Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Survey Says...

Some time ago--a year? Longer?--I took some online questionnaire that was supposed to tell me something about myself. I don't remember what. I don't remember anything except one question.

If you had to be one, would you prefer to be cold or hungry?

I can't answer it. I don't know.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Okay, It IS a Nice Monitor

Bob didn't actually get the hint that he ought to do something really nice, you know, surprise me or something, to avoid much snarkiness about monitors. (Although if he wants to make that up to me, he could start thinking now.) Unless you include taking me to Fry's to get computer speakers.

I feel the same way about computer equipment that I do about mops and vacuum cleaners. I need the stuff, but unless there is something spectacular about it, it isn't very exciting. There isn't much spectacular about computer speakers, but like a mop, now I have them.

(snark snark snark)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Internet as Passive Aggressive Tool

This is my new computer. It is sitting next to my desk where I am typing this on my laptop, which is old, much abused, beginning to cook (the fan works, the sucker is just old) and has always had a screen so dark that people commented on it. The new computer is a scratch and dent but according to the specs, it should do everything but toast my English muffin in the morning.

At the moment, it is doing nothing. Because I ordered the computer one day. But I ordered the monitor the NEXT day.

Did I foresee this, this sitting around waiting forlornly for the new monitor? Yes, I did. So why didn't I order the monitor at the same time? It's Bob's fault.


Years ago I told Bob that if he ever got a bigger, better monitor than me, it would jeopardize our marriage. And for a year or two, all was fine. But then he upgraded his system and got a flat screen monitor while I continued with my old CRT. Those were rocky times in the household. We weathered the storm and our marriage survived, if not stronger, well, pretty much adequate to the daily tasks of sitting in separate offices IMing each other because we couldn't be bothered to actually get up and walk next door.

He has had a couple of flat screens since then. I used laptops. A laptop is easier to take to a coffee shop than a desktop, and much easier to cart through airports. On the other hand, my job often required me to have multiple documents open at the same time--spreadsheets, design docs, text docs, all integrated. On a little laptop screen, they are really never all open at the same time. I thought covetously of having TWO monitors. And hauled the damn laptop through airport security. (It got to the point where the TSA guy checking my ticket and ID on Monday morning recognized me.)

When it came time to buy this computer, I decided I was traveling less. I could keep the laptop in reserve for travel. And I would buy a better monitor than Bob.

Bob has a 22 inch monitor. And being an engineer, he thoroughly researched and it's the best damn moderately priced 22 inch available. I have a small desk. A 24 inch is just going to be too big. And I can't really justify buying a $1000 monitor. I look at graphics a lot, but I don't create them. Still I resisted for a full twenty four hours, hoping against hope that I would figure out a way to get a BETTER monitor than Bob.

I didn't. I bought the exact same monitor Bob has. And I admit, I am secretly seething. (At least for some definition of 'secret' that involves posting on the internet. Let's say perhaps I am passive-aggressively 'secretly seething'.) More importantly, I am sitting here while my awesome new computer remains inaccessible, quietly sitting next to my desk, exuding newness, speed, computing power and a moderately impressive video card.

I'm not really blaming Bob. I know it is my own folly in trying to one-up an engineer in matters of geekitude. It's my own fault.

Not Bob's.

Not at all.

You hear that Bob?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


nov16twothousandeight from Stewardess Lollipop on Vimeo.

My kid is the hipster looking dude with the neat coat and the (ick) cigarette in this extraordinarily cool video shot by friends of his. And him.

From Juice the Blog

Monday, November 17, 2008

Liquid Gold

Skimmed, strained, poured into containers, stacked in the freezer.

Taking Stock

I figure two gallons and a half of stock costs me about $15 and about six hours of time. Not all of that time is spent messing with the stock--it simmers for four hours or more. But I'm telling you it's hard to get much done the way the house smells while it's cooking.

Is it good stock? Of course. I make it with chicken wings and thighs (and backs if I've saved some from cooking chicken myself) a couple of beef shanks (the marrow from the bones gives it additional body) carrots, onions and celery, black peppercorns, and tomato paste. It is to the box 'o stock as a really good hamburger is to McDonald's. I make it nearly salt free so I can control the amount of salt in whatever I use it in.

