Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Escape to Kmart

Today because it was cold and I felt I needed a break I treated myself on the way home to a trip to Kmart. Kmart is always fun.

I always start out the same way, walking in without a cart and figuring I can always get a cart later. I always end up needing one and going back. Today that happened to me when I found jar pumpkin pie spiced candles for $1.50. They were these big candles and I am allowed to burn candles when they are in a jar. Something like six of them were left and being a piggy Buffalonian I had to buy all six.

Go back to Start! Do not collect $200 but do collect a cart.

Other things I scored at Kmart: 25 cent packages of index cards, 100 cards a package. I bought two but you know what, I might go back and get more. I burn through huge numbers of index cards in my Pennario project. I have these files that go back to when I was in California with him. They are still in the same boxes and I keep stuffing more and more cards into them.

There is one card sticking out of the box right now that I am looking at: "1952, 9/12, Letter from Vengerova." Isabella Vengerova was one of Pennario's teachers.

There are a couple of cards after that about Capitol recording sessions and then you get this card: "1952, November. 'Bwana Devil.' First feature-length 3D movie." Why that is important is a long story and you will just have to wait for the book. Lucky for me I am not writing about some boring pianist, is all I can say for now.

Anyway, index cards. Evernote has nothing on them. I have 200 new ones now and might go back and get more.

I also got a couple of packages of pencils for a quarter each. I put a pack on Howard's desk as a surprise. I like getting him office stuff.

And, oh yes, I got a cell phone charger. That was what I went in for!

I went into Kmart just for that and I came out with all of this.

Oh well.

I needed it!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Back in hot water

Yikes, remember what we talked about last time, about how some people, ain't nothing on their desk, ain't nothing in their head either?

That is what I must look like! Here I cleaned my desk And then I wrote nothing for days.

Well, I wrote stuff. I did a lot of work on Pennario. But then there were a bunch of complications including Internet problems. (Admittedly that did not hurt the book.) And on Friday the hot water heater blew! See, this is what happens when you make any kind of weak attempt to impose any kind of order. The house rebels. It is like when you go on a diet and your body rebels.

The body wants its weight! And the house wants its clutter and chaos.

End result, to use our Buffalo phrase, I have been living like a Frenchwoman not washing my hair. It looks OK but it is a strange feeling. The French can carry this off but I cannot. We are used to washing our hair every day here in America, we just are. I remember years ago reading that Farrah Fawcett would wash her hair twice every day. "I like really clean hair," she said.

It is so funny how you are used to hot water and never think about it. You are just so used to turning this one faucet and not another. Three days into this and I was still turning the wrong faucet and all I would get was this gurgle.

Yesterday the guy from Zenner and Ritter came over and put in a new hot water heater. This being Buffalo we talked, and he turned out to be this wonderful guy who loves winter and loves his work and goes skiing and ice fishing. But you know what, they could have sent the Swamp Thing into my house and as long as he fixed this heater he would have been like this prince.

The process took hours but it was worth it. Now the hot water heater is fixed and every time I turn on a faucet there is all kinds of drama. Once it gave a big bang. Another time there was nothing and then there was this mighty rush and water came spewing out. Then I ran the water from another faucet and it was yellow and had to clear up.

I knew the shower would be a grand adventure and sure enough! Gurgle ... spew! Gurgle ... cascade!

Welcome back, hot water!

You don't miss that hot water till your well run dry.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

I confess .... about my desk ...

Because of my clean desk I have become the confessor for people who sit at desks.

They tell me how clean or cluttered their desks are! I guess I am an extreme case because mine was so messy, and so people feel comfortable confiding in me.

One thing I used to do with Leonard Pennario, when he asked me to, was occasionally help him straighten out his desk. We would go through random papers and try to figure out what could be thrown out. Most of the time we would give up and just end up sitting there laughing about something. But the time was not wasted because it led to things I might not have found out otherwise. For instance if I had not happened on the correspondence from the Motion Picture Academy I would not have realized that he voted on the Oscars.

Speaking of voting, I remember we worked together on his absentee ballot for the government election. Haha, no privacy with me around! Pennario was fun that way. He didn't care what I looked at. I remember that now with such affection.

I am happy to say I have a letters organizer that belonged to him. It used to sit on his desk and hold papers and now it does that on my desk. It is just this cheap little thing but I like it because it reminds me of those afternoons, sitting around with him.

