Friday, July 31, 2009

Injured parties

So I'm lying in bed at 2 a.m. and I have to go to the bathroom. Next to me is Whiskers, in her usual spot at the edge of the bed.

As I usually do, I elbow her aside, she jumps down and off I go.

But not last night. Oh, no. Last night she decides she would much rather I climb over her, with the result that when I actually shoved her off, she grabbed for the bedding to hang on with all her might -- only instead of her claw grabbing the bedding, it grabbed the back of my hand -- where she dangled for a few seconds.

While I screamed.

One would think, in a house-full of men, there would be a stampede in my bedroom. I mean your mother, your wife, the one who feeds you -- IS SCREAMING.

Crickets chirped. Clocks ticked. My hand bled. Whiskers observed me with righteous indignation and marched off in a huff to sit on my African violet -- like she was the injured party.

To her credit, Zsa Zsa was right at her heels, using her sad, hoarse bark, then returned to me to nurse my hand.

My heroes? Didn't miss a second's sleep.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wednesday is Spot-On Day

I really do consider myself someone who cares about the environment and you regular Linguini readers know how I feel about birds.

That being said, I hate when environmental issues cause knee-jerk reactions that probably aren't necessary. Sometimes it smacks of environmental smugery*: Somewhere, someone is having a good time in the general proximity of an endangered species and it must be stopped!

Anyway, in that spirit, I offer up this week's Spot-On.

*I so want that to be a word. I'm going to keep using it until it enters our lexicon.

Monday, July 27, 2009

"Order early to receive the coveted low numbers!"

It took less time to come out with this crap than it did to bury the guy.

There is a strict limit of two per person so: Christmas is coming DG and Gwynne!

(Thank you, Dirtman, for calling me from my oatmeal to watch this.)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

How I Spent My Summer Vacation*

I stared out at this*2:

Tried to ignore this (not for the faint of heart or stomach).

Did this:

Read these:

Came home to this*3:


*Summer vacation generously supplied by Mr. and Mrs. Dark Garden, to whom we are eternally grateful, but not so much as to adopt their TV viewing habit (Oh, yes. I saw you two watching wrestling and I tried to convince myself that you were doing it so I would comment on it until I actually heard you discussing the program like you watch this on a regular basis at which point I immediately took up smoking, binge drinking and hard drugs because now I realize there is absolutely no hope for the world and I might as well die young {ish}.)

*2 Believe it or not, we were at Outerbanks -- nice North Carolina beaches. I will not take my camera to the beach. But you all know what a beach looks like, right?

3 Our neighbor IH across the street naively took a dozen. She told Dirtman, "no more for awhile," not realizing that her acceptance of said cucumbers has automatically contractually obligated her to receive cucumbers every day until the end of the growing season -- unless, of course, she sends back the card we mail her to opt out for a days' worth, which I have a feeling will probably get lost in the mail. IH suggest we put out a table with the extra produce, but I have a feeling that's a good way to lose a table and not much else.

*4 We would also like to acknowledge Heir 1 for staying home and taking care of all the animals and plants without making me feel guilty about it, even though Zsa Zsa was on one of her yogurt and farina diets, Topper gets the runs whenever I leave, Abbey was finishing being in heat and Salt continuously slipped off to peruse the neighborhood. Miraculously, dogs and cats are all happy and healthy and one, in particular, still qualifies to enter a convent (were she not canine, I guess...).

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Cucumber-some II

Hello and welcome to the cucumber blog -- all cucumbers, all the time...

So I managed to get this done today:

This is a gallon of garlic dills that will have to ultimately be refrigerated since I don't have a canner.

I would be rejoicing, only this is what is left:

Sigh. I can't devote any more refrigerator space to pickles. As pickles go, these are my favorite (everyone else likes the ubiquitous bread and butter pickle, but I don't have the ingredients on hand for those). But how many pickles can one eat? And, in terms of popularity, cheese, yogurt, milk, lunch meat and leftovers far outweigh pickles which are sort of an afterthought -- a spare link, if you will -- in the Linguini food chain.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Cucumber - some

The past four days have revolved around our kennel club's dog show. The result of this is that we are now awash in cucumbers, in spite of having given some away (not easy when many of your neighbors also are awash in cucumbers), eaten as many as possible, and have even more on the vine that will be ready by the end of the week.

