Thursday, June 28, 2007

It's a soap opera out there!

We have a suction-cup birdfeeder at one of the kitchen windows. The orignal one hung for nearly 15 years before literally falling apart. All attempts to replace it have been met with zero findings at eBay except one. The original cost $80 and I was prepared to bid $100, but when it went for over $200, I was flabbergasted. The manufacturer needs to take a hint.

But that's not the story.

I replaced it with two fairly pitiful (in comparison) bin-type suction-cup bird feeders. The squirrels have taken them over but as the summer has worn on, the house finches have become bolder. While not succeeding in chasing the squirrel away, they have at least established a detente of sorts: they're on one bin while he is on the other.

This morning however, it was a different story being told. A female house finch perched on the top of the wooden fence. Doing his best to woo her was a most vocal male. His plumage is bright red and he would stretch his neck out and sing a lovely song at the top of his lungs. Not convincing her from her right side, he would take a short hop-flight to her left and pick up the tune. She would occasionally hop toward him, but it was an aggressive move. Undeterred, he'd take up another position and continue.

He was undeterred however, only until baby male cardinal showed up. Baby male cardinals have features only their mothers can love. The red feathers aren't fully in and they look like they need a haircut. He landed not 6 inches from our amorous male finch and didn't leave. Tilting his head as if he was trying to figure out what was going on, he would hop toward the pair who would hop away. He'd edge closer, his head tilting up and down as he contemplated what was going on. In the meantime, the male finch hopped to the other side of the female (no spirit of protection here) and stopped singing. Finally, spying the bird feeder, the cardinal changed his mind on which was more important, a birds-and-bees lesson or food, and went for the sunflower seed. The finches left in disgust and my entertainment was over.

And you thought cleaning up the kitchen was dull!

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The joy of bread

I credit my passion for homemade bread to my Aunt Pauline. My father's sister, she and her family of 6 children and a husband, made the trip from Pennsylvania to Texas while I was in high school. My mother was not particularly pleased with all the extra people, never mind for how short a time.She was really upset when Aunt Pauline, not content with the very white bread Mother had from the store, proceeded to fill every bowl in the kitchen with rising dough.

I was in heaven.

Not that my early attempts to duplicate the process were successful. My sister and I broke the family thermometer using it to gauge the temperature of the water before adding yeast. This didn't endear us to Mother either. Subsequently, my first married Christmas I tried to make stollen and must have killed the yeast because the loaves, no matter how long we cooked them, never rose over an inch in height. These were dark days for my bread-baking ventures and it's a wonder I ever kept after it.

But the memory of all that yeast and all that bread from Aunt Pauline kept at me. Eventually, I got the proper tools and tried again. Then, flush with success--I didn't buy bread for two years but made my own religiously--I fell once more. My loaves were heavy... or fell in on themselves... on never rose.

I traced that problem to bulk yeast, or rather, my mis-measurement of it. A packet of yeast, the common denominator in recipes, is 2 1/2 teaspoons, not 3 which I had been cavalierly using. This minor adjustment saved my bread-baking career.

Along came bread flour, a special formulation developed in the 1980s for home use. I learned to tinker every recipe to the method of adding the yeast to the flour and using hotter liquid, rather than proofing the yeast. What a time waster!

I narrowed down my favorite recipes to two: one made with shredded wheat biscuits and molasses (or honey) and one with a buttermilk base. They both make three loaves: one to eat, one to freeze, one to give away.

But my bread-making has slowed considerably. Today, I buy bread and then freeze half because we can't eat it fast enough. But then I found Whole Foods' Seeduction.

Indescribable, and that's no small praise from someone who's made as many loaves as I have. I searched for recipes on line and at best, found one. I've not made it because it takes too many strange ingredients (millet flour, anyone?) that I'll probably have to go to Whole Foods to get the ingredients and by that time I should just fork out the $3.99 and get the real thing.

Really. And that's some recommendation from a bread-baker.

