Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Is this heaven? No, it's the gym

I worked late today and decided I did not have time for the gym. I would be too late for Zumba class which began at 5:45 p.m.

However! Somehow I took the exit automatically and my car homed toward the gym. And I soon saw why.

Everything was charmed!

First, I scored this great parking space that miraculously opened. Second, this handsome gentleman waited something like a minute and a half to hold the door for me. Why, thank you, kind sir! He smiled at me as if to say, Welcome to L.A. Fitness!

As I walked in the sound system was just kicking in with the title theme to "Flashdance."

I am sorry, if they cannot play Leonard Pennario that is the next best thing. It cracked me up.

Next what happened was, I was walking toward the locker room and there were these tables set up promoting some concern or other, I do not know what, but they had this big boxer that wore a sign saying "Pet Me." This was the dog boxer...

... not the other kind.

This being a gym I must make that clear!

I could not believe my luck. I had assumed the boxer would be a blind person's dog, one that you could not pet. So I hugged the boxer dog and petted him as he looked up at me with his sweet serious eyes.

No one was in the locker room. I dressed in comfort in my Zumba clothes. I was a half hour late for the class but what the heck, there was still a half hour to go. Zumba was fun. I looked skinnier than I had looked last week. As class was ending and I was leaving I thought the teacher called over to me, "You sneaked in when I wasn't looking!" But I do not know this teacher. I thought: She could not be talking to me.

I did some weights and then I went to the locker room to get my stuff. And the teacher appeared! She said, again: "You sneaked in!" Then she said: "I was so happy to see you! I always love when you come to my class."

I stood there in my conspicuous neon Zumba clothes, smiling, delighted.

What a wonderful hour at the gym!

No wonder my car led me there!

When I left I hoped to pet the boxer again but he was gone. I wondered for a second if I had dreamed him.

Everything was just too perfect, you know?

You've got to wonder.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

In the Wee Small Hours of the Bread Machine

My church coffee hour baking adventures continue.

I was worried that I would not be up early enough this morning to make a dessert for the, ahem, congregation. On Saturday night Howard and I and our friend Andy were going out to hear Jackie Jocko. And so I decided that when I got back that night, I would program the bread machine to make Coffee Spice Bread.

It is out of the Bread Machine Cookbook which I bought at Savers last week. It calls for one cup of brewed coffee which, I did not have leftover coffee, so I brewed a cup and sat it to rest while we went to hear Jocko.

When I came back I mixed up the bread. I was trying to push the buttons to have it ready by, say, 7:30 a.m., when I get up to go to Mass.

But oops, I did not push the buttons right. Because the thing starts kneading right there and then. And I could not figure out to correct it. Long story short, here it is 4 a.m., and the cat wakes us up, and I awaken to this aroma in the air. It was unbelievable. Like cookies only better. It was the Coffee Spice Bread!

I had to go downstairs and see what was the deal. I padded downstairs in my pajamas. The bread was done. How long it had been done, I had no idea. But I knocked it out of the bread machine pan. The cat came out of nowhere and sat there on his haunches watching me.

I set the bread to cool on a rack and went back upstairs and went back to sleep.

It was almost like a dream only in the morning there the bread was, cooled, done.

And very good if I may say so myself. And at the coffee hour after Palm Sunday Mass it was gone in 60 seconds, as they say.

This is the way to go, I am thinking now. The bread machine does the work, I have more time to work on the Pennario book. I am always trying to think of ways to make things work better and more smoothly.

So here we go. Coffee Spice Bread from "The Bread Machine Cookbook," by Donna Rathmell German.

Mix up, as your bread machine manufacturer intended (I do it in this order, because I own a Welbilt):

2 teaspoons yeast
3 1/2 cups bread flour (I used whole wheat flour from Price-Rite)
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp cinnamon (I used one teaspoon because I am wild and crazy)
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
3 tbs. vegetable oil
1 cup coffee

Set the machine to do its thing. Go to sleep.

Get up in the morning and go to church, or synagogue, as the case may be. Take the bread with you.

Eat up!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A tights situation

This morning it was almost warm and I thought: I am going to ditch the black tights.

What a mistake that was!

I put on these spring stockings and a cute skirt and I was all ready to go to work. But first I had to go walk to the garage to pick up my car which had needed a brake job. So I set out in my pink spring stockings and my cute spring outfit.

