Sunday, November 29, 2009

And It Begins All Over Again

Now it's time to start thinking Christmas! You may be skeptical but we are down to one party a year and that is the Christmas party. I have given up on other organized parties but this one was a big hit last year and when people started asking "So are you going to have another Christmas party?" I said yes. That is the 18th. And we are staying here for Christmas, so we will have a family dinner here on either the 24th or the 25th.

So it is time to prioritize. There are plans to be made. They are as follows - cooking, decorating and presents.

Presents - Matt brought me a flier from this funny place because they are having a local crafts bazaar of some sort in two weeks. So that is an option. I have many jars of chutney that will be going to hopefully-welcoming homes and I want to pair those with a local thing like (my current options) jam, honey or homemade soap from the co-op. Stuff people will use. Other options include peppermint bark (not for those on diets), homemade granola and spiced nuts (hopefully not too many people are on diets). But that shouldn't be too painful.

Cooking - a menu for Christmas will be chosen when I find out what the hell the in-laws plan on doing. If they do cioppino Christmas Eve I will happily do a turkey or some sort of roast for Christmas Day. And we will probably only invite the in-laws and one couple so that will only be a meal for 10 including the kiddoes.

The other thing is what to cook for the Christmas party. At this point we've already got 25 people saying they will stop in, some will come early and some will come late. I guess it'll be like an open house type thing, that's what it was last year. There will be a big pot of cider and there will be hot buttered rum and so I just want a couple of cookie recipes and a variety of savory appetizers as people often bring cookies to share. I am thinking gingersnaps (because I luuuurve them) and something from here and maybe a batch of peppermint bark. These also look like they are a good make-ahead option. For savory I am going to have a couple of dips (one of mine and one or two from Trader Joe's) and crackers or baguettes and some crudites. We've got a family recipe from my grandmother involving blue cheese mixed with cream cheese and large amounts of paprika that is always a hit, I am thinking of just having that instead of a bunch of different cheeses. Although this was also a big hit last year. So I guess it's just narrowing down the options, really.

Decorating - this is the biggie. Last year was my first Christmas at home. I inherited/acquired a decent amount of ornaments so I am not worried about the tree much. But I also couldn't justify buying lights as I inherited three strings of perfectly functional tree lights from a friend. Unfortunately they were from here monochrome phase so they are all red. I called it The Satan Tree last year and I don't think I can do it again. I need multicolored lights, thanks. I think the red ones are going to move on. So last year all I had was a tree and a wreath on the door. And I want to get a little more festive this year. I am trying not to spend like a fiend, so I will probably keep it to lights, some garlands and a couple of festive candle holder type jobbies. That doesn't sound too unreasonable, right? I still haven't found a tree topper I like, they are so expensive! The only current candidate is this one, it is just like the one my parents have. It is a traditional Hungarian style and theirs has lasted forever so it may be my one splurge.

Can you tell I love a good To-Do list? I have three weeks for the party and four until Christmas. So this list may be back... most of Matt's Christmas stuff I grabbed as soon as I found it so that is a relief. But everybody else gets checked off, one by one. You'd all get chutney if you were here!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

I Made It!

So Thanksgiving was a relatively mellow time and a general all-round success. The turkey, while my instructions confused the butcher, came out fine and cooked relatively fast for a 20 pound bird. We covered it in bacon, among other things, and it was generally moist and tender and is currently almost gone. I have one wing and one leg left over (sans thigh - so, drumstick?). Green beans came out lovely, could have used some nuts but I wasn't quite that on it. My butt was pretty much covered by the fact that they were RIDICULOUSLY GOOD green beans to start with. I love the co-op. Stuffing and yams were brought so I take no credit or blame but they seemed fine too. I have no pictures.

I also got stuck doing the potatoes at the last minute. Thus, I had absolutely no interest in peeling them. So they became onion potatoes instead. My helpful aunt sliced them smallish and boiled them. I sliced up an onion and sweated it in bacon fat. The boiled potatoes then got mushed into the onions and salted. It's pretty basic. It could have used another onion and some more bacon fat but it was fine for the totally unexpected last minute.

