December 28, 2003

Hello, good people,

My word, what a party you all have been having here on the superhighway this weekend.  Since I have one of those accounts that allows for moblogging, I should really just go the extra mile and get myself one of those newfangled phones that lets you post to your blog, take naked pictures of your sweetie and order a takeaway curry, all by pushing a single button.  (The phone I have is five years old and is reminiscent of that enormous box that Mulder used on season 1 of The X-Files.  Small children point and laugh at me when I use it.)

After all of my mewling and puking—“We have to go to Penn Station!  There are too many people!  I hate it when there are too many people!  There’s an Orange Plus Alert!  I hate Orange Plus Alerts!” —I am both embarrassed and pleased to admit that the trip to Philadelphia, the train trip down, the train trip back, the feasting and playing and wine-drinking and couch-potatoing, was everything a Christmas holiday should be.  We did not have to fight any crowds at Penn Station on Wednesday, or at 30th Street Station in Phila. this morning.  (I did, however, find myself greeted by a giant De Beers fabric banner at 30th Street Station as we emerged from the platform up into the station:  “GOD CREATED WOMAN.  THEN, AFTER A FEW MILLION YEARS OF PRACTICE, HE CREATED YOURS.” Sigh.  It made me wonder if there really is a God, and if there is, if He does not have anything better to do with His time than read my blog and decide to stick it to me personally.) We made all of our connections.  Our fellow travellers were more forbearing and capable, less clueless and bellicose, than in previous years.  My stepdad was waiting at the train station for us, so we did not have to wait outside in the rain and wind.  Much of the weekend was spent in the kitchen with Mom, helping with Xmas Eve dinner, making dinner on Friday and Saturday, puttering about, reminding myself once again how well we work together in the kitchen, what a well-oiled machine we are.

Christmas Eve dinner was at the parents’ house, the four of us plus my brother and sister-in-law, after which we exchanged gifts.  We have always opened our presents on Christmas morning, but after this year, I’m switching to the 24 December party.  I know that if/when we have a child we won’t have the luxury of sleeping in on Xmess, but for now, I love sleeping in on the 25th and waking up knowing that I have some shiny new presents to play with.  This year’s haul included a David Sedaris cd and the mighty nifty Rollpat.  When I opened it up I felt a happy little buzz of anticipation:  time to go home and bake bread.  I have been told that I actually cracked my knuckles as I read the care-and-maintenance card, but I’m sure that that was just an exaggeration on Mom’s part, for comic effect.  Xmess dinner was spent in the beautiful village of Kintnersville, PA, at the house of my Auntie Nan, who is not actually my aunt, but my mom’s best friend.  Mom was born the year before Nan, and the going story in our families is that when Mom was born, she spent a year in her playpen, waiting patiently for Nan to join her.  Nan has always been in my life, always calls me her favorite child (even though she has a favorite child of her own, her son Blair, who she adores, as do we all), always makes me laugh, always loves me no matter how badly I screw up, always treats me with the purest, unqualified, unconditional love, the kind that I never quite feel like I deserve but am always grateful and glad to have.

Because my brother and sister-in-law gave my parents a combination DVD/VCR, Friday and Saturday were spent indulging in retail therapy, getting the ‘rents’ DVD collection off to a rollicking start.  After the second hour of watching Rocky and Bullwinkle, my mom announced that she was never leaving the house again.