Zut alors!

Things started out nice. It was warmer than it had been and I saw robins in the trees. But then it got cold and a drizzle began. Rain began. There was a kind of street guy who I saw hassling women and I had to go a little out of my way trying to steer clear of him. I had these heels on and I am click-clicking down the sidewalk. The walk was long.

By the time I got to the garage, I was cold! My feet were wet. I could not believe I had dressed like this. Whose idea was this? Spring clothes. Indeed.

So after I had paid for my brake job -- ouch! -- and reclamed my car, on the way to work I swung by my house again and changed into, you guessed it, tights.

It is like 1934 when the Pennario family moved to California.

It is cold!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Pie in the sky

This year for Lent I am trying to do what I did last year, which was, ahem, give up meat. It is not that big of a sacrifice for me because I like vegetarian cooking. It is more exciting than cooking meat in some ways because for the most part I think it is harder and more creative.

Except nothing could be harder than trying to get that steak right! Remember that? What a hassle that was. Eventually I gave up.

Anyway. Giving up meat isn't terrible but it is an inconvenience. To try to make things easier I have informal themes for the week. One week was sort of Italian week and another was Eating Well week, all the recipes came out of Eating Well. I am like Leonard Pennario, endlessly creative.

This week is Hippie Week. All the recipes are hippie food!

As my brother George said to me the first time we went to hear the Grateful Dead in California, Deadhead food is good food. And yesterday, I have to say, I was very happy when Howard came home and sniffed and said, "It smells good in this house."

It must have been the roasted beets. I had beets roasting and this other dish involving fish and escarole and mushrooms, from this old Moosewood Classics cookbook I just scored at Savers.
Today I went back to that book and it is Homespun Pot Pie.

It ended up taking, let us say, a little longer than the book said it would. Half way through I checked online and there were reviews praising the recipe but saying how much work it was.

One person wrote: "I made this for Christmas dinner."

For Christmas! That is the greatest. I love when someone is making something for Christmas and I am  making it for Monday night dinner. And we did enjoy it. Here is a picture of Howard eating the pot pie.

Oh, dear. I am afraid this Lent is not doing me a lot of spiritual good. Well, at least it is making me a good cook. Perhaps in Purgatory I will be able to shorten my time by putting in time in the kitchen. I can cook for the other poor souls in Purgatory.

I am going to have to be buried with my Savers cookbooks.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The panicked chef

My church coffee hour baking travails continue.

It is always something, you know? I always have things planned out, or I think I do. And then madness sets in. Today I had in mind making Oatmeal Chocolate-Chip Cookies from, you guessed it, Cooking Light. And I get up in the morning, even though I was working last night, and I am mixing up the dough, la la la la la. At least the butter was soft. Remember that other time when the butter was put back in the fridge?

Anyway, everything went well, until the dough would not hold together.

I had spooned out a tray of these cookies and the remainder of the dough was all dry and oat-y. What to do? What to do? Stress. Stress!

Laboriously I scooped out another tray of cookies.

I should have done this yesterday, I was thinking. But... when? I had to go out to a concert. The BPO was playing Beethoven's Ninth. And before that I funneled a few hours into the book. I do not often write about actually doing the book but that does not mean I am not working on it. I am working on it. And I promise myself that I will put a few hours into it and that means that cookies do not get baked. Hence the Sunday morning panic.

Finally what happened was, I decided to take the rest of the dough and pat it into a pan, as if I were making bar cookies. They would take longer to bake but that meant I could run upstairs and get dressed. And it did work out that way! Next time if I make these cookies again I will maybe do that to begin with, make them into bar cookies.

I blame Cooking Light. They must have been skimping on the butter or something and that was why the dough did not hold together. You know how they are always skimping on stuff. Fie on them, fie. Once again I am running out the door with a tray full of cookies that just came out of the oven one second ago. Once again I am skidding in barely in time for the Asperges.

When I am through with this Pennario thing, my next project should be a cookbook.

Somebody has to tell these people how to do things right!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The forbidden picture

Today is a gray and damp Saturday but I am enjoying myself. I went this morning to Zumba and then to Price-Rite. At Price-Rite I followed my mother's advice of always go food shopping when you are hungry because that is when it is the most fun.

