Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Dirtman and the blustery day

Well at least the top of the window box cushion* is done...

Here being attacked modeled by the lovely Dirtman

...who, I think, lost.

*This is probably the closest I will get to quilting, though it's really not that because it's just the patches without the quilting. Whatever this is, this is the closest I'm likely to get to it.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Death-defying bread consumption

Make no mistake. Our House Bread is whole grain. I don’t even remember the origin of the recipe anymore – it was originally white bread, to which I added and tweeked and fiddled until I got a concoction that was soft enough for even Heir 21 the most persnickety eater, yet healthy enough to give us a proper dose of fiber. This has not been an easy task and many a loaf wound up as bread crumbs or, worse, my responsibility to consume. (Get that: my responsibility…my duty…to all those starving children in Asia to not waste the whole grain bread. Once again: you’re welcome.)

That being said, sometimes ya just gotta have white bread. And that’s the case with my cinnamon swirl bread.2

I admit kneading bread is one of the best things about bread making. My stand mixer has a dough hook that does a perfectly adequate job of kneading and I could allow it to do its thing while I go on with something else. But instead I knead all my bread by hand, a kind of cook’s treat. And, while I get great satisfaction each week working with the nubby texture of the whole grain dough, there is nothing like the silky satisfaction of pure white dough and the fact that the completed product really does, as the books say, feel like a pudgy baby’s behind.

I know the fiber purists and health food people are typing their fingers to a nub in their enthusiasm to deliver “The Only Cinnamon Swirl Whole Grain Recipe That Is Wonderful,” and I’m sure it is. But it still won’t be as good as a cinnamon swirl made with homemade white bread.

“B-b-b-but,” I can hear you sputter, “it’s healthy,” and yes, it certainly is. However, sometimes you need a better reason to eat something, and I can’t think of anything worth risking your very life for than cinnamon swirl white bread. Besides, God save us all from extremists in all their forms, but especially food extremists who, I think, don’t like to eat to begin with.

If it’s any consolation, my standard bread recipe makes two loaves and the second loaf of my cinnamon swirl is delivered to my in-laws, where it probably lasts considerably longer than it does around here.

1My pantry has, on occasion, seen that familiar white bag with colorful balloons all over it, illicitly purchased by Heir 2 who calls it “bread.” I usually end up throwing most of it away when, seven months later, it finally starts to mold.

2 This post is in no way meant to imply that everyone should be baking their own bread or that all bread made outside your home is a menace to the public health. I enjoy making bread and, frankly, when you do it enough, it’s no more work than throwing in a load of laundry. I’m sorry if this puts a snag the veil of magic that some homemakers have spread over the task as though this is the real litmus test connoting the coziness and affability of your home. Nothing spoils the atmosphere of a home like trying to accomplish something you didn't really want to do, which is the case with most acts of domestic derring-do. Do them if you want to, not because you have to.

Fool on the Hill*

It's inevitable. Saturday, nothing planned. Dirtman will come into my office any minute now and say, "So...what are we doing today?"

Oh, I could list any number of things that need doing, but I know that's not the point. I know that if I mention, for instance, things that need to be hung on the wall (pegs for my dog leashes, a towel/pot holder rack in the kitchen, etc.), there will be a huge long explanation why such major feats of engineering skill are impossible with the technology at hand (i.e., he lost another of the multitude of screw drivers we have purchased for the past 21 years). Short version: The question was not "what can I do for you today;" the question was "What are we doing today."

He wants me to leave my hill. He wants me to get in the car and drive onto a public road and leave my hill. In January.

My theory is that I should not have to come down off this hill for anything other than supplies and library trips until April or so. The power of intention being what it is, I may have single-handedly caused fuel to reach record-breaking prices.

But sooner or later, Dirtman has to go forth and be among the people. As a matter of public safety, I'm the one who drives him there. Couple it with a trip to JoAnne Fabrics or Michaels and it's at least tolerable. Feed me and ... well, we all know how amendable I can be when fed...

