The Beatles, my father, and I

Joyce:

Amid the 50th anniversary commemorations of The Beatles arrival in America, I have been trying to think of some words to say that could capture my feelings about the band and just how infused my heart and soul are with their music. But then I thought, this post I wrote a while back captures it all best…my memories of the music wrapped up with memories of my father. Happy anniversary, fellows.

Originally posted on Relax and Float Downstream:

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One of my colleagues was in my office the other day and asked me, “So, do you just sit here and listen to The Beatles all day?”

“Well yes, I do,” was my reply.  “Is that bad?”

In fact I listen to many things, but I have found this online Beatles station that I will sometimes pull up on my computer and keep up for days and days and days.  Weeks, even.

I was the child who, at eight years old, cried real tears upon hearing of John Lennon’s death.

This is one way that I am absolutely the daughter of my father.

My parents had married and then separated by the time I was two.  Romantic relationships that are begun at the age of 16 are not usually meant to last, and the if these relationships produce a child, that does not normally improve the chances for the union’s longevity. …

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Things I know I am supposed to like (but totally don’t)

When I was younger I lacked confidence and did not wish to distinguish myself by seeming to dislike things that were popular among my peers. As I grew older and mouthier I came to believe that those things which I feared might make me seem weird are really quirks, and quirky people are loveable and revered, and therefore I am loveable and revered.

To start with I’ll just throw this one out there: I hate camping.

Wow. That felt good. I’m going to say it again.

I hate camping.

I trace the source of this distaste directly to the large number of camping trips of my youth, when at the insistence of my stepfather every family trip was a camping trip. By family trip, I mean myself, my mother, and my stepfather. Just us. And by camping trip I mean us, in a tent, in sleeping bags, for a week, in the rapidly cooling early fall temperatures in the Northeastern United States and some parts of Canada.

I will not say that there were no magical moments. I recall very fondly the camping trip to Maine of my sixth grade year, when we canoed to our picturesque campsite and discovered very quickly that our site was the favored path of a large moose who came through at least once a day and made his way to the river’s edge, drank, and ambled back into the woods. Magical.

But every moose encounter or pleasant view is offset by multiple other encounters that are so much less magical. Waking up on a deflated air mattress, my sleeping bag saturated by a puddle of frigid water that had seeped into our tent, for instance. Being splattered in the eyes with insect repellant. Schlepping a bucket of cold water to the camp site and washing our pans and utensils by hand. Days without properly bathing. Horse flies in Canada flying away with pieces of my flesh.

Friends, I have earned the right to not like camping.

I’m also going to throw this one out there: I hate sports. I don’t understand the rules of most sports, I don’t get the stats, and I don’t understand die-hard sports fans who beat each other up. I do like the Saints and had a fabulous time at one of their games back in the fall, but I would attribute that to my love for the city of New Orleans. I do also enjoy the Olympics, although I’m sure I love the games more for the lessons in multiculturalism and world geography.

Here are a few other things which I am sure I am alone in hating:

Citizen Kane. I am a classic film fan of the most annoying type. I’ve seen more movies from the 1930′s than I have seen of new releases of the past ten years. I’ve spent a lot of time on classic film boards and I know the deal: I am supposed to love Citizen Kane and think that Orson Wells is a genius. Instead, I found the movie mediocre and Wells’ directing style leaves me cold – and believe me, I’ve tried a number of his movies.

Sake. I know that this is supposed to be a part of the sushi experience, the communal sharing of the little bottle of warmed sake with my dining companions. I can’t ever take more than a few tiny sips of this liquid which seems to me a concoction of rubbing alcohol and water. I’ll stick with my Kirin.

The Ramones. Ugly, talentless, and tone-deaf. Yep, I said it. I wouldn’t have said it to the crowd I ran with in high school, but I’m saying it now.

And now I ask you, friends, what do you hate that everyone else loves? Tell me. I promise – no judgment!

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Cooking our way through Gourmet 1972 – January with poulet boivin, silent women, and the new Cadillac

The covers of these issues usually display a photo of scenery from a stunning locale.  A feature article will explore the culinary practices of the region, often in Europe but sometimes elsewhere.  January’s issue explores the island of Corfu in Yugoslavia.

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Lovely, isn’t it?  It’s on my list.