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Family friendly

Even though our older son made us grandparents this April, I still didn't consider the words "family friendly" coming out of his mouth any time soon. After all, this was the young man of golf, video games and TiVo, bars and late nights. But when I asked him where we'd be dining tomorrow evening when we see sons, daughters-in-law, and granddaughter, he told me an Italian restaurant close to his home. It was, after all, family friendly.

Ahhh. We've made the turn and it just took a 4 pound 9 ounce baby girl to do it.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Movie reviews

I realized I hadn't been listing the movies we've watched. Best reason: we've seen so few because, IMHO, there hasn't been anything out there worthy of the cash outlay. But of those we've chanced:

Black Dahlia: Rented it and for the $1.40 we spent, we wasted money.
The Departed: Quite good. For the $10 +/- at the hotel, it was a good deal. Worthy of the outlay.
Music and Lyrics: Harmless fun, but in truth, a renter.
The Devil Wears Prada: I had seen this in the theatre and enjoyed it (worth a matinee), but rented it for my husband and rewatched. He liked it too.
Name Sake: Indie movie about Indian family's struggle for assimilation and yet to retain their identity. Saw it at an independent movie house where the matinee cost more than my regular evening fare here. It was worth that. I did find the trailer to have been a bit deceptive, in that I expected a physical journey through our hero and that wasn't it at all.
A Good Year: The Russell Crowe vehicle that was lambasted last season. We enjoyed it. While a renter, it was worth matinee-money. Reminded me of a romance novel from the hero's point-of-view where he (and not the traditional heroine) is the fish out of water.
Keeping Mum: Maggie Smith. British. Loaner from a friend with Netflix. I thanked her, but I'm glad I didn't even rent it.
Waitress: Another indie. Despite some of the ethical issues I have with it, if I make myself concentrate solely on her journey to independence, then it was very good. Somewhere between matinee and full price worthy. And there's a website with recipes!


Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Mansion on Turtle Creek, part IV

The last on this subject and the shortest.

While discussing this with a friend yesterday, she lamented that the rescinding of the dress code for The Mansion is just another step in the "dumbing down" of our society. Media implications aside, where do you go to dress up?

We no longer dress for church. In less than a generation, I dare say the population of my church won't have a clue what "Sunday best" or "church clothes" are, unless it's the jeans without a hole and trust me, I've seen that at church. (Mainline denomination in a small town.) IT'S CHURCH, PEOPLE! I know that churches think that by declaring "no dress code" everyone will feel more welcome. Fine. Wear your best, no matter what it is. Wearing your best clothes to church is, to me, a symbol of respect for God and place. I just find it hard to believe that jeans with a hole in the seat is the best someone with a job can do.

So, just as we no longer wear church clothes to church (I do--but then you're not surprised by that), we no longer dress for funerals. To a certain extent, I've seen some mighty casual clothes at weddings, although that would appear to be the last hold out. Charity balls/events would seem to cry for something other than shorts and jeans but we don't have a great many of those here.

And now, we can go semi-casual to restaurants where a meal for 6 cost more than my first paycheck as a teacher. And it was for a month.

In concluding this tirade, who is buying all the dressy clothes at Neiman's and Nordstrom's and the boutiques? And then, please tell me, where are they wearing them?

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Monday, June 11, 2007

The Mansion on Turtle Creek, part III

I liked The Mansion so much, I put it as the place of two pivotal scenes in my book LYLA'S SONG. I changed the name to The Manorborne, but in my mind's eye my characters Eddie T and Lyla were at The Mansion.

In the first scene, he's won a bet with her and she has to go to dinner with him. He chooses The Mansion, uh Manorborne, because he hopes it will impress her. He does this even though he knows he's walking a fine line with management since the the last time he was there, he left with police escort. So he gives a false name in order to make the reservation and then stands still under the maitre d's sharp-eyed scrutiny. He's allowed in because he's with a woman much classier than himself. He proves to be not only a delightful dinner companion for her, but the source of autographed menus for the hotel's next fund-raiser. I don't know if they do that or not, but it seemed a nice touch. Besides, I had Lyla order all my fav Mansion dishes. I certainly hope they keep the tortilla soup and the creme brulee after the renovation.

