Friday, July 31, 2009

The slug from Elba

It is no pleasure to write this but the grossest thing has happened. I found a slug on my kitchen counter!

These are the wages of buying organic produce, remember, from that farm in Elba. That slug came all the way from Elba!

Christmas, why don't they just use pesticides?

I would rather they use pesticides than I find a slug on my kitchen counter. You should have seen this slug. It was sitting there squirming and curling up and then stretching out and then curling up again. I was so horrified all I could do for a minute was stand there and stare. Then I had the presence of mind to take the picture above.

In its defense it least the slug from Elba did not yell: "Omigod, your butt is hanging out!"

But it did everything else you would think a slug would do.

In situations like this I always remember the worm that turned up in San Diego and grossed out me and Leonard Pennario. I cannot even imagine telling him about this slug. Which, I would have told him, if he were still around. He was tremendous and sympathetic in situations like that.

Because of that worm story I think of Pennario when gross things happen to me and it makes me smile. Sometimes it makes me smile anyway. I did not do much smiling in that slug situation.

What if I awoke and a schuft were sitting on my counter?

What if an oik were there? Oik is one of my favorite new words. My friend Rob loves it too. Whenever we are together we use the word oik.

Mayhap I should count my blessings.

Things could have been a lot worse.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Visitors to Buffalo

Lastnight I slept like the dead and now I feel so much better. Above is a picture Howard took of me sleeping. You could not wake me!

Wow, I was so out of it yesterday.

It is just that I was up all night the night before with my teeth and my JFK jaw.

But yesterday was a great day because I was visited by my old roommate Daryle and his wife, Lisa. They are visiting from Florida where they dwell among the alligators.

Howard and I have a nefarious goal and that is to goad Daryle and Lisa into moving up here to Buffalo for good. Already they are talking about maybe getting "a second home" up here so that is a start. When people start yakking about a second home here you know that Buffalo is getting to them.

Daryle is from Buffalo originally and Lisa is from Long Island. What are they doing in Florida anyway? Their roots there cannot be very deep. That is what Howard and I said later as we were assessing the progress we had made over the course of the evening.

Plus in Buffalo you do not have to dwell among alligators. That is something to consider.

What do we have here? Garden snakes? I think I have seen maybe two in my life.

Note to out-of-towners: In Buffalo it is practically a spectator sport to try to get former Buffalonians to move back home. It is like Catholics trying to get lapsed Catholics to come home to the Church. We are evangelists.

When I met Leonard Pennario he was 83 but I remember my brother George bringing it up, asking why Pennario did not return to Buffalo to live. "He would love it here," George said.

That is the way Buffalonians are!

Daryle and Lisa are the best tourists and appreciative of everything so it is a pleasure to knock around Buffalo with them. Lisa is always taking pictures and both of them are very outgoing so because of that I got to meet the people who are renovating this fire station on Elmwood that is near Goldman Motors. They are a father/son team named Ed and Lou and they are going to be using the firehouse for their furniture restoration business.

We were talking about Ed and Lou later.

"How Buffalo are they?" Lisa said. "They come out of the firehouse and one of them is wearing a Bills hat and the other has on a Canisius T-shirt."

Ha, ha! It is true!

Yesterday I was too out of it to take pictures but here is a picture I took on Sunday. Ed and Lou's firehouse is in the middle. The white building behind it is World Auto Parts. And to the left is the world famous Pierce-Arrow plant!

Daryle and I have known each other since he was 15 and I was 18. Here is how good a friend he is. He and Lisa are staying at the Lord Amherst because that is where Pennario used to stay.

Perhaps they can get the Lord Amherst to put up a plaque.

If anyone could do it, they could!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


See Ted Kennedy in the picture above?

That is me since my tooth surgery yesterday!

I have that Ted Kennedy thing going on. Suddenly I have that Kennedy jaw! It has gotten a little better since I woke up but still.

I have that JFK thing going on too.

This all happened out in West Seneca where, not to gross anyone out, I was given a part of someone else's bone. The periodontist who was doing the surgery said it was freeze dried.

"Who does it come from?" I asked when he took his fingers out of my mouth.

He said: "From a donated cadaver."

This is like Body Worlds!

I did not have to go to Body Worlds at all as it turns out. Body Worlds has come to me!

But I have to say, I do not mind the idea of this freeze-dried bit of someone else. If I use the phrase "every bone in my body" it now includes someone else's. That is something to think about.

The perio's name is Howard which I like because men named Howard inspire confidence. They are salt of the earth, these Howards. Leonards are a whole different ball game as I learned with Leonard Pennario. You get tangled with them and you never know what will happen to you.

With Howards you know.

I knew I would look like Ted Kennedy and now I do!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The St. Christopher situation

The other day after I talked about my adventures in that rainstorm, people kept getting in touch with me on Facebook saying they thought St. Christopher, above, was no longer a saint.

What do they think he is, the guy on the next barstool?

Do they think he lies around on the couch, like Ron Moss?