What is it that holds my attention about these old magazines?  I’ve tried to explain it before but always come up short.  I always loved Gourmet magazine.  Subscribed to it for several years.  Loved fooling around in the kitchen.  Enjoyed the format, with its blend of travel articles, formal, complicated recipes, and recipes of simple weeknight fare.  Loved the “You Asked for It” section, where readers sought recipes for special dishes from their favorite restaurants.

The Connaught Hotel, London.

The Connaught Hotel, London.

I have also had a love for historical minutiae, micro-history, and musty dusty artifacts.  I like the ads in these magazines.  I look at the travel photography and wonder how the sights have changed.  I look at the old recipes and wonder about the people who subscribed to these magazines and cooked this food.  One thing is for certain: these people had money.  It cost money to indulge in the cheeses and wines and cognacs pictured in these pages.  It cost money to tour through Europe, staying in the regal, elegant hotels frequented by the affluent establishment, where the travel writers stayed and wrote of champagne and lobster breakfasts and morning teas.

 

Food photography was different the as well…

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Very literal, you might say.  Food photography today is typically up close, very close; warm, inviting, and personal.  The photos above display a staid formality, a distant politeness.

The spread above was a menu for an after-theatre supper.  (Oh yeah, these people also attended the theatre.)  I chose the main course in the lower right for poulet boivin – chicken with artichokes, onions, and potatoes. 

Trim the stems of 2 medium artichokes and slice off the top inch.  Trim the thorny tips from the remaining leaves.  Rub all the cut surfaces of the  remove the chokes.  Drop the sections into a bowl of acidulated cold water as they are prepared.  Drain them and cook them in rapidly boiling salted water to cover for about 25 minutes, or until they are tender.  Drain the artichokes and toss them with softened butter.  Cover them with wax paper and keep them warm.

In a small skillet brown 10-12 small pearl onions, peeled, in 2 tablespoons butter over moderately high heat, shaking the pan so they are evenly colored, over low heat for 45 to 50 minutes, or until they are tender and glazed.  Cup peeled potatoes into 12 large olive shapes.  In a small heavy skillet brown them in 2 tablespoons of oil and butter.

Split a 2-lb chicken, remove the backbone, and cut the chicken into 8 pieces.  Dry the pieces and season them with salt and pepper.  In a large ovenproof skillet brown the chicken on all sides in 1/4 cup of clarified butter.  Remove the breast sections and reserve them.  Add the potatoes to the skillet and bake the dish, uncovered, in a 375 oven for 15 minutes.  Return the breast sections to the skillet and continue to bake the chicken, skin-side down, for 10 more minutes.  Transfer the chicken and potatoes to a heated serving dish.  Add the artichokes and onions to the skillet and toss them over moderately high heat until they are hot.  Arrange them around the chicken and potatoes.  Add 1 cup white veal stock or chicken broth to the juices in the skillet and reduce it over high heat to 1/2 cup.  Add 1 teaspoon glace de viande and remove the pan from the heat.  Swirl in 1/2 stick of butter.  Add salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste.  Serves 2.

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Some notes about this recipe:

-Note how casually they mention the glace de viande.  There is nothing casual about that ingredient.

-Note the absence of artichokes in my pictures.  I did in fact attempt the artichokes, which may be my final attempt ever with those spikey little monsters.  They were inedible and I didn’t include them in the finished product.

-I found the whole “remove the breasts…return the breasts” thing completely unnecessary.  I suspect that this was when chickens were much smaller and breasts had a tendency to dry easily.  These days our chickens are hormone-pumped and beautifully big-breasted.  I cooked them right along with the other pieces and extended the cooking time by 10 minutes.

-When I was preparing the glace de viande prior to making this meal, I really started to wonder if it would be worth it.  One taste of the elixir that I created to finish off this chicken and I knew… yes, totally worth it.

ad2A few words about the ads…

These magazines normally have some really great ads, but there were not so many in this issue.  However, the recipe index, shopping guides and other such pages toward the back are always lined on both sides with these columns of restaurant ads, mostly from New York City but sometimes from other cities.  I always wonder if any of these places are still open, or what kind of business they commanded when they were around.

Note this one to the left – The Silent Woman.  And then there’s a picture of a headless woman.   Ha!  Isn’t that just a hoot?  I did go in search of that one on the internet, and found reference to it in an essay written by an academician who had been appalled upon seeing this restaurant’s sign in the 70′s on a trip to the area.  She had promptly declared that she could never live in a town that could permit such a restaurant to exist – and then spent several decades living right there.