No, not much else going on, so you know what that means: Gratuitous Dog Picture.

"Don't laugh at my pointy head."

*I was going to call this post "Leaving Las Gnome Hill," but in light of recent events I figured that would set of a rash of rumors.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Bittersweet Excellence

I would adore Terry Pratchett's books even if I wasn't in his "typical" population mix of teenage and young adult males and middle-aged women.

And, quite honestly, I would adore Making Money if only for the character of Gladys, the first golem achieving self-awareness a woman.

Pratchett was diagnosed last year with a rare form of Alzheimer's and, while I wish him well and hope for the best, I plan to savor these last dispatches from Discworld.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A momentous day

Today, for the first time since I was a child, I am wearing all new underwear.

No, I’m not trying to be provocative, really I’m not. I think any mom can tell you that, while the rest of the family receives a regular delivery of fresh underwear, we will pin, tack, darn and patch ours until it disintegrates. Our underwear doesn’t get thrown away; it just dissolves in the laundry.

This is not a martyrdom issue – at least not for me. For some reason I have a sense of pride knowing that my Jockeys have outlasted three administrations and most of a fourth.

And there is a certain security in underwear that has been broken in, so one does not make lightly the decision to purchase new.

I have very strict criteria for my everyday underwear. First and foremost, the panties have to be cotton and no elastic can touch my skin. I’ll admit, I do have lacy nylon abominations that I trot out every now and again for special occasions (i.e., when I’m going to be uncomfortable anyway with heels on my shoes and a body smoother), but for the most part give me the breathability of cotton any day.

Unfortunately for me, brassieres must be of the underwire variety because I actually need a bra. I know there is the school of thought that, if you just let the girls travel south you can tuck them into your waistband and look flat-chested or, in my case, like a potato. No, I’m not quite ready to look like Jane Darwell. So my bras are engineering miracles of gravity-defying construction and a wonder to behold, rather like the Golden Gate Bridge or that skywalk over the Grand Canyon.

This weekend I came to the conclusion that what was left of my underwear wardrobe was rather embarrassing and I no longer had a single set of underwear I could wear to leave the house that was presentable “in case of an accident.” And so I bought new underwear.

Which means, you would think, that I could now throw away the worst of the old underwear.

You’d think that wouldn’t you?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

I give you the long-awaited:

The Beans of Northern Aggression.

...with a proper New England brown bread (I usually make cornbread with beans, but this seems more appropriate) and also applesauce. We're just your basic, (ahem) regular family .

Getting closer, but I still need something to round out the sweetness. But the next attempt has to be made toward Dirtman's version, which we have dubbed:

The Beans Shall Rise Again*

...but I think we'll wait awhile...

*These names are just so perfect in so many ways!

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Bean Wars of 2008

One of the ongoing quests in my kitchen has been to achieve the perfect baked bean recipe. Each time I make a pot of beans I tweek it a little here or there and each time it gets closer to perfection.

Little did I know that there were those working behind the scenes to thwart the achievement of my goal. This occurred to me when I began the two-day process and Dirtman asked, "What are you going to do this time?"

"Part brown sugar, part maple syrup. And I used bacon rather than smoked pork."

"No green peppers?" he asked innocently.

Green peppers? What kind of brain dead mutant puts green peppers in baked beans?

"You know -- like at Red, Hot, and Blue," he continued.

Then I realized the horrible reality: we both had a different concept of what constitutes perfect baked beans. My version was decidedly -- Yankee -- and his version was decidedly -- not.

It was my argument, as the one doing the cooking, that unless one is willing to babysit a pot of beans for two days to achieve one's goal, one should accept the beans put in front of one. It was Dirtman's argument that perhaps if one is so adamant against a particular flavoring heretofore alien to one, one is incapable of achieving such a refined taste and is, therefore, masking said incompetence with feigned distaste. Yeah. Well...