And yet, most of the time, I don't know that it makes enough difference to a dish to justify all the fussing, the straining, the pouring, the cleaning of the stock pot. I don't make my own tomato sauce for spaghetti. I can, but frankly, most of the time, my pasta sauce comes out of a jar. I don't make my own pasta most of the time. Again, I can, but it's just Bob and me. Granted, I will have this stock through the holidays. It will moisten my Thanksgiving stuffing, flavor may ox tail ragu for a Christmas party, make my weekly soup richer and better. But I could make a freeze tomato sauce, too.

I just like to make this stuff. I like the way it smells. I like the way I feel when I use my stock in something. I like the way the poor dogs mope around the house, driven to distraction my the scent. I like the way the house will smell when Bob comes home tonight. I just like it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cooking as Solace

Roast Chicken and Winter Vegetables

2 whole chicken legs (legs and thighs)
2 whole chicken breasts with skin and bone, split
1 cup Extra Virgin olive oil
four sprigs of rosemary (more if you like rosemary) chopped
2 cups of parsnips, cut in large batonnet (2” by ¾” by ½” roughly)
2 cups butternut squash, peeled and chopped.
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cups crimini or shitake onions

Cooking a meal for company starts early, often the day before. For this dish, which serves four, I marinate my chicken in ½ cup of olive oil, kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, and half the chopped rosemary. I can be pretty profligate with the chopped rosemary. In Austin, where I live, rosemary is not some dainty herb, it’s a bush by my side gate that I brush when I open the gate, releasing that piney scent.

I have checked on the internet this morning, blogs of my friends, not even email yet, when I read that a friend has died, just the day before. She is a writer and a mother and a teacher. She has had a chronic form of cancer for years. She has a novel coming out. I like her a great deal, although I did not get to spend very much time with her. We were busy people, living on the opposite side of town. Rosemary is for remembrance. Is it better that she had the novel coming out, that she had finished it? It has to be, doesn’t it? As I get older I am less and less convinced of the sacredness of art. It seems small consolation to me. Better than nothing, I suppose. Because of course, part of what I grieve for is the writing I won’t read. The writing already lost to chemo treatments. And now the writing just lost to death.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

I throw the parsnips and the squash in cold water and bring it to a boil, boiling just four minutes and draining. They aren’t done, but they’re started enough that they’ll finish in the oven. I am making up this recipe. I don’t know when I learned enough to know I should parboil the vegetables but it is a comfort to fall into the rhythm of this dish. To think of the tasks along a line that project manager call ‘critical path.’ The critical path is the event or chain of events that take the longest. The length of prep and cooking time for this dish is a minimum of seven hours. I don’t do anything most of that time, but I want the chicken to marinate in the olive oil for at least six hours. Over night would be good, then the salt would be drawing the moisture out of the chicken parts and the oil would be sealing that process like a second skin and eventually the moisture would reabsorb carrying the essential oils of the rosemary and the pepper.

Things take time. Novels take time. Raising children takes time. I don’t know what a life is supposed to be shaped like. When I was young, I was tough and actually worried that there was something wrong with me that I didn’t really grieve. Of course, the people in my life who died were grandparents. I didn’t dislike my grandparents, but they were ancient (my grandfather married late and I was a late child so my grandparents were in their seventies when I was born.) I wasn’t tough so much as self-absorbed. People who died didn’t have a whole lot of space in my interior life, the interior life that eventually drove me, terrified, to New York City. I had an interior narrative and frankly, people like grandparents were spear carriers, their drama already done. I assumed that old people didn’t care about stuff anymore. That being old meant that they knew they were finished. I assumed that when someone who was old died, it was different. They were old. That people were sad, but it was expected and therefore, nobody missed them that much. I couldn’t articulate this, but frankly, everyone knew my grandparents were going to die. They were in their 80’s for god’s sake. I didn’t miss them. They weren’t that kind of grandparents.

