Sunday, December 14, 2014

Angelic Latke Music

Pastor’s sermon last Sunday asked us to pay attention to the message of angels.  I thought it was an excellent sermon – it’s hard to make a new point about the Age Old Story of Christmas, but for me it was jarring.  For the past few weeks and months I think I’ve been getting some messages, possibly from angels.  When I say angels, I don’t mean winged humanoids dressed in frilly clothes, or humanoids with perfectly pleasant behavior.  I mean people with a message from God.

Back in November, I read a disturbing article in The New Yorker about a black teen who was accused of a crime and spent three years in jail before the case was dismissed.  I could not help wondering if the outcome would have been the same if the kid were white.

Before and after reading that, there were events in Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland…

This Thursday I went to a Presbytery meeting, where we spent an hour in an ongoing examination of the cost of racism. 

There is not liberty and justice for all, in this land.  That’s the angels’ simple message. But they have not told me what a white middle-aged suburban woman can do about it.

On Friday I had to get started on making potato latkes.  This is an annual ritual in which potato shards and a thin layer of oil get distributed all over the kitchen. This time, rather than live-streaming the latkes straight to the plates of hungry people, I was cooking them solo, to freeze for the synagogue Hanukkah dinner next week.   I needed some music for the next 1 ½ hours of potato mayhem.  What better expression of “December dilemma” than to listen to Handel’s Messiah (Christmas portion) while cooking Jewish holiday food?

To the strains of “Comfort ye, my people,” I cried over the chopping of the onion.  With “Every valley shall be exalted… and the rough places plain,” I was peeling the rough skin and bumps off the potatoes.  “And he shall purify” the extra starch out of the shredded potatoes. 

I added the other ingredients, but the batter looked a bit weird.  Just when we got to “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” it dawned on me that I had forgotten to add the flour.
Latke batter.  Purists would probably use only
 matzo meal rather than flour.  I didn't feel like rooting around
in the basement to find the matzo meal.

Soon, the oil was heating up, and an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds, who were “sore afraid.”  Angels again! The shepherds’ fear reminded me of the Cost of Racism discussion.  Fear lies at the heart of racism.  Some people have paid a heavy, heavy price.  I am afraid to do anything about it, and besides, I am not sure what to do about it. 

At first, I made only 3 latkes at a time, so as
 to not get distracted and burn them.
I started the process of frying the latkes.  I hit my stride when the music got to “Come unto him, all ye that labor.”  

Twelve precious latkes, ready to freeze.  Of course, I measured
them, because in my experience with Jewish food,
By the time I had twelve latkes ready to go in the freezer, we were beyond the Christmas portion of the oratorio – moving beyond glory, light, and joy.  “A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” made me think of the grief of the mothers of these young men who have been killed.  Of the grief of police officers who have the difficult task of maintaining safety and order, who have to deal with frightening situations all the time.

What would That Man of Sorrows have to say about us?  About me?

See the jelly roll pan of latkes in the freezer?  I get such
grief from the family for using the jelly roll pan
for anything BUT making jelly roll.
But it's perfect for freezing latkes.

I ended up putting 30 latkes in the freezer.  The crowd on Tuesday will probably consume about 500 latkes. My effort is just a drop in the bucket, and yet it is more effective than I feel I could be against racial injustice.  It is not time, yet, for the Hallelujah Chorus.

I don’t know where the angels’ messages will lead me.  For now, I am just doing some reading.  I have started The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander.  I’d welcome other reading suggestions on the topic.  Having said that, I have to delay more consideration of this serious issue because I must spend every waking minute in the next week either practicing the piano or making latkes. 

The aftermath of latke making.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Beautiful Baking

On Thursday I thought I would make this edible Christmas craft.  It looked so easy.

I tried following the directions, honestly.   Basically this: Lay out the candy canes on a tray. Melt chocolate and put it inside a piping bag or a heavy-duty plastic bag with the corner cut off. Then squeeze the chocolate into the center of the heart shape.

This should have been the clue for me that I should not attempt this:  I do not have a piping bag. 

I melted a few dark chocolate Hershey’s kisses in the microwave, on “very low”.  I had to check it several times because I didn’t want to overcook the chocolate.  After this laborious effort, I put the gloppy chocolate into the plastic bag, and cut the corner off. 