At least I'm doing my beans first.

So today I began my version which I have given the name Beans of Northern Aggression.

Now let's set some parameters here. If you have a bean recipe and it mentions anything about opening a can -- this is not a real baked bean recipe; it is assembly instructions. If your recipe calls for opening a can of beans already flavored with something, I don't care what you are shaking into it, it's not cooking, it's heating something up.

We're talking serious bean commitment here, where you are responsible for not only the flavor, but the ultimate consistency of your bean.

Secondly, and this is still being debated, it's not a baked bean if not baked in a bean pot. Don't have a bean pot? Then you probably live south of Maryland and YOU HAVEN'T BEEN MAKING BAKED BEANS. This goes along with a theory I have about southern cooks, that no one will admit to and I don't expect that to change now, but here goes: Southern cooks only cook seriously for other people which usually manifests itself as pot luck suppers. Otherwise they throw cheese sandwiches and Spam at their family. I've seen mostly throw-away aluminum foil baking dishes and two-quart casserole dishes in Southern kitchens; so I know you all don't have a bean pot so I don't even think Dirtman can call his version baked beans.

But, knowing that the Beans of Northern Aggression are so far superior, I will, when making Dirtman's version, allow the use of my traditional bean pot, if only to save the environment from yet another dose of crusty aluminum. Your welcome.

Right now, as we ... er ... read ... the Beans of Northern Aggression are rolling lazily in their silky bath of a smokey maple slip, cuddling against a blanket of bacon, all cradled in my vintage blue tulip bean pot in a barely hot oven where it will spend the afternoon and evening with regular ladles of warmth poured over it.

But tomorrow those beans are going to kick ass.*

*Heeeee...kind of works a few levels....

And now a word about my oven:

No self-respecting cook would have an oven this clean. This is the oven of someone who heats up frozen pizza -- in the microwave. But I finally had to break down and clean the ovens because one of them set off the smoke alarm, which results in an evening a chaos when you have dogs. Have no fear -- by Monday it will look well-used.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Snow Falling on Cedar Shingles (okay, faux cedar shingles...)

I admit it. I'm 50 years old and I still feel like a snowfall is some kind of miracle. You'd think I was getting out of school on a day I was scheduled to present an oral report or maybe take an algebra exam. When they announce the schools are closed, I get the same rush I did when I was 11. You'd think I wasn't going to spend the day having snowballs thrown at me from the roof every time I step foot out the door (Get off the Roof, Spicey McDeafness!) or clean up the kitchen 15 times because, God forbid, everyone eat lunch at the same time and put their freakin' dishes in the dishwasher -- not near the dishwasher, around the dishwasher or in the vicinity of the dishwasher -- IN THE FREAKIN' DISHWASHER!


We don't get many good snowfalls in Virginia (to answer the question that is apparently the most popular search phrase leading to the Linguini site). Usually we get a spit of snow turning very quickly to ice turning very quickly to a slushy mess. But on rare occasions we are blessed with a good, home-bounding, nest-in-front-of-the-fire kind of snowfall.

This appeals to the survivalist in me since, as one who grew up planning strategies for the upcoming nuclear attack or political upheaval, I've got all my ducks in a row should the power go out. And I have my stash of dried beans. I wait for the power to go out and for that infernal television to be at last silenced in all quadrants of the household.

The very best, though, is just standing in a good, heavy snowfall, looking straight up and letting it make you dizzy. I guess at my age I look like an idiot doing this, but we fortunately live on a dead end road and I won't frighten the neighbors.

There are those who just don't understand.

"Really, Dah-ling. Haven't you subjected me to enough of this...this...what is this? NATURE?! I HAVE NATURE ALL OVER ME!"