And finally, I have a birthday next month, and all I really want is the 1972 Cadillac…this one, with that plate.

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We start with glace de viande

Last year I committed to an ambitious project after acquiring a volume of Gourmet Magazines from the magical year of 1972, which brought us Cabaret, The Eagles, and most importantly, me. Once a month I intended to prepare a recipe from the corresponding issue from 1972.

Long story short, I didn’t manage to post a recipe every month because, you know, kids. I have a few. They are rather time-consuming, and seem not to care that I have dedicated myself to a brilliant and tasty endeavor.

I have never lost interest in the project, and I hope that you have not either, but if you have then please find it because I am ready to take my pet project up again, which blends my two passions: cooking and old stuff. Although this time around I am wise enough to not publicly declare that I will be posting a monthly anything.

Nonetheless, I was perusing my January 1972 issue and found a recipe that seemed to possess the trifecta: it was elegant, it was uncomplicated, and it contained ingredients which were obtainable. Pearl onions? Check. Chicken? Check. Fresh artichokes? Check. Glace de viande? Um. Maybe. That’s wine, right? Tell me it’s wine. I’ll find it or a good substitute.

Wine it is not.

It is an uber-concentrated beef stock made over the course of two days, ideally, from a beef soup bone and some onion.

At once I was daunted and intrigued. It is quite a project, on the one hand. But something about January makes me want to get into the kitchen and cook, on the other. And more than anything, I just want to do this. I want to dive in, stretch my abilities, and chalk up a new accomplishment.

My real obstacle, actually, was finding a soup bone, which is actually a cross-section of the shank. I finally found it at Publix. After that, all was well.

Meaty soup bones

Meaty soup bones

To start, coat a roasting pan with cooking spray. Arrange the soup bones in the pan, and bake in a 375-degree oven for one hour.

20140105-090933.jpgRemove from the oven, and add one yellow and one red onion, quartered. Turn in the rendered fat to coat, and broil, 10-15 minutes, until meat and onions are lightly browned and slightly charred.

Transfer beef and onions to a stock pot, cover in cold water, and bring very slowly to a simmer. Deglaze the roasting pan and add that liquid to the stock pot as well. Simmer, being careful not to boil, for the next 6-7 hours.

Simmering down

Simmering down

Using a slotted spoon, remove the solid pieces and discard. Strain the broth through a clean kitchen towel. Don’t skip this step. you don’t want any bits of anything in your glace de viande. A strainer will not suffice. Use the towel.

Refrigerate overnight, and in the morning skim the solid fat from the top of your broth. Further reduce over medium heat. This will take about an hour. Stir it often and check the heat as it can scorch as it thickens. Take care not to rapid boil.  It will cling to the spoon as it thickens.  Once the broth reaches a syrupy thickness, pour it into a small glass dish and place on a cooling rack.

When it is completely cool, it will be like rubber.  Cut into cubes.  I cut this dish of glace de viande into 9 squares…

They can be individually wrapped and frozen.

This was a lengthy endeavor, but not excessively challenging. More than anything the process requires patience. My house smells like a herd of braised cattle – French cattle, my husband assures me – but I feel pleased and accomplished.  Very accomplished.  Like I’ve made magic, or delivered a baby.

On Wednesday I return with the main course, poulet boivin, a few ads, and the new Cadillac!

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The Gene of Discontent

My winter break felt like it was a bit of a dud.  That’s how I was feeling the other day as I faced preparing myself to return to work.  My husband was shortchanged out of any time off at all, save for Christmas, so I was home with the children most of the time cleaning up the holiday wreckage and waiting for some relatives to get to town who were delayed by car trouble.  When it dawned on me that my time off was winding down and I had spent precious little time with my husband, I felt cheated.  My focus could not waiver from his co-worker who had selfishly written herself off for three weeks, this woman who has no children but needed time off because her nephew was visiting from the distant land of Nebraska.  I sank into a profound disappointment as I waited for Mark to come home on New Year’s Eve, and again on January 1.

My waylaid step-brother and family did finally get to town to my relief, as my son had been begging and begging and begging to know when he would be able to see his cousins.  I arranged a for sleepover and he was ecstatic.  He sees my nephews so seldom and they are way cool and so very sweet to him.  And the next morning, as I was washing up dishes from our massive pancake breakfast, Nolan asked my how much longer his cousins would get to stay, and became utterly despondent when I told him that they would leave that afternoon.  My heart sank as his shoulders slumped and his smile fell and he uttered sad protests.

