. Our vehicles are all the same shade of brownish grey, but if we go to the car wash our doors will freeze shut. People get grumpy. Of course, not everyone lives in a cold climate, but even in warmer places the days till springtime can get long. Help! Please give us five suggestions for combating cabin fever and staying cheerful in our monochromatic world?

I really have only one suggestion, which is:

do the thing you 'never' do. In every area.

Take a different route home. Get your groceries at a store you've never been to. Choose a new restaurant or takeout, order something you've never had, read a genre you'd never dream of reading, try on a garment that's not like anything in your closet.

Here's the good thing: It's an EXPERIMENT. Therefore, it cannot fail.
There is so very little to be lost by trying on a flowery blouse, wandering the aisles of a new market for a few extra minutes, picking up a cheesy paperback (or a scholarly tome, whatever) on your regular library trip. If you hate it, then your suspicions are confirmed and you can go back to your favorite dish/author/black t-shirt with renewed authority.

But now you're a different kind of person. You're not the kind of person who only ever orders home-style bean curd, with no rice, only ever listens to NPR, only reads contemporary literary fiction and food books. (Ahem. That would be me.) You could do anything! At any moment! You're full of surprises!

And who knows - you might find you like short boots or vampire books or Vampire Weekend. That would be like a bonus.

I occasionally go through a discipline of randomness. For a specified period of time (3 days - never as long as a whole week, that I can recall) I discipline myself that, whenever I am given a choice, I will choose to do the thing I haven't done before.

(Confession - I have not done this in the last 4 years, since parenthood (though often tedious) means that every day one is forced to do things one has never done before. And would not choose, given the choice.)

And in the coming days, I will be doing something I never, ever ever do. I will be having people over.

I have invited my co-workers over to this squalid hovel modest suburban townhouse to eat pizza and, presumably, watch my son have a tantrum. It's all about community, people. Like, authenticity n'shit.

I never invite people over - except people who have lived here, the veterans of suburban bohemia - not because I am embarrassed about the squalid hovel, but because I am totally totally greedy about my free time. Since reproducing, I feel like I have about 6 minutes to myself in a day, and 2 seconds with my husband. Have people over? Are you kidding me? Friends take time! I need that time!

So I can spend it on Facebook. Again, Yay me.

I went to my knitting group the other night. I never go, because that would be giving away my 6 minutes to, you know, other people. I went and finished the project (an alledged Christmas gift that I have frogged THREE TIMES. Panic disorder and knitting are a tough combination.)

But, aha, interesting that panic should come up in this conversation, because in the 2 hours of knitting and chatting with strangers about this and that, ex-boyfriends, clothes, jobs, yarn, whatever whatever....I did not have one second of panic, not an instant of obsessive pulse-checking or jaw-clenching.

(I raise a tiny, tattered, slept-with, chewed-on, 46-year-old pennant that says "betsy".)

(Yay me. For real.)

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Go spend a few minutes here.

Chimene Jackson is a photographer I was priveldged to meet last year. She shot some beautiful portraits of Ian, and I had seen a lot of the family portraiture in her portfolio. These are her shots from her trip downtown Tuesday.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I loved this prayer.

(*My husband, teary-eyed but shaking with laughter at the end of the above benediction, turned to me and said "Oooooh, Rick Warren just got schooled.")

(this post was edited by the author on 1/28.)

A confluance of unlikely events.

We were in Baltimore yesterday, the Dude and I, our annual MLK Day trip to the Visionary Art Museum. We'd been hanging around for several hours, in the events building, making a musical instrument of some sort, eating cake. We had looked at the mechanicals endlessly and visited the robots (Ian looked at the photo of the man who built the robots and said "Wow. He was a really good fixer.")

I had somehow gotten him outside, FINALLY. Between the event venue and the main museum, there's a garden and The Sculpture Barn. Ian loves the garden, and staged a coup that resulted in us being in the garden, behind the barn for a while, instead of on the way to the car where we should have been going, where I was trying to get us.

It started to snow. There was a dusting already down, and it started to snow in earnest.

In the Sculpture Barn, there were 2 exhibits. One was a huge chess set, with pieces the size of 4th graders, made out of car parts. The other: hanging on the ceiling, huge Bible scenes and stories painted on enormous sheets of canvas, like sails.

And the sound system was playing, at loud, echoing levels, King's speech at the Lincoln Memorial, the whole thing.

