Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Time to Buy the Tree

Tonight we turned on the TV just in time to see the end of the tree-lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center in New York.  It reminded me of the last time my late husband and I stood for hours in a chill wind to watch the tree-lighting in person.  When we lived in New York, we spent a lot of time outside in lousy weather around the holidays.  The St. Patrick's Day parade, the Halloween parade in the Village, the balloon inflation the night before Thanksgiving, the Thanksgiving Day Parade itself, the tree-lighting, and New Year's Eve all held the threat of frostbitten ears and feet, but we loved them anyway, and not just because they gave us an excuse for Irish coffee afterward.

Barry and I don't go to many public celebrations in Arizona because he gets claustrophobic in crowds, but we have a variety of more private holiday rituals.  This week we kicked off the Christmas season by buying a jug of eggnog and putting our lighted wooden snowman and Christmas tree in the front yard.  We still have to set up the winter village on the sideboard, put out the collection of stuffed reindeer, hang our stockings from the office bookshelves, and buy and decorate a Noble pine.  Other holidays have their own special foods and decorations.  During the months without obvious holidays, we find something else to celebrate.  A couple of years ago we threw a big duck-themed party in June to celebrate Donald Duck's birthday.

I've read that depression and suicide are rampant during holidays, but I've never really understood that.  During the first few years I lived alone in New York, far from my family, I still put up the tree and set out the Easter basket, and if no one invited me to share a holiday meal, I invited others to dine with me.  Rituals like these help give shape and meaning to the year.  Even when things are going badly, I feel better just unpacking the Christmas tree ornament my third grade Sunday School teacher gave me or the Valentine cookie cutters from Barry's older daughter. Barry feels the same way about the ceramic houses and miniature trees in the holiday village.

I'd like to wrap this up with some deeply profound observation about the meaning of holidays, but the right words escape me.  The closest I can come is the motto on one of our favorite banners:  "Life is too short to not celebrate birthdays."  Or Halloween, or the Fourth of July, or Donald Duck.  Pick your holiday, and party hearty!

"I wish we could put up some of the Christmas spirit in jars and open a jar of it every month." ~Harlan Miller 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Off to See the Wizard

One of my family's after-Thanksgiving rituals is watching The Wizard of Oz on TV.  We started this back when my parents owned a black-and-white television; I was in seventh grade before I realized that Oz was supposed to be in color.  Even in black-and-white, though, the Wicked Witch of the West and her flying monkeys scared the crap out of me.

By now familiarity has neutralized the terror, but I love the movie even more than I did at the age of eight.  I don't know just why it has such a hold on me.  I read the book and didn't like it nearly as well, although the part where the ants (not a snowstorm) rescue Dorothy and her friends from the poisoned poppy field was pretty cool.  I guess I love the part-deco, part cartoon sets and costumes, the slightly hammy acting, and all the accumulated lore surrounding the film.  Did you know that the studio originally wanted Buddy Ebsen to play the Scarecrow?  He wanted to be the Tin Man instead, but had to bow out entirely when he was hospitalized for a reaction to the silver makeup.  I also think it's hysterical that the actors had to drink their lunches so they wouldn't mess up their face prostheses.  You can't make this stuff up.

This year was special because Barry and I watched the show on our giant new high-definition television.  All the colors were much brighter;  I always thought the Horse of a Different Color was a washed-out lavender, but this year it was a rich purple, and the greens in Emerald City were almost painfully bright. We also saw the toucan perched in the apple orchard and the crane flapping around next to the Tin Man's house for the first time.  Amazing detail.

Last year I read Wicked by Gregory Maguire.  It was well-written and did a good job of rehabilitating the Wicked Witch's reputation.  What a downer.  The witch I want is Margaret Hamilton, complete with hooked nose, clawlike fingernails and unforgettable laugh.  After all, without her, the trip down the Yellow Brick Road would have been just a walk in the park, and where's the fun in that?

"It's not subtle or restrained. It's not any of the things you like to think apply to your acting. " ~Margaret Hamilton

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Have You Seen the Muffin Man?

Today was the day I popped the turkey carcass into the stockpot to make, yes, turkey stock.  (Normally I would do this the day after Thanksgiving, but this cold has really slowed me down.)  I froze most of the stock but kept out enough to make turkey stew for dinner.  I don't have a standard turkey soup recipe - I just throw in whatever's hanging around the refrigerator and the pantry.  I had some leftover fennel from the holiday sausage and fennel stuffing makings, so the stew tonight featured fresh fennel, mixed mushrooms, scallions, and a blend of wild and brown rice.  We rounded out dinner with a tossed salad and some zippy corn muffins.