“Oh baby, please, please don’t be sad…you’ll wish your time away.  They’re here now, why don’t you play with them and be happy now.”  But his mind was on a course toward if-only, and it stayed with him for a bit.

When Mark came home from work last night, I gave voice to my disappointment over our time that I felt had been squandered away.  I had worked pretty hard over my twelve days off but had accomplished little, we had so little time together, not so much as a New Year’s toast…

“But you have to try to be happy,” he urged, ever patient, ever encouraging.  “The good times are now, when do we get to start enjoying them?”

And there it dawned on me that we were in practically the same spot in the kitchen where I had been giving our son the same talk earlier, and it felt hard to let this advice in, just as hard as it must have been for Nolan.

With each passing year the similarities in our temperaments become more evident to me and it troubles me a bit.  I wonder, is this state of discontent learned or inherited?  I try to restrict my conversation to happy kid-talk around my children, but does he sometimes pick up on my grumblings of discontentment?  Or is it some errant gene, passed from me to him, which so easily creates the furrow in his brow and pensive nature?

Over time my clouds lifted, as did his.  We are having such a pleasant weekend, he enjoying his new games, and I exploring in the kitchen and planning blogs.  Everything feels so easy now.  To capture this contentment, and model it for my children as often as I can – this is my wish for the coming year.

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Regrouping for the Christmas sprint

Christmas stresses me out like you can imagine.

I hate to even see that in print.  I don’t want to let on to my friends that I am not Peaceful Joyce.  In my carefully managed web presence, I do not willingly let on that every year on December 1, I morph into Stressball Joyce.   And if I don’t stop and reign myself in, contemplate what I’m doing and why, the holidays will, without fail, go by me in a blur without my ever thinking to enjoy them.

I’ve confronted the sources of this anxiety before.  I’ve even made a list of those factors.   And still I recognize that more than anything, my quest for perfection creates unmanageable expectations that I can never fulfill.  Fueled by catalogs and commercials depicting idyllic Christmas scenes, my list grows and grows:  I’m going to make candy.  I want to bake cookies.  I want to crochet a scarf.  We should go to a Christmas concert.  Perhaps my mantle needs a garland.

I know that with each addition to my list, I make myself crazier and less satisfied.  Joy becomes elusive.  I have to get my list under control or it will sink me.

So, I whittle the list.  What do I really want out of this holiday?  What brings joy to me and those around me?  What things will we cherish?  These are things that deserve my focus.

1.  I want to watch Christmas cartoons with my children.  When I started having children and envisioned holiday time, this is one of the first activities that sprang to  mind: me, curled up on the couch with my pups, drinking hot chocolate and watching Rudolph.  My plan was nearly derailed by my indignant 7-year-old, who was highly annoyed that I was making him watch this “stupid baby puppet cartoon” but we resolved that conflict by shifting gears to The Grinch.

2.  I want to bake cookies on Christmas Eve for Santa.  Not that I am holding grudges against my mother by any means, but I recall a disappointing Christmas Eve when my mother had spent the day shopping and had to break the news to me that there simply was no time to bake cookies for Santa.  She hated to tell me and I hated to hear it.  Fortunately, it is 2013 and we have premade tubes of cookie dough, and we have colored sprinkles, and that will be good enough for now.  I want my children to remember the thrill of baking for Santa, of smelling the cookies baking, and of waking up to find that he had eaten something they had made.

3.  I want to make this really awesome red velvet cake.  My friend’s mother made this phenomenal cake for years.  Moist, rich red velvet layers, cream cheese frosting with ground walnuts – it was a stunner.  I finally worked up the nerve to ask for the recipe bless her heart for all eternity, she gave it to me.  I can tell this is a vintage recipe because it calls for Oleo. I will give you bonus points and a hunk of my cake if you can tell me what Oleo is.

4.  I do want to make some candy.  I’ve actually already started, and my approach to keeping things sane was to choose one easy recipe,  which I believe I have done.  This year teacher and colleague gifts will be peppermint patties, and if you decide you want to make this, let’s talk, because I can give you a few tips.

5.  I want to send Christmas cards.  This activity fell off the map when the kids came.  Some things just had to go, and this was one of the first.  But people don’t send cards like they used to, and I want to do my part to keep the tradition going, because it is such a sweet, simple gesture to put a pretty card in the mail to a loved one.

