Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Your servant, ma'am

Every time I allow my Crock Pot to make dinner I wonder why I do not grant it permission more often.

It is like having a servant in the house!

You walk in and there is this aroma of your dinner cooking. Every time I do this, which as I said is not often enough, I always manage not to be thinking about it when I walk in the door. Then that aroma hits you.

Today it is Black Bean Soup. I used this basic recipe out of the 400 Calorie Fix diet cookbook. Diet cookbooks by the way have great recipes, in my (extensive) experience. They knock themselves out to impress you. The South Beach Diet cookbooks are excellent.

Anyway, this Spicy Black Bean Soup, to use its formal name, pretty much has you toss together dried beans (2 cups) chopped up onion, carrots or whatever, and a cup of salsa, plus then you cover it with water. I waited until I came back home to add the salsa because I had not soaked the beans as the recipe asked, and I was afraid that with salt they would not soften correctly.

After tossing in the salsa I spiced it up according to another recipe I love, Caribbean Black Bean Soup out of the Vegetarian Times cookbook. I threw in cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper and -- the piece de resistance -- a quarter cup of dark rum.


"Your servant, ma'am." That is the Crock Pot speaking!

The black bean soup is cousin to the white bean soup I wrote about a while ago. My friend Ryan made that white bean soup! That made my day.

Today  it was rather disorienting, because I had time to play the piano and work on my book and whatnot. Clearly I must explore and exploit the Crock Pot more often.

It is not often you find a Crock Pot recipe that is just excellent as I have kvetched before. We will have to make an index of recipes that work.

When you find one, it makes your day!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Oh, the holidays

Wow, you blink and a fortnight is gone. Here I was feeling good about keeping up the Web log which is good therapy but all of a sudden the last thing I wrote was about the dead Beethoven.

The dead Beethoven!

How about the dead Web logger?

My aunt, my Auntie Rose, used to say, "Oh, the holidays." It would absolve you of any guilt over anything.  This was the same aunt who loved "The Thorn Birds," remember? And whose photographs miraculously survived the Great Flood of '08.

"Oh, the holidays," Auntie Rose used to say. And all would be forgiven.

Once my brother George and I were staying with Auntie Rose in California where she lived in, you guessed it, Santa Rosa. And something went wrong, we were all fighting about something, Auntie Rose was mad about something.

And I said, or George said, "Oh, Auntie Rose, I'm sorry. It's just the holidays --"

And she said: "Oh, the holidays."

And all was forgiven!

Anyway, I hope my spotty Web logging can be likewise forgiven. Oh, the holidays. We went to my sister's in East Aurora for Christmas. I took a picture of her magnificent tree. Katie always has these strange skinny trees and they would look terrible in anyone else's hands but in her hands they look like out of Martha Stewart magazine.

What a picture! I must have been into the eggnog. On the Second Day of Christmas I made amazing cookies, the recipe to which I shall presently share. Yesterday, George and I and Georgie and Barbara celebrated the Fourth Day of Christmas by viewing the Festival of Trees at the one, the only, the iconic Robert Moses Power Plant.

And do not fall over from shock but I have been doing a lot of work pulling the book together. Hence the gap in the Web log. But I will be more reliable correspondent. I have to say I enjoy it. It is good therapy.

Oh, the holidays.

They continue!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Where is the dead Beethoven?

It is Beethoven's birthday! He was born on this date in 1770. Beethoven did us the courtesy of being born in a round year so it is not too difficult to figure out how old he is. He is 245 by my calculation. Am I right?

I once saw the Beethoven Haus in Bonn. Also I visited his grave in Vienna's Central Cemetery. I visited Mozart's grave too but that is a whole other story.

There is a famous story in our family. Everyone in our family made an individual pilgrimage to Beethoven's grave. I was with my mother but I think everyone else did it separately and alone.

My sister Margie was in Vienna looking for Beethoven's grave and she needed to ask someone where it was. So she mustered up some German and she said: "Wo ist der tot Beethoven?"

Meaning: Where is the dead Beethoven?

And the German she asked looked at her dead serious. And he responded:

"Der tot Beethoven ist im Himmel!"

The dead Beethoven is in heaven!

Well, you just know that he is.

Leonard Pennario recorded some great Beethoven but all that is out there on YouTube is his "Moonlight" Sonata with orchestra, and he would kill me if I posted that for Beethoven's birthday.

So there is this. Conducted by Josef Krips, another great musician who spent time in Buffalo.

There is nothing like listening to Beethoven to reassure you that God will triumph and the battle has already been won! My father once told me that when he was a boy he heard this Allegretto from the Symphony No. 7 and just cried. He could not imagine anything more beautiful.

Can anyone? His taste stayed the same over the years. Mine have, too. The music I loved when I was a kid I still love. Even now I am leaning back listening to this. Ahhh.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Tree's company

One of the happiest days of the year is the day the Christmas tree goes up!

It is up because my niece and nephew Barbara and Georgie forced the issue. They wanted to come over and help me decorate the tree and that gave me a deadline. I am a journalist. I cannot do anything without a deadline. It is one reason the book on Leonard Pennario has taken so long.