It was very messy getting the chocolate into the candy cane hearts, which kept moving around, but I managed to make two of them.  Then there was a lot of chocolate left inside the bag, but not enough to squeeze out. 

Such a waste of chocolate!  I decided to try making the whole thing in the microwave.  So I set up the candy canes in a heart shape on a plate, then chopped up two chocolate kisses.  I was tired of tending the microwave, so I set it for 2 minutes and went away to do something else on my list.  I ended up with the very likeness of molten lava taking over an innocent Hawaiian town:

Sometimes I should leave the baking to professionals.  Today this is what we found at LaGourmandine, in Lawrenceville, a neighborhood of Pittsburgh:

It’s a Buchette de Noel!  A miniature Buche de Noel (Yule log).  I think it is so cute and lovely!

These pastries are so beautiful, they deserve to appear twice.
Clafoutis on the left; Marquise in the front
Also appearing:
(Dark chocolate mousse with crème brûlée and crispy caramel)

Another traditional French Pastry from the Limousin region.
Dessert made of cherries covered with a Flan-like batter.

And here is my To Do List for Friday.  
You can click to embiggen, but trust me, it's a boring list.
Also, it is incomplete.
Such things as “make chocolate candy cane hearts” and “write blog posts” do not appear on the list.  I am continually wracked with guilt that my list never includes “Procure justice for everyone” or "bring about equity in school funding."  I must confess that I seem to be utterly exhausted lately, which I attribute to this season of  “The Hap-Hap-Happiest Time of the Year When Everyone Should be Hibernating But Instead Has Assigned Themselves A To Do List Ten Miles Long.”  

But today I threw the list aside, and the three of us went to Lawrenceville in the rain, to do some Christmas shopping, and to go to the bakery which Youngest Daughter first encountered on a school field trip and has been raving about ever since.  It was a good day, largely because I did not turn anything into lava.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Gingerbread Creativity

Here are just a few of the gingerbread houses we saw on display downtown.  I appreciate the creativity and the tenacity of the people who put together these things.

Santa's Kitchen.  I think this one is my favorite.  I just
love all the details.
Despicable Tree, with Minions

A pretzely log cabin sort of gingerbread house

I have tried to figure out what makes this a "Pittsburgh"
nativity scene.  I mean, the Baby Jesus is not wrapped in a
Terrible Towel.  Is that Wise Man (in blue) carrying a football?

Troop ship coming home.  Very poignant.

Santa's Stable

Santa Spa Day - note that a snowman has gotten into the hot tub.

"Holiday for our Heroes"  

"Created by the Strange Society of Teenage Girls"

"Reindeer Games"
The spectators are all gummy bears.

Dia de los Muertos, in gingerbread.  Wow!

"A Pueblo Christmas" 

The Duck at Point State Park

"Snoopy's Chamber Strings"
Towering above all these gingerbread houses is a giant Christmas tree, with completely creepy disembodied Santa faces glaring out at us.

These Santa Faces belong in a Doctor Who episode.  I am sorry if you find yourself too creeped out to sleep tonight.

Adjectiveless Sunday

Apparently there is no adjective to go with today.  Last Friday was Black Friday, followed by Small Business Saturday.  Tomorrow is Cyber Monday, and in Pennsylvania, more importantly, it will be the first day of deer hunting season.  Tuesday has been named Giving Tuesday.  I’m beginning to understand why people want to go hunting – to get away from the incessant requests to empty their pockets of money.

For some, today is the First Sunday of Advent – Hopeful Sunday.  We had holy sights and sounds at church today.  There were decorations hanging high on the wall, installed by one fearless member of the congregation. There was the lighting of the first candle of the Advent wreath, which reminded me of this passage:

Your sun shall no more go down,
    or your moon withdraw itself;
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
    and your days of mourning shall be ended.
Your people shall all be righteous.
                        - Isaiah 60:20-21 and similarly in Revelation 22:5

Given the behavior of all-us Americans lately, it seems ridiculous to hope that all the people could be righteous, and that days of mourning could be finished with.  I do little to make it happen, except to hope against all odds. 

