You know how everyone in Buffalo goes around saying, "When I win the lottery..."
Well, I have!
I know, I know, the old joke, if you play the lottery, you have to buy a ticket. That is not always true! This ticket was a Christmas present from my friend Melinda. It arrived in a Christmas card and I scratched it off and it seemed -- it seemed -- I won $25.
But what to do? Coincidentally it was just revealed that Buffalo is the lottery capital of the world. But I had never played the lottery in my life, aside from a few times when the jackpot went so high that a bunch of us at work entered it together as a joke. Back then, though, someone else always took care of things.
So I did with my winning ticket what I do with all confusing paperwork. I stuck it in my wallet and forgot about it and I went back to working on Leonard Pennario.
Last night, though, I remembered. I had been to my Pilates class and there is this wine store next to the Buffalo Athletic Club where they give you a discount because you belong to the gym and are working off those calories.
They had a lottery sign in the window. So I went on in.
I waited until nobody else was at the counter. I did not want to publicize my winnings! When no one was there I sidled up with my two bottles of German Pinot Noir. Yes, there is such a thing! Pinot Noir from Germany. Anyway, I explained my situation to the slug clerk. He listened silently.
Then he took my ticket. "We'll see if it scans as a winner," he said.
What, did he think I was making this up? For a minute I worried.
He fed the card into a machine.
What happened next killed me. The machine made this big loud jingly exultant casino noise. Bing, bada bing bing bing! The slug wordlessly handed me $25. I would kind of have liked a smile, you know? Or a congratulations. Something!
Above is a painting by Diego Rivera called "Tortilla Making 1926." Ha, ha! Howard points out that the painting looks like the mural at the Mexican restaurant we used to go to, which ended up closing down after the gay host was led out in handcuffs. Remember that? Who could forget it??
With that restaurant gone you have no choice but to make your own tortillas.
OK, the real reason I made them was, I forgot to get them when I went to Tops. And I thought: How tough can it be?
I got the recipe out of Deborah Madison's "Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone." You take two cups of pastry flour, 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 tsp. salt, 2 tsp. vegetable oil and 3/4 cup water or milk. Mix it together and it is supposed to form a smooth dough after you knead it for a minute.
Immediately I knew I was not quite on the right track. I needed a little more water. Then I needed a little more flour. Finally I got the mixture where I thought I wanted it. You had to rest the dough for 15 minutes -- 30 minutes if you used white all-purpose flour, which I, food snob that I am, did not. Next you divided it into eight pieces, rolled them into balls and finally rolled them out to a circle 1/4 inch thick.
A quarter of an inch thick?
What were they thinking?
Mine were paper thin. I still do not know what was wrong with this recipe. I followed it very carefully! They were thin because they had to be, because they barely rolled out to a tortilla-size circle. Not that you could exactly call it a circle. My shapes were every which way.
Still it was cool, to lift them off the floury board and plop them one at a time into a hot skillet.
You do not grease the skillet when you make tortillas. You get the pan hot and cook them for 40 seconds on one side until they are blistered, and then 40 seconds on the other side. The kitchen began to smell smoky. I kept waiting for the smoke alarm to go off.
It did not, was one good thing.
The other good thing was that Howard, when he sat down to dinner and saw these tortillas, was really impressed.
Who cares if she is the authorized biographer of America's greatest pianist? Can she make tortillas, is what really counts.
We made burritos by rolling the tortillas around chicken, black beans and salsa, and guacamole. Homemade tortillas roll up much better than the store variety. Plus, I have to say this, they are stupid cheap to make. And now that Howard had admired them I saw them as beautiful and glorious in a Martha Stewart way. The kind of way that announces that you made them yourself.
Zut alors, here it is almost midnight and I am making white sauce.
I am a hard-core cook!
I got myself in over my head today which is why I was still cooking at midnight. I am trying to get things on an even keel so that through the week I can get in work on my book at night, I mean in the evening, because I am at this critical juncture where I have to work, I have to get work done. And too often cooking derails me. I just spend too much time looking for recipes and fussing over things and packing lunches, etc.
So this week, I am actually doing Martha Stewart Everyday Food Grocery Bag. My friend Art did it once. Art said it was fun. He said, "You'd come home and say, OK, what's for dinner tonight?"
I am not doing the January issue, the latest one. In that issue the Grocery Bag is all vegetarian and while I love vegetarian cooking, you cannot write the authorized biography of Leonard Pennario and be vegetarian. It would be too un-Pennario-like. He would sneer at you. No sirree, you must eat red meat.