I did some research because as long as St. Christopher had come through for me I thought I should come through for him. And here is what I have found. A while ago the Catholic Church looked into which saints had basis mostly in legend, and St. Christopher was found to be one. So his feast day was taken off the universal calendar. I imagine the church biggies have to be sticklers for stuff like this because it has to be clear that saints are matters of actual fact.

But although St. Christopher is off the official calendar, localities are free to include him on their calendars, and belief in St. Christopher is allowed and encouraged. You can read the Catholic take on St. Christopher here.

Here is more proof that St. Christopher is a real honest-to-God saint. (Note: If you click on that link, watch out. It is loud!)

No. 1, if he were not a saint, St. Christopher's Church on Niagara Falls Boulevard would have to be renamed. And that is a big church so you would hear about it. Remember when Jim Kelly got married there? My brother George and I were laughing because we loved imagining everyone in that big stylish football wedding having to deal with all that Niagara Falls Boulevard traffic.

No. 2, if St. Christopher was not a saint, not only would St. Christopher's Church have to be renamed but Fourteen Holy Helpers would have to become Thirteen Holy Helpers.

St. Christopher is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers!

Note to out-of-towners: This is a Buffalo thing. There is a Fourteen Holy Helpers parish in Gardenville. In school, whenever we heard their name on the loudspeaker, we would crack up. There were two schools that would crack us up. Fourteen Holy Helpers was one and the other was Precious Blood.

I never knew who the Fourteen Holy Helpers were but now I have found out. They are saints with practical uses who were especially big in German-speaking countries. The devotion to them apparently began in the Rhineland in the 14th century during the time of the Black Death. Hence the Fourteen Holy Helpers church in a part of Buffalo settled by Germans.

Here is what Wikipedia says:

Saint Christopher and Saint Giles were invoked against the plague itself. Saint Denis was prayed to for relief from headache, Saint Blaise for ills of the throat, Saint Elmo, for abdominal maladies, Saint Barbara for fever, and Saint Vitus against epilepsy. Saint Pantaleon was the patron of physicians, Saint Cyriacus invoked against temptation on the deathbed, and Saints Christopher, Barbara, and Catherine for protection against a sudden and unprovided-for death. Saint Giles was prayed to for a good confession, and Saint Eustace as healer of family troubles. Domestic animals were also attacked by the plague, and so Saints George, Elmo, Pantaleon, and Vitus were invoked for their protection. Saint Margaret of Antioch is the patron of safe childbirth.[1]

And this is the best! There are no other Fourteen Holy Helpers churches anywhere in the United States! I Googled Fourteen Holy Helpers and ours is the only one that comes up. They have Fourteen Holy Helpers churches in Germany, Austria, Italy and Hungary but none other one here.

That is good. Here in Buffalo we can use all the holy help we can get. I personally could use a patron saint of biographers to get me through my book on Leonard Pennario. That would sure be useful.

Here is one more thing in case anyone still doubts that St. Christopher is real and that he is actively involved in getting us safely to work and back. The day he got me through that storm, that was his feast day! Here I was writing about it, and I had no idea.

How big a coincidence is that?

No wonder he was right there!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Patio Daddy-O

Yesterday Howard and I went to Papa Jake's where the most hilarious thing happened. Note to out-of-towners: Papa Jake's is a tavern on the edge of town where Buffalo borders Black Rock.

We are sitting outside on the patio which, Papa Jake's patio is anything but bucolic. There are sirens, muffler-less wrecks, boom cars, you name it. Some guys from a softball team are also on the patio, drinking beer. All you can hear is the "F" bomb.

These girls came out and were sitting with the guys. Then one of them turns to Howard.

"Were you at the softball game?" she asks.

Note to out-of-towners: It is business as usual to talk to strangers on the patio of Papa Jake's. It is almost a guarantee that you will be addressed at some point by someone at another table. Sometimes they will even help themselves to your food! We have had that experience.

Anyway, Howard said no, he had not been at the softball game.

"Oh," the girl said. "I was just thinking you were. 'Cause someone else there was wearing the same shirt you have on."

Now, I am dying, hearing this. Because Howard as you can see in the picture above was wearing his "Ron Moss For Mayor" T-shirt. Ron Moss is his cousin as I have explained from time to time. About four years ago he ran for mayor. And we had these shirts made up.

Here is a picture of Moss wearing one of the shirts on the campaign trail.

But, I mean, we only had maybe three of them made. And this girl saw one of them at the softball game! She sounded completely certain and there is no mistaking that shirt. So someone there must have been wearing one.

But the greatest thing about it was what Howard did. He shrugged and turned back to his food.

What are the odds of a stranger recognizing the Ron Moss shirt and saying she just saw one? It is like the time I went to Tonawanda and those people were playing that record of Leonard Pennario's. Wow, that gave me a shiver. If you click on his name you will hear the waltz he was playing.

But this woman who saw the Ron Moss shirt, Howard just blows her off. It is unbelievable, how he handled that!