Later in the book, he again chooses The Manorborne and has a suite reserved. But he's lost the heroine and nearly lost hope. His companion this time is 80-year-old Bertie, who has come to Dallas to inform him of all the details and march his hide back to Lake Texoma and into Lyla's arms, even though she doesn't know he's coming. He takes Bertie to the bar, runs her a tab and takes over the piano. He plays requests to raise funds for a charity he's started. Would that ever happen? I don't know, but I'd like to think it would, a world-class pianist playing any and everything for (very large) tips, dazzling his audience and giving them a bit of the unexpected.

So, do he and Bertie make it back to the lake in time to tie up all the loose ends and have the book's requisite happy ending? Well, of course, but it's the journey that's important here, not the destination.

While just the opposite is true in visiting The Mansion. I know my journey (90 minutes down the four-lane) but in the fall, when it's renovated and up to a new speed, I hope to once again enjoy the destination.

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Mansion on Turtle Creek, part II

As luck would have it, the Wall Street Journal Saturday section Pursuits, has as its "power table" review today, said tables at The Mansion. And yes, the first time we went, we were at one of them. I just thought they'd put us at the end of the Verandah because we were a big party and we'd be out of the way (not seen--since we weren't worthy to be seen) by anyone. Come to find out, it's a coveted spot.

I had figured that out by 2001 when we made the part II of our memorable adventures. We were seated at the other end of the Verandah, at a round table, in a corner as it were. We were well-waited upon and I caught the service people smirking more than once as we recalled stories. They are probably trained not to laugh out loud at the diners' adventures, but the one I recounted yesterday had one young man shaking his head.

For, once again, we were in the company of our sons. This time they were grown, out of grad school and college, and accompanied by the young women who would marry them in 2003 and 2006, respectively. It was August, our anniversary weekend, and we would be spending the night, meeting half of them for breakfast in the morning and then all meeting up to go to the Ft. Worth Zoo. The boys may have been bored, but the girls weren't.

That's another story.

This time, besides being at The Mansion for a special occasion, we were there to spend our government-returned $600. Remember that? It was a tax rebate on a large scale. We had pondered what to do with it and decided to spend it on a memory. Truth be told, we had to add a couple of hundred to it, once we fed six of us (younger son had found plenty to like on the menu by this time), and with cocktails and bottles of wine and dessert and exceptional service...

Do you remember how you spent your $600?


Friday, June 08, 2007

The Mansion on Turtle Creek, part I

Reading in the Dallas Morning News Tuesday that The Mansion on Turtle Creek was closing its restaurant for renovations this summer (part of it will remain open in limited service) in order to update its look set me to thinking. Not only is the look changing, but also the attire rules, jacket and tie no longer being necessary in the main part of the restaurant. Seeking to widen their patron base in light of all the current high-end competition, The Mansion is wanting to move out of its "special occasion" status to one considered for general dining. Although I bet a bunch of people do that already, to us it was always a special occasion and will most likely remain so. And we won't be wearing jeans if we have to drive 90 minutes and spend that kind of money, no matter the menu and prices are being revamped as well.

As you can see, this is part I. Happens to be part I of III. I'd like to tell you about three special occasions for us at The Mansion.

We had gone as guests and also celebrated our 20th anniversary there (dinner on the Verandah, a night at the hotel, followed by breakfast at McDonald's so my spouse could be back in town to work by 9--we've remembered it well and with a smile). But just before that, we had decided that our sons, ages around 10, give or take, could use a lesson in the rewards of hard work and life-planning.

We had season tickets for the summer musicals that year and Les Miz was coming. I had seen it and loved it and thought the boys would tolerate it. We got two more seat in another section and I would sit there with one son, my husband taking the other to the better seat and we would switch them at intermission. To start off this day of "this is what you can do if you're willing to work", we would take them to The Mansion for lunch.