Cranberry sauce and chutney both went over well and the pies were a huge success. The pumpkin streusel was a hit and I really wish I did have a picture of that as it came out particularly beautiful (my pies are usually strong on character and weak in the looks dept.) but suffice to say it went over well. I made little leaves to put on the crust and they looked dopey but in the oven they puffed up and got all golden and nice so that was particularly satisfying. On top of that, everyone whom I requested to bring a dessert actually brought two. So we sent people home with some of their pies just for the sake of my waistline. There was my brandied pumpkin pie and my pumpkin streusel, a decent apple pie, a gorgeous looking pecan pie and a lovely peach cobbler. And whipped cream and custard. But no ice cream. That was apparently a huge oversight on my part. Whatever.

So a general success. And last night we took my aunt and uncle out to bars to see rock bands. My parents kind of floated through the 60's listening to the Kingston Trio and the Limeliters and the Clancy Brothers (all of whom I love but are generally folkies). My aunt was the youngest and she and my uncle are the hippies of the family. So we got to take them out on the town and hang out in bars with rockin' bands and they seemed to have a great time. And now I just have to recover. I think naps are in order. And vegetables.

Also, no shopping. Black Friday passed me by with brisk walks and turkey sandwiches and that is just fine.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Somebody Knows Me Too Well

Got this from Matt in an email saying only "it's like it was made for you...". Although I guess it was a little bit obvious - I mean, Muppets + Queen? How could I not love it?

Monday, November 23, 2009

And We're Down To The Wire (with updates!)

Where were we? Aah. That's right. In the nice clean kitchen (ha). I am so on this shit.

Weekend before:

make stock for gravy (done)
clean house (not half bad)
attempt to make space in fridge (pretty good)
roast spiced nuts (or in this case pick up a big bag of good-looking tamari almonds at the co-op)

Day Before:
pick up rolls (lookin' good)
make cranberry (nice and tart)
make pies (burned the crust on one but for some reason the other is looking perfect)
make white bean dip (done, yum, no snacking!)
iron linens (?!)
put together "guest bedroom" for sous-chefs (all taken care of)
make sous-chefs iron linens? (not so far, maybe tomorrow)
clean veggies (green beans and crudite-type action for appetizers, sous-chefs got it covered)
corral necessary serving bowls and utensils (eh, in the morning)

Day Of:
stick turkey in oven
deal with green beans (possibly do in a.m. and reheat?)
set tables
put out appetizers
make gravy
heat up sides

make coffee
make whipping cream
serve pies
make more coffee

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Can Somebody Confirm -

Is this really the Pointer Sisters? And does anybody else remember this vividly from their childhood?

Edited - for Lauralynne:

And the guy who posted this points out this is Pixar's Bud Luckey...
Same Bud Luckey.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Review Time Again! The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

I think Mella may have recommended this one, I was a little skeptical at first. As a reader, I am slow to catch on to allegories and allusions sometimes, especially when they are Biblical (or Biblical AND Faustian, in this case). Or 1930's Russian. Thank God for footnotes.

Part one of this book is set in Moscow in the 1930's. A couple of guys are out and about and they run into a stranger who tells them a short narrative from the perspective of Pontius Pilate and tells one of them he's going to die. Then one of them abruptly dies and the other goes mad. The rest of the first chapter is the stranger's three entertaining minions wreaking havoc on Moscow, stealing the dead guy's apartment for the stranger and driving people mad. The first guy who goes mad meets his neighbor in the asylum, a man only called the Master (cue Doctor Who joke re: sound of drums). The Master wrote a poorly received manuscript about Pontius Pilate (the story we first heard?) and went mad when it was roundly (and publicly?!) rejected by all the critics.

Now I have to say, I was skeptical about part one. It is very hard to keep track of who is going mad and who is being persecuted by the stranger's henchmen. Also, no sympathetic characters have really shown up except the mad poet and the Master, and we don't see a ton of either of them as there are so many characters with long Russian names having their lives entertainingly ruined by the minions. One of whom is a talking cat named Behemoth. So extra points for Behemoth.