Then he just goes back to eating as if nothing had happened. He does not even say anything to me!

"Howard," I whispered, "I can't believe someone else was wearing a Moss shirt!"

"Well," he said, "he has a lot of supporters."

That is greatness.

I do not know how he does it.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Midnight on the 290

Above is my victorious entry for the Most Brooding Photograph of Buffalo in Summer 2009 contest. It is a keen competition because this has been a most brooding summer.

To take my winning picture I had to climb to the top of the tower of St. Ann's Church. But do not worry. It was worth it!

Can you believe those clouds?

That reminds me of Artpark lastnight. What a trip that was!

All day long after writing that thing yesterday about rain I was telling myself it would not be that bad. It is just Lewiston, I said. It is not Nebraska or the Yukon.

But it turned out it was that bad!

Things started out well. When my mom and I go to Artpark we pack a picnic. I made a green bean salad for the picnic out of the green beans I had just picked up from the farm and as I was steaming the beans, the rain stopped and the sun came out. Good, good!

Then we drove to Artpark and the sun stayed out. Miraculous!

We dined at a picnic table overlooking the gorge.

That is so Buffalo! This world-class tourist-attraction gorge and it is two feet from your toes. Through the trees if you look closely you can see the deep green water. Once in a catalog I saw a color identified as Niagara and it was just that deep blue green.

Then the concert was unbelievable. It was so great. It was Laura Aikin, this soprano from Clarence, with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, and she is a tremendous singer and she just gave the concert her all, which was the important thing.

So now I am relaxing and rejoicing.

I am a winner, I am saying.

We are winners!

But then came the ride home. And right on cue, the rain whipped in.


I will say this for myself: I never lost my cool or snapped or became impatient. But I sure felt like it! My mother was making things worse by praying. I mean, I was fine with one Hail Mary and one prayer to St. Christopher but after that I am through, I am out. That is what I told Howard later when I could look back on things and laugh.

Isn't this a darling statue of St. Christopher? It is in the Cologne Cathedral.

That statue makes St. Christopher look like something out of the Brothers Grimm. Legend has it St. Christopher was a giant. Here he is looking Spanish. This painting is in a gallery in Madrid.

All these images of St. Christopher have such a tenderness. Here is one other one I like.

To be honest I was saying my own private prayers to St. Christopher as the drive proceeded. Because it was not pretty. On the Youngmann it was raining so hard I could not see. What are you going to do? The wipers were going as fast as they could go and I could not pull over and stop and wait because I had this deadline.

So I was driving and trying to follow the guardrail at the side of the road. I was humming "Una voce poco fa" from "The Barber of Seville" to steady my nerves. That was one of the arias Laura Aikin had sung.

"Get off at Millersport," my mother suggested. But I do not know that exit and what, I was going to drive around in this storm and be lost? So I said I would continue to Main Street. But meanwhile there was another exit in between, the exit for Harlem and Sheridan. I am thinking, oh, I forgot about this exit. And my heart is sinking.

It is always something, I am thinking.

Finally we reached the longed for, the hallowed Main Street exit. Swish, swish, swish go the windshield wipers. We pass the Lord Amherst where Leonard Pennario used to stay all the time and I pull onto my mom's street.

And the rain stopped.

Like that!

So my mother was able to disembark and go into the house without getting a drop on her. I was standing in the driveway still shaking.

Then I got back in the car and drove home without incident and I made it with still 18 minutes to go before my deadline.

I had to self-medicate with a glass of Tisdale. Thank you, Tisdale!

Thank you, St. Christopher!

Saturday, July 25, 2009


I am planning another trip to Artpark with my mom and hoping it does not rain.

Normally I do not care about rain even when we get it all the time. I can even admire pictures of rain! The picture above came in this email someone sent me so I flagrantly ripped it off for my Web log.

Here is another picture of rain I like. In the picture I originally saw the raindrops were moving in the air but zut alors, I could not figure out how to transfer that and make the raindrops work.

Here is a picture Van Gogh painted of rain.

Van Gogh was good at painting rain but not as good as Camille Pissarro.

Last summer every time I went to Artpark with my mom it rained. I got so fed up one day, remember, that I said to God, "Thanks a heap." Because I had been praying for the rain to stop! I was in that situation when I went to "Tannhauser" with Leonard Pennario, too. I remember praying and praying. Click on that Pennario link and you will hear Chopin's "Raindrop" prelude! That is the first one you will hear.

We are getting strange days when the sun comes out but the rain continues. Monet knew weather like that.

In our family we believe Pissarro was a better painter than Monet.

Perhaps when I go to Artpark I will make some sketches of the rain.

You know it will be there!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Pie in the sky

It is pathetic when you do not know your neighbors and instead you meet them on Facebook! That is what is happening to me.

When I moved onto the street where I am now I kept thinking someone would come over with a pie. Isn't that what happens when you move onto a new street? But no one came over with a pie.

My friend Maria thought I was crazy.