I borrowed jackets for them since they seemed to grow too fast to maintain their own and we set out. For starters, the younger didn't see a thing on the menu he would eat. Translating this politely to the waitstaff was my job. He was extremely kind and when we suggested son liked fruit, a lovely fruit plate appeared, slices of various seasonals arranged in a coil. I told him to eat every bite.

First son has always been of a more adventurous nature and he started with the tortilla soup and moved on from there. We all indulged in creme brulee and to this day it is the boys choice of dining out dessert, to the point that it was featured at second's wedding rehearsal dinner and the first worked until he could make it at home.

But the corker was our fruit lover about halfway through the meal. He's a great observer and he'd been scoping out the place, the people, and the way things were run. Leaning across the table, he whispered: "You know, I bet our waiter makes a lot of money." "Yes," my husband answered, "but it's a lot of hard work."

As to the play, the boys slept through part of it and told on their father for doing the same.

We never repeated the experiment.


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

My Wal-Mart tan

Farmers have a farmer's tan and golfer's have one for golf, so I guess I can call my tan "a Wal-mart tan."

I tan easily, which has always seemed strange to me given my red-headed father and my platinum blonde mother. My sister has peaches and cream skin and, as a child, burned to a watermelon pink at the slightest bit of time in the sun. I turned brown.

I long ago gave up bathing in the sun. I indulged through high school and college and a bit post-college, but meeting up with a girl two years older than I was and realizing that all her time in the sun playing tennis had aged her skin to be, well, at least 30!, I quit. But the sun's rays and the Texas summers being what they are, I don't have to sit in the sun to look like I have.

I have a tan line at my shoulders that echoes my sleeveless summer apparel. I have it now. I had it in October (and it was a good deal darker.) I had it in January. No sooner does it fade to almost-me color, than I walk from my favorite parking spot in the Wal-Mart lot (next to the buggy collection site) to the store, oh, 4 times a week or so, and I pick up enough sun to get back my tan. It's not just my arms but my sandal-clad feet also. One might say my feet are striped to match my shoes.

Which isn't to say that my legs got into the same gene pool. They don't burn, but neither do they tan. I'm not quite sure what to make of this except to say that the cosmetics companies have come to my rescue. My favorite of those I've tried is Vaseline Intensive Care's Healthy Body Glow.

Now if I could just convince my spouse to use it on his feet so his golfer's sock tan would line up with his sandals.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Round up!

Gas Station TV continued to fascinate (I'm easily amused) when we happened by the same Murphy station on Friday. I had to show my husband. He wasn't quite as enthralled as I was, but as he pumped gas, I toodled around to the other pumps and noted that everyone had the same broadcast and there was a national news feed on in the middle of the afternoon. I finally caught a commercial for GSTV and came home and visited the site. For the curious among us, you should too. has updated their site and it is really interesting. I googled--uh, searched for--my hometown and there was scads of info without leaving the page.

Bathroom survey: I've been a busy girl (or at least going a lot).
Cristina's Mexican Restaurant in McKinney: 95: You go past the men's room, there's no seat covers, but there is a baby area.
Nordstrom's Frisco Stonebriar Mall: 95: Again, past the men's room, but there are Mothers' areas. BIG areas.
Home Depot Landscape, Plano, probably, although it's hard to tell since those cities all run together: Although a bit untidy (late Friday afternoon), it had all the attributes for a 110: Baby area and auto-flush!
Cindi's Delicatessen, Central Expwy, Dallas: 100: -5 for seat covers, +5 for baby.
Baker Brothers, off the Tollway, Plano: 90: one-holer and no seat covers.

I think it's obvious from the above list that we like to eat out.

I had a lesson on iMovie and downloading digital video today. Well, that could be a real time-killer. Not that photos and movies of the best granddaughter in the world (until yours comes along, of course) won't be worth it, but... It'll take some practice to get efficient here. In other words, you're not in danger of looking at a long movie on this blog. Or even a short one.

My hat is now really off to all those time-wasters, uh, artists, over on YouTube.

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