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

In this House of Two Gables

There is something so very Dickensian about fingerless mitts. I feel like I should be hawking little knitted things for children on the streets of London, dropping my “h”s, and calling people “guv-nah.” Or, perhaps fast forward 40 years or so and I can be Eliza Doolittle dancing on a damp London street about “warm face, warm ‘ands, warm feet” being “luv-er-ly.”

But I should stick to my own continent, I suppose. In this house, when the heat pump is on, I wear my fingerless mitts just to read. But it must be something appropriate to the fashion, because you just know you’d never survive in the House of Seven Gables without the proper knitwear. (Don’t you just love the name Hepzibah? This is probably why God saw fit to give me only sons because I would so want to give my daughter the name Hepzibah, though what I would call her, I don’t know. Hep? Bah? Hepsy?)

I took a sabbatical from Evening Breeze to knit these up. They must be very quick for me to finish them in the same season I started them. But, then, I was highly motivated.

Heat pumps are energy efficient and I am grateful for the heat pump and the house it serves. I cannot say that loud enough to be sure the gods of fate hear me. I AM GRATEFUL FOR MY HOME AND ITS HEAT PUMP, DO YOU HEAR ME? NO NEED TO SMITE ME FOR LACK OF GRATITUDE.

But, between you and me, heat pumps will never make you toasty warm. And my extremities tend to be in a state of frostiness anyway. I can spend all my time sitting next to the fireplace (eating gruel or something. Isn’t that what you do when you sit next to a fireplace?), which would only work if the washer was right there also and all the dust and dog hair only accumulated there and I could cook there. But they don’t so I don’t. And so, the fingerless mitts.

Fortunately they are only needed when the temperature is above freezing. When the temperature outside dips below freezing, the imp in our heating system gets chilly and says, “Heck with this – I’m turning on the heat.” Then the real heater kicks on.

Let me reiterate that I am in no way complaining about this system. Nor am I complaining about cold weather because I love the extremes of each and every season and would go insane if I didn’t experience them. (I remember visiting a friend in Florida one January and, gazing out the window, we noted this one tiny tree with a red leaf on it. “Look,” she said. “The leaves are changing!” More like ‘the leaf is changing,’ but I digress.)

I considered embellishing the mitts with embroidery, but somehow that would be too much gilding for something with such Puritanical New England practicality.

Editor's Note: I just realized that, by some twist of fate, at this moment, all my nails are the same length and looking pretty good. Let's enjoy this rare occurrence, shall we? The mitts also make it look like my fingers start way below where the mitts stop, making my stubby hands look almost normal. So you'll understand if you see me wearing fingerless mitts in the dead of summer.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Paperback Blogger Writer

Okay, I gotta say this because it's been bugging me for over a year now.

I really hate it when I find a blog I really like and it turns out that, from the beginning, it was all a set up for the book the blogger had coming out. I continually get duped by it, which makes me even angrier. You'd think I'd know the signs by now: The first "Aw Shucks" entry followed by slick prose; the carefully chosen links in the sidebar (usually high-traffic blogs of a similar nature or other bloggers with books to ply); the photography that starts out deliberately amateurish, but improves rapidly via more expensive equipment; and -- the dead giveaway -- the book comes out at the exact time from the beginning of the blog as it would take to write, edit, shoot, print and begin distribution.

Goodness knows I wouldn't turn down a book offer myself and I understand that a writer can't announce a book deal until the publisher approves. It's when the blog is set up specifically with the idea that the book is coming out that strikes me as disingenuous. Because part of the charm of blogs is that you are reading about and communicating with people just like yourself. When those people receive book offers, I'm more than happy to celebrate with them.

But when I've been duped into reading what is, basically, an advertisement for over a year, I feel used. I feel like this person has been pretending all this time to be "just like me (i.e., a blogger)" when actually he or she wouldn't lower themselves to write a blog were it not a condition of their publishing contract. And then, once the book is published, the blog "sabbaticals" begin (the beginning of the end), followed a few months later by "I love you all and it's been fun, but now I'm a professional and don't have time for this loser hobby I don't have time to deliver to you the quality blog you deserve."