"No one does that any more," she said.

She was right!

And I do not do it either.

I have tried. I can bake pie, remember? That is a blueberry pie I made pictured above. Funny, that pretty flowered pie server was a present from my friend Maria whom I just mentioned.

But the pie transaction, I am finding, is not that easy. Either I have not had time, with Leonard Pennario and everything, or else something makes it difficult. For instance, next door, when they moved in I yearned to bring over a pie. And I did bring over something. But zut alors! Their doorbell did not work.

I believe it still does not work. Now that complicates everything!

I know my next-door neighbors. I am not so pathetic that I do not. But I am not the type to call in the door, "Hey, anybody home?" So it is just awkward. You have to wait for just the right moment when you happen to see one of them and something happens just to have come out of the oven. And that moment never arrives.

Facebook is much more convenient.

This guy just got in touch with me and it ends up he lives down the block! We will have to get together and drink beer, I told him.

Then again, mayhap we will just talk on Facebook.

It is so much easier!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Buying the farm

What with all this rain I am going to be getting bad news from the farm. I do the CSA thing. CSA stands for, ahem, Community Supported Agriculture. This is the third summer I have done it.

My farm is Porter Farms and they are in Elba. Ha, ha! Able was I ere I saw Elba! That is what Napoleon said when he was exiled to the island of Elba. It is a palindrome which means it reads the same backward as forward.

Just like in Napoleon's case the news from Elba is usually bad. The farm is always sending me bulletins along with my vegetables.

"You might wonder why you are getting no snow peas," they might write. "That is because our snow peas were all eaten by grubs."

They did not exactly write that but that is like something they might write!

"We are trying our best to recover from the heavy rains," they wrote last week, not quite in those words but I am too lazy to go downstairs and check. They then went on about pumping out the fields and battling bugs and weeds.

I love my CSA. The vegetables are yummy and last week they even threw in two kohlrabi, one of which is pictured above. Every week I look forward to picking up my bag of vegetables.

But do they have to be so honest with me?

I do not like all this bad news!

It is like my old brokerage account that used to drive me crazy. I had a few CDs that I put into a mutual fund. What a mistake that was. I just am not a gambler! Leonard Pennario and I used to talk about that. He was not a gambler either. Some people are and some people are not. I was thinking of that just now working on my book.

There is that parable Christ tells about how the landowner goes away on a trip and leaves his money with three servants. Two of them invest the money and when the master comes home, they are able to give him his money back with dividends.

The third servant was afraid to invest it and just buries it in a hole in the ground. He gives that speech to the master about, "I know your life is hard and you reap where you did not sow ... So I buried your money in the ground and here it is back."

And the master gets mad and says, cast him out to wail and grind his teeth. That is a line I love and I am always looking for opportunities to use it.

Here is a picture of the third servant being punished. Zut alors!

I love how in the background you have the Roman centurion heading downstairs to get in on the action. Not good!

But I have a confession to make: I sympathize with that third servant.

That would be me!

Howard would be one of the first two servants. He is fearless and canny and he would be out there investing and playing the stock market and doubling the money. The master would love him! But I would be the one who was chicken and buried the money in the ground.

It is not fun investing in anything!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A turkey in the pot

Just now I took this big turkey breast and heaved it into the Crock pot along with white wine and a bay leaf and rosemary and garlic. I got the recipe out of the New Betty Crocker Crockery Cookbook.

Above is a picture of the operation which, trust me, was arduous!

The Betty Crocker New Crockery Cookbook is one of those cookbooks I picked up at the library for a buck.

New, haha.

It is from 1987!

There are things I like about old cookbooks.

They call for dried herbs. They do not do as Martha Stewart does and assume that you have fresh herbs always at your beck and call.

They do not call for fresh ginger. I hate trying to grate or slice fresh ginger.

They do not say, "Serve with hot cooked rice." They assume you know to cook the rice.

Yes, it was a good year, 1987.

That is the year when Leonard Pennario played the Rachmaninoff Second at Carnegie Hall, I forget for what occasion except Wynton Marsalis ...

... was also on the bill, playing something. It was for the benefit of some kind of youth arts program.

My brother George and I had this experience with Wynton Marsalis. It was years ago and we were backstage kicking around somewhere and we wanted his autograph. And George hands him this little golf pencil -- you know, the kind of little pencil you use when you are playing mini golf or marking down bowling scores.

And Wynton goes, "Don't do this to me, man!"

As I remember he did not sign. But we did not care whether he did or not. We were too busy laughing. Now we still say that. "Don't do this to me, man!" And we think of Wynton Marsalis.

It is funny how stuff like this sticks with you. I could email that to George right now. "Don't do this to me, man," I might write. And he would know what I meant!

How did I get here?

What am I doing, talking about Leonard Pennario when I should be talking turkey? I need to get a life.

Alas, I do have a life.

It is just that it is somebody else's!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The aristocrats

You know that part in "Gone With The Wind" when the South has lost the Civil War, but Rhett Butler joins up anyway, just to be there for the last days?