I have a beautiful La Crueset roaster, but for this dish, I just use a big ugly metal roaster that my sister gave to me. It’s no longer flat on the bottom (it’s been plunked across two burners at too many Christmas’s to make gravy, the metal warping in the uneven heat.)

I arrange my marinated chicken in the middle of the roaster, leaving a couple of inches around the edge. Put the parboiled squash and parsnips, mushrooms, and chopped onions in a bowl and put in the other ½ cup olive oil, salt, pepper, and the remaining chopped rosemary.

Then I call someone to make sure that she’s heard about the death. When I don’t get her I send an email. I find a message from the deceased’s husband thanking me for the brief note I sent him and asking me to make sure a couple of people have heard. I am touched and astounded. I cannot imagine writing notes to people the day after my husband dies. I imagine feeding the dogs in a haze of disbelief and fury and terror. I call another friend and not only has she heard but she sent me an email, which I missed.

It’s what people do after death. We call each other, like touching someone briefly on the back of the hand. ‘I heard,’ we say. ‘I don’t have many details.’ ‘How are you?’ ‘How are the kids?’ ‘I have company coming,’ I tell Sarah. ‘I’m throwing a dinner party.’ ‘Oh good,’ she says, ‘you’ll make people happy.’

No one who is coming for dinner tonight knew the woman who died. They are in Austin for a conference and things are going extraordinarily well. I have plates with goat cheese and a French double cream, and a plate with tiny curls of prosciutto. I have a bottle of sparkling wine, because I think sparkling wine is fun. I pile the vegetables around the chicken and put it in the oven along with the potatoes. I finish the salad of tart greens with prosciutto, parmesan cheese, and toasted pine nuts tossed with a warm balsamic vinaigrette.

My house fills with excited, tired, hungry people. It is dark outside, the windows reflect the lamps back in. The table is set. I cook the chicken half an hour, don’t feel it is done, cook for fifteen minutes more and then run it under the broiler to crisp the skin.

I imagine the family of my friend. Her husband, also a friend. The two boys. This strange day where they eat in a strange way. The aftermath of the tsunami. Dinner in the gutted out ruins. Grief is so self-absorbing. So selfish. So lonely. So unavoidable.

The house smells of comfort. Of solace. I pile the chicken in the middle of a platter and pile the vegetables around it. I start to take it to the dining table and Mike, one of my guests, reaches across the breakfast bar. ‘Let me take that,’ he says. ‘It smells wonderful.’

(This chicken is good just the way it is, but if I wasn’t serving a salad dressed with balsamic vinegar, I would have taken store bought balsamic vinegar, reduced two cups to one, added a tablespoon of brown sugar to the syrup, and dribbled it across the whole dish to just raise it to something a little more.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Company & Sunday Dinner

This Sunday, I had company over from out of town. Although it is still in the 70's in the day in Austin, the temperature drops at night. It gets dark by six.

So I made comfort food--roast chicken with winter vegetables (parsnips, butternut squash, pumpkin, mushrooms and onions with rosemary.) Roasted potatoes, and a salad of tart greens with prosciutto and parmesan and warm balsamic vinaigrette. Okay, it was comfort food ala Northern Italy (the chicken was marinated in olive oil and with chopped rosemary from my own plants.)

The company was wonderful. The group from the ELI Foundation was smart, interesting and lively. There is something glittering about a dinner party in winter, when the world outside is dark and the light focuses everybody on the table and the company.

The leftover chicken and winter vegetables went in a pot with chicken stock and some good tomato paste the next morning and I'll be eating ice box chicken soup for the rest of the week, which is a nice way to remember a wonderful evening.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Who Doesn't Love...

Monday, November 03, 2008

Pigeons on the grass, alas

Last week I was down in Zilker Park at the Barton Springs Pool. It was 72 degrees. The area has wireless, believe it or not. All afternoon I sat with the sound of the steady splash of people swimming laps in the spring.

They sell pigeon and duck food. The pigeons are fat and tame, and crowded fearlessly closer and closer until finally they ate out of my hand. They pressed their smooth breasts against the curves of my fingers and only pinched a bit.