However, part two is worth it, as it is much more straightforward. Here we really meet Margarita, who was mentioned by the Master in part one. She is unhappily married and in love with the Master, who is still in the asylum after burning his manuscript. She has saved what she could of his manuscript and still pines for him. The stranger devil's minions show up and offer her a deal - she basically goes with them and they promise her happiness. Having nothing to lose by now, off she goes, becomes a witch, incidentally takes revenge on the Master's critics, and presides over the devil's masked ball (this was where I really enjoyed having the footnotes to figure out who all the guests were). She is a great character and the devil rewards her in the end. And then we're back to the story of Pontius Pilate. I don't want to completely spoiler-ize this thing but it all adds up fairly well in the end and I am glad I bulled through part one. But I still feel like I need to read up on PP as I'm sure I missed out on a lot of the nuance of the Pilate storyline. Overall, very interesting though and thanks for whoever gave me the recommendation!

And just for kicks:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Le Plan

So with T-minus one week until 20 people descend upon my home for a hectic but fun afternoon of food and family, here is the run-down. I love me some list-making. And party-throwing. AND I have the day before T-Day for extra prep...

1. Turkey. This will be pre-cut by the lovely gents at Butcher Boy. The wings and legs will get roasted on their own because I am lazy and that is easy. The breast will get stuffed with rosemary, half an onion and half a lemon. Under the skin it will get butter with garlic, more rosemary and sage from the yard. On top it will get bacon, as is traditional in Matt's family (mostly so they can fight over the bacon later). This will minimize basting and general opening of the ovens so everything will cook reasonably fast.

2. Rolls. From House Of Bread. They don't mess around and I can pre-order and just pick them up the day before.

3. Cranberry Sauce. Probably will get made the day before. Mostly cranberries, possibly with some sort of citrus, some dried fruit and/or a moderate amount of sugar. If I was hard-core I'd do this but I am probably too lazy.4. Stuffing. Brother-in-law's got it covered. I'm not a fan so it's best if somebody else does this. He has mentioned, variously, pancetta and cornbread. I don't know if they will both be in the same recipe.

5. Yams. Love 'em. Could eat 'em until I turn orange. Mother-in-law makes them regularly so she gets to bring 'em. No sweet stuff, just baked. Luuuuuurve.

6. Salad. Mom's got it covered. Thus, more room in the fridge for me.

7. Roasted veggies. My aunt has brought these in the past so she's on the hook for 'em again.

8. Green beans. I will probably do these right after the turkey goes in the oven, I figure I can stick them in the warm oven to reheat after the turkey comes out. I now have lots of options for these, based on that last post. Thanks, everybody!

9. Mashed potatoes. Brother-in-law is also on the hook for these. He likes to cook and has the shortest distance to travel of anybody. So my sister just has to help him carry it all in.

10. Appetizers. People will be showing up any time after about noon, I am guessing. With beer. So for those who came early to beat the traffic, there will be crackers with a couple different cheeses, toasted veggie tapenade (yay for Trader Joe! also spell check wants to replace tapenade with tapeworm. no thanks, spell check) those little mozzarella balls, olives, possibly sliced salami if I go for the gusto, and cut up vegetables and some white bean dip something like this for the healthy snackers. Also, spiced nuts (haven't decided what kind yet but these are hard to screw up. Pecans maybe? Or almonds). This requires almost no actual cooking-type work so I am all over it.

11. Pies. People are bringing variously, apple, pecan and peach pies or other desserts. My plan is to cover the pumpkin dept. as it is my favorite. I am torn between this and this. The first one has been a success in the past but the second one looks sooo goooood. *insert drool here* I may make both just to cause trouble. Because we really need six desserts.12. Miscellany. Whipped cream will get made after dinner so it doesn't take up too much space in the fridge. Gravy will be a pain in the ass. I will probably make turkey stock this weekend for a head start. Veggies will get cut up by the visiting cousins who get here Wednesday. They also get to clean the green beans. I can do all the cooking but if I have some sous-chefs sleeping on my futon by golly they will be slicing and dicing for me. And probably ironing linens and setting tables as well. Drinkers get to bring beer and wine, I will provide a variety of nonalcoholic options.