We also had wonderful music, with some ol’ favorite Advent hymns and a new one called “Almost There”.  Then, without drawing attention to it, the music director snuck in some J.S. Bach, including “Wachet Auf” (pronounced “Whack It Off,” which means either “Sleepers Awake” or “Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying”) with its great moving lines of harmony.  I love me some Johann Sebastian.

Here in the Common Household, today should probably also be called Recovery From Past Excess Sunday.  Our guests have gone home, our students have gone back to college.  The dining room table has shrunk back to its original size, inversely proportional to the expansion of us from turkey and pie. The roasting pan has crept back into its box in the basement to wait until next year. The leftovers are all gone (sob!) except for the yams, which I will not make next year, as demand for them is not high enough to merit that space in the fridge. 

What adjective would you attach to today?

I leave you with gobs of photos of our lovely day last Friday.  We took four teenaged girls ice-skating downtown.  I had a lovely time not skating but watching the skaters.  We also got to see the gingerbread house display, but I will put those photos in a separate post.  

The pears did not get eaten, but all the pies did.

Me with the Ketchuposaurus

Skaters at PPG Place

Excellent skating socks

Three teenaged girls would rather watch the horse-drawn
carriages than skate.

Giant Christmas tree outside, plus a rare
spot of blue sky.  It was cold, though!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Words of Thanksgiving

Here some of the words which people would be grateful to hear on Thanksgiving Day.

Appropriate Word Cloud

warm front
185 degrees
Who wants seconds on pie?
Flight is on time.
The operation was successful.
Can I help do anything?
Here's more wine.
I'm glad that you are here.
That was good. I think I'll have another helping!
I'll clean up!
Thank you.
This is delicious.
Best pie ever.
Go take a nap, you've had a hard week.
I love you.
We'll wash the dishes, Mom.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Word Cloud which more accurately depicts what I am thinking about
These are the results from #3 on my Thanksgiving survey.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Pre-Thanksgiving PSA

This is a Public Service Announcement.

If it is the day before Thanksgiving, DO NOT text your husband with this message: 

“I’m at the grocery store and I’m planning to get some dish soap, some bread, and some carrots.  If you think of anything else we need, let me know soon.  Bye.”

My husband has a different view of what type and what volume of food should be served before, during, and after Thanksgiving dinner.  Despite the fact that he was at that moment driving home from work, he texted me back (using Siri, I hope) with a Magna-Carta length list:

Husband’s text:
            Nice cheese
            Nice crackers
            Cream cheese, different varieties
            Refried beans
            Little pizza egg rolls
(This is where I began to roll my eyes.)
(By the way, his list was longer, but I have edited it for brevity.)
            Oyster crackers
            Deli roast beef
            Soft drinks
            Two bags of ice
            Pretzels with peanut butter inside
At that, I totally blew my stack.

My text:  Holy smoke.  I am not getting pretzels with pb inside.

He continued, with a bunch of stuff that I already got several days ago.  To his credit they were healthy vegetable and fruits.

Me:  I already have some of those.  But give me a break. We don’t have to consume every item in the store.  Why do we need oyster crackers?

Him:  In case we have lobster bisque.

Other people in the store started wondering why this woman was fuming at her cell phone.  Lobster bisque is not on the menu this month.  By this point I had reached the deli counter, and looked at the nutritional info for braunschweiger.  Braunschweiger does not belong on the Common Household menu, neither at Thanksgiving nor at any other time of year.  About ¾ of it is fat.

Me:  No oyster crackers.  I’m sorry, but you do not qualify for braunschweiger.

By this time I figured he had reached home, and found a full refrigerator of food, all reserved for tomorrow.  Before I left the store I got one last text.

Him:  Are you coming home soon?  I’m hungry.

The thing is, he’s actually right.  Our guests will consume all of it, and probably more.  We really did need some of those things.

P.S.  The real reason I went to the grocery store was to get more Brussels sprouts, because I sensed that 72 of them is not enough for 8 people (we’re having 11 people, but I know 3 of them won’t touch B. sprouts, which is great because it leaves more for the rest of us.)

In conclusion,


I have to go caramelize all these onions.