Anyway, I awoke Sunday, the appointed day, and just flew. Before church I got something into the Crock Pot and something else into the bread machine. Home again, I had to locate the ornaments and the lights. It only took about a dozen prayers to St. Anthony but I found them. Why hadn't I gone looking for them the day before? Oh, right, because the day before I had been cleaning out the front sun room, that was why.

End result, as we say here in Buffalo: Sun room is cleaned up. Tree is up.

Cookies are baked.

My niece Barbara is just in that phase of life where she is in awe of all my stuff.

"Oh!" she said. "You have the most beautiful ornaments!"

That is amazing, to have someone admiring all your stuff! Then she marveled at my orange scarf, which you can see her wearing above. Next up for admiration was my collection of cookie cutters, the result of another furtive prayer to St. Anthony because I had not known we would be baking cookies today.

More details on the cookies to follow. Meanwhile...

We feast our eyes.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A California Christmas

Christmas music I heard today included Kay Starr's "The Man With the Bag."

Cute song.

 I do not think they have written a good Christmas song since, well, around then. You hear these tortured rock Christmas songs and I just want to say, stuff it. In that stocking! I heard a few of those talent-less songs today, too. But this song was fun. Kay Starr's voice is so good and so is the blaring brass.

It is kind of fun because we are having California weather. You cannot fight it! You just have to pretend you are living in California. Where people are used to warm weather and make snowmen in the sand, pictured above, and know the name Leonard Pennario.

Yesterday I decided it was time to get back into maxi-dresses. Hey, why not? If it's in the 50s.

The one nice thing to think about is this is all time lopped off winter. Imagine if we can skate through Christmas without snow. You could gripe that you want a white Christmas but ain't nothing you can do about it ... and the payoff is, winter doesn't start until January. That is two months of winter, November and December, that we were missing. Meaning we lose two months of winter.

We will hardly have time to get sick of it before it ends! And that is not a bad present.

Our California Christmas! It'll make this December one we'll remember.

We now revisit the iconic tropical Aldi commercial.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

It's beginning to look a lot like Aldi

I have been Web logging kind of a lot recently so if you are a Facebook friend and it gets on your nerves, just hide me. It just feels good at the end of the day to look back and think of stuff that happened, you know? Especially good things that happened. I find myself doing that a lot.

Today it was a trip to Albrecht Discount.

It is funny, I walked in kind of stressed out. Of course Aldi has a way of de-stressing you as soon as you walk in the door. Because that is where they put the chocolate from Germany and Austria. You get Belgian and French chocolate in the center of the store but they put that high-octane stuff right by the entrance.

Oh yes. Oh yes. Yes.

So zombie-like I buy chocolate. I love the dark chocolate with chili. Then I advance to the center of the store. And I ran into my friend Mike! He is the husband of my friend Melinda. Things begin looking up. I ran into someone I like. I am ahead in the game of life. We began talking awestruck about the Aldi chocolate.

Then after he leaves I go down this aisle and a stranger points out the greatness of this moose where, you pull some cord or push some button, the moose opens his big mouth and starts biting at you and singing a Christmas carol. All of us suddenly are gathered around this sight and laughing.

Is that Buffalo or what? All of a sudden I was in a good mood.

Not only that but at Aldi they had Baker's Corner molasses at a reduced price, 99 cents for a pint. That is 16 ounces of molasses you may use for your gingerbread and molasses cookies. I also found whole wheat flour. You do not find that at Aldi every day. It was something like $2.60 for five pounds. I am a walking Aldi ad!

This morning I got up at 6 and worked on the book and then worked out on the elliptical machine while listening to Pennario playing Chopin preludes, in expectation of such baking.

The weather may feel like California but still I am ready for Christmas. Thanks to Aldi!

This is funny, a while ago I was walking into Aldi behind two women. And I heard one woman say to the other, "I love this store."

Who doesn't?

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

You know you wanna... Go to Lackawanna

Today being the Feast of the Immaculate Conception I went to noontime Mass at Our Lady of Victory Basilica. It is only 10 minutes from downtown! Plus you get to drive over the Skyway. An experience I love!

Other people take pictures of the church. And the church is amazing. But me, I am different. I take pictures of the gift shop! The gift shop is where it all happens. That is a picture up above that I took in the gift shop. You can buy any saint you can think of!

My gift shop fixation reminds me of the Theodore Roosevelt Historic Site which I got to visit last week as part of the Buffalo News series 100 Things Every Western New Yorker Should Do At Least Once. It was a fascinating place but still I could not wait to get to the gift shop! And when I was there I bought a hat and a scarf. I wore them today to Our Lady of Victory.

After I got out of the gift shop I did take this brooding picture of the outside.

Remember my earlier adventure in Lackawanna? Who could forget it? But this trip was eventful too.

After Mass and the museum and lingering for a long while in the gift shop I drove a little around South Buffalo and saw the house where I lived when I was very little. When I was very young, my family lived on the first floor and my grandfather lived upstairs. My earliest memory dates from this house, at 193 Choate Ave. I remember being held in my grandfather's arms on the staircase in the back of the house and looking out a window. There was a star and the light from it was emanating as if it formed a cross. You know how that works, the window is streaked or something. And so you see this cross shape.