Looking at my clean desk I am haunted by something I once heard a comedian say. I can't remember who the guy was -- he might have been famous, he might not have been.

He said:

"There are some people, ain't nothing on their desk ...

".... Ain't nothing in their head either!"

So true.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Out from under the Net

Son of a sea cook, my home computer has been on the fritz and keeping me away from the Web log! Well, the computer is not entirely on the fritz. I could use it for my book.

End result, as we say here in Buffalo, I got a lot of work done! That woman up above in the picture? That was me yesterday! At least that was what I felt like.

It made me wonder if Leonard had reached down from the sky somehow and flicked a switch.

No Facebook for me!

No Web log!

No YouTube! Luckily I have my stereo.

 It is a learning experience, I will say this, not to have the Internet. You realize how often you use it, how easily you can be lured onto it. Every other paragraph I was re-reading, I would think of checking something, of looking for something, and then -- Doh! No Google!

No eBay, so I could not check to see if a certain publicity picture had surfaced. Hey, you never know.

And I am not undisciplined. I actually have pretty good self control. Sometimes I laugh at myself, when the Internet is not down, because I want to look for something and I deny myself. "Overruled," I will say. "Not necessary."

And yesterday it felt kind of good to have my computer as uncluttered as my desk.

But occasionally something does come up you want to check. And -- so primitive! I am thinking of checking the spelling of someone's name, or something, and ... what do you do?

"Maybe I have this book downstairs," I caught myself thinking.

A book! What a concept!

I have my teacher Stephen Manes' vintage Grove dictionary. I treasure it even though it pre-dated Pennario and so he is not in it. So there is that.

Yesterday I was wishing I had the Encyclopaedia Brittanica.

So primitive!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Office cleaning ... or archaeological dig?

Today I cleaned my home office! It took forever. It was really messy! The above picture does not begin to describe it.

You would not believe things that turned up.

A pack of gum that once belonged to George Frederic Handel. Actually this was on Howard's desk.

Sticky-pad sheets with phone numbers of dead people.

Souvenirs of long-ago concerts.

Stamps from the Taft administration.

Receipts from extinct supermarkets.

I have not even scratched the surface of talking about the stuff I dealt with. There were old ID cards belonging to me, Howard and Leonard. VIP cards for closed restaurants. Matches from bars I had never been to. Cards from friends I have not seen in years. Things that had kicked around my desk when I was 8.

Things got worse before they got better.

But I persevered! End result as we say here in Buffalo...


That is much better!

Friday, January 10, 2014

A blizzard of saints

The Fourteen Holy Helpers are in the news! One of our photographers at The News, Mark Mulville, took this picture the other day in our blizzard, and as I wrote in the Buzz Blog, it is going viral.

Here is the picture:

Which of the Fourteen Holy Helpers do you consult if something is going viral that you do not want to, i.e., a disease? That would be St. Christopher and St. Giles. They were the two Fourteen Holy Helpers invoked in the Middle Ages against the Black Death.

Anyway. Good for Fourteen Holy Helpers Church to remind the world of the practical power of the saints. That is what the church stands for. I put in the Buzz Blog the Fourteen Holy Helper you pray to in order to stop snowstorms. That is St. Vitus! And the Fourteen Holy Helper in charge of safe travel who is of course St. Christopher.

Reading back I realize my Web log is preoccupied not only with Leonard Pennario but with the Fourteen Holy Helpers. They even mentioned me in their bulletin once. I loved that. The trouble is I am not very organized as far as tying it all together on the Web log, all I have learned about the Fourteen Holy Helpers or the Vierzehnheiligen as they are known in Germany. But if you go to that little search thingie in the corner and type in "Holy Helpers" all this stuff will appear.

I love that as Mark Mulville's picture goes viral, as sanctioned by St. Christopher and St. Giles, it gets the name of the Fourteen Holy Helpers out there. Someone in California or wherever is laughing at the sign and sees "Fourteen Holy Helpers." And that person has to wonder about that. Because our Fourteen Holy Helpers is the only one in the world outside of the basilica near Bamberg, Germany.

So this person will Google the Fourteen Holy Helpers. And before long he or she will be praying to St. Barbara and St. Vitus and other 12, and going to get his or her throat blessed on the Feast of St. Blaise.

Before long amazingly the Fourteen Holy Helpers will be venerated in America as they were in Europe during the Middle Ages. That is how this will work.

It will snowball!