Spicy Double Corn Muffins

1 cup frozen corn
1 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons minced canned or bottled jalapeno peppers
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 cup canola oil

Cook the frozen corn according to the instructions on the package (I usually microwave it).  Grease muffin pan.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Thoroughly combine all ingredients in a large bowl.  Fill muffin cups about 3/4 full (this is a dense batter and the muffins won't rise much).  Bake about 15 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.  Serve with honey.

"I believe the world to be a muffin pan, and there certainly are a lot of muffins here." ~Aaron Funk

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Throw Miracle Whip from the Train

I think most of us consider the phrase "turkey leftovers" to be more or less synonymous with "turkey sandwich." When I was growing up, our family ate turkey salad sandwiches lubricated with Miracle Whip on spongy white bread. Here's a healthier version that includes just a little light mayo for flavor.

Turkey Salad

1 cup shredded turkey
1/2 cup sliced grapes
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup chopped celery
1 chopped scallion (green onion)
1/4 cup low-fat plain yogurt
2 tablespoons low-fat mayonnaise
Black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients.  We eat this on mixed greens as a salad, on 7-grain bread as sandwiches, or in whole-wheat tortillas as wraps.

“In Spain, attempting to obtain a chicken salad sandwich, you wind up with a dish whose name, when you look it up in your Spanish-English dictionary, turns out to mean: Eel with big abscess.” ~Dave Barry

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Morning After

Hosting one of the three holidays when my family gets together has definite benefits.  The occasion usually provides the impetus for a thorough housecleaning and a quick clip for any overgrown shrubbery.  The silverplate flatware I inherited from my grandparents gets its annual polishing.  We hurriedly finish any half-done home improvement or decorating projects.  Best of all, though, are the leftover food and wine when the festivities are done.  My family always cooks for an army, and hearty eaters though we are, we never manage to finish everything.  Barry and I have enough goodies in the refrigerator now to keep us going for about a week.

Our first real meal after a gigantic turkey pigout is often brunch the next day.


Mimosas are a classic brunch drink and the perfect way to use up the last of the Thanksgiving champagne.  The only two ingredients are orange juice and champagne; proportions vary according to the mixer's preference.  I like a half and half mixture - just enough champagne to add a little lightness and fizz to the oj.  Best with fresh-squeezed orange juice or a high-quality commercial juice like Simply Orange.

Scrambled Eggs with Giblets

This dish is an adaptation of a recipe from the long-defunct Apartment Life magazine.  Their version used regular bacon and chicken livers.  I use turkey bacon and giblets to cut the overall fat content.

Vegetable oil spray (like PAM)
2 slices turkey bacon
Turkey giblets (liver, gizzard, heart)
4 eggs
Pepper and salt to taste

Spray a frying pan with the vegetable oil and heat on a medium low burner.  Coarsely chop the bacon and giblets.  Add the bacon to the pan.  If you roasted the giblets with the turkey, temporarily set them to one side; if they are raw, add them to the pan with the bacon and saute until almost fully cooked.  Shove to one side of the pan.  Whisk the eggs together in a bowl and pour into the empty side of the frying pan.  Scramble with a fork; when almost done, fold in the bacon and giblets (this is when you add the giblets if they were already cooked) and season to taste with pepper and salt.

Serve with whole-grain toast.

"All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast."  ~John Gunther

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Cool Pumpkin Pie

When I was a child, all our close relatives who lived in eastern South Dakota gathered together for dinner on Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.  Over the past 10 years, many of them, like me, have migrated to the Phoenix area, where we are once again getting together for three major holidays every year.  My two cousins, my sister and I are now rotating host duties, and this was my year for Thanksgiving.  I made the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy and my cousins, my sister, my mother and my aunt brought the rest of the fixings.  Mom did dessert and brought one of my childhood favorites instead of pie.  I think she got the original recipe from the newspaper (the Sioux Falls Argus Leader) about 40 years ago.  This tastes like pumpkin ice cream in a graham cracker crust, and was a refreshing end to dinner on a warm Arizona Thanksgiving.

Pumpkin Scrumptious

1 cup canned pumpkin (or use pumpkin pie filling and omit the spices below)
1 quart vanilla ice cream
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Crust (this part of the recipe from Betty Crocker's Cookbook)
1 3/4 cups crushed graham crackers (about 24 crackers)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup melted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine the crust ingredients.  Press into a 10 inch deep dish pie pan or an 8 x 8 square baking pan.  Bake 15 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool.  Mix together the filling ingredients.  Press into the crust and freeze.  Serve plain or with whipped cream.

“Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie.” ~ Jim Davis

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Why I Believe Hell is Cold

1985.  The 300th anniversary of the births of Bach and Handel.  My boyfriend at the time - a pipe organ builder.  Our vacation for the year - a two-week January bus tour, led by a distinguished German music professor, to many of the historic Dutch and German churches on whose venerable pipe organs Bach or Handel had played.  Most of the sites we visited were in what was then East Germany, so we were privileged to see many things that ordinary Westerners in those days couldn't.  The highlights of the trip included visiting churches still decked out for Christmas with gigantic evergreens wearing real candles (with buckets of water behind the altar, just in case); feasting on stag and wild boar in a mountaintop castle; peering inside the guts of a formerly fabulous organ whose pipes had been stripped of lead in WWI to make bullets; listening to a candlelit concert performed on authentic baroque instruments; and touring the amazing Dresden porcelain museum on one of the few days we didn't spend in a church.  I can still hear our fearless leader's stern disapproval of former tracker organs that had been "electrocuted," and taste the Jaegermeister with which we tried to warm ourselves after long days in totally unheated medieval buildings.  It was one of my best vacations ever.

It was also one of the worst.  I already had a head cold when we left, but I packed a large box of Kleenex, a biggish bag of throat lozenges, and a brand-new bottle of cough syrup.  I confidently expected to be over it within a few days.  Unfortunately, that turned out to be one of the coldest winters in recorded German history.  When the air wasn't filled with falling snow, it was choked with the yellow-gray smoke of the brown coal used for East German power and heat.  The churches were without exception unheated; that water in the buckets behind the altar was usually frozen.  Coming from South Dakota, my boyfriend and I had packed (and wore) heavy coats, hats, scarves, gloves, sweaters, and thermal underwear, but the cold inside those old stone buildings still stabbed the lungs like knives.  By the end of the first week everyone on the trip had a cold and all my supplies were gone. 

Without cough syrup, I did most of my sleeping on the bus; if I tried to lie down, I would cough literally until I threw up.  At one point my boyfriend, who spoke no German, bravely ventured forth and bought a bottle of cough syrup for me (he explained what he wanted by coughing at the pharmacist), but the local stuff contained licorice and honey rather than dextromethrophan and was only marginally effective.  As my tissue supply ran low, I started visiting every pharmacy and drugstore I could find but never located any East German equivalent.  After the Kleenex gave out, I considered using toilet paper, but the locally available variety was like the brown paper towels in public restrooms, and my nose was already raw.  I finally took to using a cotton bandanna I'd intended for a neck scarf, rinsing it out in the evening and hoping it would dry overnight.  The one time we stayed in the same town for more than a single day I skipped the church du jour and huddled at the hotel, hoping for rest and warmth, but the heat in the guest rooms was turned off during the day; I spent several hours in the (relatively warm) hotel restaurant, ordering refills of hot tea and mushroom soup.  My boyfriend later confessed that he was having nightmares about sending me home by air ambulance; fortunately, I was able to tough it out and recovered after a week at home with central heating and good drugs.

The head cold I have now is the reason I've been thinking a lot about that vacation lately.  This Thanksgiving I will once more be thankful for the life-changing things I experienced on the trip - and for the soft tissues, effective cold palliatives, and warm house that will keep my current cold from turning into a life-threatening experience.

"Winter is nature's way of saying, 'Up yours.'"  ~Robert Byrne

Sunday, November 21, 2010

And It's a Wrap

It was a good vacation but we're glad to be back home so we can gear up for Thanksgiving!

Old Town Santa Fe, NM

Ft. Hays, KS

Lake Beckwith picnic area, CO

Hanging out with the grandkids

Henry Doorley Zoo, Omaha, NE

Turquoise Room, La Posada, Winslow, AZ

"Most of American life consists of driving somewhere and then returning home, wondering why the hell you went." ~John Updike

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Eating on a Corner in Winslow, Arizona

Because we were sick, Barry and I drove back from Omaha as quickly as possible.  We had originally intended to spend a day sight-seeing in Oklahoma City, but we just stayed the night and continued on.  We also drove all the way from Albuquerque to Phoenix in one day.  Around noon, though, we did break for lunch at one of our all-time favorite restaurants - The Turquoise Room at La Posada in Winslow, Arizona.