Although I know it is unseemly to brag, I must indulge in a bit of bragging.  For years I have been convinced that I could not do puzzles.  Every once in a while I would get lucky with a long word in the New York Times crossword puzzle, but in general I thought that puzzles were for other, better, smarter people.  (Last winter I read In Code, the autobiography of the Irish teenage math whiz Sarah Flannery, and I was pleased with myself for figuring out one of her puzzles, in which you use a 7-liter jug and a 9-liter jug to measure out water in measurements from 1 liter to 9 liters.  Then I read that Sarah Flannery’s father had given her this puzzle to solve when she was five.) Then I found this puzzle on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times on Christmas Day.  I read through them all and blanched.  Then I thought, oh, well, I can’t do any of these but maybe I can do this easy little one here.  And this one, this one doesn’t look too hard.  Shock and amazement, I cracked the code on all six puzzles, and was thus able to solve the seventh “master” puzzle at the center.  I am so surprised by this sudden act of violent competence that I want to carry the puzzle around in my wallet and show it to disinterested strangers on the subway.  Much in the way that David Sedaris wanted to carry around his first completed NY Times Monday crossword, show it to people and hear them say “You mean you’re only 41 years old and you did that all by yourself?  Unthinkable!”, I want to hear people say, “You mean you solved the whole thing and it only took you three days?  What a clever girl!”

Posted by Bakerina at 08:12 PM in stuff and nonsense • (1) Comments • (0) Trackbacks
December 24, 2003

I should have known that it was too good to last.  The 23-day-unbroken run of PTMYB is being broken. Tomorrow morning Lloyd and I will be joining about 206 billion other people at Penn Station, where we will converge on a single gate, fighting our way to our seats on the 8 a.m. Acela Express to Philadelphia.  Every time I make this trip, I feel like I should be wielding a sword, like Errol Flynn.  Word comes from that nice Mr. Ridge at the chemist’s—sorry, at the Department of Homeland Security—that our terror status has been upgraded to Orange Alert.  Of course, New York City has been on orange alert since 9/11/01, but since the only status above orange is red, and since a red alert is synonymous with “here come the planes,” New York City has been upgraded to something called Orange Plus, which I just love.  My mom thinks it sounds like a vitamin, but I think it sounds like a club drug, like a really tasty form of Ecstasy.  Or maybe it’s that new high-interest savings account that ING Direct is offering...At any rate, Orange Plus is as good a reason as any to spend our Christmas somewhere else, especially since the word from our fearless leaders is “we believe there is a credible threat against multiple targets, and we have chatter at pre 9/11 levels, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t carry on your business as usual!” It’s a good thing that we have a high threshhold for absurdity.

So it’s off to Philadelphia for us.  I love Philadelphia, not just because it is where my parents grew up, not just because a trip to my grandparents’ house meant a weekend not spent in our ass-end-of-nowhere mountain town, but because it is where I signed the lease to the first apartment I ever rented for myself, without roommates, where Lloyd and I met, where we got married, where we saw one of the best gigs we’d ever seen (a triple bill of Bleach, Kingmaker and Kitchens of Distinction at Chestnut Cabaret), where my brother lives and works, where he met the fabulous, brilliant and beautiful woman who is now his wife, where they got married on October 11, when I spent the weekend at a hotel across the street from Rittenhouse Square, one of the prettiest parks you will find anywhere.  Philadelphia is worth a valentine all its own, and once I am back home and bloggable on Sunday, it may just get that valentine.

One thing I’ll be doing whilst down there is putting my new digital camera to good use.  Lloyd and I exchanged our presents tonight.  You could say I was surprised when I opened the box.  You could also say that I cried like a baby, because, er, I did.  It is thanks to Lloyd that PTMYB finally has a spiffy new author photo to call its own.

PTMYB will resume normal broadcast operations on Sunday, December 28.  In the meantime, Happy Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa and Solstice to all.  I would send you all bread and jam and little pastries and homemade lemon curd if I could.  (Next year, I probably will.) smile

Posted by Bakerina at 12:32 AM in stuff and nonsense • (0) Comments • (0) Trackbacks
December 23, 2003