We look up at the canvases for a minute, but it's too loud for Ian, who grabs my hand and leads me into the little log structure in the garden. We climb the stairs to its little tower chamber. Snow swirls around us, coming in through the log lattice roof. Ian is dancing to some mysterious music I can't hear, sliding in the snow.

Dr. King says, "I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day."

And Ian says, "Mommy! It is snowing! Inside!! Isn't that wonderful?"

And I say, yes, Ian. It really is.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dinner Tonight:; Leeks and Chicken.

Last night was a very bad night, and today would have been a very bad day indeed. Except for:

Eric plying me with a bagel.

Sarah taking me out for lunch, conversation, and Ethiopian Chai

"Say Hey" by Spearhead


Chicken and Leeks.

Preheat the oven to 450.
Take some leeks (I had 4.) Peel the stiffest outer green leaves off, trim the nasty-looking ends, slit the remaining leek down the middle, and wash all the sand out. There will be a lot of sand. I'm serious. Once they seem clean, keep running water over them for another minute. Lay the leeks in a baking dish with some sort of liquid nearly covering them - I used vegetable broth and leftover chardonnay. Stick them in the oven.

Heat up an frying pan on the stovetop. Once it's hot, coat it with olive oil and introduce 2 split chicken breasts (wait - would that be 2 breasts, or one breast which has been split? I don't know - 2 pieces. Whatever they were on the chicken, now they're 2 pieces of meat, I think we can all agree on that.) Anyway, drop those in skin-side down, and cook for 5 minutes. Throw some salt and pepper on them. Turn them over at the end of 5 minutes, and cook about 4 minutes more. (This is the side that will curve away from the pan, so it won't seem like much is happening, but it is.)

At the end of that 4 minutes, remove the pan from the heat. Take the chicken, open the oven, and lay the chicken on top of the leeks. Now lay a piece of foil over it all - you won't be able to seal it on, what with the hot pan and the oven mitts and the kid singing and the cats underfoot and whatever. So just cover it to the best of your ability, shrug, and close the oven.

It'll be done in about 10 minutes, when the chickens' juices run clear when you stab them. Don't overcook breast meat, for heaven's sake. Use a thermometer if you're jumpy - 160 degrees.

If you're an overachiever, you can go back to the greasy, partially-cooled frying pan, warm it back up, and saute some garlic in there. When the garlic starts to get golden, add the juice from the leek pan, and reduce that for a while, whisk in a tiny bit of butter and pass it like gravy.

(If any garlic turns black, throw it all out. No pan sauce for you today, sorry. Tiny amounts of burned garlic ruin everything they come near.)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Things that I wish I had done:

my friend Churchbird linked this article on her Facebook page.

Please go and watch the video quick before the NYTimes sues us all and takes it down in order to teach us a lesson. (Hi, Flip.)

It took me a moment to figure out how to watch it in full screen mode, (it's the little rectangle under the window, duh, pretty obvious once you catch on) but that's the way you should watch it.

Monday, January 05, 2009

World's Shortest Book Reviews.

I'm sure they're not, actually. They're not quite "Tonstant Weeder frowed up." Nonetheless, I have entered an online group that wants to read 52 books in 52 weeks, and I am about to finish my 3rd book of 2009.

1. Feathers Brush My Heart, Sinclair Browning, a collection of anecdotes by women who feel that they were contacted by the spirits of their dead mothers. I got this as a Christmas gift.
This book apparently means the world to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of women around the world. It was not my cup of tea at all, but I wanted to finish it so that I could converse intelligently with the giver.

2. Tamera Drewe, Posy Simmons, either a heavily illustrated novel or a comic with a whole lot of text. Borrowed from the library. Excellently realized, but, since it's a story about chasing small-time celebrity and sordid behavior, it's kind of, um, sordid. None of the characters were admirable, and none were likable rogues, either.

3. The Sand Castle, Rita Mae Brown. Novella about the events of one family's day trip to the beach in Maryland in 1957. Beautifully done - constantly threatening to fall over the cliff into schmaltz, but somehow never does. Excellent economy, wonderfully evocative. Very good. (I am shocked to see that so many readers on Amazon hated it.)

4. The Man Who Ate the World, Jay Rayner. Food memoir (a minisubgenre I LOVE.). Rayner is a London restuarant critic, and he's witty and self-aware and uses funny Brit-isms to great effect. This is sort of a travel book, as he sets out to eat the perfect restaurant meal, wherever he can find it. He does a good job explaining food trends and giving a sense of place (though the place is, as often as not, pretty depressing.) I'm enjoying this book, but it has never grabbed me the way the Reichl and Buford books that I read this summer did. Which is to say, when I'm reading it, I laugh out loud and occasionally quote a finely-turned phrase to Eric....but when I've put it down, I'm not COMPELLED to get back to it.

