Sunday, November 30, 2008

A run of great movies

I can't believe my luck. Within 48 hours, I've seen two wonderful movies: Australia, the Kidman-Jackman epic, and Slumdog Millionaire, the joyful (eventually) movie about a kid from the Mumbai slums and his adventure on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

To sit in two theaters occupied by adults--no cell phones, no text messaging, very little getting up and down for the restroom and the refreshment counter... I didn't think it was still possible once, much less twice.

Hugh Jackman in a white dinner jacket? Need I say more? Plus the grandness that is Australia itself. As to Slumdog, it's lyrical storytelling. There should be an Oscar nomination in there somewhere.

There's nothing else to say except--GO!

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving expectations

When discussing Thanksgiving dinner preparation with a friend, I found her to be a bit sulky. She was having to make a family dinner with everyone's favorite dish. Everyone's. All of the dishes. She was wanting to skip one or two because there would be just seven of them for the meal, five adults and two children. She could get by with less, but there would be hell to pay.

I just shook my head. Tsk, tsk, I told her. You did this to yourself by giving your family Thanksgiving expectations. You wanted tradition. You excelled in it. You're a fabulous cook. Now look where it's gotten you: bound by it, hoisted by your own tradition-petard.

But as I tallied up what we will be having, she probably felt a bit sorry for my family. They have no turkey expectations because I rarely made the same thing twice.

Some Thanksgiving Days found it to be just the four of us, so I'd serve the smaller bird: a goose or duck, maybe a pheasant if the spouse had been on a successful expedition. I was NEVER good at dressing--my cornbread is only slightly better than what you make from a mix, as it at least will not have a teaspoon of sugar in it--and always preferred rice over potatoes. Sweet potatoes are anathema around here and I had to have my mother make any gravy we ate because, well, I'm not good at that either. And as Mother has been deceased for eleven years, there's no gravy around here. I do relent on dessert. Always pecan pie--and whatever else strikes my fancy.

So Thanksgiving, and by default Christmas where I introduced the idea of pork tenderloin into the mix, is not tradition-bound in our household. I have evolved over the years to being able to brine a turkey and have everyone scurrying back for seconds and there's a green bean and bacon combo which is eaten right up. I make superlative yeast rolls, but you need a crowd for the recipe. Other than that, it's a movable feast, moving from recipe book to internet to cooking show.

Do I mind not being bound by tradition for Thanksgiving dinner? Oh, please. Does my family mind? I could ask, but since I might not like the answer, I won't. Anyway, they have their own households now and can start their own traditions.

And invite me.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

A bit of my heritage

I like mincemeat pie, a taste I think I got from my Pennsylvania-born dad. My mother, Texan to the marrow, couldn't abide it. Daddy also liked cheddar cheese with hot apple pie. I prefer ice cream on my pie, or just plain, but I wouldn't pass up cheese and hot pie.

Then, there's ketchup with scrambled eggs. Long before picante became a college cafeteria staple, some of us who gathered around the communal breakfast table would put ketchup on our eggs. A friend, who did so also, proclaimed he could always tell who had a Yankee parent because of this. In our small group, the typecasting worked, but I don't know if it would on a larger scale.

But back to mincemeat. From the ubiquitous store-bought jar, I'm sorry to say, it's not very good. As to the dried stuff--do they even still make that? But I hadn't a clue how to make my own until I practically fought thirty years ago for the last piece at a friend's house with the maker of the pie. I was the guest. I might have been rude, but really, as the host, shouldn't he have relinquished that piece to me? He didn't. We split it, and I asked for the recipe.

It was made, he said, with green tomatoes. Oh, fine. Give with one hand, take back with the other. Green tomatoes are not an impossibility to find (fried green tomatoes being a Southern delicacy), but they're a bit of a specialty item. The best way to get them is to grow your own.

We've grown tomatoes for years. Some years, the crop was bumper and we had enough to splurge on the fried variety, harvesting before the promise of ripeness. The spouse isn't fond of this, preferring his red and sliced on the plate. So, I'd bide my time until the fall and pounce on the leftovers.