So I am preparing refrigerator pickles out of the canning pickles that somehow got planted (the motives of which are called into question because we have no means to properly can). Every meal is accompanied by cucumber salad. I even made a cucumber sandwich for lunch today, even though a really good cucumber sandwich require white bread and all I had was whole grain. In perusing other recipes, I found several suggesting we eat cooked cucumbers and, while I'm game for anything, I can't see the other residents getting that adventuresome in their cucumber consumption.

In January we will miss the cucumbers since I can't bring myself to pay ridiculous prices for those things in the grocery store. But, for now, they decorate the entire house.

I have a feeling the cukes will be the least of our problems in a few day -- Dirtman brought in the first of the zucchini this morning.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Wednesday is Spot-On day

Okay. You know I had to do it.

Sorry, DG and Gwynne.

The Crooner

I've taken to calling him Frankie -- as in Sinatra.

Frankie has everything. He's the most debonair house finch of them all. His red feathers put all the other guys' plumage to shame.

He's got the moves, too. Frankie's smooth on the perch with just a little clownishness to make him endearing.

But, oh, when he sings! He stretches out his neck, opens his beak and out comes a cascade of ringing trills that draws every female house finch within miles to our side yard. They hang off the birdfeeder; they perch in nearby trees; they adore him from the ground.

Sadly, his performance always outlasts his worshipers' stamina and they are off with other, less talented fellows.

He continues to sing long after they've left, in love with his own voice.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

I'll take Manhattan

Just as I make a big deal about not watching any movie older than the early 1960s, TCM runs an entire night of films from the 70s and early 80s. Fortunately, the one they chose for prime time (Eastern) was Woody Allen’s Manhattan.

I’m not sure why I like Woody Allen movies. I think it’s because I recognize his characters and their setting. A Woody Allen movie for me is like a trip back home where everybody doesn’t know your name; where everybody doesn’t look alike; where everybody isn’t related to everybody else. There are people with noses like mine in Woody Allen movies (and no one conjectures behind their backs whether they are Jewish or “Eye-talian” – but I digress*).

I have to admit, Manhattan is not my favorite Allen movie. I’m not quite so sophisticated as to be comfortable with the idea of this middle-aged man (Isaac) having an adult relationship with a 17-year-old schoolgirl (Tracy, played by Mariel Hemingway). And, while he acknowledges in course of the movie that even he thinks it’s not entirely normal, I can’t help doubting his sincerity in view of Allen’s actions in his private life (though admittedly Soon Yi was over 18 when they began their “adult” relationship).

In terms of revealing Isaac’s flaws though, this Lolita-esque relationship more than delivers. He is an impulsive man-child who cannot seem to grow out of his childish selfishness. Tracy, meanwhile, is that rare breed of New York City-raised children who have been essentially self-sufficient since they were 12. Allen sets her up in several scenes as the patient mother figure, placating a hyper, cranky, whining Isaac.

I think where most people run into problems with Allen’s movies (and I’ll admit to catching myself doing it too) is that they can’t separate Allen playing the main character and Allen himself. The director does seem to pick one of his character flaws and make it a theme for each of his movies. And, for Woody Allen-hater, Manhattan highlights that flaw for which he is famous – self-absorption.

The rest of the movie’s characters are Allen’s usual assortment of neurotic, schizophrenic urbanites trying to establish an individual identity while at the same time looking desperately for some other soul to “complete them.” Diane Keaton is particularly funny as an insecure hyper-intellectual trying in vain to control her world with words.

What shines through in Manhattan, though, is the city itself, whether through breathtaking black and white scans of the skyline set to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue or an intimate scene at a Bloomingdales’ sales counter punctuated by those ever-present department store bells.

