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Archive for November, 2012

I have one other suggestions to the fairly new question.  Let’s call it the Thanksgiving Tree – because that is when people now seem to put them up.  When I was young, my family was thought odd because we put our tree up one week before Christmas.  That was because my Pappy liked to putz and had an elaborate train set up.  This in itself took longer than the actual erection and decorating of our tree.  It was fairly common back then to bring the tree into the house a day or two before Christmas and often not decorate it until Christmas Eve…seriously people!  Doesn’t anyone else remember this?  It was a very festive evening.  Christmas Eve was not reserved for last-minute shopping, cleaning, wrapping, cooking, etc.  It was for fun alone – stringing popcorn, imbibing alcohol and party time with the extended family.

By bringing in the tree on or even before Thanksgiving, we have theoretically left so much more time for ourselves to do these extraneous Christmas-related chores, yet we remain like chickens with our little heads cut off right up until the last-minute.  Why is that?  Maybe Martha Stuart ruined Christmas with her over-acheiving ideas for the perfect home, baked goods, decor and gifts? Maybe we really don’t need twelve different kinds of Christmas cookies decorated to the max?  Maybe just chocolate chip and sand tarts would do?  Maybe a few meaningful presents would suffice instead of dozens which look professionally wrapped?  Maybe, just maybe we could remember what we’re celebrating.

It is November 29, and no tree has yet been purchased by me.  I don’t feel bad about that.  There is still a great deal of time left, and I have a plan.  I have made minor concessions since my youth; I normally bring in my tree and decorate about two weeks before Christmas instead of the one week I was accustomed to for so long.  This works perfectly, as the greens still actually smell good on December 25, and bonus – I can then keep it up until at least February.

Well, I do look forward to putzing around very soon.

Important Note:  To the Pennsylvania Dutch, putz and putzing refer to Christmas decorations and decorating…not, I repeat not, a euphemism for a man’s body part which I believe has an ‘e’ on the end, as in putze.  Suddenly felt I should clarify this.

Now that I think again, that could be fun as well.

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I recently read a truly wonderful book, Illuminations, by Mary Sharratt and reviewed it on Amazon.  This was a fictionalized but fairly factual account of the life of Hildegard von Bingen who lived in twelfth century Germany.  The book was a revelation to me about monastic life at the time.  Hildegard was given to the church at the age of eight and was walled-up (yes, as in sealed in with bricks and mortar) in a small ‘cell’ attached to a monastery – she was given over to be a handmaiden to a young woman not much older than Hildegard who had willingly given herself to the church.  Hildegard’s mother received money for two other daughters’ dowries in exchange for sacrificing her youngest.

I will get to the music part shortly, but this book made me very curious about this entire practice of walling in ‘anchorites’.  It seems intolerably cruel now.  These women had access to the outside world only through a small opening on the interior church wall through which they received food and other necessary goods.  When one died, as Jutta did in the book, the wall had to be torn down to retrieve the body as the opening was too small for even her frail, ravaged figure.  After spending twenty-three years of her life in this cell with Jutta, the monks were preparing to wall up Hildegard again.  She schemes to gain a reprieve from this, and eventually gains a measure of freedom to revisit the outside natural world of forests, birds and animals she loved as a child.  She is a remarkably fascinating figure.  She becomes a thorn in the side, save for one, of  the monks running the monastery.  While she remains a captive there, she writes wonderful manuscripts which are beautifully illuminated by another young woman, an oblate given to the church in her teens by her mother.  She becomes a beloved friend of Hildegard’s.  You can still see these illuminations if you search online.  You can also see ruins of these ‘cells’ remaining all over Europe, as this was a wide-spread and common practice of the church in medieval times.  The monks made money off these anchorites they held.  They were thought to be pious, holy women, and citizens from far and wide would come bearing gifts for the monastery in exchange for an audience with these women through their shuttered little window.

Though Jutta was thought to be this particular monastery’s holy woman, it was really Hildegard who was blessed by God.  Hildegard began having visions, recordable back to the age of three and which continued throughout her life.  Many thought these visions were heretical, but they were true visions of the Virgin Mary and Christ.  She eventually, late in life, became an abbess and was sainted by the church after her death.  During her life, she wrote these wonderful manuscripts, but she also wrote music…holy music, which she and the oblates/nuns performed for the monks and visiting dignitaries.  As with the idea of the cells, I became quite curious about this music.  In short, I wanted very much to hear it.

It only took me a minute on I-Tunes to discover Hildegard’s compositions.  I bought the album, 11,000 Virgins – Chants for the Feast of St. Ursula.  Although my kids thought the songs all sounded alike, I begged to differ and was instantly enthralled.  The music is haunting, beautiful, rich and reflective.  It is the most restive music I have ever heard…like being in a cathedral and being watched over by God.  Experimenting, I began to play it on my iPhone when going to sleep.  I have never slept so well.  You should listen to samples on I-Tunes and see if you enjoy it.  It is amazing to me to be able to listen to music composed by Hildegard in the twelfth century.  I continue to be captivated.

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I follow a wonderful blog, Texana’s Kitchen.  Christine is a born and bred southerner and posts wonderful articles and recipes.  She recently talked about leftovers that seemed anything but, and also stuffing.  She mentioned that when she talks stuffing, she is only referring to the cornbread variety.  This got me thinking.  We put all kinds of things in our birds…ha, ha, ha, and some of them seem pretty weird and exotic to me.  I’m Pennsylvania Dutch and we never even call it stuffing.  It is filling to us – maybe because it really is.  Think about that one.  We insert filling into our fowl, and it is yummy bread filling.  I know that may sound boring, but trust me, it’s delicious.  I’ll add my recipe below and maybe you can be the judge.  It is fabulous hot with gravy and even better to nibble cold, right out of the fridge, after the holiday meal.

