small things

Today, I’m grateful for
– soap bubbles
homemade flour tortillas: startlingly easy to make, and so vastly superior to packaged tortillas in flavor and texture as to be a completely different creature
– new boots to wear in the rain
Radiolab
– hot tea and buttered toast
– the yanking of my horrible wisdom tooth, which appears to have reduced my once-crippling migraines to a mere dull thumping. I think this sensation is what you puny huuuuumans call “headache.”
– Tom Waits

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personal top 40

One of my online friends on another site challenged us to come up with our own personal top 40 songs. I hesitated, then decided that such a ranking is necessarily shifting and impermanent, which removed a lot of the pressure. The task proved both instructive and startling: I found an unsuspected folky streak in myself, and I’m surprised at how many of my favorite artists got edged out by songs that just make me feel good.

These aren’t the best songs by the respective artists, or even the most personally meaningful, but they are the songs that I would stop everything to listen to, that I would hear in my head all day, all week. These are songs I croon absentmindedly, songs I belt out alone or with friends, or songs I play when I want to feel the most like myself.

This exercise drove home something I’ve been thinking already: I need to find a way to get more music into my daily life. I need to get better speakers for the laptop, buy a cheapie iPod and fill it, move the stereo (which is now in a little-used corner) or maybe just move the speakers.

These are in no particular order, except that I put the one long note first.

1. Picture in a Frame – Tom Waits (I coulda picked any of a dozen Waits songs, but this one is special: I pitched hard for this to be the first song at our wedding. The Fella, who loves Tom Waits even more than I do, nixed it, though I’ve never understood why. C’mon: “I’m gonna love you ’til the wheels come off”? Every time I hear it, I get all teary-eyed.)
2. No One Will Ever Love You Honestly – Magnetic Fields
3. A Town Called Malice – The Jam
4. 1952 Vincent Black Lightning – Richard Thompson
5. Baby’s On Fire – Brian Eno
6. I’d Like That – XTC
7. Is She Really Going Out with Him?– Joe Jackson
8. Crazy Little Thing Called Love – Queen
9. Los Angeles – X
10. Jezebel – Iron & Wine
11. My Baby Just Cares For Me – Nina Simone
12. Suffragette City – David Bowie.
13. Wicked Little Town from Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
14. That’s When I Reach for my Revolver – Mission of Burma.
15. The KKK Took My Baby Away – The Ramones
16. Elvis Costello — like with Tom Waits, I could’ve chosen almost any song at random, but I actually gave it some thought and came up with I’m Not Angry, one of those rare songs that still sounds as amazing to me as it did when I 30 years ago.
17. Girl – Beck.
18. Love Will Tear Us Apart Again – Joy Division
19. I Don’t Love Anyone – Belle and Sebastian
20. Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love) – Ella Fitzgerald
21. Sway. I just love the song, not a particular version — but I first noticed the song while watching “Dark City,” so I’ll link that version.
22. Who Loves the Sun – Velvet Underground
23. Life During Wartime – Talking Heads
24. I’ll Follow the Sun – The Beatles
25. A Day in the Life – The Beatles
26. When You’re Next to Me – “Mitch & Mickey” (Eugene Levy & Catherine O’Hara)
27. Working in a Coalmine – Devo
28. Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker) – Parliament Funkadelic
29. Llorando – Delores del Rio a cappella [Note 1: warning! Mulholland Dr. spoiler in that clip! Note 2: oddly enough, I don’t care for Roy Orbison’s English-language version at all.
30. I Hear the Rain – Violent Femmes
31. Driver 8 – R.E.M.
32. Why Don’t You Do Right – Peggy Lee (more recently made famous by Jessica Rabbit)
33. the abysmally depressing My Man – Billie Holiday
34. Lithium – Nirvana
35. Bye Bye Blackbird – I don’t have a favorite version, but I’ve linked to one by Diana Krall that approximates what I hear in my head when I sing it. (What comes out of my mouth is almost certainly quite different.)
36. Brick House – The Commodores
37. Bear Necessities – Phil Harris (The Jungle Book soundtrack)
38. If I Should Fall from Grace with God – The Pogues
39. All Day and All of the Night – The Kinks
40. (You will think I’m kidding but I’m not.) How High the Mountain (Y’all Are Brutalizin’ Me) – Ronnie Dobbs (David Cross)

I know there will be a handful of songs I CANNOT BELIEVE I left off this list, but for the moment, this feels pretty solid. “That one’ll do.” “Let’s go have us a champagne jam.”

gratitude

Things, little and big, to be grateful for this week:

One Step Beyond! I’d never even heard of this Twilight Zone carbon copy, and now I have four DVDs of it, with its original Alcoa promos intact. Thanks to The Fella!

– Pajamas and pearls! (I ordered new pajamas, then made myself a new double-length string of pearls. Obviously, I’m going to wear them both right away.)

– Surprise bacon!

– Graduating from mooshy food to semi-soft food!