Located between Route 66 and the railroad tracks, La Posada was once a major gateway to the Southwest.  The masterwork of architect Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, La Posada was possibly the most beautiful of the Fred Harvey hotels.  Sadly, it closed in the 1950's and was first converted to office space and later left to quietly deteriorate.

All that changed when Allan Affeldt and his wife Tina Mion bought La Posada in 1997 and started its renovation.  The arched doorways, handmade tilework, and surrounding gardens have returned to their former glory.  Handcrafted lighting fixtures, locally woven textiles, and original works of art lend warmth and color to the interior.  And the restaurant is now owned and operated by John and Patricia Sharpe,committed to fresh, local ingredients and innovative takes on Southwestern cuisine.

Barry and I both started lunch with the signature soup and honey-soaked cornbread.  Half the bowl is filled with a sweet, textured cream of corn soup; the other half is filled with smooth, zesty black bean; and spicy chile cream is drizzled on top.  Both soups are delicious on their own, but the contrast between the two and the added hit from the chile cream is absolutely fabulous.

For his entree, Barry had the churro lamb posole (the lamb is locally-raised, free-range lamb from a rare breed of sheep) and I had the elk and bison piccadillo with sugar pumpkin, butternut squash, and green beans, which had an almost Indian (as in India) flavor.

The service at The Turquoise Room is always friendly, the flowers are fresh, and the music New Age.  It's a little gourmet oasis in the fast-food wasteland of northern Arizona.  We don't get to eat there often, but we always enjoy ourselves when we do.  This time, the food was special enough to make us temporarily forget our fatigue and even our colds.

"Good food depends almost entirely on good ingredients." ~Alice Waters

Friday, November 19, 2010

It's All Happening at the Zoo

As I mentioned in my last post, Barry and I managed to catch his granddaughter's cold in Omaha, and as a result, we spent the next three days racing for home so we could recuperate in peace.  Before we left, though, we spent most of Sunday with Barry's daughter, son-in-law, and grandkids at the wonderful Henry Doorley Zoo.

Because Omaha has fairly severe climate swings, many of the animal habitats are a mixture of indoors and outdoors, and the centerpiece of the zoo is a huge geodesic Desert Dome containing exhibits from African, Australian, and American deserts.  Since we were visiting on the day after a snowfall, we spent most of our time visiting the inside exhibits - specifically, the aquarium and the baby animals.  The aquarium features puffins, penguins, and an amazing variety of fluorescent anemones and exotic seahorses.  This year the zoo also has a baby tiger, a baby gorilla, and quite a few less rare animal infants.

One of the things that makes the Doorley Zoo so great is that it is committed to animal and plant conservation.  They have a number of innovative preservation and reproductive programs to help rare species maintain their toehold on survival.  Barry isn't so sure that life in a zoo is really living, but that baby gorilla looked perfectly content as he wrestled a small plastic crate in his artificial jungle, forever free from the threat of poachers.

"Zoo animals are ambassadors for their cousins in the wild." ~Jack Hanna

Monday, November 15, 2010

Toxic Sludge for Breakfast

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know that Barry and I changed our eating habits for the better about a year ago.  We cut down on fat, sugar, and salt and increased our intake of whole grains, fruits and vegetables.  We both lost a lot of weight and felt healthier than we had in years.  On this trip, though, we've been backsliding.  I dread stepping on the scale when we get back home.

Normally Barry eats whole-grain cereal with low-fat unsweetened yogurt and fresh fruit in the morning.  I have the cereal and fruit with soy milk or substitute whole-grain toast with organic sugar-free peanut butter.  On our vacation, unfortunately, we've been staying at hotels with sausage, fresh waffles, and biscuits and gravy for breakfast.  Barry calls the sausage gravy "toxic sludge," but that hasn't stopped either of us from eating it.  We've also had fast food for lunch a couple of times just because we were driving through areas where nothing else was available.  We had planned to eat low-fat cheese, apples, and whole-grain crackers for our lunches, but the weather has been way too chilly for picnics.

Add in a grandchild suffering from a cold, and both Barry and I feel like crap.  We caught the cold, we have canker sores for the first time in months, and our clothes are starting to get a little tighter.  We've eaten whole-wheat flakes with raisins for breakfast the last two days, but we probably need a couple more weeks of healthy eating to clear the remains of the toxic sludge from our systems.

"McDonalds announced it’s considering a more humane way of slaughtering its animals. You know they fatten them up and then kill them. You know that's the same thing they do to their customers, isn’t it?" ~ Jay Leno

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Getting Comfortable

As I've mentioned before, most of the time I was growing up my family camped our way across the country.  For much of the job-related traveling I did while employed in the insurance industry, I stayed in Marriotts and Hiltons because the companies I worked for held their meetings and seminars there.  Most of my adult vacations were spent outside the country in small inns or bed-and-breakfast places in Europe or the Carribean.  Until this trip, at any rate, I had never stayed at a Comfort Inn.