Okay, the line I love:
“They probably sit around on the floor with wine and cheese, and mispronounce allegorical and didacticism.”
*I've been running into this issue a lot lately, where I'm put on the spot to speak rapturously about how wonderful it is living in a small town in the rural south. I don't know what this means, but I am thankful for the occasional respites from down-home folksy drivel provided by Woody Allen movies.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Mr. Hulot's Clambake without Michael Jackson

Believe it or not, I have been uncharacteristically silent about all the fuss around the never-ending coverage of Michael Jackson’s death. (This may come as a surprise to some of you whose despondency over the issue is totally out of proportion with the subject’s importance in his and most people’s lives, but my only response to that is: You started it.)

Anyway, the reason I have not been indulging in as much sneering and sniping as would normally be the case is that when I do turn on the television, I watch Turner Classic Movies. And on TCM, Michael Jackson hasn’t even been born yet.

I’ll admit this is rather indulgent escapism and makes me even crankier when the 21st century insists on creeping into my sanctuary. I rarely progress beyond the early 60s, though sometimes I am forced to watch a movie I would not normally watch because I’m in the middle of some sewing or knitting handwork and that’s what’s on.

This has usually ended in the discovery of a movie to add to my list of favorites; but sometimes it leaves me oddly disturbed.

I experienced both Sunday night when, because it was on and I had projects to complete, I was forced to view an Elvis movie (Clambake) after which came a movie I had planned to watch (and was directed to watch by Dark Garden), Mr. Hulot’s Holiday.

For a quick overview: Elvis movie – no matter how I try to approach it, it is by far, one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen (and it is, by the way, the first Elvis movie I’ve ever seen); Mr. Hulot’s Holiday – loved it.

I can’t, though, let the Clambake thing go yet, because it was so phenomenally bad. And one of the things that made it so bad was its total cluelessness about what was going on in the world politically, socially and musically. This was the year of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, The Graduate and In the Heat of the Night. This was the year the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band.

In a watershed year for the entertainment field, there’s Elvis, singing cheesy songs based on the worst rock music ever recorded (think those stupid Brady Bunch songs…simplified) and woodenly delivering inane dialogue from an unimaginative script – surrounded by fake-lashed girls doing The Jerk, The Pony and The Swim – dances so old and culturally embarrassing, YouTube doesn’t even have decent videos of them. I admit I’m not an Elvis fan to begin with, but in this movie he certainly managed to completely disguise any reason why he deserved to even be in show business, let alone receive the kind of adulation he continues to get.

Now: Mr. Hulot’s Holiday.

I had received a directive from Dark Garden to be sure and watch this – that it was “strange,” he said. Good, but “strange.” When DG calls something strange, you sort of think twice about whether you really want to see it in the first place, but it was showing under TCM’s “Essentials Jr.,” meaning it was suitable for children to view, so I knew the “strange” wouldn’t cross the line into “disturbing.”

My guess as to why DG thought this was a strange movie is probably the combination of the facts that it was a French film, it was made in 1953 and was, for all intents and purposes, pretty much silent. Technically, I suppose it would be termed “slapstick,” but if it had been purely that, I doubt I would have enjoyed it so much. I find “slapstick” technically interesting and mildly amusing, but rarely out-and-out funny. When I see Charlie Chaplin’s eating machine, I’m so interested in the precision of the timing of the components of the scene that I forget to laugh.

John Lithgow, who introduced the film, said actor/director Jacques Tati was the inspiration for many tall, physical comedians such as himself and John Cleese. But if someone asked me to give them a general idea of what the movie was like, Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean comes to mind, though less dependent on the main character.

Hulot is definitely the central character. But that doesn’t prevent Tati, as director, from having his fun with the other characters inhabiting this small seaside hotel for their vacations and making an overall statement about holidays in general. The workaholic husband constantly being called to the telephone, the elderly couple looking for an opportunity to be offended, the unintelligible announcer directing travelers to their trains, the herd mentality of vacationgoers – all these are familiar even though we are a half century removed.