Which, there was the Grocery Bag from Nov. 2010 that fit the bill. You make a Roast Beef with Butternut Squash, more or less a pot roast, and then black beans with sausage, and then roast chicken, and then butternut squash risotto, and the week winds up on Friday with pasta with greens. This is all very much to my liking.
Plus I had half the stuff I needed and all I had to do was pick up the other half, which I did today at Tops and Budways.
The white sauce was not for this. The white sauce was for a cauliflower soup I am making for my mom. Well, and for me, yes.
You mix the white sauce in with the soup and you would swear that soup was full of cheese and cream. Yet it is not! This is the best cauliflower soup recipe I have ever found. It is by that priest who writes the cookbooks I love, Father Victoire-Antoine d'Avila Latourrette.
I wonder if he is still around, you know? It seems every priest I like gets taken away.
Anyway. White sauce, done. Soup, done. Grocery Bag shopping, done.
And so to bed. To sleep, perchance to dream of food.
Howard bought a new car! He has upgraded his 1994 Buick Century to a 1998 Buick Century.
"Because I can." That is what he bragged on Facebook. He posted that picture up above of his prize. It has only 34,870 miles!
The 1994 Buick Century used to be mine. It was stolen, the summer right before I met Leonard Pennario, so that would have been in 2007. It was brazenly lifted from the parking lot at work and we found it, insultingly, on Lemon Street.
I secretly cheered on the thieves because I was sick of that car at that point anyway. I rented a little Hyundai Sonata and I remember thinking one morning how my life had improved, with this neat little rental car sitting in the back yard, and my actual car God knows where. And right then was when the police called with the news about the Lemon Street find.
You could definitely call that the steal of the Century. Hahahahahaaaaaa!
Howard is sweet and wanted the old Buick back as a matter of principle. It has been his car since then, lumbering along in these Buffalo snows.
The new Buick -- er, the 1998 Buick, is a smaller model. That was the year they changed the Buick Century. It does not look quite sporty but it is pretty in a Buick Century way.
I had to take Howard out to Lackawanna to pick it up. It was in a particularly rugged part of Lackawanna with vacant lots and projects and those stupid wind turbines. Can you believe those dumb wind turbines? A couple of them were not even turning. They were just sitting there.
And I was just sitting there, though not as peacefully, as Howard prepared to drive the new Buick away. Zut alors, I was afraid people were going to think I was a narc, sitting there in my police car. A few cars passed me and they always slowed down and I felt myself getting looked at. Prepare to be shot, you know?
But all ended well and last night Howard took me for a ride in his new Buick.
Click on that link and there is a neat podcast where he reads the torrid, romantic poem by John Keats, "The Eve of St. Agnes," and gives you the background of the superstitions surrounding it.
My friends and I loved that poem in high school!
We decided to do what the girl in the poem, Madeline, did. We scoured the Keats poem for clues as to what this girl did ... we had to find white nightgowns, fast all day, put our shoes in a "T" and then you had to lie on the bed on your back, all kinds of stuff.
Here is a drawing one of my friends did of me trying to get it right.
My dad, being an English teacher, thought the whole thing was a kick when he found out what we were doing. But alas, it did not ultimately work out for any of us. We worried we were tripped up on technicalities. My sister came barging into my room with a flashlight. And my friend Kitty, her father came into her room looking for the paper. Anyway I do not remember any actual dreams of future husbands.
It kills me to remember high school. To remember what it was like to spend hours with your head in the clouds.
I loved "The Once and Future King," which I read when I was 16. I liked the knights-and-ladies songs by Franz Schubert. Schubert is kind of Keats' musical parallel. Both romantic young men who died terribly young. Both of them loved those swashbuckling medieval poems and stories and neither of them grew old enough to outgrow the phase. Schubert continues to be an obsession of mine. Leonard Pennario was also crazy about his music and we used to talk about that.
I loved the Schubert songs about Sir Walter Scott's "The Lady of the Lake."
That is Dame Janet Baker singing.
What the heck, let us listen to the next song.
And the third -- you know this song! The woman who puts together these videos did a beautiful job with this one. I am a big fan of her work. She and I have been in touch.
I am relaxing after my first cross-country skiing for the year. I went out to Delaware Park and for a while I was lucky, sailing happily around without getting tired and enjoying the view. I even ditched the heavy sweater I was wearing! La la la la la la la.
At one point things were just too perfect. Snow was gently falling. No one else was around. Magically, the sun came out, and it seemed as if the park were in the middle of a sparkly snow globe.