This year, our three tomatoes plants grew tall and full. They were watered and fed. They yielded very few tomatoes. But instead of pulling them up in August, I left them, hoping they might yet redeem themselves. Yesterday, with a freeze bound to be on the way and a spouse intent on a day of yard work, I went to pull them up and add them to the compost pile. There, under all the light-greenery, I found green tomatoes. Six pounds of green tomatoes.

My recipe calls for three pounds, so this morning I dispatched half of them to the mincemeat realm. I'm not sure what I'll do about the others. Mincemeat is labor intensive and since it has a very small familial audience (me, my father-in-law, a sister-in-law), I'll probably only use the 4 quarts it yielded. At that, one jar broke in the water bath and I'm down to three. (As an aside, I've never had a jar break thus.) So, I have enough for a Christmas pie, filling for cinnamon rolls, perhaps mincemeat cookies or a cake.

That's another recipe from a friend. But since there always seems to be lots of cake, I have yet to fight with her over the last piece.

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Chick with the Check

I must have 'take all the time in the world, I have nothing else to do' tattooed on my forehead. I know it's not on my back because the people who can read it are always in line ahead of me.

Being 45 minutes early to a photography class, and knowing there wasn't a public restroom at the store where I bought the expensive camera and therefore earned these lessons, I followed my bliss to the large grocery store around the corner from my destination. Inside was a Starbucks, and while I didn't need any more coffee, I though a pastry would help deter the growling stomach since the class wouldn't end until past my regular lunchtime.

Of course, the Starbucks had been empty when I went in and had a line once I was ready to buy. No problem. I still had 30 minutes. I picked out my pastry, much as I would stand at the butcher's counter and select the steak of choice, and waited.

And waited.

The woman in front of me, said Chick (term courtesy of my son), was probably 40. Harried, in a hurry, with a burgeoning purse and a red all-weather coat. She was taller than I was and knew exactly what she wanted. Good, I thought, then I processed the order: decaf, Americano, tall but in a venti cup, no water, but ice.

Okay. Kind of defeats the idea of a morning jolt to have decaf anything, and an Americano by definition is made with water. What she wanted was iced decaf. THEN, to add insult to what-the-heck is going on here, when handed the beverage she wanted them to fill it the rest of the way with milk. Maybe it was 2%. Or soy. I don't know because by then we were in the payment problem.

She'd left home without her debit card. She didn't have the $2.44 for the beverage. Could she write a check?

A check? What's that in big urban Dallas? I haven't seen a check pulled out of anyone's wallet in ages. Everybody debits or credits or occasionally (like me) pays cash.

They agreed to a check and she dashed it off. Into the machine it went. Out. In. Out. By this time, she was consuming whatever coffee-like atrocity she had, so there was really no giving it back. The cash register (what an anachronistic name) stopped. It wanted a driver's license. For a $2.44 check. It was even, as she pointed out, drawn on the bank whose offices were inside the grocery store.

She handed her license over. Punch, punch, punch. The check goes in and out and in and out... and something else comes up on the screen and the clerk, herself now not feeling too well, calls over her superior. There was a problem she'd not seen before.

While Two takes over that problem, One asks to get my beverage started. I point out my special pastry and she pulls it out, then asks her boss if there's any way they can ring it up. Of course not. There's only one register. By this time, they're calling the manager of the grocery store over and I'm tapping my foot. Time has nothing to do with this. I have plenty of time. After all, that's what my tattoo proclaims, right? I'm focusing all my chagrin on the woman who doesn't know what coffee is.

"I have cash," I say. "How much is it?" Two eleven they tell me. I find the exact change (whew!--I could have ended up making a donation of pennies to them--and I would have), snatch up my ill-gotten gain and go to the car. There, I unwrap my package, decide where to take the first bite, and wait for the Chick with the Check to emerge from the store.

She flies out the door and down the sidewalk about the time I realize I don't care for this particular pastry at all.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

It's a shopper's world

I've heard it phrased many different ways the last few weeks: shopper's world; buyer's market; consumer cut-off. Starting with the soaring gasoline prices this summer, the American consumer has been on a roller-coaster ride of harrowing proportions. While our local gas prices only flirted with $4/gal and fell as fast as the September stock market (I paid $1.81 two hours ago), as an area, we, too, have figuratively gathered our skirts about us and decided to hunker down. Personally, my poor customer recovery experience with Chico's (documented in several previous blogs) has meant I've bought only one item since August. One. This from a woman who regularly visited twice a month and is on a first name/personal family issues basis with the sales personnel in one store.