Do I want something done about this? No. Like all the downsides to freedom of speech, I guess this is a necessary evil we have to put up with. Since I'm obviously no good at spotting this sort of thing, the most I can do is refuse to buy their book or link to their site. And I know it doesn't make a difference to a lot of people. But I can't help feeling like a chump -- because the I think publishers actually think that no one has caught on to this because it keeps working.

K. I'm done. Carry on.

Monday, January 07, 2008

But you can be happy if you've a mind to!

What to do in the middle of January when it's almost 70 degrees outside? Well, when you are trying to eek a garden out of soil that was never meant for anything but forestland on the side of a hill, you spend the day picking rocks...

...and moving Abby out of the way...

...and moving everyone else out of the way...

...moving Abby's paw out of the way...

...moving Zsa Zsa's paw out of the way...

...moving Abby and Hokie out of the way...

...and cursing the supervisor.

"Topper only pawn in game of life."

Having worked over an hour and cleared out -- sort of -- enough area for one stinkin' tomato plant, I've decided 1) I need a soil sifter (i.e., the freezer basket from the old freezer in the House of Squalor); 2) I need to wait until the soil dries out a whole lot more; and 3) just like you can't rollerskate in a buffalo herd, you can't sift soil with your dogs in the yard.

Saturday, January 05, 2008


Okay, I admit it. I can't keep my interests separate. They just get muddled with each other.

So, as much as I'd like to spare Linguini-ites the overpowering nesting tendencies of Domestic Derring-Do and spare the Do-ers from my occasionally caustic, decidedly canine, usually puzzling life on Linguini On the Ceiling, I'm beginning to feel fragmented. They keep spilling over into each other.

And so all future posts will be here on Linguini and we'll all have to live with the fact that sometimes I'm not pithy and clever and I really do have a side of me that wishes she never had to leave her little hill for the real world.

So, if you're here from Domestic Derring-Do, Welcome, and don't let the residents here frighten you. They're harmless, old friends, many related and all hold down normal lives. Well, relatively normal.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Last night, I didn't get to sleep at!

Okay, maybe I dozed a little during the Twilight Zone marathon. I may have nodded off just as Burgess Meredith was about to enter the vault where Jack Palance and Elizabeth Montgomery were in tattered evening clothes and army boots listening to a ventriloquist dummy in the corner. Something like that. I do recall getting into bed "just to rest awhile" and waking up briefly to yell at the lump next to me that he needed to do a walk through of Heir 2's teen New Year's party downstairs and having the lump turn out to be Toppergetdown, who didn't, but did give me one of his grins and sneezed in my face.

Prior to all this, Dirtman and I spent the evening playing Scrabble. I lost by a measly seven points, a real heartbreak, since Dirtman, having pondered several minutes over his letters and thinking of nothing, suddenly scored 38 points with "joined," mysteriously thought up while I was out of the room preparing the caramel popcorn. I'm not making any accusations, but strikes me as suspicious, particularly since earlier he was trying to convince me that there was such a word as "pettingly."

We toasted in the New Year with Alpenglow, which is, I think, Swiss for "fizzy fruit juice crap." We winced at Dick Clark hosting the Times Square ball drop and hope people will be kind (kinder than I certainly was) when discussing it over the water cooler, which inevitably they will because, I'm telling you, it was work trying to understand what he was saying, not that it was all that important, but, still, I feel obligated to pay attention because he's trying so hard and it looks like such an effort. And, yeah, I know, I'm bringing down the Gods of Justice upon me and, really, these days you'd think I'd know better than to tempt fate when it's been in such an uncooperative mood lately. Certainly that's what Dirtman pointed out to me. Apparently the entire economy stinks because of my bad attitude.

As for the party: All went smoothly, the last ones stumbled out of here after noon on Tuesday and, even more amazing, there is food left in the house.