I did have fun. The carts there are huge and there are all these traffic jams, leading to all these opportunities to laugh and joke around with your fellow customers. Also I have this new appreciation of all this international stuff you can find, for cheap, at Price-Rite. They have half an aisle of Italian things, olive oils and artichoke hearts and such. And Latino vegetables, things like yucca and yams.

You find yourself wanting to look at everything. For instance one bin held cottage-cheese-sized cartons of ... I picked it up to take a look .... raw brown sugar. In another aisle I heard someone calling to someone else to look at the raw sugar cane. That sounds as if you could make your own rum! A possibility that must be explored.

Price-Rite does not get enough credit for all this stuff. With which, I finally took out my camera in the spice department. I wanted to photograph the mother lode of MSG ...


... and then I wanted to give an idea of the cornucopia of spices.

"Excuse me, miss!" A staffer was calling to me. "We don't allow pictures in here."

I stood there red-handed, astonished.

"You don't?" was all I could think of to say.

"No pictures of the spices," he said.

"Oh," I said. Then I said I was sorry, it was just for my personal web log, whatever. He was very nice so, no problem there. He said it was the manager's rule, not his. But that is astonishing, you know? No pictures in Price-Rite. How strange! And how do you forbid customers from taking pictures, anyway? No wonder nobody knows what goodies may be had in Price-Rite.

After that all I wanted to do was take pictures. I kept thinking about it! Because it was forbidden to me. It is like wanting to publish a picture of Leonard Pennario that belongs to some newspaper and not to me. I wanted forbidden photos of Price-Rite!

Anyway, here it is, the forbidden picture.

The one I took the instant the staffer was telling me to cease and desist!

It should be part of some exhibit, perhaps at the Albright-Knox, of banned art.

It is masterful!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The poet and the nun

I have found this fascinating Lenten reading, as good as any novel. It is the account of Christ's Passion as seen through the fevered eyes of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, pictured at left.

You may read it free online. But I am warning you, it is hard to put down.

Blessed Catherine Emmerich was beatified by John Paul II but not on the strengths of these -- visions, were what you could call them. I think it is one of those situations where the Catholic Church leaves it up to you whether to believe they are from God. But her writings -- well, actually, someone else wrote them down for her, someone I will get to in a second -- they are a marvelous read, if nothing else.

Reading them made me wonder: How come we hear everything about St. Faustina but nothing about Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich? This stuff is amazing. She was this peasant nun without any money or formal education but she goes into all this historic detail. I read somewhere today that Mel Gibson made extensive use of her visions in "The Passion of the Christ."

Here is what reeled me in. As the music critic for The Buffalo News and the authorized biographer of Leonard Pennario I am big into music. And the man who wrote these visions down, he was the German poet Clemens Brentano. I had never heard of any of this but I sure knew that name. I know him, and I know his family.

"I know him, and I know his family." There is an endorsement!

Clemens Brentano was one of the most famous poets of the Romantic age, a rival to Goethe. He was one of the two poets we can thank for "Des Knaben Wunderhorn," the famous collection of German folk poetry that inspired a lot of artists including Gustav Mahler. He wrote poetry that was set to music by Richard Strauss. His sister was Bettina Brentano ...

... who had a flirtation with Goethe and, sort of, with Beethoven. His sister-in-law was Antonie Brentano ...

...  who was supposedly Beethoven's "Immortal Beloved," the woman to whom Beethoven addressed those torchy love letters. Ha, ha! I love the small size of that picture. I am going to leave it be. Clemens Brentano was the one who wrote that classic observation about the fragile Antonie: "Toni is like a glass of water that has been left standing for a long time."

This is all getting kind of inside baseball. Maybe I will go into it more on my Music Critic web log. My point is, you would think I would have run across this business about Clemens Brentano ...

... taking down the visions of this nun. But for some reason it is just not talked about very much.

"Well, Mary, everyone knows that Clemens Brentano took down the dictation of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich." Fine, all I am saying is you would think I would have heard of this somewhere, somehow, and yet I did not.

It is fascinating stuff.

To be explored at length, of an evening in Lent.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

I know squat

Tonight I went to Zumba class. Our teacher was wearing a shirt that said in big letters, "YOU DON'T KNOW SQUAT."

By the end of the class I knew squat.

Hahaha I am seeing online there are all kinds of inspirational quotes about squats, such as ...