So: Weekend before: Make stock for gravy, clean house (ha). Attempt to make space in fridge. Roast spiced nuts.

Day Before: pick up rolls, make cranberry, pies and white bean dip. Iron linens (?!) Put together "guest bedroom" for sous-chefs. Make sous-chefs iron linens?

Day Of: Stick turkey in oven, deal with green beans (possibly do in a.m. and reheat?), set tables, put out appetizers and make gravy. Once turkey comes out, put in sides that need heating up. Doesn't sound so bad, does it?

Now what have I forgotten?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Moving On.

We will burn the Xmas bridge when we come to it. For now, we focus on T-Day. Only 20 people, and the turkey is already ordered. Most of the sides and desserts are being brought, so I just have to pick up the little piddly things like rolls and cranberries. And maybe some green beans.

How do we all feel about green beans? I haven't ever made them for the holidays as I am not a traditional casserole fan. I don't do things that involve canned soup but I do love me some green beans. I was thinking of just blanching them and then tossing them with a nice mix of exotic mushrooms sauteed in butter and white wine. Still festive but not too heavy, I figure. Any thoughts/suggestions?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Damned If I Do/Don't (this may get deleted)

So Matt wants to have Christmas with his family in Reno. And my family wants me to come down and have Christmas with them in Los Gatos. And if I spend Christmas with my family I will spend the whole time being Cinderella and helping my parents cook and clean because everyone else thinks they are suddenly a guest now that they have kids and I have nothing better to do than do all the work since I have no kids to watch. And we will spend at least one day on a miserable, pain-in-the-ass trip to somewhere large and crowded that will also involve crappy traffic and no parking (Academy of Science, I'm looking at you) where we will have no fun because everyone will spend the whole time chasing kids around. Trips like that are not meant for groups of 15 when there are at least 5 kids under 8 years old and no schoolbus involved. And Matt has no sympathy. And I am kind of sick of the whole thing. It makes me not want to go at all.

We are going to go down the day after and spend 3-4 days hanging out if the weather is not too crappy to drive down. That way Matt can have Christmas morning with his nieces and nobody will really notice I am not there when there are 5 little kids running around and fighting over presents Christmas morning. I will still get to see my sister who I only see twice a year and my grandmother who I should see more. But maybe I will be less miserable. Because right now I am tired of being guilt tripped and miserable when it's starting to look like I won't have any fun no matter what I do.

And now I am crying on my data sheets. I hate family sometimes. I miss having Christmas with my parents but hell if I am not sick of my sisters. And I haven't even see the one in question since her wedding in September. And Matt is no help at all.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Living Room Project Phase 2 of 3: Complete!

So the front wall in the living room is painted. And it looks good, if I do say so myself. Updated pictures will ensue once I've gotten the curtains cleaned. They were gross. I don't know how this house gets SO DUSTY. The slowest part was cleaning everything off - this was the wall with guitars hanging on it, the loveseat, the tv and accouterments, the giant black lamp and a pile of guitars on the floor. All of which needed cleaning up. So I guess this was my belated spring cleaning.

The walls in the dining room are done, so the only wall left is the one behind the sofa. Which entails moving the sofa and all the CDs. Not all of which will be returning, hopefully. So this wall can wait until after T-Day. And I will enjoy my painted walls for now. And try not to think about the last one... Looks like fun, eh?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Your Thoughts? *edited for clarification*

Cute? Or too old-lady? I want to wear them to Tubachristmas with a short skirt and bright red tights. Would it work? Tuba notwithstanding. The heel seems to be reasonable without being too frumpy. I think...

To clarify:
1. I have slightly kooky taste in shoes. My clothes may be pretty staid but I like a goofy shoe. Seriously, I would probably own most of the shoes Pink Studio makes (except for the serious heels). I would sell somebody's grandmother (not mine) for these:
However, this leads us to:

2. I can't buy shoes in stores. There is no trying-on. I wear a 12W. Most brands do not produce shoes that big. Pink Studio certainly does not. Clarks does. They are about the only brand I have found that aren't either totally orthopedic looking or just plain frumpy (I think this may have led to my tastes getting weirder over time).