Monday, January 6, 2014

The queen of the King Cake

O the weather outside is frightful today, but the important thing is, it was not so bad yesterday and so I was able to make it in to church with my King Cake.

That is a picture of it up above! I put it on Facebook and people are so nice, I got something like 80 likes.

My King Cake went viral!

It was quite an experience making the cake. It is always fun to make something new, something which, you have never made anything like it before. And the King Cake was like that, this great overblown sweet bread that inflated like a beach ball in the oven. No kidding, it went into the oven this kind of demure rope of dough, twisted into a circle. When it came out it was huge.

My friend Bill at church said that it looked like a turban such one of the Kings would have worn. I was thinking the same thing. Especially when it was dusted with the sugar, it looked Eastern.

Even the monsignor who said our Mass admired it.

I am the Leonard Pennario of King Cake bakers!

Anyway I was happy I could take the cake. I was worried about the weather because the winter has been such a roller coaster, and so I even checked on bus times so if I needed to, I could take the bus. Nothing was going to keep me from St. Anthony's yesterday, not when I had this cake.

But I did make it, and I even picked up Dorothy, and we all ate cake and jambalaya and Epiphany Bread and star cookies and sang "We Three Kings" and "Adeste Fideles" with the monsignor joining in, and there was much rejoicing. Plus, remember the bean you hide in the cake, the one President John Adams broke the cake apart trying to find?

Guess who found our bean?


This year is going to bring me good luck!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

O Tannenbaum, everlasting Tannenbaum

My tree is still up.

Pennario's recordings are immortal and so is my tree. I am thinking of following ancient custom and keeping it up until Candlemas. That gives me until February 2.

No reason to take it down now, to my way of thinking.

What is the hurry?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The King Cake, the Adams family and me

I decided to take a deep breath and go through with it and so today I am baking the King Cake for Epiphany. What a trip!

Specifically, what a trip to Wegmans!

I had to go to Wegmans to get purple and gold sugar. Luckily I already had green sugar from Aldi. Good thing, too, because there was no green sugar at Wegmans, go figure. The store was a total zoo. Only an intrepid King Cake baker would venture in on a day like this. There was this thaw today and so everyone went out. Everyone else is buying necessities and there I am with my gold and purple sugar.

When I got home I auditioned this and that recipe and eventually decided on this King Cake. Most recipes had fillings but the fillings came in only in the 1980s. Fie on the 1980s, fie! I am making the simple cake that was traditional before that, really a kind of rich brioche.

Maybe when I get bolder I will make the kind of cake that Abigail Adams sampled when she was in France. That was in February 1785. Mozart was 32. When I am not thinking in terms of Leonard Pennario I am thinking in terms of Mozart.

Speaking of that I began reading more closely what Abigail Adams had written. I am going to reprint it, what the heck. It is not as if the other Web log owns it.

You must know that the religion of this country requires [an] abundance of feasting and fasting, and each person has his particular saint, as well as each calling and occupation.  Tomorrow is to be celebrated le jour des rois [The Day of Kings].  The day before this feast, it is customary to make a large paste pie [the French King Cake is still made of puff pastry, and stuffed with almond marzipan], into which one bean is put. Each person cuts his slice, and the one who is so lucky as to obtain the bean is dubbed king or queen.  Accordingly, today, when I went in to dinner, I found one upon our table.

Your cousin Nabby began by taking the first slice; but alas! poor girl, no bean and no queen.  In the next place, your cousin John seconded her by taking a larger cut, and as cautious as cousin T____ when he inspects merchandise, bisected his paste with mathematical circumspection; but to him it pertained not.  By this time I was ready for my part; but first I declared that I had no cravings for royalty.  I accordingly separated my piece with much firmness, nowise disappointed that it fell not to me.

Your uncle, who was all this time picking his chicken bone, saw us divert ourselves without saying anything.  But presently he seized the remaining half, and to crumbs went the poor paste, cut here and slash there; when behold the bean!  “And thus,” said he “are kingdoms obtained!”  But the servant who stood by and saw the havoc, declared solemnly that he could not retain the title, as the laws decreed it to chance, and not to force.

There is so much sweet about that story! It is as good as anything out of "Little Women." Who knew that John and Abigail Adams...

.... were so much fun?