Incidentally, last year I read another food memoir/travel book I can recommend unreservedly: Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China by Fuchsia Dunlop.

On deck at the moment: I have to read the last few dozen pages of The Man Who, then I have 2 volumes of essays - I Wanna Be Sedated, about parenting teenagers, and When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris. I have read enough of each to say:
a) Sedaris is funny again, yay, as funny as Barrel Fever.
s) apparently there is nothing funny about parenting teenagers. AT ALL.

Friday, January 02, 2009

No one can accuse me of not being "well-rounded" - a book meme from Ravelry

"What we have here is the top 106 books most often marked as “unread” by LibraryThing’s users. As in, they sit on the shelf to make you look smart or well-rounded.
Bold the ones you’ve read, underline the ones you read for school, (don't have the patience to do this in Blogger - I've noted them instead.) italicize the ones you started but didn’t finish. "

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment
Catch-22 (in high school)
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi : a novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
Madame Bovary (college)
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
The Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
War and Peace
Vanity Fair (college)

The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Iliad
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner (I have this, and will certainly read it this year, hi Beth.)
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations (College)

American Gods
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (A favorite of mine. Wish I could have edited it.)
Atlas Shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
Memoirs of a Geisha
Middlesex (I'm interested in this one.)
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West

The Canterbury Tales
The Historian : a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo (my husband has read this in French. Pfeh feh.)
A Clockwork Orange (College)
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath (high school I guess)
The Poisonwood Bible : a novel (Ick.)
Angels & Demons
The Inferno (and Purgatory and Paradise)
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
Gulliver’s Travels
Les Misérables
The Corrections (on the shelf)
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay ***I LOVE THIS BOOK!****
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury (college)
Angela’s Ashes : a memoir
The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present Cryptonomicon
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
Dubliners (college)
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Scarlet Letter (high school)
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake : a novel
Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics : a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything (I am sick of Malcolm Gladwell and I haven't even read his books yet! as a New Yorker subscriber, I am just tired of him.)
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values
The Aeneid
Watership Down
Gravity’s Rainbow
The Hobbit
In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences , oddly enough, I LOVE THIS BOOK TOO!!
White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield (high school)
The Three Musketeers

What, no Bleak House? Bleak House was the first (and, as near as I can recall, the ONLY) book that I was assigned to read and never finished.

My favorite professor ever, Leroy Panek, assigned this my senior year, and I just couldn't make it. I was directing a play, designing another play, taking a full load of English/American Studies, writing about Henry James, and dating TWO guys!

Plus, I had read so much Dickens (for Leroy - I worked my schedule so that I had a class with him every semester) that it was coming out my eyeballs, and I was developing a hatred not just for the author or the period, but for the nation and possibly even extending to the language. So I bailed on this cutting critique of the Victorian British legal system.

Perhaps he knew, and never forgave me, and thus my many daydreams of a life with Leroy went unfulfilled. Honestly, I loved this man, in the way only a tubby girl who likes to read can love an English teacher who is really, really funny.

( As you read this with a horror and fascination, keep in mind that I was in college 1980-1984, a heady time of extravagant optimism and poor boundries. The climate of social sensitivity - and general good sense - were not enough to prevent the routine coupling of professors and students, some entering into relationships that lasted years. Even lifetimes - many of the profs on our campus were married to former students, and many of those spouses were on the faculty as well.

It would have been considered poor form, I suppose, for some co-ed to be boffing the prof who was grading her work that semester. But aside from issues of fairness in grading for a specific class - the whole age-difference-power-differential thing? Not even on the radar screen. Not

My love for Leroy was pure, though, which is to say, completely unrequited. I loved college boys in person, and adored Leroy, unattainable, with his snide hand gestures, in his comb-over and cowboy boots.

Do you suppose he googles himself?

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Right this second, I am making turkey stock using this recipe/instructions at Cooking for Engineers, a site I am quite fond of. You would not think we had enough carcass to make stock, since we divvyed up the leftovers, but Dude! this bird was gigantic! Plus I dumped in some extra vegetation.

I've already made a mistake, and let the pot get hotter than a simmer. It boiled while I was working a puzzle with Ian. Apparently this will give us a clouded stock. Eh, I can live with that.

UPDATE, 4:22 pm:
I just tasted the stock. It smells brilliant and tastes like water. Hmmm.