Thursday, December 18, 2014

The great pumpkin

Help, home invasion! My house has been seized by a pumpkin and it has made its barracks here.

This was a jack-o-lantern sized behemoth that my brother passed on to me. That is a picture above that I snapped of it on the cutting board. I tried to place it among various objects so you could marvel at its girth. Observe the apple to the left of it. That will give you an idea.

Big Jack made it through Thanksgiving but I detected a small soft spot, and so into the oven it went.

Now there are big wedges of it everywhere. I have about 50 pounds of pumpkin!

There is a lot you can do with pumpkin besides make pie. I plan to expound on that when, after finishing my book on Leonard Pennario, I write the Pumpkin Cookbook.

I have made gratins and lasagnas that call for you to mash it up with cheese. There is a wonderful recipe in the Moosewood Cookbook for Chilean Squash that is terrific with pumpkin. I made it for Thanksgiving once and everyone loved it. No one guessed it was pumpkin. It was like something you would get in a Mexican restaurant. You can also make pumpkin spice cookies and pumpkin cupcakes and other goodies. 

The big jack o'lantern is a marvelous thing.

I'll never be hungry again!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Tolkien's take on a cat

Last night when a bunch of us went Christmas caroling, first we gathered in the gracious home of my friends George and Anne Apfel in Williamsville. And we played with the Apfels' tiger kitten and we all talked about our cats, including our Jeoffry, pictured above.

Well, everyone talked about cats except our friend Ryan, who is not a cat owner. Three cheers for Ryan, who puts up with us!

Today I found this poem. Someone had posted it as a comment to a story the Atlantic Monthly ran about why cats will always be a little bit wild.

The poem is by J.R.R. Tolkien. I never really got into "The Lord of the Rings" but I have a deep affinity for Tolkien because he loved the Tridentine Latin Mass the way I do (and the way Leonard Pennario did). When the Mass turned to English, Tolkien would always insist on giving the responses in Latin. Requiescat in pace, dear poet. Next time we sing "Adeste Fideles" it will be for you.

And now the poem:

"Cat" by J. R. R. Tolkien

The fat cat on the mat
may seem to dream
of nice mice that suffice
for him, or cream;
but he free, maybe,
walks in thought
unbowed, proud, where loud
roared and fought
his kin, lean and slim,
or deep in den
in the East feasted on beasts
and tender men.
The giant lion with iron
claw in paw,
and huge ruthless tooth
in gory jaw;
the pard dark-starred,
fleet upon feet,
that oft soft from aloft
leaps upon his meat
where woods loom in gloom --
far now they be,
fierce and free,
and tamed is he;
but fat cat on the mat
kept as a pet
he does not forget.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Take a bough

Shame, shame! I had to bring work home this weekend. I was behind!

But this evening when I felt I had made some progress I let myself put up my tree. It is way early, I know, for traditionally minded folks like me. Some of my close friends will admonish me. I will have to keep my fingers crossed and hope they are pacified with some eggnog. Or perhaps some Bailey's Irish Cream which, who knows, I just might make again this season.

Either that or I could just genuinely apologize and say I could not help it. I am not alone! I know a lot of traddies just like myself and most of them have put their trees up. Especially the ones with kids. It just cannot be helped.

Technically the Christmas season does not begin until Christmas Eve but that horse is out of the barn and it cannot be put back in overnight.

So, my tree. It is the Martha Stewart white fake tree I got from Howard. I realize taking it out of the box that it has become a bit yellowed. It is because I have always put it in the window. Now I see you are not supposed to put it in direct sunlight. Of course I did not bother reading the instructions any of the other years. So that is another horse that is out of the barn.

Who cares, after dark it still looks great. And that is when you enjoy your tree, in the evening. And I do enjoy it. Leonard Pennario loved Christmas and so do I.

And so does Jeoffry! He was into this tree idea from the beginning, as you can see from that picture. I texted that picture to my sister Margie who got a kick out of his orange ears. Margie is so sweet and she recognizes artistic greatness when she sees it.

I can tell you exactly how many lights there are on my tree. There are 600!

My friend Ryan gave me a wonderful present last year, three sets of LED lights made especially for fake white trees. Other years, I used old strings of lights with dark green strings. Ryan got these lights marked down after Christmas at Kmart. There are 200 lights in a pack and he gave me three sets so I used all of them, every last light. You cannot see my tree for the lights!

It is hard to see but the tree is topped with a blue light. I arranged the light string that way in tribute to Kmart, because of Kmart's Blue Light Special.

Right now Jeoffry and the tree are content to co-exist.

