Tuesday, December 27, 2011

How Does It Feel To Be Fifteen?

No sooner do we get Christmas over with in this house than we must start thinking about a certain eldest child's birthday. We move from Christmas wrap and Christmas tags to birthday wrap and birthday tags in one fell swoop. I know it's very unMartha-ish of me to say it, let alone DO it, but often the birthday wrapping paper around here IS Christmas wrap.

Fortunately this year I can thank Rampant Commercial Consumerism (in the guise of a car advert that ran simultaneously on television and newsprint) for providing me with some fairly glitzy vehicle wrapping paper. They slipped a whole sheet of the stuff inside the newspaper right before Christmas. It's actually quite nice wrap, too.

This year marks a new direction in the Birthday Cake Department. Since I am Chief Designer I get a lot of weird orders. Some suggestion I nix right off the bat (LEGO men that stand, anything over 18", too much black icing) and some I have to guide in slightly less sugary directions, but for the most part the kids can choose any kind of cake they want. I've made cakes that look like ferries, cakes that look like LEGO bricks, cakes with trains on them, and even cakes that look like Totoro, Oms (Miyazaki's Nausicaa) or hamburgers.

This year my instructions were to make a tall cake. A very tall cake. A cake at least two feet high. Which, if you are a careful reader, you will have noted is a direct contravening of the rules (no cake over 18"). That rule is there for a reason. Actually, three reasons:

1) the inside pieces totally lose out when it comes to icing.
2) the Chief Designer doesn't like to do dowels or supports on cakes. A cake over 12" high will require dowels or supports.
3) I don't have a knife that will cut a 24" cake. And I'm not sure I want to have one.

This year, instead of a 24" cake, I convinced the birthday boy to go for a DIY sundae, because it would combine brownies, ice cream, marshmallows, whipped cream, chocolate, butterscotch, and strawberry sauces, and lots of candy in one go. I even took him to the bulk store and let him pick the candy. Well, perhaps pick is not the operative word...let's just say that I guided his hand fairly firmly past the Lindt Christmas truffles and towards the M&Ms and gummies. I'm what I like to call Cheaply Benevolent.

Happily, it all worked out. Right now the birthday boy and his pals are - there's no other word for it - gorging themselves on their creations. There's lots of laughter, choking, dribbles, spills, crunching, and jostling - a perfect mix if you're a teen-age boy.

How does it feel to be fifteen? I don't remember, but I liked the answer one of his friends had:

"I don't know! How does it feel to be 40?" (much laughter ensues)

Such a wit.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

If you've seen the December cover of the MSL magazine, you'll know what's going on here; if you haven't, well, you won't know what the heck is going on here. Never mind, go have some more eggnog.

Happy Christmas from all of us here at Greenridge Chronicles, including Angry Bird.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve

I wake up in the dark, with the cat licking my hand and purring in the way he does. His purr sounds like he had a particularly bad case of pneumonia when he was a kitten; it's crackly and uneven and wheezy. If he were one of the kids I'd be inclined to say "get a drink of water for heaven's sakes.." or worry about incipient bronchitis, but since he's a slightly neurotic cat I thump his tummy instead, hoping to get him to shift a little and lower the decibels.

He doesn't. Instead he crawls up the bed until he's lying right in my face, which means his butt is right in Richard's face. He purrs louder, rumbling like a poorly maintained dump truck. Richard is sleeping so he doesn't know that Toffee's bottom is in his face, but the idea of it, combined with his usual reaction when Toffee does this ("Toffee, I do not find the sight of your anal glands very attractive"), causes me to start giggling. Toffee is pleased and starts licking my shoulder vigorously. Together we manage to wake Richard up. Richard is not pleased. He does not find Toffee's early morning wheeze amusing.

It is Christmas Eve. And this is the start of my day.

I don't know what Christmas is like where you live, but where I live Christmas is a big deal: stores close early on Christmas Eve, with signs posted that say things like "Our staff is having a Christmas party this afternoon so we're closing early! We reopen December 27th. Have a Merry Christmas!" Yes, you read that right - things actually shut down for more than a day. When I first moved back here from six years in California I remember feeling quite indignant ("What? I have to think ahead about how much milk I have in the fridge? How LAME is that!"), but the feeling gradually wore off. Canada is quietly and fiercely proud of its parochialism, and six years in the heady wilds of pre-recession California made me forget briefly that I was, for better or for worse, not an American.