We stopped at our first Comfort Inn (in Las Vegas, New Mexico) more or less by accident; we reached Las Vegas at sunset and called all the motels listed in our AAA book to see who had openings and good rates.  Although not luxurious, the Comfort Inn was clean, quiet, reasonably priced, and had a refrigerator for our snacks, microwave, and Internet access in our room.  It also had an exercise room and indoor pool for Barry, who works out even on vacation, and a free better-than-Continental breakfast.  Barry was so impressed that he immediately signed up for their Choice Privileges club.  The next night we specifically looked for a Comfort Inn and found one in Colby, Kansas, that boasted the same amenities.  We've stayed the last 3 nights at a Comfort Inn in Omaha; it's a hotel rather than a motel and doesn't have the refrigerator and microwave, but the room is amazingly quiet and fresh chocolate chip cookies, coffee, and hot tea are available around the clock.

We're starting home tomorrow and plan to travel by way of Oklahoma City.  Barry is already plotting all the Comfort Inns along the way.

"Comfort is the only thing our civilization can give us." ~Oscar Wilde

Friday, November 12, 2010

Why We Moved to Arizona

When I was young and fearless, I drove from my home in South Dakota to a business meeting in Minneapolis with a blizzard on my tail.  The snow kept up for two days, after which I set out again for home.  Unfortunately, the day after a snowstorm in the Midwest is usually characterized by high winds that pick up loose snow and create "ground blizzard" conditions.  The roads were terrible, and 3/4 of the way home I skidded on a patch of ice and hit another car head on.  For a couple of years after that I couldn't drive on a two-lane road without flinching every time another vehicle came toward me.  I gladly sold my (replacement) car when I moved to New York.  I lived without a car for 13 years in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and then I moved to the Phoenix area where I've stayed for just over 8 years.  This means I hadn't driven in snow for more than 20 years, and I was hoping not to for another 20.


Today I spent holed up in our Omaha hotel room correcting papers for my online classes (yea, free WiFi!) while Barry and his daughter took her kids to the Omaha Children's Museum.  Afterward they came to the hotel so Barry and Natalia, the older child, could go swimming in the pool.  Then we all piled into Heather's SUV and went to P.F.Chang's for supper.

We were halfway through the meal when we noticed that the rain which had been falling off and on all day had turned into big puffy flakes of snow.  Lots of them.  They came down harder and faster the entire time we were eating.  As soon as we had finished we bundled up the kids, stuffed them into the SUV, and headed for Heather's house, where our poor car was accumulating its very own snowdrift.  We brushed it off, turned on our rear window defroster for the first time since I've owned the car, and started back to the hotel.  Slowly. And. Carefully.

And despite that, I hit a slick spot on a hill and felt the car skid sideways.  I started to steer into the skid but another car was skidding next to me so I just let the skid take us over the curb into an empty (except for snow) parking lot.  Shaken but not damaged, I drove the rest of the way at about 10 mph.

We packed our hats, gloves, boots, and heavy coats in case of snow, but we don't have snow tires or chains.  We are hoping this will all melt over the next couple of days so we will have dry pavement for the trip home.  We are definitely NOT driving back by way of Colorado.

"A lot of people like snow.  I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water."  ~Carl Reiner

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Day of the Buffalo

Yesterday we drove from Colby, Kansas to Omaha via Colorado Springs.  It was a long day of driving, so we broke it up with a short visit to Old Fort Hays in Hays, Ks.  Fort Hays was active for about 25 years in the late 1800's and several of the original buildings have recently been restored with period furnishings and interactive exhibits.  Buffalo Bill Cody worked out of the fort as a buffalo hunter for the Army, and General Custer and his men camped outside the fort for a substantial period of time.  Unlike the forts we've previously visited, Fort Hays never had a stockade; the Kansas plain on which it's located is so flat that the Army assumed they would be able to see an Indian attack coming in plenty of time to mount a counteroffensive.  The main view from the fort now is of the park across the road and its small group of sleepy buffalo.