I hope they stay that way!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The orphan organist

My life being this chaos, today I was weeding through stuff trying to think what I can throw out to make room, eventually, for the Christmas tree. My Cat Jeoffry was following me around looking alarmed. Nothing ever gets thrown out in this house!

And so far it looks as if not a lot will this time around, either. For instance I found these four albums by, and I quote, "Jesse Crawford Organ and Chimes."

That is Jesse Crawford up above. Is anyone else lucky enough to have these? I have four. I must have inherited them from some friend. And I think I have overlooked them until now. What I have been missing! These are great.

Jesse Crawford was born in 1895 and his mother put him in an orphanage because she was so poor. From those down-home beginnings came greatness. He taught himself music and became the Leonard Pennario of silent movie organists, playing on the Mighty Wurlitzer at New York's Paramount Theater.

What else can I tell you about Jesse Crawford?  He was the most popular organist of the early 20th century and listening to him you can tell why.

He is married four times which sounds about par for a celebrated theater organist.

As usual the most comprehensive biography of Jesse Crawford may be found at Find a Grave. Oh, how sweet... someone left a message on the page saying: "You must be playing on that grand organ in heaven, for all the angels to sing."

He is also playing in my living room, for Jeoffry and me. He is a great organist. So creative. Often he sees a Christmas carol totally different from how you see it.

The chimes are played by someone called Botticelli. That sounds like another story for another day.

Take it, Mr. Crawford!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Adventure with cauliflower wings

This has been one adventurous week in the kitchen and today I scaled new heights of hipness.

I made cauliflower chicken wings!

You know, Buffalo wings that are actually cauliflower. Cauliflower is the hip new vegetable and I have always loved it, and this idea has been going around the Internet. I had this really good blue cheese from Lorigo's and I decided this recipe had to be tried.

There are a bunch of recipes floating around. But I noticed that a lot of them are simply roasted cauliflower that you dip in blue cheese. That is nothing new. I roast cauliflower all the time and sure, you always coat it with a little bit of olive oil and whatever else. I wanted something more radical.

So I found this recipe on Big Oven, this app I have. That is not that recipe pictured up above! Up above is a picture I got off this veggie gal's Web log. Mine did not look that perfect. It also was not her recipe. Here is what I did:

You mix in a big bowl: one cup flour, one tablespoon garlic powder, one teaspoon paprika and one cup water. Like paste, ick, except it's really not that bad, it's more like a loose bread dough.

Then, gotta love this, "Add salt and pepper to taste." Thanks a heap, you know? I hate when recipes do this. How am I supposed to know how much to add? I am not going to be tasting this before I cook it. So I threw in a teaspoon or something of salt.

You separate a cauli into florets and then you roll them in the bowl with this goo. This took some doing. The substance did not want to stick. But I finally got it pretty well distributed.

Then you are supposed to spread the florets on a cooking sheet covered with foil and cooking spray. I do not buy cooking spray. It is unappetizing and the cans gum up and besides I have enough expenses. So I buttered the foil lightly.

Then you roast for 15 minutes at 400 degrees. Turn the florets over and roast for another 15.

Meanwhile they say mix a cup of hot sauce with a tablespoon of butter. After that second 15 minutes, you pour the hot sauce mixture over the cauliflower and mix it up again. Yeah right as Leonard Pennario used to say. It is a job. Then you bake it for another 5 or 10 minutes.

End result, as we say here in Buffalo:

I enjoyed them!

I did overcook them. Somehow they wound up in the oven for an hour while I took a shower and improvised on Mozart and worked on the book. But I did not regret the long baking time. It is a funny thing with cauliflower, I know it should be crunchy for this recipes purposes but I do not like it crunchy. I want it cooked. The floury coating added some crunch.

If you deep-fried the cauliflower that would be closer to the real thing. Like Tempura. But we are not going to do that, are we.

One thing makes this recipe a hit.

Who among us Buffalonians would not happily eat cardboard if it were dipped in blue cheese and served up with carrot and celery sticks?

I know I would!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A historic choice for the Buffalo Mass Mob

It is exciting that the Buffalo Mass Mob is going to be mobbing Holy Angels. At 10:30 a.m. Dec. 7. I just marked my calendar.

I assume Holy Angels was chosen because it was Leonard Pennario's parish when he was a boy, up until when his family moved to Los Angeles. Hmmm, that is something. He went from Holy Angels to The Angels! Anyway Holy Angels was where he started to play the piano, because the nun who taught his kindergarten class saw how gifted he was. And when he was 19 and appeared with the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall, that nun was there!