It is funny, what good it does you to move around after a day sitting at your desk. On the way to the gym I was vexed because my brakes were making a noise and I am thinking I will have to go in and get a brake job. Once I walked into the gym and went to Zumba class I forgot all about my brakes. And when I came out to the parking lot and remembered them, it did not seem as bad.

Brakes, schmakes.

So what?

So I spend a thousand dollars, big whiz. Remember that when you were a kid, you would say "Big whiz." Haha.

My car is getting to the point where it is this or it is that. All little things, nothing that will strand me, but I have to start thinking of if I want to get a newer car, one that will give me less trouble. My CD player has been kaput for some time, which is torture because I have Leonard Pennario's "Virtuoso Showpieces" sitting right there all ready to go in the slot in the driver's side door. The sun roof kicked a while ago. All kinds of things are not working and so decisions must be made.

But not today. That is a nice thing when you can say that no decision has to be made today.

It can be postponed!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Hallowe'en in March

Today at church the sermon was just the kind of sermon I love, about the supernatural, and about demons, and matters like that. It was because of the Gospel reading.

This Gospel reading today was a great one. Christ talks about how a demon is cast out of a man, and then the demon goes wandering around, seeking rest, but finds none, and so decides to return to the home from whence he came.

Got to love that, the idea of the demon looking for rest and finding none! That is a picture up above of the demon failing to find rest.

Anyway, the demon heads back to the poor guy who had been exorcised. And he finds that the place is swept and cleaned -- in other words, the guy has gotten his act together. And so the demon brings six more demons with him, more wicked than himself, to take up residence there.

The priest said, "From this we may learn that demons are not all alike. Some are worse than others."

That is something to ponder! Along with the creepy old story of the demon that made the phone call.

It was like the season of Hallowe'en, discussing matters of demons and possessions. I was on the same page with the priest because I baked, for the after-mass Coffee Hour, Pumpkin Bars. I cannot link to the recipe because it came from an old Broadway Market Cookbook. But here is the recipe really quick, because the Pumpkin Bars came out really well.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Beat together 4 eggs, 1 2/3 cups sugar, 1 cup vegetable oil and 2 cups pumpkin.

Separately stir together 2 cups flour, 2 tsp. baking powder, 2 tsp. cinnamon, 1 tsp. calt and 1 tsp. baking soda.

Mix the dry in with the wet.

Now this is my favorite part! Spread the batter into an ungreased 15 x 10 x 1 inch baking pan. That is a baking pan size I love. This is the Broadway Market cookbook, not Cooking Light. Bake 25 to 30 minutes. Cool. Cut into bars according to your liking.

Frost with Cream Cheese Frosting: Cream together 3 ounces softened cream cheese, 1/2 cup softened butter, 1 tsp vanilla and 2 cups powdered sugar.

The frosting was where I hit the skids. I had everything all ready and baked the cookies themselves on Saturday, because I had to work Saturday night and I knew we would be losing the hour because of Daylight Savings Time. And on Sunday even though I had had only five hours' sleep,  I got up feeling like Leonard Pennario used to before a concert -- flawlessly prepared.

But doh! Even though the butter and cream cheese were softened I could not beat out the lumps. I had to go pick up Dorothy and there was not enough time. I was literally frosting these cookies as I ran out the door.

End result: I took my lumps. Along with the rest of the frosting. It was just butter. What's not to love? And clearly no one minded. The Pumpkin Bars all vanished. It all worked out.

I will have to remember them in October.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Climb every mountain

After a few days of convalescing I am back on my feet and this morning I went cross-country skiing with my brother George.

We just went to Delaware Park but, as George said, "It looks like the moon."

Mountains of snow, everywhere! As in the above picture Howard took of City Hall.

Where is it all going to go? We do not think this snow is about to go gentle into that good night. It will melt in a giant flood, is what we are thinking.

We had to climb a mountain just to get into the park. I started laughing at George and his skis clambering over this mountain and I stopped for a minute but unfortunately he read my mind. "No pictures," he said.

So politely I waited until he had vanished over the other side and then I took this picture.

Zowie! No wonder Pennario and his family moved out of Buffalo after the infamous cold winter of 1934. Who needs this?

And here is my street.

And a snapshot of the parking lot at work.

Ha, ha! That is what is known as a lot of snow!