While actually on the road we listed to the six disks of "The Power of Myth" with Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers, a fascinating comparison of myths and religions from around the world.  Both of us had seen the series air on PBS, but so long ago that much of the information sounded new again.  The six segments are "The Hero's Adventure," "The Message of the Myth," "The First Storytellers," "Sacrifice and Bliss," "Love and the Goddess," and "Masks of Eternity."  We were listening to Campbell's explanation of the practical and mythic significance of the buffalo in Native American culture when we drove past a large herd of actual buffalo grazing in a Kansas pasture.  Although they were a far cry from the vast hordes that roamed the Great Plains two hundred years ago, the sight was a nice reminder that at least one marvelous species of animal has come back from the brink of extinction.

When we finally arrived in Omaha, Barry's almost-three-year-old granddaughter was thrilled to see her "Baba" (her name for him) and "Gamma" (me) even before Barry unpacked the toys he's been stockpiling for her.  We know that we will be objects of adoration for only a few years before preteen indifference kicks in, so we're going to enjoy it while we can.  After the rest of our day, though, I couldn't help feeling that we should have brought her a toy buffalo instead of a Cowardly Lion.

"The first presentation of my show was given in May, 1883, at Omaha, which I had then chosen as my home. From there we made our first summer tour, visiting practically every important city in the country. " ~Buffalo Bill

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Marketing Mozart

Before setting out on our road trip, Barry and I visited our local public library and checked out several "Books on Tape" (actually CDs) to listen to along the way.  We spent most of today with Mozart, read by Alexander Adams.  The book, by Peter Gay, is 163 pages long; the CD version runs to 4 disks and the reading took several hours, but the author's lively prose and Mr. Adams' cultured voice kept the time from dragging.

Mr. Gay spent a good part of the book debunking myths about Mozart and his family.  Mozart's funeral, for instance, was typical of its time and not nearly as bleak as usually depicted.  Mr. Gay also had positive things to say about Mozart's father, but I'm still not convinced that the man who constantly blamed Wolfgang for his mother's death had only his best interests at heart.

We learned several things about Mozart that we had not previously known: that he was a Freemason, that he and his older sister were estranged in their later years, and that he was almost as adept at learning new languages as he was at music.  I also hadn't realized how much Mozart's reputation had dimmed during the 19th and early 20th centuries; while deploring the commercialism surrounding its resurrection, the author commented dryly that Leopold Mozart would have joined right in with the Amadeus-related marketing frenzy.  Unfortunately, that's probably the mental image that will stay with me the longest: a stern Leopold lurking in a souvenir kiosk, surrounded by Mozart T-shirts, plaster busts of the composer in a variety of sizes, and bootleg Amadeus DVDs.

"Because of Mozart, it's all over after seven." ~Wendy Wasserstein 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Two Museums and a Churrasco

Well, today was our second day on the road to Omaha.  Yesterday had a few glitches - our plan to eat a picnic lunch at a park in Flagstaff, for instance, was derailed by a nasty cold wind, and just inside New Mexico we were stopped by a highway patrolman who politely told us that the right lane of the Interstate is for driving and the left lane should only be used for passing.  Fortunately he just gave us a warning, but it's no wonder that by the time we reached Albuquerque Barry had a minor melt-down, insisting that I had misunderstood the directions and driven to the wrong hotel.  (It was the right hotel.)  Everything looked better after dinner, though, and today was wonderful.

This morning we visited the Turquoise Museum in Albuquerque.  It's an unassuming building in a strip mall in Old Town, but inside are gorgeous displays of turquoise ore, carvings, and jewelry, along with samples of polished stones from many different mines and explanations of how the stones are mined and finished.  The hands-on exhibits let us handle both the ore and the polished stones.  High quality turquoise and coral jewelry is also for sale.  I wish I could show you some of the fabulous creations in the museum displays, like the giant turquoise in the shape of George Washington's head, but photography is not allowed.  If I could afford it, I would drape myself in necklaces and bracelets from their stock.

We ate lunch at Tucanos Brazilian Grill.  I used to occasionally eat at Brazilian restaurants in New York, but they were nothing like this.  The restaurant is bright, modern, sophisticated and cheerful, with Brazilian background music and waitpersons in shirts discreetly embroidered with three small toucans.  I especially loved the central column pretending to be a palm tree, with light fixtures disguised as fronds; it sounds a little cheesy, but the execution - in light wood arching over the salad bar - was witty and attractive.  Customers load up on sides from the salad bar and then seat themselves and wait for the roaming staff to serve grilled meats, vegetables, and fruits from steaming metal skewers.  Our favorite dishes were the lobster bisque, grilled sirloin, barbequed wild boar ribs, and grilled pineapple with brown sugar.  I also loved the chicken hearts, but Barry, who was scarred by organ meat disasters as a child, passed on them.