3. The goal is actually some shoes I can wear when going out in winter. We are not chauffeured to our partying here. We park places and walk other places. Weather is shitty. And I fall down in heels over 3". Sober. So these babies are not gonna happen. I may just have to see if they are frumpy in person or not. does have free shipping...

Maybe when they go on sale.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Questions, Round 2. And Rambling.

What is the first movie you ever saw in a theater?

No clue. The first movie I remember seeing in a theater was The Little Mermaid because the ending was scary. Heavy when you're seven and a lightweight. I remember running away when my family was watching Return of the Jedi at home because of the fight scene with the Rancor at the very beginning. However I also remember dancing around with my sisters to David Bowie in Labyrinth. A child's mind is scared by the randomest things. David Bowie, no. Rancor, yes. Also, ALL of the Dark Crystal. Still haven't tried to watch that one again. Skexis, no thank you very much. I was a wuss. Still am.

Tell me how those aren't scary.
These guys? No big deal, apparently.

What's the book that had the biggest impact on you?

Oh that's a variable one. It could change based on time of day. I was a speed reader from an early age and ate up whatever I could find. I loved anything about mythology and read possibly every OZ book ever written. Graduated to junk like the Babysitter's Club and the Fountainhead in short order. One of the ones that stuck with me the most was Tam Lin by Pamela Dean, I remember doing a book report on it in 6th grade and have reread it at least once a year since them. It just had such a strong, interesting female protagonist who loved books and the fantasy undertone was there, but not as strongly as a lot of the junkier stuff I was reading at the time (ahem, Mercedes Lackey). Also, the writing was great, and I never would have read a lot of books if they hadn't been alluded to in Tam Lin. Oddly enough, I never got into any of Pamela Dean's other stuff. Among other books Tam Lin got me to read: The Daughter of Time (which got me hooked on Josephine Tey) and The Lady's Not For Burning (now one of my favorite plays).

In what fictional place would you like to vacation, and what would you bring back as a souvenir?

Right now? Lord Peter Wimsey's England. We could shop for first editions and I could have tea with Harriet. I'd be fine just bringing back a tin of nice tea. It's cold and gray and I'm in England-mode right now. Mmm, teacakes. Maybe I'd bring back teacakes.

What place (where you live) gives you joy?

We live a couple blocks from the Truckee River which actually runs through downtown Reno. Most of the casino brochures don't mention that. But the Truckee is really pretty. I don't go down there enough. There is a river path that runs from Verdi all the way to Sparks and a piece of it is right by our house. So that would be it for me. Or at least one of the places. It just makes you feel like you're someplace else.

What's your drag song?

Probably either Queen, Mika or the Scissor Sisters. Or Lady Gaga. I am developing a weird fondness for current super-gay pop.

Don't you just want to put him in your pocket he's so cute?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sick Of This Crap.

I hate being sick all the time. It's not a full-blown flu, just an annoying recurring sore throat, constant sniffle etc. Stupid colds. I hate people who come to work sick.

Thus, working at home again for as long as I can stand it/my boss can stand it. Bleah. I have stuff I want to be doing.

I even tried to take it easy this weekend. No big projects, no late nights, a couple of sedate dinner parties (helping fill a table at a local Democratic fundraiser "Welcome to surreal town, you're underdressed" but a favor is a favor), and errands. That's it. Even a health-giving walk as Matt's grandma is wont to call them.