I will even forgive Tati for his rather jaundiced portrayal of middle-aged women because it is just so darn funny and, in some cases, just so darn true. One woman spends her entire vacation complaining about the trouble she had traveling to the seaside. Another woman combs the beach for lovely shells she hands off to her husband, who promptly tosses them back into the ocean.

I think most of the strangeness comes from the alien landscape of a small, intimate seaside hotel, an establishment that, being born in 1957, I’ve only heard about and seen the ruins of. DG has probably not even had that experience. I also think we’re used to such light, airy locational films like this being shot in color. The film loses nothing by being in black and white, whether that was an artistic or budgetary decision. But about halfway through I realized how few “travelogue” movies I’ve seen that get that sun-drenched look without the aid of color.

I don’t know when or if TCM plans to run this again any time soon. It’s definitely a movie I’d watch over and over.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Just another reason ...

I know most of you think I'm ridiculous with my "thing" against Walmart and I'm sure Walmart cares not a whit that Sisiggy isn't spending her little pittance at their stores.

Walmart is by no means alone in exploitative practices, but they are the leader and, worse, a model that other stores emulate.

I will grant that it is practically impossible to live reasonably without going into a big box store at some point. Believe me, we've tried. Some things are prohibitively expensive -- not the fault of the local store, but simply because they don't sell the volume to get the kind of deals a large distributor can cut. Some things just aren't available, usually because the big box corporation made their deal "exclusive" and the merchandise provider is permitted to supply only them.

Every now and then, though, something like this happens that drives home the directive to support local businesses.

I know that this is hardly the catastrophe that explosive words like "plague" and "famine" hint at. But it is cause for concern and some serious consideration about buying from corporations whose only quality standard is how cheaply and quickly they can move the product. Let's face it, Burpee has been distributing plants for decades without causing widespread blight.

More importantly, there is no direct accountability. When we bought our vegetable plants, we bought some from a local co-op that buys direct from a supplier. The co-op manager chose the plants and approved them himself. He didn't just take delivery of what some faceless "distribution center" sent him on a truck.

Most of our plants were purchased from members of the high school FFA program who raise the plants as part of their curriculum and a local nursery stocked and run by people down the road. The expense for the FFA plants were about the same as I would pay at a big box store. The nursery plants were, understandably, slightly more expensive, but during the purchase I learned of the particular needs of the type of plant I was attempting to grow. She didn't pretend to know about what she was selling, she knew because she was responsible for it to begin with.

While I haven't been in a Walmart in over seven years, I still go into a Target or a K-Mart and I grocery shop at a chain store. "Farmers markets" around here are tied to the local orchards. You're "buying local" only if you purchase the fruit in their orchards. Everything else come from the same source as the grocery store -- only more expensive.

It is a dilemma for those of us willing to pay a little more for local, better-quality products. And it's tough to navigate through the rhetoric of what constitutes "organic." Technically, you can slap an "organic" label on a container of salt and charge $3 extra for it, but it would still be the same salt as the regular stuff.

I continue to tilt at the windmill, though. Me and my Sancho Panza.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

I know I'm supposed to be writing, but...

Thanks to Gwynne, our suet feeder is busy again, just in time to see this:

Danny Kaye showing off his new offspring (according to what I've read, Mrs. Kaye -- Danielle? Sylvia Fine? -- probably shows up at the feeder at night.)


And, just in case Dark Garden was worried about her*:

*That's what you get for making fun of my Empress of the Universe robe.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Easy as...well, ya know...

Yes, we're a little prolific with the food posts lately. Chalk it up to the time of year when the availability of fresh produce makes cooking and baking so enjoyable.

We picked up some plums on sale this week. I wait all year for fresh summer fruit and it disappears around here pretty quickly. So I had to make this pie right away because I'm sure that in a few days all the plums would be gone.