That is the way I am with my garden!

I get in only late in the summer, after the war is lost!

Above is a picture of just a little slice of it that I took last week. But it has improved since then! That is because I was out pulling up bishop's weed. A plus side to all this rain is that the weeds are loosened and you can pull them out of the ground. Normally I can pull nothing out of the ground where I live thanks to the notorious North Buffalo clay.

Yesterday I was looking at the garden thinking, it does not look too bad!

I have some day lilies in the background, a cloud of orange day lilies which, I do have some memory of putting them in a couple of years ago. They were planned! And there are some hardy bright yellow Rudbeckia, I seem to remember they were called.

This was part of a design plan I had. Notice, I actually planned something! I wanted a sunset garden such as was had by that famous gardener Vita Sackville-West. See, I know my gardeners.

Here is a picture of Vita Sackville-West.

Vita Sackville-West was the cousin of the eminent music critic Edward Sackville-West, 5th Baron Sackville, who eloquently recognized the stature of Leonard Pennario. You were wondering how this post would lead to Pennario! So was I. This is how!

"What we really need, however, is the Capitol LP (available in the U.S.A.) of "Gaspard de la Nuit" made by Leonard Pennario, whose recital at the Wigmore Hall the other day left me breathless with excitement and inconsolable that I could not hear him play through the entire corpus of piano music, week after rapturous week." That is the excellent Edward Sackville-West writing restlessly in Gramophone Magazine in the 1950s.

Remember when I was in Gramophone Magazine? Baron Sackville-West and I, we are of like mind.

Zut alors, they keep photos of Edward Sackville-West under lock and key! Every time I try to rip one off from another Web site I am thwarted and scolded. So here is a picture of his bust.

And here is a sketch.

And now, if you will excuse me, the weeds are calling.

Forward into battle!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Bring in da funk

Last night to my friend Gary's for dinner and a bunch of us sat around drinking Gary's homemade wine and listening to George Clinton. That is a picture of George Clinton above. I could not resist the opportunity to put him on the Web log!

What about Clinton's Ditch? That is what they used to call the Erie Canal. Here is a picture of the part of the Erie Canal that ran through Buffalo.

Everyone in Buffalo is in a George Clinton mood because on Thursday he played that big free concert in Lafayette Square. Everyone but me is in the mood, that is. I was not at that concert! I was on Hertel Avenue building cheese towers.

I was the least hip person at Gary's because I know naught about George Clinton. They were telling me that his stage act includes someone called Devoid of Funk, do I have that right?

"That's me," I said. "Devoid of Funk."

Then Gary's friend Herb was trying to cheer me up and saying don't worry, if you play piano, you must have funk, because nobody plays the piano without having funk. Herb is black which is why he reached out to me on this. It was so nice of him.

I felt so square!

Plus my mind kept returning to my sourdough bread.

Yesterday after I wrote that breezy post, my Project Sourdough turned sour. Here is how bad things got. I got on the 'Net and Googled "How to make sourdough bread." We must bring back the Victorian apostrophe, I say. From now on it is 'Net, 'cello and 'phone.

That bread I was baking, I ran into real problems!

Number one it was supposed to take 8-10 hours to rise. After two hours it was up to the top of the bowl. What to do?? I wrote that on Facebook to my friend Garaud. He is the sourdough Meister. He is the Leonard Pennario ...

... of sourdough!

But Garaud did not immediately reply and that was just as well seeing that when he did reply, what he wrote was: "You're on your own, kiddo." So what I did, I decided it was time to get the dough out of the bowl and onto the baking tray.

I had dreams of getting it on to a baking stone. You dust the tray with cornmeal and slide the risen loaf onto the hot stone, is the idea.

Ahahahahahaaa!! I could not even get it out of the bowl!

How in the world are you supposed to invert the bowl and expect the dough to slide out? It will not! That is the last time I am trying that. And do not tell me I should have floured or oiled it, blah blah blah. I did all that.

I am German and I refuse to give up on anything so by the time I was through losing that battle there was cornmeal and flour ALL OVER MY KITCHEN and I am not kidding.

It was time for Plan B. Before I left for Gary's I got two loaf pans and greased them up and shaped the dough the best I could and got it into those pans. When I got back it had risen to the top of the pans.

They have this test. You are supposed to poke your finger into the dough and if the dough does not spring back it is ready to bake. Well, guess what? I poked my finger in and the dough did spring back.

But this was ridiculous. Here it was at the top of the pans. I am not going to have this dominate my life. I already have Pennario dominating my life and there is only so much room at the top.

So I preheated the oven to 400 the way you are supposed to and then I got that bread in the oven along with a gigantic meat loaf I was making for Howard. Oh, wait! There was one more challenge.

You are supposed to slash the bread.

Instinct told me to skip this step. I never have a knife sharp enough. I always think I do but I always mess it up. And do not tell me to use a razor blade. Yuck.