Dear friends,

Apologies to one and all.  (I am listening to Le Show right now, and as I typed the word “apologies,” Harry Shearer started reading the Apologies of the Week.  I love it when the universe decides to play along with me.) Having set the standard for long-winded bloviating on my first two weeks out of the blogging gate, I now find myself offering little more than interstitial crumbs.  Part of it, I’m sure, is that I’ll be offline for four days (Lloyd and I are headed to my parents’ house in Philadelphia on Christmas Eve and will be back on Sunday).  My brain has figured this out, and decided to start Christmas early.  I’m sure that after four days of reading the papers, playing Perquackey with my mom, sitting in the tv room eating cheese and drinking red wine and watching Lidia Bastianich’s show on PBS and wondering drunkenly if we can make that nice lasagne even though we don’t have any noodles or cheese or eggs or meat or spinach or sauce or parsley, I will be loaded for bear and ready to bludgeon my beloved friends with prose.  smile

I slept in an extra hour this morning, trying to recover from yesterday’s bake.  Packed up everything that had to be shipped out today, all of the cookies, all of the jars of jam—how do I forget every year that these things are heavy in quantity?—all of the fruitcakes.  I was around the block, halfway to the subway, when I heard a rip and felt a violent shift in balance.  One of the bags was giving way; oh, no, I thought, not the jams.  I had visions of an entire year’s work, the product of a hundred afternoons of standing over a boiling kettle when the temperature was already at 99 degrees, just so that I could say “Merry Christmas!  here’s your sour cherry jam!”, smashing onto the pavement.  Fortunately it was not the jam, it was the fruitcake, and I was able to catch them all before they fell to the ground.  But I knew that maneuvering all of this stuff onto the subway during rush hour would be impossible, and so I shuffled along, Caliban-like, toward the livery-cab stand underneath the elevated subway tracks on 31st Street, looking for someone willing to drive me into midtown.  I found a nice young man who was so willing, and thus I learned just how long it takes to drive the three miles from northwest Queens to 48th Street and Park Avenue at the peak of rush hour.  It takes 90 minutes, if you wondered.  Had I not been encumbered by pressies, I could have walked it in about the same time.  But if I had walked it, I would have missed the unique pleasure of hearing the worst Christmas song I’ve ever heard, or at least the second-worst.  (The very worst was that song floating around in 2001 that was supposedly the voice of God:  “You ask, where was I on September 11?” It is so awful that I have repressed the title, and the artist, and, well, everything about except for the feeling of nausea and murderous rage that welled up in me every time I heard it.) As we sat on the corner of Crescent Street and 39th Avenue for what felt like years, the radio playing one r&b reinterpretation of classic Christmas songs after another, I thought to myself, if I hear one more melisma, I will stick a blunt instrument into my own ear.

It was at that moment that the dj decided to take a break from Mariah Carey and play Lou Monte’s 1967 recording of “Dominick the Donkey (The Italian Christmas Donkey).” It has been 14 hours since I’ve heard it and I still feel unclean and embarrassed.  Oh, Bakerina, is it really that bad? Yes, it is.  It is worse than “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” Worse than “Please, Daddy, Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas” by John Denver.  Worse than that damn Chipmunks record.  Listening to “Dominick the Donkey” is like watching a drunk relative at a wedding hector a relative of the spouse’s, and gradually realizing that this is not good-natured hectoring, and things are about to get ugly.  It is like watching David Brent’s motivational speeches in The Office, where you press your fingers into your temples and try to will David Brent, stop, please, stop, please.  At the end of the song, the dj said, “Now, you know for the rest of the day, you’ll be singing in your head, ‘chingety ching, ee-aw, ee-aw.’ You can blame me for that.” Ha ha ha.  Damn right I can, and I do.  Thanks, Richard.

(For those of you kind enough to click on the link, the last line in the second verse should be pronounced, “The labels on the inside say they’re made in Brook-a-leen.” Do you understand now why this song causes me so much pain?)