Family legend has it that my grandmother made the most wonderful plum pie. But by the time she baked it for me, her eyesight was poor and she'd fallen out of the habit of baking. Add to that the fact that she made her pie crust with olive oil and I begin to wonder if her plum pies weren't better in retrospect than actuality (a bit like camping trips).

The sad thing about fruit is that it's become increasingly hard to find any that taste good. Strike that. It's become increasingly hard to find any that tastes -- period. Organic produce around here is way beyond my means and I've not yet found a local source for plums. Peaches and apples, no problem. Plums, forget it.

Anyway, this was one of those tasteless grocery store buys that every once in awhile produces a good plum. Unfortunately, I wasn't so lucky with this batch, but I had hopes that the baking might bring out some flavor.

Well, anyway, that was the plan.

Appearance-wise, they were lovely (which seems to be the primary goal of grocery story produce -- all appearance and no substance. I'll leave you to make the obvious metaphorical connnections...)

When I am Empress of the Universe my royal robes will be this color.

This required about 6 large plums for an 8-inch pie. I cut these up just any old way, trying to keep the slices with as little peel as possible so no one has to deal with a huge mouthful of plum peel. To this I added a scant cup of sugar, 2 T. granulated tapioca (or "quick cooking") and a shake or two of cinnamon. A few recipes called for ginger also, but my herb cabinet is a nightmare to rifle through, so I decided to favor the recipes that consider ginger unnecessary.

Now, let's talk pie crusts.

There is a school of thought that says either you are a person who can make a wonderful pie crust or you are a person who cannot. Whenever someone tells me they can't make a pie crust -- excluding the people who say that because they don't want to make a pie but feel under some moral obligation that they should -- I tell them they're trying too hard.

There is a reason they call it "easy as pie." Crust too tough? You fiddled with it too much. Once the water is in, bring the dough together and let it alone in the fridge for awhile. So what if you can't get the rolled-out crust into the pie plate in one piece. Piece it together and seal it with your wet finger. No one is taking pictures for Bon Apetite. Pie is pie.

Besides, once you slap that sucker on a plate, no one is going to care that their slice isn't a perfect equilateral triangle; double so if you serve it with ice cream.

Of course, you can buy a passable ready-made pie crust, but here's my thought about that (yes, I have an opinion about pie crust): Making a pie crust is a little bit of a workout; all that cutting in and rolling out stretches some muscles and burns a few calories, making pie consumption a little more justifiable -- not the whole pie, mind you -- a nice, conservative piece. Anyway, that's what I tell myself.

So, for the record, for an 8-inch pie:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
3/4 c. vegetable shortening (or cold butter, if you are so inclined)
approx. 5 T. ice cold water

You know the drill: Mix the flour and salt. Cut in the shortening until the size of baby peas. Add water in tablespoon increments and stir with a fork just until dough comes together. Divide in half, wrap and refrigerate for 20 min. or so.

Roll out one half of the dough and place in pie plate. Dump in plum mixture and dot with 2 T. butter.

Roll out second half, top pie and crimp edges. If the fruit is particularly tart, I'll brush the top with milk and sprinkle on some sugar. Using a fork, stab the crust all over making steam vents (By family rule, I am required to form my stabs in the shape of the letter that the filling begins with, as if I'm churning out a large variety of pies on this particular day and won't be able to remember what this one is. I continue to do this because...well, I just do.)

Bake at 450 degrees F. for 10 minutes, drop the temperature to 350 degrees F. and bake for 40 to 45 min. more. Cool on a rack.

(This crust comes from the label of the Crisco shortening, which my mother copied down in her recipe file and we've always used. It's probably still on the label -- I never bothered to check)

Not my fingers -- Dirtman served the pie

So there ya go. Easy peasy and you don't have to settle for those hideous grocery store pies with their tiny bits of fruit swimming in corn syrup and corn starch and covered with a thick, leathery crust.

Unfortunately, the crust was the best thing about this particular pie. Other than that, it could have been a styrofoam pie for all the flavor you could taste. But, I whipped up some cream and slapped it on top and everyone was satisfied but me.