But I forged ahead and did the best I could and into the oven those loaves went.

When I peeked, though, the loaves had deflated a little. It must have been the slashing. I should not have done the slashing!

When they came out of the oven, they looked flat and unattractive.

After all that work!

After all that love!

What if after all the work and love I am pouring into the book, the book comes out flat and unattractive?

Well, the good news is that the bread tastes great. It does not look great but the crust has a good crunch, not that I can crunch anything with these braces on my teeth, but I can tell that it does. And it has a nice tang.

I will just have to try this again!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Operation sourdough

Today I am baking sourdough bread which is a big challenge! It is like going into a tunnel and you do not know what things are going to be like when you come out.

You know how Nicholas Cage used to look laboring over bread and hot ovens in "Moonstruck"?

That is how dramatic I felt!

First I have been feeding this starter for five days. You start out with a quarter cup of water and a half cup of flour, and after that, every day you add another quarter cup of water and half cup of flour. It is like a science experiment. It has been in a bowl on the counter with a zippie bag rubber-banded around the top of it.

Today after church it was finally the appointed day and the appointed hour when I was to bake the bread. You take a cup of the starter and mix it with two cups of room-temperature water and two teaspoons salt and then a total of five cups of white and whole wheat flour to make a decent dough.

Anyone else want to try it? I have just given the whole recipe!

If you try it let me know how it goes!

The trouble was, so often in recipes there is something that is not written clearly. And in this recipe several things were puzzling me. The recipe is by Martha Rose Shulman and I love her books and respect her expertise. But gosh darn it, so many people cannot write clearly and I learned in this recipe that Martha Rose Shulman is one of them.

Isn't that frustrating? You puzzle and puzzle over something as if it is ancient Scripture before finally realizing it is not your fault that you cannot understand it. It is the other person's fault!

Like the poetry in the New Yorker. Maybe it simply means nothing!

Another thing, I had not noticed that the second rising is 8 to 10 hours long! The first is only two hours. How was I supposed to know that when you turned the page it would tell you, "Oh, by the way..."


I mean, dough!

Well, finally I just forged ahead, the heck with it. When Abraham told Sarah to go into the tent and knead the dough and make rolls for their guests, she did not have Martha Rose Shulman's cookbook and it worked out anyway. This science is not exactly new. Here is a picture Howard took of me forging ahead.

Observe my Sorrento Cheese apron. Ever since the Cheese-Building Competition, Sorrento Cheese aprons are the rage in Buffalo!

Also, my teeth. They are straightening out! Not only that but you can hardly see my braces. Unlike in real life. In person you can see my braces, believe you me.

Finally, I prithee, do not fail to notice my new kitchen timer. It is on the microwave, front and center. That is the old-fashioned timer that goes "ping" that I bought at the estate sale yesterday for a buck.

All I had to do was fit a Leonard Pennario album into the picture and it would have been perfect. Normally I like to work a Pennario album in there somewhere, but alas.

I will have to put one into the shot I take of the bread when it is baked.

That will be at midnight tonight!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Saturday shopping

Zut alors, here I am late again posting! Guess what I did!

Did I hear someone say, "Go shopping with your mother?" We have a winner! Above is a picture of me shopping.

I was gone all afternoon. First we went to an estate sale on Lorfield in Snyder and next we went to an estate sale on Alberta Drive which is near the Boulevard Mall. Not Alberta Drive. Another street just like that. I cannot remember which one.

All I got at the estate sales was a kitchen timer. For a buck! It is the old-fashioned spring kind that does not take a battery and goes "ping." I want it for when I am baking bread.

One thing, at the estate sale where I was buying the timer, the line got really long. I waited it out because what the heck, my mother was with me and I was not going anywhere fast anyhow.

They had a checkout lady in training, was what the problem was. Someone was paying with a credit card. And there was lots of back-and-forth:

"OK, now you need to ask for the driver's license."

"Can I have your driver's license?"

"Now write down the information."

"What information?"

This went on and on. And I am standing there with this stupid kitchen timer. I should have set the timer for an hour, just to hear it go "Ping!"

Luckily my timer was just a dollar so I did not have to use a credit card. Oh, wait, I do not have a credit card anyway.

After that estate sale we stopped at the Salvation Army on Niagara Falls Boulevard so I could scour the vinyl. OK, I bought a dress too. And a skirt. And a tank top!

But the vinyl I found! I got "The Best of Leonard Pennario, Vol. 3" which, my brother George has snapped it up because yesterday he just got his record player up and playing. Miklos' Rozsa's "Spellbound" Concerto is on that record and George is a fan of Miklos Rozsa.

I also got an extra copy of "Rhapsody Under the Stars."

And "Concertos Under the Stars." You cannot have too many of those!

All these Pennario albums! Luck was with me today. That is for sure.

Then I got "Horowitz on Television." There is this great picture of the weaselly little Horowitz sitting there with this gigantic TV camera focused on him. It looks huge and inhuman, like an X-ray machine or something. See and believe!