Stupid body.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Little Things (House Project Post) Plus *Bricky Kitchen Warning*

I had last Friday off. For Nevada Day, the day on which Nevada was made a state. Sometimes working for the university isn't so bad! Free weekday, though, of course equals Project Day!This is the celebrated BBQ nook of yore. It faces the fridge. It is built into the backside of the fireplace and has a little door underneath for your propane tank to live in. Am I the only one who thinks this sounds unsafe for indoors? Maybe, but it's MY kitchen, so functional space, here we come!
Our buddy Paul is a talented guy (not to mention a badass metal drummer). He kindly covered all my cinderblock with plywood and caulked it all nice and tidy. Then I got to wait around and be antsy while the caulk dried before I could paint it and hang the shelf.
End result? Nice useful storage (and yes, those are all my cookbooks. I love to look at 'em but I never use them so I have a hard time hanging on to tons of them. I always want more though). There is power here (another reason why the BBQ idea seems sketchy) so I can plug in my toaster so now it is basically the toaster nook. The mixer gets used rarely but will fit nowhere else in my entire kitchen so here it stays. It is great, I got it from a friend-of-a-friend who broke it and didn't want to bother calling Kitchenaid to get it fixed. So $80 later I have a fully working awesome mixer that would normally cost a LOT more than that. And for how much I use it, I am glad I didn't pay full price. And the big blue bowls is actually a stack of great big ceramic serving bowls so it is great to get them out of the way of everything else.

All in all, a very satisfying little project. I theoretically could have done the plywood bits myself but it would have taken a LOT longer and would not look nearly as tidy. So I can justify a little outlay for mister Paul's time and skill. That's one thing in my kitchen I don't have to hate anymore!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I'm Marvelous (I'm Meme-velous?) Questions 1-5

Would you rather eat Reese's Cups or Peppermint Patties?

Sigh. Before the no-nuts debacle it would have been Reese's in a heartbeat. I love me some creamy fake-pb goodness. Peppermint patties are fine though. But now it is usually straight milk chocolate or the kind with little crispy rice bits (hippie Crunch bars, basically).

Would you rather never listen to music again or lose your TV?

Lose the TV. No question. As much as I love Project Runway and NOVA, 99% of TV adds nothing to my life and I don't really think I'd miss it if it was gone (although I do love my Netflix). But give up music? I might die. No concerts? No Noisettes on the iPod while I'm in the lab? No drone-y Indian music during yoga? No way. That said, tonight will be the first night this week that I don't have band practice, and now we're going to a concert Saturday night too. Music is a HUGE part of my life.

If you could visit any one time period in history, when would it be?

This is a toughie, I'd probably go with the 60's just to see the changes going on, even though some of them were sad ones, it was so vibrant and interesting and it wouldn't be going back far enough to one of the women-as-chattel, no-personal-hygiene periods like the Renaissance (which I would be ok with if I could be male, and maybe a Medici or something).

Would you rather die peacefully, but unexpectedly in your sleep at age 60 or die at 90 after suffering for years from disease?

90/disease. As unpleasant as it sounds. My grandmother is 102 and not in perfect health but if she had died at 60 I never would have met her. She got to meet all her grandchildren and lots of great-grandkids and seems to still enjoy the time she has with us. So I'd rather not give that up.

Do you think that questions such as "what's your favourite colour/ice cream/album of all time" help you get to know another person?

Hell no. This may possibly be due to my complete inability to choose a favorite anything. I like too much stuff a lot to pick out any single favorite thing.
Shortcuts like this just don't cut it for me.
I agree with the points made by others (lauralynne? I'm already mixed up on this meme) about how the small questions can be good starters for discussion and lead to bigger questions and more depth to the conversation. But I'm just bad at them.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Annie Are You OK? Are You OK? Are You OK Annie?

Yes, I'm fine, Matt just dragged me to see This Is It last night. I did enjoy it, although not as much as he did (he's a HUGE fan). I'm no apologist, I just enjoyed watching them put together what was obviously going to be an amazing spectacle of a show. I loved seeing them putting together all of the effects and videos to go along with the songs. The band was amazing and the dancers he found were fantastic. And dude could still dance like crazy.

And H'ween was low-key, but I did love my costume.
We'll give everyone else black bars for anonymity, but we've got my date Boba Fett (clearly on his night off) and my witch friend with her date the Invisible Man (the Ace bandages lasted for about 10 mins. before he had to take them off, but I like the idea). And yes, my hat was lopsided but I did fix it (every 15 minutes or so, for the ENTIRE night). It made the costume though, I got tons of compliments on it. Although the veil makes me look like I was going to a very sassy funeral.