So there is that. And I have my family connection too. In the 1940s and '50s and '60s, my Great Uncle Andrew was pastor of Holy Angels. There is a portrait of him in the social hall.

Here is a picture of the inside of the church.

I think Holy Angels was part of how Pennario and I became friends. The first time we talked on the phone, we talked about the church and got it sorted out, our family connections with Holy Angels and who was pastor when. When Pennario was there the pastor was Father Stanton.

When Leonard came here to Buffalo he wanted to see Holy Angels again and so we went there

One more thing about Holy Angels, as I just wrote on the Mass Mob Facebook page, it is the only church I have ever encountered that has heated seats. There are radiators under the pews! At least there were last time I checked. I hope they are still there.

We could use them this winter!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Project Fruitcake

It is time to get those fruitcakes going! And so I have gone looking for them on Martha Stewart's web site. This is a job for Martha Stewart. You cannot go looking for fruitcakes in Cooking Light magazine or any other place devoted to healthy eating. Plus Cooking Light gets a little skewed when it comes to desserts. They are obsessed by cutting fat so do that they amp up the sugar. End result, as we say here in Buffalo: You must go to Martha.

I was drawn to "Moist and Boozy Fruitcake With Rum and Port."

Just the ingredient list for any fruitcake makes you dizzy. A pound of raisins, a pound of dried currants, a pound of dried cherries, a pound of butter, a pound of, ahem, dried plums ... and I am not even getting into the nuts or the citrus peel or anything. I must needs by oranges and grapefruit so I can candy my own peel. I did that once before and it is easy and cheap and better than if you bought it prepared.

The above picture comes off the Internet and it underestimates the things you will need. By the way what is with the Welch's grape juice? Who posted this picture, some Southern Baptist? Grape juice is not going to preserve your fruitcake. You need that booze.

When I did fruitcakes before it was really fun. As I wrote before that was pre-Leonard Pennario when I had all the time in the world. Now I have no time. But you do have to spend an hour or so a day cooking and I can wedge my fruitcake project into that.

Homemade fruitcakes are really delicious and lighter than that stuff you buy that it is like a brick. Imagine a wonderful rum cake. That is what they are like.

At least I have the rum.

Stir-Up Sunday is past, but today can be Stir-Up Monday!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Stirring it up

As I said, Stir-Up Sunday was fast approaching. It approached today!

You must stir something up on Stir-Up Sunday and so my niece Barbara and my nephew Georgie and I stirred up Oatmeal Cookies.

It was funny because when they came over, I announced I had fresh-baked oatmeal cookies. I had baked them this morning when I rolled out of bed so I could bring them to church coffee hour but I had baked extra. And they say, "Oh, we don't like oatmeal cookies."

And I think, OK, great.

So when we began talking about baking more cookies, this being Stir-Up Sunday, I asked them what kind we should make.

And they said, "Oatmeal cookies!"

It took me a couple of minutes to see what had happened. They had sampled the cookies I had made and immediately rethought their position. They had a new obsession: oatmeal cookies. They wanted to make a fresh batch! So I said yes.

My brother George, their dad, was sharing their appreciation. He said, "I don't know when the last time was I had an oatmeal cookie."

Even when I was a kid, I remember thinking that chocolate chip cookies had wrongly eclipsed every other kind of cookie. I mean, make no mistake, chocolate chip cookies are great. But other kinds of cookies are great too. Oatmeal cookies are one. Comparing them to chocolate chip cookies is like comparing the proverbial apples and oranges. They are separate but equal.

And oatmeal cookies with vanilla and brown sugar, and cloves and cinnamon and allspice and nutmeg... they are like Leonard Pennario's piano playing, one taste and you are overwhelmed. I always loved all those spices as a little girl. Of course I am German. Speaking of which these cookies also have black pepper in them. I gave Barbara the choice of adding it or not and she added it. I am so proud of our Barbara. She is such a sophisticated eater!

Above is a portrait of Barbara with a tray of our masterpieces. We frosted the oatmeal cookies!

She is such a ham.

They do look kind of professional, you know? Well, they did once we arranged them in a tin.

If you have not yet baked anything for Stir-Up Sunday you still have time. And you do not have to complete the project! The real meaning of Stir-Up Sunday is, it is your signal to start those fruitcakes and rum balls and other boozy desserts you plan on serving up at Christmas.

Start now!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Cookies for a crowd

I love an excuse to bake, as seen in the picture above, and that is why God created the church coffee hour.

Today I made Cranberry Oatmeal Bars. Hahahaha... the cookbook opens right to the page because I spilled so much on it. I was half asleep this morning making these cookies! I was drinking my coffee and throwing them together. And could I have found a more complicated recipe? It had a million ingredients. Well, it would not be too bad under normal circumstances. But when you just wake up...