Also I got Glenn Gould playing Beethoven. And Claudio Arrau playing Beethoven's "Eroica" Variations which I love and I play myself. I had the Arrau performances on CD already but I prefer vinyl.

Here is the last part of the "Eroica" Variations, the part I love. It is magical! It is not Arrau but it is Emil Gilels. Pennario liked Gilels and I do too.

So that was nice, three albums by Pennario, three by lesser pianists but you know what, I still enjoy them now and then. Also I got an album by Ahmad Jamal. I have a weakness for Ahmad Jamal and this one had him playing Duke Ellington's "Squeeze Me" which is a song that I love.

As I was standing at the checkout loaded down with these albums wouldn't you know, the woman in front of me goes through this big show of emptying out all her change on the counter, looking for a nickel or whatever.

This was as bad as the estate sale!

I know I am not at Lord and Taylor but still I am thinking: Can we once, just once, buy something without incident?

Not on a Saturday in my life, I will tell you that right now.

Friday, July 17, 2009

As the cheese sticks tumble

Above is a picture my Facebook friend Steve Cichon posted on Facebook of me in the Celebrity Cheese-Building Competition yesterday at the, ahem, Sorrento Cheese Italian and Heritage Festival. That is me on the right in the blue dress. I always wear the splashiest dress to the Cheese-Building Competition. Last year it was orange plaid.

Ach du lieber, I tanked yesterday and all I won was $50 for my church, St. Anthony of Padua. No wonder when I got back to my house my keys were lost and Howard had to come home from Jackie Jocko and let me in. Zut alors, I felt like such a loser! I had to walk to Wilson Farms and back just to kill time until he got home.

Lots of things are going to be lost and stay lost in my life from now on. I just have that feeling.

Ay me!

One thing, I do love that cheese man. No, Steve Cichon, I am not talking about you! I mean that Sorrento Cheese guy. He is at far left in the picture above. I loved in last year's picture...

... how he was hovering behind us, his hands raised as if in benediction. I had no idea he was there and when I saw him in the pictures I cracked up.

Another funny thing I remember last year was one of the last conversations I had with Leonard Pennario was about this goofy cheese-building competition. We had gone out to lunch and I remember it was on my mother's birthday which is June 2. That was about three weeks before he died. And I mentioned to Leonard about the Italian Festival and that I would be doing this contest.

And I remember the old man loved that I was doing that. He assumed that I was doing the contest because of him. Because of his being Italian. Which, maybe I am! Pennario was always saying things I thought were not true and then something would happen and they would turn out to be true.

I should have asked him for pointers because for years he judged the, ahem, Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, and from what he told me there is sometimes not all that much difference between playing the piano in a competition and stacking cheese sticks.

One thing about the Cheese-Building Competition, in the future the cheese stick man should hug us the way Van Cliburn ...

...hugged us in the Amateur Piano Competition. I will always remember wafting across the stage into his arms. That was what it was like. He gave you this big hug.

I want Mr. Cheese Stick to say into my ear: "Oh, you're so beautiful. Oh, you're so sweet!"

That is what Van Cliburn said to me!

Well, it must have been the way I played my Schubert. I played this killer G flat impromptu and after you hear someone play it you have to hug that person.

That reminds me, I might be giving another, ahem, public performance! UNYTS wants me. They are the organ donor people. I do not want to go into too much detail about what they do or it will be like Body Worlds and I will faint!

Luckily UNYTS wants my piano playing and not my organs. They hold a party in November or something and they sent me a letter about getting up on stage this year and playing something. Which, I might do that! I did it a couple of years ago and played Chopin's Black Key Etude. If you think that clip I linked to is something you should hear Pennario play it! Pennario makes Pollini sound like a little girl.

This year for UNYTS perhaps I will play that Schubert and everyone will hug me.

I am better at playing piano than stacking cheese. That is for sure!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Live and on the air

What a morning! I was just sitting here listening to myself being interviewed on the radio. But not about Leonard Pennario! About the Cheese-Building Competition! That is me on the right in the picture above, in the plaid dress. I am always running that picture because I am so proud of it.

The competition is tonight at the, ahem, Sorrento Cheese Italian and Heritage Festival.

Once again I go into battle for St. Anthony of Padua. If I win the church gets $1,000! That sum should cover me for a lot of lost objects.

Once again I face off against titans of the cheese-building world, this time including WBEN-AM's Steve Cichon. He was the one who interviewed me! Steve called me in the middle of this busy day yesterday and I talked to him without any preparation whatsoever which, that is the best way to do these things, because who cares if it is not busy, it is over. That was just one other thing I did yesterday. I hardly thought about it.

In the interview airing today Steve edited me cleverly so I sound really witty. He has me saying something about how the cheese sticks are slippery and they are affected by the barometric pressure. I do not even remember saying that! But there I am, saying it.

That is life at a daily paper. You are always flying by the seat of your pants! And if you screw up, so what, tomorrow is another day. That is the beauty of the business.