Fortunately, relief was at hand, for one of my pals from the always-reliable Plastic gave me a lovely and thoughtful gift, a mixer of Christmas music that does not make me want to kill, filled with good things like “Zat You Santa Claus” by Louis Armstrong, and “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)” by the Ramones, and “Spotlight on Christmas” by Rufus Wainwright (I have a monster crush on Rufus, and even with the knowledge that I lack the proper, uh, accoutrements to attract Rufus, I still think that he is cute as a bug, and his voice just drives me), and “Everybody’s Waitin’ For The Man With The Bag” by Kay Starr, and Guster’s wonderful “Donde Esta Santa Claus,” and Coldplay’s surprisingly charming version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” 1fastdog, if you’re reading this, you are a kind and excellent guy, and that cd you sent me is not only good and tuneful, today it may have just saved my life.  It certainly saved the life of a certain dj.

Posted by Bakerina at 12:16 AM in stuff and nonsense • (1) Comments • (0) Trackbacks
December 22, 2003

Hello, good people,

It is close to midnight.  The bake is done, long live the bake.  We have coffee malt brownies.  We have Jordan Pond House Oatmeal Bars, courtesy of Lora Brody’s brilliant Growing Up on the Chocolate Diet.  We have ginger fingers, which are so spicy they make my bottom lip tingle and my chest and tummy feel warm.  (I was once told by a cooking teacher that she found them too spicy, and that I should “listen” to the flavor of a dish, “and give it as much seasoning as it wants, no more.” I repeated this story to Lloyd, who was incredulous.  “What if you listen to the dish and it says ‘more seasoning, please?’” What a friend we have in Lloyd.) We have a small handful of cardamom rice-flour shortbread, which are going to my college roommate/dear friend in Pittsburgh.  (I do have ingredients on hand to make more, though, so if you want ‘em, please e-mail me your address, and accept my assurances that I will never ever ever ever give your address to anyone else, nor will I use it for any evil purposes, unless, of course, I’m coming to your neighborhood and need a sofa to sleep on.) We have more fruitcake, and this time we remembered to put the fancy Sicilian pistachios in the batter.  One of the mini-cakes came out a little crumbly, so that one is a spoil for the cook.  I cut it open—just for quality assurance purposes, you understand—and even though I make this cake every year, I never fail to be dazzled by how beautiful this cake is on the inside.  “Jewel-like” is a cliche of food writing that I always try to avoid, but the fruit and nuts in this cake really do give it the appearance of jewels, or stained glass.  I can’t believe I made this beautiful cake.  I want to make more.  But not tonight.

Now that I have finished the Xmas baking, I am ready—or I will be—to start my bread adventures again.  While I was chasing down rice flour at the health food store, I found a bag of teff flour and snapped it up.  Teff is a grain grown in Africa.  It is the primary ingredient in the Ethiopian flatbread injera, at which I’ve been dying to take a crack for years.  Thanks to this snappy information superhighway I keep hearing the young people talk about, I now have no fewer than seven recipes for injera, and I want to try them all.  Pictures will be taken, you bet.

Posted by Bakerina at 12:56 AM in stuff and nonsense • (1) Comments • (0) Trackbacks
December 20, 2003

December 21 marks what would have been my grandfather’s 83rd birthday.  He died on October 25, one month after the last time I saw him, two weeks after my brother’s wedding, the day before my brother and sister-in-law returned from their honeymoon.

There is a theory floating around the conventional wisdom ether that when we meet someone, we keep their age at meeting as a fixed reference point.  I know it holds true for me.  Lloyd, in my life for almost 12 years, will always be 30—no, make that 27, because even though he was on the cusp of his 31st birthday, he didn’t look a day over 27.  Lloyd cheats time in a way my friends envy.  It is why my mom will always be as a child bride to me, young and stunning.  And because I have early baby memories of living in my grandparents’ house, lying in a crib while my grandmom yelled at my teenage uncles to turn down the Frank Zappa record so that the baby could sleep, my grandfather is fixed in my mind as he was at 48.  It is why I’m always surprised when people ask me how old he was when he died, and I say 82, and everyone acknowledges that yes, it’s a shame, but 82 is not really considered too young to die.  I certainly thought he was too young to die.