(For the record, I'm still not receiving catalogs or emails from Chico's and only know of all their current bargains because friends email them to me. There are so many of them, it's a bit scary. Have other customers been so ignored?)

So, given the state of retailers, particularly those in the high-end, boutique arena, it wasn't a surprise to receive a gift card from Neiman Marcus for $25. There was an expiration date several weeks hence and all I had to do to cash my little gift was use my NM card for the purchase. They wanted me to come shopping and were willing to pay me to do so.

Twenty eight years ago I followed the advice of establishing my own credit and I chose to do so with an NM card. At the time, it was the only credit card they accepted. When they loosened that tie and began taking others, I put my NM card away. But--I smiled to myself as I fingered the gift card--I knew where it was.

I had read in the Wall Street Journal that NM had taken a large we're-not-buying hit in Sept. I figured that was the reason for the sudden and unprecedented largesse. And it worked. I trotted my little-used card in, picked up an item I had been lusting after (a new perfume) and plunked down the cards. Had they been cashing many of those, I asked the clerk. She nodded, smiled back, and seemed glad that her job was one step farther from being gone.

Now, if I could just get Chico's attention.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Introducing JT Sisk

Or, as I'm sure his parents will prefer, Jack. Jack Trenham to be precise.

In other words, we are once again grandparents. It's almost as if the first time doesn't take, so you have to have a booster shot--another grandchild!

Jack was born on Veteran's Day, about 7 in the morning. He came in after a storm and at the time of a full moon. He's a bit preemie, but not like his sister 19 months ago, so he should be going home tomorrow to his new world. Which, now to mention it, will be a new world for us all.

Welcome, Jack. You've no idea how loved and treasured you are, and as this world has it, you won't know until you make me a great-grandmother.


Sunday, November 09, 2008

That feeling of relief

Should you be on our Christmas list (and it's doubtful that those who are are reading this), then I can give you a feeling of relief. Despite the previous blog about being behind on Christmas gift-buying, we made a monumental step forward this weekend at a wonderful new book store in Plano called Legacy Books. According to its PR, it's the largest independent bookstore to open in decades.

And all I have to say is: "Yeahhhh!!!"

It is gorgeous: open-air, two stories with a mezzanine full of romance and paranormal and mystery. There's a coffee shop and a cooking demo range. The cookbook section alone is worth a trip. The children's--wonderful. I found two books on my list that I've looked for elsewhere and come up only with "may be ordered." I might "may be order" a book for myself, but I want to see and hold and read what goes to my granddaughter or for a baby gift.

So, it goes without saying what most people on our Christmas list are getting: a book. As an author, I heartily approve my choice.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

About to be the Season

Has it really been over a week since I last blogged? Egad! Where have I been?

Right here. Not doing anything special. I did go to Canton First Monday trade days on Saturday and that was wonderful, not that I bought much but the weather was so lovely. The trees were changing color and maybe that's what I've been doing: looking instead of blogging, although I did manage to write on my new book.

So, it was an ah-ha oh-no moment when I realized that it was the first of November and my Christmas list had yet to be made. In my younger days, the ones with young children and no computer/Internet, where I actually cooked full meals instead of trying to see if a meat, veggie, and bowl of fruit would satisfy us, I started my Christmas list and therefore, my Christmas shopping, in August. That was even before we exchanged names within the larger half the family or, as we do now, a Chinese gift exchange where I'm responsible for just two presents. (Other than the children of course. Children always get presents.)

So, there was really no excuse for just now getting down to business. As I drove to Dallas Saturday afternoon, my husband pulled out a small notebook and we started taking notes and actually discussing who/what. (This differs from previous years when I'd be asked on Christmas Eve--as we put all the presents into the car--if we had something for everyone and what it was. No comment.)

Once home, I transcribed our notes into something more legible. How did this get away from me? We've a grandson due any day now, so I really need to get cracking on this, as I know where my mind and heart are going to be. My saving grace may be the Internet. My gosh, had we had it 25 years ago, I might have finished by July!

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