After stuffing ourselves at lunch we probably could have used a nap, but instead we drove to Santa Fe and toured the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum.  The museum rotates the collection and Barry was a little disappointed that only a few of her large flower paintings were on view, but he fell in love with "Beyond" and spent several minutes sitting raptly in front of it.  A less sensitive soul, I thought the painting looked a little like a concrete breakwater in a blue bayou, but I did enjoy the "pelvis" series - paintings of scenery seen through the holes in pelvic bones.  Alas, here also photography was forbidden, so I can't show you the wide range of styles O'Keeffe mastered during the many decades of her productive working life, but the colors were luscious and the assertive shapes balanced on the line between realism and abstraction.  [For more information about Georgia O'Keefe, visit https://www.artsy.net/artist/georgia-okeeffe]

Tonight we're staying in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and we're not sure where we'll be tomorrow.  Originally we had planned to visit Oklahoma City, but since the weather has been so good Barry suggested Denver instead.  Unfortunately, someone he met at the motel pool tonight had just come from Denver and said it was a construction-clogged nightmare, so now he's thinking about Colorado Springs instead.  My only stipulation is that anywhere we stay must have Internet available so that I can stay in touch with my online students - and continue to blog.

"To create one's world in any of the arts takes courage. " ~Georgia O'Keeffe

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Chiquita Banana Parties with Friends

Between correcting finals for one of my online classes and getting ready for the trip that begins tomorrow (oops, I guess that's later today), I haven't really had time to think, let alone blog.  And as if we weren't busy enough, I had not one but two Saturday parties to attend - one at 1:00 and one in the evening - and the time between the two was spent putting together the fruit salad I took to the second party.  At the end of the evening just a few lonely cubes of papaya were left in the bottom of my largest salad bowl, so apparently I wasn't the only one who thought it turned out well.  Here's what I put in it:

Tropical Fresh Fruit Salad

1 pineapple
1 papaya
1 mango
1 orange
2 bananas
2 kiwi fruit
1/2 cup roasted unsalted macadamia nuts
2 Tbl finely chopped candied ginger
2 Tbl Triple Sec

Thinly slice the bananas and kiwis and cube the rest of the fruit.  Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

(I made a big batch because it was a fairly large party.  When I make this for just Barry and me, I cut the amounts in half, leave out the orange and kiwi, and sometimes substitute coconut and/or pecans for the macadamia nuts.  You can also use canned pineapple if you don't feel like tackling a fresh one.)

"A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?" ~Albert Einstein 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Snacking All the Way

Barry and I rarely go anywhere without a stash of emergency food, so we can't possibly drive all the way to Omaha next week without stocking the car with provisions.  What if we're driving across trackless, restaurant-less wastes when lunchtime rolls around?  What if we decide to do a little hiking in scenic areas and need some extra energy?  What if we end up being snowbound on some Colorado back road on the return trip?  We'll need survival rations, right?  Although we usually pack a few commercial granola bars, I'm also mixing a big bag of our own trail mix recipe for snacking along the way.

Fruit and Cereal Trail Mix

1 cup Multi-Grain Cheerios
1/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1/4 cup roasted sunflower seeds
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup dried cherries or cranberries

Seal ingredients in a plastic container and shake until thoroughly mixed.

Of course, thinking about that potential Colorado blizzard - maybe we need two bags....

"Food is an important part of a balanced diet."  ~Fran Lebowitz

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

On the Road Again

When I was in grade school, my parents and another couple with small children bought a travel trailer together, and for several years we rattled around the country in it during summer vacations.  It was nothing like the gigantic, comfortable motorhomes that people buy now.  The propane stove was a tiny, two-burner hotplate and the "refrigerator" was just an ice box.  The miniature sink had a pump rather than faucets, and the trailer had no electrical outlets or bathroom facilities.  In addition, one child always had to sleep on a stretcher-like hammock hanging over our parents' bunk - talk about a romance killer for them!  Still, we had great time eating strange food, touring museums, and exploring exotic new scenery.  We never stayed in a big city because Dad hated driving in metropolitan areas with the trailer bobbing and weaving behind the station wagon, but we visited so many of the nation's national parks that between those trips and my later travels I've seen every state except Alaska.  I've had itchy feet and a love of travel since our first trip in that beat-up little tin can on wheels.