One day when I drove into work instead of taking the bus, I realized there was no way to get through the mountains of snow surrounding the lot, mountains which you may see pictured at left. Then I saw a narrow little pass. And so I climbed through the pass, carrying my bag with my lunch and my shoes. And one of our drivers shouted something at me.

"What?" I yelled back.

He yelled: "You have to yodel when you come through there?"

That is Buffalo! Either you leave, as Pennario's family did after the infamously cold winter of 1934, or you better keep your sense of humor.

Yodel ay-ee yodel ay-ee yodel-oh!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

In the Russian kitchen

As I am recovering my health I remind myself of that woman in "Moonstruck," or whatever the movie was. She was at death's door -- "and then she got up, and began to cook for everyone in the house."

That was me!

First I made Israeli hummus in honor of Benjamin Netanyahu's speech before Congress. There is something so 18th century about this whole drama, about, is the Speaker of the House inviting a foreign prime minister. It made me recall stuff I learned in grade school about checks and balances.

And just that name, Congress. So 1700s.

In the new Eating Well they have a bunch of recipes from this handsome and brooding Israeli chef. I made his Double-Tahini Hummus.


He is the Leonard Pennario of hummus, is what I have decided. There is no topping this. Let me look up his name to give him the glory. Ah! A wonderful name, Michael Solomonov.

To complement the Israeli hummus, I made Russian Black Bread from Allrecipes. That is a picture at the top of this post of the completed loaf. It got wonderful reviews online which is why I tried it. Here is my favorite review.

I am a 91 year old [WW-2 Marine] who has been making bread going on 2 years now. Recently have acquired a used bread machine and use it to work the dough and take it thru the 1st rise. Then I divide in 2 regular loaf pans and let rise again and then bake. Have for breakfast every morning toasted with orange marmolade and black coffee. It is good enough to help me get to 100. Jack Whitesell Prescott

I love how the gentleman signs his name. Thank you, sir, for your service!

Finally here is Jeoffry playing with his elephant. Observe the Savers bag.

A very nice day!

I am feeling better already.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A thorny situation

Since going to see Jackie Jocko last week something terrible has happened. I wound up with the theme from "The Thorn Birds" on my brain.

Jocko plays that theme all the time. It is this wistful waltz by, I looked it up, Henry Mancini.

Being a little under the weather and not out and gadding about I got on YouTube today to check out "The Thorn Birds." Just to get a glimpse of it. I kind of remember it from years ago but I was never a TV watcher. One thing I remember, my Auntie Rose was at our house, at my parents' house I mean, visiting or something, and she would watch "The Thorn Birds." Auntie Rose was my dad's black-sheep sister who lived in California and when she came into town the rules on TV watching were relaxed considerably.

Richard Chamberlain played this priest on "The Thorn Birds," I remember that, and the priest was in love with Rachel Ward. Auntie Rose would laugh about that. Whenever Rachel Ward would come into view my Auntie Rose would say, "The priest can't be far behind." And we would all laugh.

Then the priest would come into view and Auntie Rose would say: "I told you. There he is."

Ha, ha! At the same time we were having those conversations Leonard Pennario was watching "The Thorn Birds" too. He watched it on the hotel TVs while he was on tour. I did not think to ask him his thoughts on Anton Rubinstein's piano concertos but naturally we covered this ground.

I honestly never saw "The Thorn Birds" so I did a YouTube search.

 A couple things struck me.

One, I did not recognize Richard Chamberlain. When the guy says, "I've brought your husband!" I thought they meant her husband in the series, played by Bryan Brown. Because I remember in real life that was who she married. She fell in love with him, making "The Thorn Birds."

OK. So that is Richard Chamberlain. That is the priest character. One comment on the video read something like: "I wish we would stop glorifying this. This is not a fun situation." I agree.

But the biggest thing I found myself thinking about was:

The whole thing had such a dated look. The shot of Rachel Ward at the top of this post, her dress looks kind of '70s. It just looks as if it is made from polyester. And look at her shoes. The filming is not as perfect as filming is now. People do not look as perfect.

With which (that is an expression I got, by the way, from my Auntie Rose) ... you do not realize how skinny people have become!

You could never get away now being the size Rachel Ward is in this video! I freezed it at 0:43 and just studied her.

She is beautiful and healthy looking but you are not allowed to look that way now.