We have spent much of the week on our usual Christmas pursuits: making things that smell good, baking things that taste good, crafting things that look good, and getting together, for better or for worse, with relatives and friends. Some of these get togethers are pleasant and we all look forward to them; some we simply endure, like we do the flu, hoping they will end swiftly and without too much trauma. This last instance is why we now have a Post-it note stuck to the answering machine, with various telephone numbers written on it; this is my version of the Do Not Answer list.

"It's _____!" shrieks FDPG (who lives to patrol the telephone) "Do I answer it?"

"NO!!!!" I shriek back, fear and horror gripping my heart like cold death.

Sigh. Christmas.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Countdown Has Officially Begun

The excitement of Christmas is progressing here - to the point that even the LEGO men are running around doing silly things. Whoever heard of skiing on wooden tabletops?

Only 5 days until Christmas! Whoo hooo!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Wacky Christmas Gift Ideas

Look, it's a K-Tel sunset!

That's what I think every time I see a shaft of sunlight piercing the sky, particularly if it's early morning shafts or end of the day shafts. They have an unearthly radiance about them that screams I AM GOD LOOK AT ME. In a nice way, of course (I always picture God as a kindly old man with nice manners). I realize this sounds weird, but there it is. Every time I think: "that looks like a religious record cover."

Everyone seems to be blogging about their favourite gift ideas right now, and as I was trying to pilfer some ideas get inspiration I came across some, well, I'll use the politest word I can - odd ideas. First off, this came in my Twelve Days of Cookies email from the American Food Network (you can sign up for it here). Every day I get a Christmas cookie recipe from a famous TV cook. The recipes have names like Throw Down Blondies and Paula's Snowflakes and they all seem to involve triple amounts of everything. While I've never actually made any of these cookies I can't seem to resist reading about them. There is something rather compelling about all that excess.

Anyhow, I noticed in one of the sidebars that someone named Bobby Deen had a recipe up for Double Chocolate-Walnut Meringue Cookies. While my first thought was that any adult with the name Bobby Deen should really be singing religious tunes instead of baking (with my photo as his album cover) I couldn't help but be ever so slightly scandalized that he called his items meringue cookies when anyone could see that they were macarons. As in French macarons - more specifically Parisian macarons. Google the word - and if you see a hit from Ladurée click on it. Oh heck, let me make it easier...click on this link here. See what I mean? It's not a meringue cookie, it's a macaron, although in a pinch I will accept the term macaroon; I don't want to give the idea that I am a zealot about this, but this recipe makes me bristle with indignation. If we're not careful they'll be doing things like changing the name of Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone to something like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

Oh wait, they already did.

Next up: Fruit necklaces: $35 each. Someone has taken slices of real fruit (in this case a starfruit) and dipped them in glitter resin. These are part of the Holiday Gifts Under $50 series. I don't know about you, but wearing a piece of dried fruit around my neck sounds weird. I worry slightly that a bird might come and start pecking at me, or that someone will mistake me for a weird survivalist who carries emergency rations around with them.

Mr & Mrs Muse salt and pepper shakers: For the person unclear on the concept of the muse, evidently, because instead of a statue of a naked Greek goddess or two, this set consists of two smooth white heads, one moustachioed (evidently the Mr.) and one with lips (and the Mrs.) They will, we are told, keep our table "fun" and "playful." It's also $48. Hmmm. I don't know about you, but this screams fun and playful to me. Not.

Here's another in the Bad Idea File: Word Appetizer Dishes. "If you are what you eat" the ad announces, "then you should act how you serve." So, for $25, you too can act SHARE, LAUGH, and PARTY. Just don't ask me how to accomplish this. The idea of having serving dishes that say things like PARTY worries me somewhat. I am uncomfortably reminded of those wooden signs several of my outlying relatives have sitting on their cupboards, signs announcing things like FAMILY and LAUGHTER and LOVE LIVES HERE. I would, I can confidently say, visibly cringe if anyone bought me either these dishes or one of those wooden signs. Some of us thrive on cheese, some of thrive on irony. Give me irony every time.

Finally (I can only handle so much distressing consumerism at a time), there is the 3-in-1 Breakfast Maker. Yes, Gentle Reader, such a thing really does exist. It's here. It will make coffee, toast and fry and egg, all in one handy, space-saving unit. It's cheap and it looks it: $43.99. Gosh, can we elevate the art of cooking any higher? Given this object, I think not.

Now, I have to go. In the time it took to write this I have another Food Network cookie email, and I really must check it out.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Shades of Life

I was lying in bed this morning, trying to decide whether I really wanted to get up and go to the bathroom, braving the cold of the morning and more than likely waking myself up enough to prevent a return to sleep, but instead turned on my little bedside radio and put the headphones on, hoping that NPR's Morning Edition would distract me sufficiently.