The way Abigail's daughter is Nabby. That must be a little Abigail. I like how she and John Adams apparently named their kids after themselves. Also I love that 18th century fashion -- probably older than the 18th century -- of the diminutive starting with "n." It was German as well as English. Mozart's sister was called Nannerl, a pet form of Anna. We still have this sort of thing today with Nelly, short for Ellen, and Nan and Nancy for Ann. I always liked that name Nancy. It is so 1700s.

"Paste" means dough, or cake -- as in pasta.

I also read more carefully what happened with the King Cake the Adams family encountered in France. Nobody got the bean that would crown you king or queen -- Abigail had such a charming way of telling the story -- and so John Adams tears the remaining cake apart until he finds it.

"Thus," he cries, "are kingdoms obtained!"

I could imagine Howard making that joke! Anyway, that story made me smile.

OK, so I separated six eggs and softened a stick of butter and measured out four and a half cups of flour, etc., etc., and put the dough into the bread machine and crossed my fingers. It mixed the dough OK. You beautiful bread machine!

Soon the machine's work will be done and it will be my turn. Here are my three sugars awaiting the Three Kings cake.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

To bake the impossible bread

Thinking about my Epiphany baking challenge I had the idea to look in this monastery cookbook I have.

It is called "From a Monastery Kitchen by Brother Victor-Antoine d'Avila-Latourrette whom I have mentioned before, including in my landmark post "Baker's Nightmare." One thing I have noticed is he is always either very simple or very complicated. There is no middle ground.

So, I go looking for Epiphany. And I see "Epiphany Bread."


Then I look at the recipe. It takes, among other things, 11 eggs, 1 cup melted butter, 7 (!) packages yeast, two and a half pounds of raisins (soak in a quarter to a half cup of warm water, Brother Victor advises) and 16 to 17 cups of flour.

"Yikes!" I exclaimed.

Clearly the journey of making this recipe is supposed to remind you of the journey of the Three Kings, pictured above. There is no other rationale!

You can check out the recipe here. I love how the site reprints it without commenting on that it makes five loaves. It is almost so absurd that it must be tried! But not now. I cannot complete my Pennario project and bake this Epiphany Bread.

One insane project is enough!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A baking epiphany

I have one more caroling event in my future! We are going to warble Three Kings type carols after Mass on Sunday morning at St. Anthony's. It was the idea, the epiphany should I say, of caroler Patrick, pictured with his family the other day in all their Victorian splendor. We decided we could turn our after-church coffee hour into a Three Kings party. Then we could invite the carolers and anyone else who would like to sing.

Which begs the question: How can I make this caroling effort as caloric as humanly possible?

I went looking through December issues of Martha Stewart and other cooking magazines looking for recipes pertaining to Epiphany, or the Three Kings, or the Magi, or Twelfth Night --  I kept using different search words, because I was having trouble finding anything. I mean, Martha Stewart especially, you would think that one or another Christmas issue would have featured Three Kings good things, wouldn't you? It is such a famous and beautiful image, the image of the Three Kings.

I love the idea of making star cookies, in honor of the Star of Bethlehem.

Or you could make Gingerbread Wise Men. That is another idea!

But looking around the Internet I got the idea of trying to make a New Orleans King Cake, pictured above (although mine will probably not look anywhere near as professional).

The King Cake has become traditional for Mardi Gras but it is actually an Epiphany tradition. Epiphany marking the arrival in Bethlehem of the Three Kings. The cake is decorated with purple, gold and green because those colors signify the three Kings, so I read. Wow, Mardi Gras colors ...

... finally explained! They come from the Three Kings.

I took the picture from this Web log where they tell how to make a King Cake. However they admit that their picture showed one from a bakery. I knew it. I knew it!!

It is an interesting post beyond the recipe. They have a letter Abigail Adams wrote from France about the curious Roman Catholic religion ...

You must know that the religion of this country requires [an] abundance of feasting and fasting, and each person has his particular saint, as well as each calling and occupation.  Tomorrow is to be celebrated le jour des rois [The Day of Kings]. ...

It goes from there.

La la la la la la.

Whatever I end up making, I do love that while other people are taking down their Christmas trees and getting back to business, I am starting a whole new wave of baking and feasting. Christmastide is turning me into a different person. It is like when I was in California and Leonard Pennario got me all used to ice cream.

Also looking into Three Kings treats helps me get the message that the season continues for a little bit. Before, I was talking a good game about it, but it was not as if I really felt it.

Put the bag of sugar and the pound of butter in my hands, and I feel it.

It is an epiphany!