– Passover Coca-Cola!

single-handed in the kitchen

My injured finger is healing up just fine, but the odd position and length of the cut (and the swelling and pain from the tetanus shot) means my right (non-dominant) hand was useless for a full week, and not much better the second week.

This long stretch of one-handedness fell inconveniently during a busy celebrating season, with two birthdays and several other parties to cook for. To my delight, I discovered that a little ingenuity and planning makes it easy to entertain one-handed; a trip to Trader Joe’s makes it even easier.

These are recipes — heck, not even recipes, just templates and ideas and products — that I plan to use again and again when time is tight or inspiration is lacking. Here’s just a few of the festive dishes I whipped up with one hand tied behind my back.

for The Fella’s birthday party, a twelve-hour open house:
– goat cheese with store-bought tapenade, served with grape tomatoes, roasted red peppers from the grocery store’s olive bar, and crackers.
– store-bought hummus topped with Trader Joe’s eggplant & garlic dip, served with pita bread, cucumbers, and olives.
– brie topped with a palmful of brown sugar and a sliver of butter, then baked until bubbly and served with baguette, water crackers, and cold grapes. Also good with dried cranberries.
Trader Joe’s spanakopita triangles, spread out on a baking sheet, not crammed into their tiny tray, brushed with olive oil or melted butter, sprinkled with coarse salt, and baked much longer than instructed, until deep golden brown and crispy. They weren’t as delectable as homemade spanakopita, and no reasonable person would expect them to be — but they were pretty darned good.
pulled pork. The Fella diced up the fixings for a taco bar, and I contributed a big mess o’ pulled pork, which required me to open 1) a butcher’s packet; 2) a bottle of BBQ sauce; 3) a tetra pack of cheap red wine. It is fannnnnntastic.
– marble cupcakes. (Yeeeah, this one was tricky to do one-handed, but it’s not a birthday without cake. I didn’t make the cake from scratch, just bought one packet of chocolate cake mix and one packet of yellow cake mix, whipped them up with cooled melted butter in place of the oil, and spooned them into the cupcake tins, then swirled with a skewer for delicate marbling.)
– ganache for frosting: just heavy cream brought to a boil and poured over good chocolate, then stirred until smooth. My professional-baker fancy-pants sister even gave me instructions for whipping it (much better instructions than Cooks Illustrated cookbook, by the way), but in the end I realized that dipping cupcake tops into the warm ganache would be faster and easier than any other method.

For a birthday dinner:
– baked brie again, because WHY ON EARTH NOT?
– more store-bought hummus spiked with lemon, topped with eggplant spread, and then sprinkled with the last of the tomatoes from the taco bar, seared with olive oil and chili powder, served with pita.
– my simplest, best black bean soup. (Instead of mincing an onion, I whacked one up roughly and processed the entire pot of soup, then added some reserved beans at the end.)
– oven-baked frittata with frozen spinach and caramelized onions, using up the last of the onions from The Fella’s taco bar.
– a perfectly simple salad: greens topped with cranberries and toasted almonds and tossed with good balsamic vingar, superb olive oil, cracked pepper, and Polish finishing salt.
– a half-baked loaf of bread (from TJ’s again), finished in our oven.
– buttery cake (on The Fella’s birthday, I baked the excess yellow-cake batter in tiny loaf pans and froze it), stabbed with a fork and soaked with orange syrup (simple syrup spiked with OJ and triple sec, reduced until thick), then glazed with the last of the ganache. I served three tiny slices on each plate, fanned out and drizzled with another spoonful of orange syrup… and I am converted: syrup-soaked cakes from now on!
– a final dessert garnish: chocolate-covered orange jelly sticks.

for assorted other events:
– goat cheese with good balsamic vinegar —the thick, expensive syrupy kind — and toasted slivered almonds, served with crackers or baguette. I made this twice, and not the same evening as I served the goat cheese with tapenade.. and by “made it,” I mean “tore open a packet of goat cheese, poured balsamic over it, and toasted some nuts.” It’s crazy-easy and crazy-good — so crazy-good that I made it twice in the last two weeks to take to some pretty ritzy doings.
– various permutations of hummus-with something: hummus with lemon and roasted red peppers and olives, hummus with tapenade, hummus with eggplant spread and tapenade, and so on.

and a few ideas I brainstormed up but never did try out:
– mushroom caps rolled in olive oil, filled with spoonfuls of frozen spinach souffle and baked.
– Whole Foods dumplings or gyoza warmed in sesame oil and scattered with scallions.
– vegetarian meatballs heated with chili sauce, red currant jelly, and white wine. (I’ve made these retro darlings with frozen actual-meat meatballs and people go INSANE for them.)

These last few ideas sounded so good it’s a shame we didn’t get to try ’em. Oh, well, maybe the next time I inflict a horrible injury upon myself, we’ll get around to these.

small good things, big good things

Good things make life good. Some of the good things are small, some of the good things are big, and all of the good things are good.