Which did two things: drove all bathroom thoughts from my mind AND woke me up. Funny how these things happen.

Where were you when John Lennon died? Do you remember? Were you even born yet? I was. I was in Guatemala, adventuring as only the young and truly clueless can; the fact that I might need to learn another language to traverse South America only struck me when I crossed the border into Mexico and realized that I didn't understand anyone. For a brief moment I wondered whether the words TACO, SERAPE, and SOMBRERO, along with a lot of hand waving and facial expressions, might be enough to propel me around South America. I was a fan of Italian films and they always seemed to manage on few words and a lot of drama, surely I could too? This thought lasted about, ooohh, maybe three weeks before I realized that I needed more words and less gestures.

So there I was, four months later, working in a vegetarian restaurant as a cook, a fact which still mildly astounds me, given that until that month I hadn't ever cooked anything more than toast. I think I must have radiated a certain culinary confidence though, because I was also Head Cook. The fact that the owner of the restaurant spent all his time out backing smoking pot might have had something to do with my position: not only was he even more clueless than I was, he also operated on the premise that, because I could read The Vegetarian Epicure in the original English, I must be able to cook.

At this point I feel I should do a Burl Ives snowman shrug and say something like "Ah, youth."

This situation lasted about three weeks, then, one night, when I was walking down the main drag of the little town where the restaurant was (a hot spot on the Gringo Trail), contemplating the curious fact that every restaurant seemed to serve exactly the same menu: omelettes and fresh fruit, when I heard a tinny little radio playing Across the Universe. Until that point I knew who the Beatles were, but I wasn't a knowledgable fan. We were separated by a bit of a generation gulf. They were my brother's music. I liked the John and Yoko pairing, and in fact I still think Let Me Count The Ways is one of the more beautiful songs I know, but I didn't know much Beatles music. But there was that radio, playing that song. In a Twitterless, Facebookless world: news spread by (untyped) word of mouth back then. Soon all the gringo tourists were standing in the middle of the street, shocked at the news that John Lennon had been shot and was dead. I think I heard Across The Universe at least a hundred times that week, it was in constant rotation on all the radio stations.

So that's where I was when John Lennon was shot: growing up in Central America. I still remember it clearly all these years later.

Sounds of laughter, shades of life
Are ringing through my opened ears
Inciting and inviting me.
Limitless undying love, which
Shines around me like a million suns,
It calls me on and on across the universe

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Winter Skies & Christmas Books

Doesn't this picture —
— remind you of this author's work?

It does me (it's also a lovely inspiring Christmas read).

The Hunt Is On!

The Haggis Hunt, that is. More specifically: Farquhar's Revenge. Plenty more haggi where that came from!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Who Doesn't Need A Beak Warmer?

Just the thing for the Angry Bird on your Christmas list!

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Not So Dark Horse

If you're familiar with the film Love Actually you might know something of the obsession that afflicts Britain this time each year: the coveted place wherein a musical single, usually performed by some good-looking youthful quartet, tops the charts at Christmas time. Playing an aging rock star intent on a comeback of sorts, Bill Nighy muses, in one of the more sublime moments of the film, during a radio interview, "Wouldn't it be great if number one this Christmas wasn't some smug teenager but an old ex-heroin addict searching for a comeback at any price?" Wonder of wonders (spoilers!), he achieves his Christmas number one, in spite of himself.

This Christmas another group is attempting much the same sort of takeover for the Christmas spot: the Military Wives choir. If you've seen this series you will know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, well, you've missed some seriously brilliant television and I advise you to get yourself to it immediately. I'm a fervently devoted fan of Gareth Malone, the boyish choirmaster who likes to take on decidedly unmusical situations, so when I saw his latest series - The Choir: Military Wives - I watched with some interest. It was every bit as riveting as his other efforts; there is something charming about a man who believes, in this age of endless tweeting and too-much-information-via-Facebook, that the simple act of singing can change people's lives for the better.

This single was compiled from snippets of the letters to and from these military wives, women whose husbands were largely in Afghanistan, and put to music. They performed it in November at the Royal Albert Hall, then recorded it professionally in a studio, as you can see yourself in this YouTube clip. If you're as soppy as me, you'll need at least one kleenex. Then make a little wish that this group can get their number one single this Christmas, just like Billy did on Love Actually.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

You Know What They Say—

When life hands you lemons, make marmalade out of them.

(I like to twist up these sayings a bit)

Here lie the fruits of my 2 year old lemon trees, along with a couple of sour mandarins from the sour mandarin tree I acquired in the summer. There were enough lemons to make 5 pints of marmalade. If you come to visit I'll be happy to dispense toast and marmalade.