He had been ill over the past four years, two go-arounds with colon cancer, surgery after surgery after surgery, getting thinner and frailer after each one, but he always bounced back, always.  It got to be like clockwork, a biorhythm:  now he is ill, now he is fine. My brother and I always secretly suspected that Grandpop would outlive all of us, that as long as there was something interesting for him to do on this earth, he wasn’t going anywhere.  He had plenty of interesting things to do: playing his guitars, acoustic and electric, with his friends; his watercolors; his woodworking; shooting pool with his pool buddies; teaching the other residents of his retirement community how to go online (his imitations of his more technophobic peers were cruel but funny).  The Wednesday before he died, my mom called to say that the “minor” heart surgery (his doctor’s words, not ours, as if there were such a thing as minor heart surgery on an 82-year-old man) he’d just had did not fix the “minor” problem of fluid around his heart, which was not fluid but some mysterious muscle inflammation that his doctors couldn’t fix, and that his heart was beating at 15% capacity.  Because I ached to make my mom feel better, I resorted to that last refuge of fools, mindless optimism.  “It looks awful now,” I said to my mom, “but he’s had much worse than this, and he always bounces back.” “I don’t think he’s going to bounce back this time,” said Mom, and even as I quieted down and listened to what she had to tell me, I thought, by Christmas we’ll all be laughing at this.  Thinking of this now makes me curl up inside, shrimp-like, with shame.

Everybody has at least one story in them, and my grandfather had dozens.  I am almost full to bursting with the urge to tell them:  how he was a technical sergeant in the Army Air Corps during World War II, on the ground crew of the Mission Belle, which flew 148 successful missions before being shot down on the 149th.  How he never told war stories, never bragged about battle, but did have fond memories of furlough travels through France and England.  How he had little patience with the lionization of elite fighting units—he believed that in the heat of battle, the people shooting at you don’t care whether or not you belong to an elite unit—and how irritated he was by the success of Top Gun.  How he took an instant liking to my best friend and her RAF firefighter husband when they came over for my wedding, and how we all longed to get him back to England, source of happy memories that had fed him for 50 years.  How crazy he was about the girl he married right before shipping off to Europe—no shock there, as my grandmother was so beautiful, movie-star beautiful, Gene Tierney beautiful, Vivien Leigh beautiful.  How after he came home, he went to work for Bell Telephone, the safest job you could have, a sure bet; once Ma Bell said yes to you, she said yes for life, or at least until you were ready to retire with your full pension that would never ever be touched by raiders; but he decided that there was more to life than safety, and he left the safest gig in the world to start his own business.  How he was able to sell that business when he was ready to retire.  How he was a careful but smart investor.  How he decided to learn how to do magic tricks in his 50’s, as an easy way to keep us amused, and how he applied himself to the task with the same singlemindedness he brought to everything he did.  How he loved his family, and how we loved him back, but more telling, how he liked us, and we liked him, how we always looked forward to a visit from my grandparents because we knew that the next two hours, or two days, would be filled with interesting and funny conversation.  How there are easily more stories to tell, how my mom and I wanted to tell them at his wake, but we didn’t, because most of them were off-color.  How I’m not going to tell them this year, or at least not tonight, because I honestly thought he would be here for this birthday, this Christmas, and I am furious at the universe because he is not.

Here is the poem, courtesy of Stephen Spender, that I read at his wake:

I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history
Through corridors of light where the hours are suns
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the Spirit clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the Spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.

What is precious is never to forget
The essential delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth.
Never to deny its pleasure in the morning simple light
Nor its grave evening demand for love.
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog the flowering of the spirit.

Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields
See how these names are feted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud
And whispers of wind in the listening sky.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life
Who wore at their hearts the fire’s center.
Born of the sun they traveled a short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honor.

Posted by Bakerina at 11:51 PM in valentines • (1) Comments • (0) Trackbacks
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