Well, back to what other folks put in their birds.  Christine is a cornbread girl.  Then there is the old-fashioned oyster stuffing…okay if everyone coming loves oysters but off-putting for those of us not so enamored – although I do have a to-die-for ham and oyster pie recipe I confess to enjoying (maybe I’ll share that also).  Regaining my focus here, there is also the long-standing chestnut stuffing which I have never eaten.  I did find a recipe for chestnut and pear stuffing that sounds wonderful.  It contains bacon (and how could you then go wrong?), cranberries (yum), garlic, wine, etc.  I’m salivating now and it’s not pretty.

Let’s not forget apple stuffing, mushroom stuffing, nut, sausage, pineapple, rice, currants and potato and squash.  After I became curious about this issue, I researched stuffing and have decided that you can put anything you want in your turkey, goose, duck, chicken, capon, pheasant, quail.   The ingredients I found were a staggering array of all things edible.  Here’s the problem – no matter how many wonderful recipes I find, the holidays dictate tradition at my house, and I suspect in most homes.  Everyone is expecting the same dinner each Thanksgiving and Christmas.  You can mess with it around the edges, but not the major stuff.  If you are too adventurous and spring surprises on the group, you may elicit shrieks of protest and disbelief.  I guess the solution, necessarily, is to experiment on your own time and make some ordinary day special when you hit upon a new and worthy culinary sampling.

Pennsylvania Dutch Bread Filling for a 20-25 lb Turkey:  In a large bowl or tub (I use my Tupperware cake container), tear up enough white bread for your bird (at least two large loaves), add diced celery and onion to your liking, add salt and pepper to taste, parsley, about two to three cups of Pepperidge Farm Herb Stuffing mix (the blue bag), 10-12 eggs (yes – a dozen).  Now melt butter (you will need about two sticks), pour slowly over your ingredients, mixing with your hands as you go.  You want the filling very moist, but not soggy.  You can add a little whole milk if you need more liquid and don’t want to clog your arteries with more butter.

Note:  Adjust ingredient quantities for smaller birds.  If you have too much filling for the bird, it is also very good done in a crockpot.  Take the raw filling that is left and place in a crockpot on low, add chicken broth as it cooks to keep it moist and stir occasionally.

Ham & Oyster Pie:

3 cups of ground ham, 1/2 cup chopped onion, 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons melted butter, 1 can of oysters (drained), and 1 cup heavy cream

In a bowl, mix the ground ham and Dijon mustard.  Put this mixture in bottom of an unbaked pie crust.  Top the meat with the drained oysters and then the chopped onions.  Drizzle with melted butter.  Pour heavy cream over all.  Cover with the top pie crust dough and bake at 350 degrees until done – about 35 to 45 minutes.  (Most meat departments will grind the ham for you.)

This is so easy and so delicious…

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and count your blessings

My next post will be Monastic Music…lovely!

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File:Brown marmorated stink bug adult.jpg

Stink bugs are nasty

little Houdinis appear

disgust everyone

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Stink bugs suck – literally.  I checked Wikipedia…they stick their little proboscis’ places they shouldn’t, and I am sick of them.  They came from China or Japan as stowaways in 1998, but unfortunately their natural predator in China didn’t think to hitch a ride with them.  So we have stink bugs aplenty and now are planning to arrange transport for quantities of this stupid, homebody predator, a parasitoid wasp.  Thus I now query…just what do we know about these wasps?  Will they earn their keep or become disappointing wards of the Federal government?  How much money will we spend on stink bug population control and the travel arrangements and expenses of their mortal enemy wasps?   Will the wasps themselves become an unwelcome nuisance?  What else besides stink bugs is edible fare for them?  Will they be non-discriminating in their feeding and bite unsuspecting American citizens?   Do we have sera for this?  Will we need Dr. Gregory House to diagnose the first victims?  I’m concerned.

In case you don’t live in the northeast and haven’t yet come face to face with a stink bug, you may be wondering how they got this charming name?  A word of advice, don’t touch one.

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A Few More Haikus

Hunger screams awake

the child whose life is shadowed

by despair and death

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Put the kettle on

sit with me again old friend

and tell what you will

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I left and returned

time stood still, nothing had changed

but the cat missed me

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Seraphims call out

announcing their presence here

to battle the beast

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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I just wrote a review on Amazon that prompted this post.  The review was for a new novel called The Bet.  While a fairly talented writer, the author didn’t seem to know his own characters.  The result was a mystifying mess of a story where credibility was lost as his characters continually acted contrary to the expectations of the reader…in other words, they acted out of character.  Intelligent people were suddenly written like imbeciles to further the plot.  A successful young man looking forward to his future, suddenly decides to commit suicide?  A woman deeply in love does nothing to stop her husband from  endangering his life.

This was all quite perplexing as you can imagine.  It did serve, however, as a cautionary tale – to thy characters be true.  Know them, inside out.  Know their motivations.  Know their thought process.  Know what they are capable of and what they are not.  Know their physical limitations.  Know their needs and wants.  Know their financial situation.  Know what they will do for money.  Know their moral compass.  Know what they like to eat for breakfast.  Get inside their heads, and you will be less inclined to make the mistakes the author did in the above-mentioned novel.  You will be less likely to have your readers scratching their heads instead of being immersed in the story as they should be.

If you must have your characters repeatedly act against their own nature and intelligence in order to make the story work, you had better re-think your plot and make changes.  I say repeatedly because, on certain occasions, that duplicity is important and necessary to the plot.  Just be very careful when it isn’t.  You want your readers to identify with your characters, not wonder if they are all schizophrenic.

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