Today, passing the house, I slowed down and sure enough, there was this window at the back of the house. It was kind of between the first and second floors.

And I thought: That was the window!

That was where we were, my beautiful grandfather and I!

That was where it dates to, my oldest memory. That is where I looked out and saw that star. It is fun to think of what your oldest memory is. That is mine. What is yours?

My grandfather, whose name was George J. Kunz just like my dad, died when I was 9. He owned a men's clothes store in Lackawanna which I began thinking about while I was in Lackawanna today, at the Basilica. This being Buffalo -- well, Lackawanna -- I got talking with strangers after Mass and they were interested in where my grandfather's shop was.

I wonder if there is any Leonard Pennario connection with Lackawanna. I have not heard that there was. But there must be! I bet he was at the basilica once or twice.

Whether he did or not, I will have to go back there. A 10-minute drive, and you get to see this amazing place?

I am in!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Tub of history

It is a long story but today I learned to appreciate my bathtub.

Some time ago I learned to appreciate my toilet. I mean the toilet in the downstairs half-bath. Howard taught me to see its greatness.

Likewise today I see my bathtub with new eyes.

I have been at odds with this bathtub for some time. I have been wanting to replace it because I have trouble cleaning it, whatever. And it seemed old and doddering. I was seduced by ads for soaking tubs. I have spent time on Pinterest.

However, today, I found myself looking at my bathtub.

That was because Howard pulled off a kind of miracle, fixing not only the bathroom sink, which was plugged up, but also the shower. He made the shower excellent. It blasted down on me like Niagara Falls and I found myself thinking: I no longer want to replace this tub. What if the people who replaced the tub screwed up the shower?

After drying off and bundling myself in Leonard Pennario's bathrobe, I went and looked at the tub. It was kind of deep, now that I thought about it. I got a yardstick and measured the depth. It is 18 inches! That is deeper than most tubs.

Epiphany: I do have, ahem, a soaking tub. And in the corner I saw the brand name was Standard. Not American Standard. Just "Standard." With the "S" a stylized shape.

Howard pointed out that meant that it was before Standard merged with American Radiator, which it did in 1929. God knows how he knew that but he did. That means my bathtub is a genuine 1920s bathtub! Or earlier. It is not a claw-foot but modern bathtubs in that era were not. Witness the ad above.

My tub may well have been original to the house!

It could even have been used to make bathtub gin!

Isn't it funny, you can be sitting on something forever and not realize what it is. I have been in this house how many years? I never thought about this.

I took Howard out to dinner in thanks for fixing the plumbing. We went for sushi.

Today I cleaned the tub and the floor.  I am going to start to treat this tub with respect. It is an antique! Good thing I realized it before I replaced it.

Learn from me. Before you toss something in your house or apartment, Google it. Analyze it. You might be sitting on an antique.

Rejoice in what you have!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

My life under the Tuscan sun

Today after church the coolest thing happened.

I was on my way out and because I had been loitering and talking, people were arriving for the Italian Mass. The Italian mass takes place after the Latin mass. This is at St. Anthony's church in downtown Buffalo. Anyway, this couple were walking down the sidewalk toward the church, and I was passing them because I was on my way to, you guessed it, the social hall -- to do more loitering, this time over coffee.

As the couple drew near I heard them talking in Italian.

And I smiled, and I called out: "Buon giorno!"

That was the greatest! Because last week I had passed some folks heading toward the Italian mass and speaking Italian, and I had said, "Good morning." And later I was kicking myself. How many opportunities do you get to say "Buon giorno!"? Without shelling out to go to Italy, I mean? Why hadn't I said "Buon giorno!"? Shame! Misery!

Ergo, today I was ready.

"Buon giorno!" I sang out. And the couple lit up. I mean, I know I probably have a terrible accent, one that would make Leonard Pennario, let alone St. Anthony of Padua, cringe. But the man and woman seemed to think it was fun. They said it back to me.

Then the woman asked me, in Italian, how I was doing. I can't remember what it was but I understood it. In foreign languages I always understand better than I speak. In English it is the other way around.

Somehow I came up with the word "Bene." And they nodded and smiled in approval. We were all laughing and enjoying.

I rule!

I spoke Italian!

Without shelling out to go to Italy!

I will have to work up a new phrase for next week. Anyway -- till tomorrow --


Saturday, December 5, 2015

Room at the inn

So much has been going on this week that until now I have not gotten a chance to share the good news, that my Facebook friend John Callahan has given a home to the Infant of Prague.

Remember the Infant of Prague at Amvets and how worried we were about him?

There was no room for the Infant at the Inn but there is at John Callahan's house!

John explained on Facebook that he had purchased the statue. I asked him to post a picture but he has not. So we have to use our imaginations.

How about that? I see that picture is credited to Organized Clutter. It looks kind of like my own house, come to think of it, piled with books and literature and old things and material relating to Leonard Pennario. Plus, my Infant of Prague is a statue like that one.

Well, wherever John Callahan put that statue, I am sure it is a place of great reverence and respect.

And his home is surely blessed!