Since Barry and I have been together we've never taken a road trip longer than one day's drive.  This is partly because he doesn't care for driving and partly because his older daughter works for an airline, so he can fly practically anywhere for free as long as he's willing to go standby.  On Sunday, however, we're loading up the car and heading for Omaha to visit (and start spoiling) his new granddaughter.  The drive should take 3-4 days in each direction and I'm pretty excited about it.  We're staying over one day in Oklahoma City, which I've never seen, and if the weather stays good we'll be coming home by way of the beautiful Rockies.

Despite his usual dislike for planning ahead, Barry went to AAA for the maps and guide books we used to plot the route, and he researched and made reservations at the hotels where we're going to stay.  Together we planned the sights we're going to see along the way and the stuff we're going to pack to keep the ride from being too boring.  We also agreed, for everyone's sake, to stay in a comfortable hotel once we reach our destination rather than camping out in Barry's daughter's basement.  This doesn't mean we won't at some point be tired and touchy, but on the whole, this should be a fun trip.

I'm actually thinking this could be better than my childhood vacations; after all, we'll be staying in places with private bathrooms, and no children will be suspended over our bed!
image of a tomato with a hobo bundle

"The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page."  ~St. Augustine

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Better than Pizza

I've mentioned before that my mother had to learn to cook on her own, so she didn't really know how to teach my sister and me what she knew.  She went back to work when we were in junior high, leaving us responsible for making lunch for ourselves and our father.  We took turns following the instructions on whatever recipe card she left us for the day; some of the results were successful, and some of them were not.  We learned the hard way what happens when the heat is too high under the cream of mushroom soup, or too low under the hash brown potatoes.  Poor Dad ate what we put before him and suffered in silence while we came to grips with the culinary arts.  Eventually, though, we could successfully interpret practically any recipe set before us.

A friend of mine grew up under much worse conditions.  Her parents could barely cook and didn't teach her much more than how to order delivery pizza and reheat leftovers in the microwave.  After she married her husband was the family chef; unfortunately, the couple is now separating and my friend and her daughter may be doomed to eat bad takeout until the end of time.  At the risk of possibly insulting her, I bought her an apartment-warming gift this weekend: Better Homes and Gardens New Junior Cook Book.

This book is designed to teach children how to cook.  It starts with the basics - how to measure ingredients,  the names of cooking utensils, the meaning of culinary terms, and safety tips.  The recipes seem to have been chosen for ease of preparation and child appeal; they include pancakes, smoothies, sandwiches, tacos, salads and brownies.  The instructions are clearly written and include utensil lists and estimated preparation times.  The pages are also illustrated with clever cartoons and appetizing food photos.

This great little book makes learning to cook look like fun.  It's the book I wish I'd had when I was in junior high.  I hope it will help my friend and her daughter pick up some kitchen survival skills as painlessly as possible.

"Bad cooks - and the utter lack of reason in the kitchen - have delayed human development longest and impaired it most." ~Friedrich Nietzsche

Monday, November 1, 2010

Mirror, Mirror, on the Ball

This week the 200th episode of "Dancing with the Stars" will air, and we will definitely be watching it.

We started following the show at the beginning of Season 5 because we're amateur ballroom dancers.  We weren't particularly interested in the celebrities; as one comedian said, in some seasons the title of the show could well be "Dancing with the Vaguely Familiar."  We initially admired the choreography and the exhibitions by the pros.  Over time, though, we've been sucked in by the characteristic that makes "Dancing with the Stars" different from the vast majority of competition shows: the "nice" factor.

If you haven't ever seen the program, it superficially resembles many other reality contest shows.  Each week another contestant and his or her partner are eliminated until the finale, when one couple is selected as the winners of the "coveted mirror ball trophy."  The twist is that the dancers are scored partly by a panel of professional judges and partly by votes from the television audience.  The judges evaluate the celebrities' performance quality and dancing technique; the audience seems to vote for the dancers they find most likable.

Early on we noticed that whiners and stars who heaped abuse on their professional partners didn't have much longevity, regardless of how well they danced.  As time has gone by and the fans have become more fond and (presumably) more protective of the most personable pros, one week of surly or insulting behavior by a celebrity can spell abrupt elimination.  The professional judges are also generally supportive rather than vitriolic a la Simon Cowell.  This is one show where nice guys definitely don't finish last.

Of course, someone is choosing and editing all the rehearsal clips we see, so some of the "nice" stars may very well be just as unpleasant in real life as the ones whose misbehavior the audience gets to view, but we enjoy watching a program that at least seems to be rewarding hard work and positive attitude rather than naked greed and unbridled aggression.  On the dance floor, good sportsmanship is apparently still alive and well.

"One man practicing good sportsmanship is far better than 50 others preaching it."  ~Knute Rockne