– fresh-baked anadama bread, fragrant with molasses, chewy with oats and whole wheat, and hot from the oven. I love the way it fills the whole apartment with its rich, wholesome scent.

– wrapping Christmas presents, which gives me a marvelous calm feeling of accomplishment. And the penguin wrapping paper I picked up at Local Surplus & Salvage Shop is pretty darned cheery.

– snow! Granted, by the time I got outside in it, it was just lashings of cold and wet, but still: SNOW!

– hot tea with milk and the faintest lacing of sugar.

– anadama bread again, because it’s just that good. Also, because I’m making a second batch already.

– bright red coarse-weave fabric (also from Local Surplus & Salvage Shop) for reupholstering the Danish modern chairs Gaoo gave me. (She rescued them from the junk pile at our parents’ old house, so they’re endearingly familiar, too.)

– Nick Hornby’s About A Boy.

– The sweetest husband in the world, who knows me inside out and upside-down and who loves me with all my flaws.

autumn goals

With summer dwindling down and most of my summer goals checked off (and a few shelved until next year), I’m starting to think about autumn.

Scrumpy!

– Fried green tomatoes with Gaoo at the neighborhood joint.

– Apple pie, apple crumble, apple cobbler.

– Fix the camera. Use the camera. Accomplished! Well, accomplished-ish. One camera completely punked out after a mere few months (way to go, GE!) and the other is missing its memory card. Still, it can take a few shots at a time, so HUZZAH!

– Once again, polenta fries and prosecco… on the patio if it’s still open. My dream date: The Fella and I stroll over to the patio for snacks and drinks, carrying a basketball with us. Then we can pay our check, zip around the fence, and have a round of one-on-one at the neighboring hoops court.

– Woman, you have three bottles of fancy balsamic vinegar on the shelf. Stop hoarding it. Be lavish with it. Be extravagant with it. Be reckless with it! See if you can’t empty one bottle before the first snowfall.

– Experiment with a new scent or cologne. For more than half my life, I wore the same perfume, and my longtime [whatever] E. used to buy me a bottle of it every year — at my birthday or at Christmas. The first year after E. died, my mother bought me a bottle, and hugged me quietly when I burst out crying. As much history and love as there is in those memories, I don’t need to keep wearing them around my neck every day.
Update: Check! This is a goal I’ve been turning over for some time, so within a few hours of writing it, I went to Demeter and ordered three small bottles of fresh, fun, or nostalgic colognes.

– Refinish and recover those two chairs Gaoo has been saving for you. They’ll look smashing.

– Turn the mattress! Done! Without my knowledge, even! Three days after I wrote this, The Fella mentioned in passing, “Hey, I saw your goals list, so I flipped the mattress.” Yes, I am very lucky.

– Replace the bathroom curtain to go with the bloodcurdling shower curtain that A. picked out for my birthday. Swap out the faded front room curtains for the nicer ones that are currently balled up in a box. Hang a nice curtain in the bedroom so you can stop staring at those stupid blinds.

– Get cracking on your Christmas list! (I already have one tiiiiiny little thing for The Fella, like a gleaming little coin in my pocket, and a new craft project that’s shaping up nicely. Who’s it for? Maybe for you!)

– Chocolate feet once a week! (Cryptic, no? I’ll explain this in a future post.)

In addition to these goals, after the luscious long days of summer, I’m ready to welcome crisp air and crunching leaves underfoot. A few of the autumnal joys I’m looking forward to:

– My online bookclub is reading Franny and Zooey, a book I re-read every few years without ever really getting to the core. After the very insightful discussion of Lolita, I’m eager to dig into F & Z.

– Cooler weather means using the oven more. More fresh bread, more coffeecake, more lasagna, more roasted vegetables, more of everything cozy and crispy and crumbly and warm.

– Cooler weather means more red wine, at least in Elsa-world.

– Boots! Boots! Boots! I love boots! [I also love that boot season affords me the nostalgic pleasure of uttering ““It was something about boots.“]

toast

I’ve been chiming in pretty regularly on Maggie’s Champagne and Chocolate Wednesdays lately, and I’m going to start keeping track of the toasts here — just as a reminder that there’s plenty to toast, in good times and bad. Breaking away from my recent streak of bubbly-drinking, tonight I’m toasting with fizzy lemonade with a dash of homemade strawberry liqueur.

So here’s to homemade strawberry liqueur, rich fuschia, fragrant, and sweet.

Here’s to almost empty matinee theaters, and walking out into the bright light all swimmy and disoriented.

Here’s to bright days and cool evenings.

Here’s to nieces and nephews who spend an afternoon making pretty platters of snacks in anticipation of your visit, and who crow and crowd around for hugs when you get there.

Here’s to a farmstand tomato on toast for breakfast, and a farmstand tomato on toast for lunch. (If we hadn’t run out, I’d be toasting a farmstand tomato for dinner.)

Here’s to a quiet Wednesday night date with the guy who knows you better than anyone ever has, and who makes you happier than anything ever did, and who wants to keep on doing that forever.