As in, too good to be true. It was. I was having so much fun that I went around the ring a second time. Then what happened was, the snow was somehow slushier and my skis began to clump. I hate that!
So I wound up eventually clumping my way across the park, as the crow flies, just to get back to where I started. Not fun!
At one point in the middle of nowhere it was as if I were in the middle of a giant snow bowl. I began losing my depth perception, it was all so endless and white.
I took this picture.
I am afraid my cross-country skiing luck has just run out. There was one winter, I want to say five years ago, because it was before I met Leonard Pennario. That is how I gauge a lot of things. I had so much fun that winter cross-country skiing. I was new at it and I skied all winter. And I got to be an expert, noticing the variations in the snow and the sunlight and the air. When spring came I regretted it, feeling the air grow warmer, the snow change consistency. Anyway, that was my winter of skiing.
After that I have skied now and then but I have never quite gotten it right the way I did that first winter. All I can think is, I must have had some sort of beginner's luck.
Remember last winter, when I went skiing with my brother George and I almost froze? It was just too cold. I was lucky to make it back to my house!
I do not remember what went wrong the other times, all I know is the great Nordic Skiing God no longer smiles on me.
Oh well. The Zumba God still does, and so does the Wine God. And the Working on the Book God.
My muscles are all going to be hurting tomorrow thanks to Father Gabriel Amorth, Chief Exorcist of the Catholic Church.
He was responsible for the most painful Pilates workout I have ever had!
Today my schedule was weird so I had trouble scheduling a gym visit. I have been thinking I need some stretching and toning as opposed to brute-strength fat-burning, i.e. Zumba, which is what I usually do. And I saw this yoga class that would fit in nicely with my schedule.
I know, I had reservations about yoga. However. It just so happens that recently this one very conservative Catholic priest I respect had said yoga was OK as long as all you were doing were the exercises. So I thought, perhaps there is a future for me and yoga after all!
Every time I find myself on the verge of doing yoga, something happens. And what happened in this case was that just to check, I Googled "Catholic Yoga."
I know, people think I am crazy for taking what this guy says seriously. They make him out in the photo to be really creepy and strange. In the comment section, which I had to go on and read, everyone is mocking out the Catholic and this exorcist in particular. One commenter called him "a drooling old man."
Faced between believing the, ahem, Chief Exorcist of the Catholic Church, an educated and experienced man in his 80s, and the average person who comments on sites like this, I am sorry, I choose the exorcist. You do not get to be Chief Exorcist of the Catholic Church for nothing. Being the authorized biographer of Leonard Pennario I understand something about brilliant Italian men in their 80s. I would go with them over these people whose comments I am reading.
These commenters, they sound like demons, you know? Peek into the comment section and it is like opening the door to hell.
Anyway, no yoga. Instead I went for the Pilates class that followed.
Wherein the teacher absolutely killed us. The teacher scheduled to teach the class, Jill, was for some reason not there. I never realized what a walk in the park Jill is until this evening.
After my Pilates class I went to Zumba class just to get my old self back.
Again, may I state my appreciation for a religions that says no to yoga but has no problem with Zumba.
I went back to baking bread today. It could not be helped. I just had to.
I made a dark rye bread to take to my mom! I have cream cheese to bring to her and where there is cream cheese there must be rye bread.
There is this Moosewood Cookbook recipe that I have adapted. Back in my baking days I wrote in all these notes and so I heeded them today as I baked. There was orange juice in the bread. I wrote: "Use cider." The recipe also called for a little shredded orange peel. I wrote: "Good, but distracting."
Today I left out the orange peel.
I am just about to bake the bread and things look good. The only thing is, I wish I had remembered to throw some coffee into the bread. I used to do that.
Hahahaha! I just tried to find the Moosewood rye bread recipe on line. I did not. Though to be honest I did not try very hard. I got waylaid by this New York Times writeup on "Moosewood Restaurant Cooking For Health." A ponderous title! Line I love in the review: "The curried red lentil burgers satisfy even the most committed meat eaters..." Haha right.
Notice how vegetarian cookbooks are always using the word "satisfying?" Howard said, "You know why? Because it's not."
Oh well. Back to the bread. Now the damage is done and after working on Leonard Pennario through the hours while the bread was rising, and while the bread was rising again, I find myself sneaking onto the King Arthur Flour Web site. Their Web log kills me. They are always throwing something yummy up there. Recent posts include molasses cookies and no-knead pizza dough.
This one friend of mine is in Guyana on vacation and before she left, I have to admit it, I initiated with her the most sophomoric conversation.
"Are you going to see the, ahem, compound?" I asked.
"No," she said.