What is funny is that this announcer on WBEN, Steve Cichon, he is one of my friends on Facebook so I feel as if I know him even though I have never met him.

"Hey, Steve, my Facebook friend!" I say.

Here is a picture of Steve Cichon, my Facebook friend. He is on the left. I do not know who the gentleman is at the right but I am sure he is someone extremely important. A VIP as we like to say here in Buffalo.

My mom laughs derisively that Facebook is this crazy fad. But it has been great for me, I will tell you that right now.

I also made friends with Mark Wozniak who is the biggie over at WBFO-FM and other radio and TV types, it is amazing. You clown around with each other on Facebook and before you know it you know each other and you are working together.

When it was Leonard Pennario's birthday Mark Wozniak announced it on the air. An anonymous commenter told me that a few days ago and lo, it was true. That is a picture at left of Mark Wozniak celebrating Leonard Pennario's birthday! Zut alors, I wish I had heard what he said. But he mentioned me, and The Buffalo News, and the book. Thank you, Mark Wozniak! Thank you, Facebook!

Here is a picture of my Facebook friend Mark Wozniak from earlier radio days.

Ha, ha! I have been looking and looking on the Web for pictures of Buffalo's Italian Festival and the best one I could find was this.

Can you believe it? Gloomy day, cars parked, fried dough.


I guess we need some decent pictures of Buffalo's, ahem, Sorrento Cheese Italian Heritage Festival.

I will take a few tonight, after I ace that competition.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Haunted by the past

Above is a picture I flagrantly stole from Forgotten Buffalo, the folks who run those tours I go on to Black Rock and Lackawanna.

It is of Battenfeld Oils and Greases!

That is a place I love passing on the 190. I love that heavy old German name, Battenfeld. Perhaps one of the German scientists who put Body Worlds together was named Battenfeld! You never know!

Then that hard-core industrial "Oils and Greases."

That is classic!

And as Forgotten Buffalo was explaining the building used to be a brewery. They said you could tell that right off which, I confess, I could not. But then they could not be able to listen to a Chopin sonata and tell immediately it was Leonard Pennario. So, I do not feel too bad!

Battenfeld used to be the F.X. Kaltenbach Brewery and later it was the Buffalo Brewery, owned by Mayor F.X. Schwab. I love how they both had those F.X. initials. Francis Xavier. Or perhaps Franz Xaver, in the case of Kaltenbach.

It is funny how whenever you see F.X. you know that person was named for St. Francis Xavier. That is the only thing it stands for! Like my priest friend from St. Gerard's, F.X. Mazur. We call him Butch but his name is really Francis Xavier.

Mozart named his son Franz Xavier. That was in honor of Mozart's good friend and student Franz Xaver Sussmayr. Later the kid changed his name to Wolfgang Amadeus Jr. That F.X. was not good enough for him!

Here is a picture of F.X. Mozart.

There are not as many F.X.'s running around now as there once were. People are naming their sons Tyler and Zachary and not that.

But still. Howard and I were talking about how in some ways in Buffalo, in ways we do not immediately grasp, our immigrant roots still dictate how we live!

We are a city of beer drinkers. Many of our ancestors were -- the Germans, the Irish, the Polish. And we are, too. We are also coffee drinkers as opposed to tea. The British people who were among the first here were outnumbered by all the waves of immigrants.

If you go to liquor stores as I am known to do now and then notice all the people who are buying Blue Nun. That sweet-ish German wine, that hangs on!

On Friday people whose families were never Catholic tend to crave fish. That is still the special in a lot of the restaurants. Even though the Catholic Church relaxed that no-meat-on-Fridays rule for most of the year, the tradition hangs on. You expect to see fish fries on Fridays. You expect clam chowder.

What else? Wasn't that an old Polish tradition to close places on Wednesdays? Sometimes you still see that. On Hertel Avenue most places are still closed on Sundays. Elmwood is more modern and everything will be open but on Hertel you can go for blocks and most places are shut. It is like Europe. I credit the Italians for that. I will think of that tomorrow when I am stacking cheese sticks in the Sorrento Cheese Italian Heritage Festival Cheese Building Competition.

Certain immigrant traditions will be disappearing. The German identity is not as strong as it was, and no we are more health-oriented, so fried bologna and Fastnachts are going to turn into a thing of the past. I do not eat them myself even though my family is German. My mom does but I do not. Still I will be sorry to see them go.

Here is something funny. The Germans and the Irish married each other a lot and whenever that happens, the German part disappears. I am just saying. Everyone knows someone who is half German and half Irish and I guarantee, that person will go around carrying on about being Irish, ignoring that inconvenient other half. Probably it is because of the negative German stereotypes.

But it could also be because it is easier to honor your Irish heritage because Irish pubs are everywhere and you can go to Ireland and speak the language. Plus the only classical composer you really have to worry about is John Field.

So there is something to chew on with your fried bologna. Now I am kind of craving it.

It all started with Battenfeld Oils and Greases!