6.  I want to remember the reason for the season.  Here’s a hint: it’s not presents, it’s not garland, it’s not the Elf on the Shelf, it’s not the hundreds of details and obligations we pile upon ourselves at this time of year.  It’s not even red velvet cake.  It’s Jesus.  And when somehow we have taken many unrelated details which threaten to crowd Him out our minds, we must refocus.

I’ve missed you, my friends.  I’m sorry it’s been so long.  I hope that after this holiday is over and my break begins, I can resume my blogging shenanigans with renewed vigor.  I hope that my Jewish friends had a Happy Hanukah, and I wish the rest of you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.  Peace be with you all.

And I leave you with the loveliest Christmas song you have never heard.  Oh, how I love this!

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Middle-aged motherhood – the pros and the cons

I have for several years suspected it, and only recently confirmed it: I am middle-aged. This is a somewhat fluid term used to define the midpoint(ish) period of a person’s life based on life expectancy. I am 41 years old, and my alarming trend of being a 40-something shows no sign of reversing or even slowing. And since the average life expectancy of a female these days is 81 years, that would make me … middle-aged.

This is not to say that I usually feel middle-aged. My skin is still as oily as it was the day I turned thirteen. Despite the fine lines that are settling in around my eyes, I have a baby face that will ensure that I will be ID’d for every bottle of wine I will ever buy for the rest of my life. I have yet to find a gray hair on any part of my body.

I also don’t feel middle-aged because I have tiny children. The conventional wisdom goes that old ladies don’t have little children.

The day I brought my son home from the hospital, I turned 34. At that age, I was exactly twice the age my mother was when she had me. I’ve experienced motherhood as a, ah…mature adult, and I’ve experienced being raised by a teenager.

I think I’ve put my finger on the pros and cons of my situation…

Cons:

1. I’m tired. Oh, so tired. In my early thirties, I found that caffeine consumed after my morning coffee made me jittery and caused my heart to do funny things. I swore off afternoon caffeine for years. Until now. On the days that I am home with my children, I make an extra cup of coffee in the morning and set it aside for such time as when I sit and literally can’t … get … up, because I have hit…the…wall.  And you know what? There are no more jitters following mid-day coffee, and no cardiac acrobatics. My body grudgingly accepts the dose of energy as an essential part of getting through the day.

2. By the time I get to do things again, I’ll be really old. Facebook, that yardstick with which I often smack myself around, gives me a window into the lives of my friends and acquaintances who had children right out of the gate. Date nights, trips to Europe, intimate dinners – these are all a regular features in their lives now, and are rubbed in my face as I gaze dumbly at my computer screen over my warmed-over cup of afternoon coffee.

3. I’ll die soon. Okay, when I say soon, I mean sooner than a twenty-something who right now has small children might die if we both reach average life expectancy. She gets to spend about sixty years with her children, while I only get to spend about fifty with mine. To try to beat these numbers, I have been paying strict attention to my diet for several years, and have started torturing my body at the gym for the last several months. I’ll outlive that smug twenty-something if it kills me.

Pros:

1.  I’m only a little bit broke. I used to be a lot broke. We had established careers long before ever having our first child. I grew up with a struggling mother who was trying to finish her education and build a career while raising a child. Life was stressful for her, which pretty much meant that life was stressful for me too.  I’ve seen some people in my family struggle as young parents as well.  My struggle - and it was an epic one - took place before the children arrived.

2.  I’ve already lived my life for me. Now I can live it for them. I finished college, went to parties, dated around, drank lots of wine, stayed up late, slept in, got a head start on a career, and had weekends away with my husband.  I’ll never wonder what those things are like because I got to live a fairly full life before the children arrived.  I have much more that I want to do, but for now, I am satisfied.

3.  I’m much nicer than I used to be.  When I was younger, I could be a little tyrant in my relationships.  I don’t like to admit that, but it’s true.  A lot of my loved ones were on the receiving end of my raised eyebrow or disapproving little glances.  Over time, I’ve mellowed considerably and am evolving into the person I had always hoped to be.  This is a much better time in my life for me to be in charge of sweet, noisy children.  My home is a hotspot of clamorous chaos and activity with which I rarely disapprove, because I am kinder, I am wiser, and I am tired.  Oh, so tired.

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