"But come on! How can you not?"
I was such a pest!
Anyway. I forgot about my compound remarks the way I forget about every stupid thing that I say. Until today at the gym when I ran into a mutual friend.
She said she had teased our Guyana-bound friend mercilessly too! And she was more out of bounds than I was.
She said: "If they give you any Kool-Aid on the plane there, say no."
Like me, she asked our buddy if she was going to go visit the, ahem, compound, and was told no.
Our friend told her: "It is all forested over."
"But come on!" she said. "Look around. There's probably a paper cup or something somewhere on the ground."
We are so awful!
It is strange to look back on that whole Jonestown tragedy. I remember it kind of dimly from when I was a kid. My brother George remembered more about it. He remembered that a congressman had flown in to investigate, and was shot dead trying to leave.
Imagine, knowing in your last couple of minutes that you have run up against evil like that.
Reading up on what happened I learned a few things. One was that the Jonestown people moved there to get away from American capitalism. Now they would call themselves Occupy Guyana! Another was that Guyana is in South America. I do not think I could have told you where Guyana was.
One weird thing is that the incident lives on in the phrase "drinking the Kool-Aid." If someone drinks the ...
... it means he has swallowed something nefarious.
Kool-Aid must hate that!! Especially since according to Wikipedia -- a long and lurid and fascinating account -- it was not even Kool-Aid, it was Flavor Aid. I remember Flavor Aid from when I was a kid. It was kind of a cheap knockoff. You had to provide your own sugar, I remember. My parents hated that.
Guyana is one of the few places where Leonard Pennario did not play, at least not to my knowledge. I believe he went his whole life without seeing the place.
Yesterday I made it to Zumba class, for the first time in forever. The last time I went to Zumba, it was before New Year's. I was coming down with that cold I caught from my sneezing nephew.
But I did not know I was coming down with that cold. That Zumba class gave me a clue. All of a sudden while I was dancing my mouth felt really dry and I felt as if I would pass out. I thought I would go outside to get a drink of water. But then they kicked in with this song I really love dancing to and so I stayed.
That song, hahahahaa.. I hate to admit what it was! It is just so much fun to dance to. I am ashamed! I could just see Leonard Pennario's face, if he knew I danced to this stuff. It is, ahem, most unseemly. I mean, he had the funk but he was conservative in many respects.
How did I get onto that? Back to Zumba. That song came on, so I stayed. By that night though I knew I was dead. It was only one of many things that threw me out of whack during the holiday season. So that was it for me and Zumba until yesterday.
I went to lunchtime Zumba yesterday and it took a lot of planning to be able to get out and go. Here is what drove me crazy. I get to the gym and they say: "Mary, anyone you know who is interested in joining?'
You mean me forking over my life savings isn't enough? I said, "You know what, none of my friends exercises."
Then I went and got changed and went to Zumba class. And after Zumba we get lectured! The teacher goes, "This class is being canceled. I told everyone, this is what would happen if you didn't show up. If you didn't get your friends to come."
I know, I have trouble making it to this class, because I work. But I pay for the gym and I would like this class to be available to me for the one-in-five times that I can make it. Is that too much to ask?
I was fuming. And despairing. But then something happened.
What happened was, I was standing there talking with another gym rat, and gradually I noticed the room filling up with the adherents of the next class, which was Pilates, with a teacher I did not know.
These people were all in the greatest shape!
They had the greatest bodies!
I was staring at them thinking, OK, I will have what they are having.
So mayhap next week I will do that, seeing that Zumba was canceled.
I sometimes worry my body has gotten too used to Zumba anyway. I mean, I love it, but after a while things stop happening, it is as if you adjust. Your body goes, "OK, I know what she is going to do next. She is going to the gym and throw herself around as if there is no tomorrow. We can deal with that. Yo, metabolism. Ration those calories."
The distinguished Oberlin-trained California piano pedagogue Shirley Smith Kirsten has written on her Web log a comparison of three pianists playing a waltz by Chopin, pictured above.
It is fun to read! She explains why she admires Pennario's performance and she compares it with the British pianist Stephen Hough. I love how she prefers Pennario's rendition. That is a most excellent thing in a piano teacher.
She even videos herself playing the waltz! I love that. Her version of the waltz is lovely and very personal and, speaking of personal, it is fun to look around her studio. That is a lived- and worked-in studio! I love the rugs and the books lying around.
It is annoying to see a studio that does not look lived-in and played-in just as it is annoying to see a kitchen that does not look cooked-in.