As is usual with me I gamely made substitutions. It called for sour cream and I used vanilla yogurt. It wanted orange rind and I used lemon rind. And who has dried cranberries? I used raisins.

Why do recipes always call for things you do not have? This is Cooking Light from 2008.

Then there was the matter of the lightly beaten egg white. I studied the recipe, wondering about that. Cooking Light does funny things just to shave off something like one calorie off every cookie. Was that egg white in there because it needed that specific texture, or did they just want to omit the yolk to save a couple of calories?

I was doubling the recipe so after adding the white I beat the yolk and added it, too.

Which leads me to one gripe. Does anyone notice how recent cookie recipes only make something like two dozen? A couple of weeks ago I was making cookies for church coffee hour under the same circumstances, i.e., early in the morning when I am still asleep. I go through all this trouble and I noticed only at the last minute that it made two dozen.

I said out loud: "Two dozen??"

Why is this? In the old Joy of Cooking all the recipes make at least 100 cookies. Don't people these days think you take cookies to parties and luncheons? Don't they think you take them to work? Don't they think you have any friends? And even if I am baking just for me I want quantity.

If I had just noticed that paltry yield I could have tripled the recipe or something but I was too trusting. Anyway, so that was where I was today, multiplying and dividing and doing fractions in my head. You have to have the mind of Leonard Pennario just to make a batch of cookies.

End result, though, the cookies came out great. The kids were trying to get at them before I could even serve them. Then they vanished so fast I never got to try them.

At least I can assume they were good!

Friday, November 14, 2014

My Cat Jeoffry

We have named our cat My Cat Jeoffry because of this British poem. That is Jeoffry pictured above in a portrait by Howard.

My father read me this poem when I was little. And recently when I was at church my friend Alenka, who is from London and is the authoress ...

... of the witty Web log Turkeys on the Sunlounger, mentioned it. That was when I remembered the poem.

"I will consider my cat Jeoffry." That is how it starts.

Then this poet, his name is Christopher Smart, he continues in the style of a liturgy. Every line begins with "For." Off the top of my head I can quote a few.

"For he is of the Tribe of Tiger."
"For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance."
"For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying."

Something like that. And a line I love runs something like: "For God spoke to Moses concerning the cats on the occasion of the Exodus from Egypt."

I actually looked in the Bible to see if I could find God saying something concerning the cats! I could not. But I love the idea. And surely He did.

When we first got our cat he would get nutzed and start trying to scratch my ankles or something and I would scoop him up and say to him: 

"For he is of the Tribe of Tiger!"

And another line from the poem:

"For every house is incomplete without him!"

And it would calm him immediately because he would just be so startled. Who is this nut who adopted me? First she sits around for hours every night working on this book on this concert pianist Leonard Pennario and now what in the world is she talking about?

The poem was written in the 18th century so it is quaint. It is also religious. But it is such a tender portrait of a cat. And cats have not changed one bit over hundreds and hundreds of years. He even talks about the cat playing with a cork. Our cat plays with corks. Luckily a wine drinker lives in this house and so those are those timeless cat toys lying around.

I sort of wanted to call the cat Jeoffry but Howard had naming rights because it is his birthday cat. Last week we were talking about it was time to give the cat a name. I mentioned Jeoffry.

Howard said: "I call it Cat. Or My Cat. It seems to recognize that."

Then it clicked. 

I said, "Howard, that's the name of the poem, My Cat Jeoffry!"

And immediately it was clear that is his name. He can be Jeoffry or My Cat Jeoffry or Cat or My Cat.

Here is the poem "My Cat Jeoffry." By Christopher Smart (1722 - 1771). 

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having considered God and himself he will consider his neighbor.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day’s work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against the adversary. 
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness when God tells him he’s a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him, and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel 
            from Egypt.
For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For the dexterity of his defense is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest. 
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion. 
For he is of the Lord’s poor, and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually--Poor Jeoffry!
            poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better. 
For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.
For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.
For he is docile and can learn certain things.
For he can sit up with gravity, which is patience upon approbation.
For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
For he can jump over a stick, which is patience upon proof positive.
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master’s bosom.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
For the former is afraid of detection. 
For the latter refuses the charge.
For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
For he killed the Icneumon rat, very pernicious by land.
For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God’s light about him both wax and fire.
For the electrical fire is the spiritual substance which God sends from heaven to sustain the 
            bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, though he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.

It is unfinished. 

I think those of us lucky enough to have cats may feel free to add to it.