Smith Kirsten does go on to give the brass ring to Arthur Rubinstein's performance though which, Pennario would not mind but I do. Rubinstein horses with the melody and plays a few different notes that are interesting. I would like to know where they came from! But Pennario's playing of the waltz is just so much warmer and stronger. I am sorry.
It is passing into common knowledge. For instance when 3-year-old nephew George Andrew cut his finger he said he would be like the Pobble Who Had No Toes, only with him it would be fingers. Ha, ha! I said, Georgie, I hope not!
Anyway Barbara and Georgie are there next to me and we revisit "The Pobble Who Had No Toes." I am getting to love the poem too. I love how Victorian it is. How they put the Pobble in a friendly Bark ... I always have to stop and explain a bark is a boat ... and then they row and row and row till they come to his Aunt Jobiska's Park. In 1848 when this book was published you would have a park.
There is also the speculation about how the Pobble loses his toes. Edward Lear raises the possibility of a mermaid.
"What's a mermaid?" asked Barbara.
And I began to explain: A mermaid is half fish, she has the tail of a fish, but the other half is, she is a beautiful girl, and --
Suddenly my brother George, Barbara's daddy, interrupted. "Myth, Barbara!" he said. "It's a myth!"
And I felt chastised. I mean, I probably would have gotten around to telling her mermaids were make-believe, I like to think I would, but for a second, could we not enter the world of Edward Lear, and the mermaid, and Aunt Jobiska's Park?
When I was little I think I knew what a mermaid was before I knew what a myth was.
I will have to try to sneak Edward Lear words into my book about Leonard Pennario. Words like "runcible," "flannel" and, well, perhaps I will allude to my Park.
Then again, the story is unbelievable enough on its own.
Today I went with my mom to Mass at Christ the King. That is the parish in Snyder where I grew up.
Hahahaa! Here is a sign I found on the Internet on signspotting.com. I do not think it is our Christ the King but it is still funny.
It was my first experience with the new liturgy! When the priest says, "May the Lord be with you," instead of saying "And also with you," you say, "And with your spirit."
I have missed out on all the liturgy excitement so far because I normally go to the Tridentine Mass in Latin at St. Anthony's. But there is a first time for everything! And this was my first time with the new liturgy.
Here is what was funny. I get there and I am kind of excited about all this. And the priest says: "The Lord be with you."
And what do I say? "And also with you."
After all that anticipation!!
Luckily everyone around me was competent and enthusiastically replied: "And with your spirit."
You had to hand it to this congregation. The church was packed, and I mean packed, every pew, with people standing in the aisles. And Christ the King is a big church. And this was 12:15 p.m. Mass. Granted it was New Year's Day and most people had probably been up late, hence the popularity of this late Mass. But on the other hand, this was New Year's Day when you would not think people would feel like going to church. And here they were!
And they were clearly into the new liturgy. Enjoying it. Not only that, but everyone, guys and girls, singing all the hymns. Everyone was attentive and involved. Not in the sense of up out of their pews and running around, just engaged. You could tell. I admire this church, I have to say that.
My mom was also singing along competently unlike me. I lost my voice on New Year's Eve. As Stan Laurel used to say, "I used to have a nice voice, until I ran a nail through it." Hahaa! Leonard Pennario would get a kick out of that line, being a Laurel and Hardy fan.
I was just squeaking through "Joy To the World." Which was a pity, because normally I love singing "Joy to the World." I like the line, "Let men their songs employ." Other people are P.C. and sing "Let us our songs employ." Not me! I also like the line about "rocks, hills and streams, repeat the sounding joy." I always feel as if I am in Westminster Abbey.
I also squeaked through "Angels We Have Heard on High" which I love singing. That was God's punishment to me for partying too hard on New Year's Eve, not letting me sing "Angels We Have Heard on High."
I got worried about my mom for a while because she kept looking down and hunching over and she looked preoccupied.
"Mom, are you OK?" I whispered.
She said: "I lost an earring."
We found it at communion time. The people in the pew behind us whom we knew helped us find it. Not to blame my mother but stuff like this always happens to me at modern Masses, you know? I am just not able to concentrate the same way.
That and the priest had to stop Mass and make a speech about how nice it was that young people were singing in the choir, and then everyone had to applaud. What in the world, you know?
Final gripe, I had to receive Communion in the hand, an indignity that has not been visited upon me for four years now. And from a Eucharistic minister, another thing I have managed to avoid for the same length of time. I just could not get into the priest's line. It would have taken a lot of doing and sometimes, as my new friend Kenny sings, you got to know when to fold 'em.
That is not exactly starting the New Year off right in my book.