Saturday, February 28, 2009

Um, What Day Is It Again??!!

Yesterday was my birthday (as those of you who know me on Facebook are aware); I'm now 58. That may be a post of its own, but this isn't it. This is a food post, which I should save for Tuesday, but I have time today, so. . .

One of the downsides of having my birthday at the end of February is that most years my birthday falls in Lent. And although people assure me that it's OK to dispense myself from whatever Lenten discipline involving food I've chosen, that feels like a cop-out. This year, however, I gave up cookies, candy, and any sweet treat I make myself. So I was/am able to enjoy the flourless chocolate cake that Katie whipped up (topped with strawberries and almonds -- yum!!) But yesterday was still a Friday.

My birthday dinner of choice is beef pot-roast with carrots, potatoes and onions. Actually, we're having that tonight. ( ;-D ) But yesterday had to be meatless. And I didn't think it was outside the spirit of abstinence to pick a recipe that I like. So in case you need something for the next few Fridays, here it is:

Monterey Beans and Cheese

Fry, drain, and crumble 2 slices bacon*. Saute in bacon fat until tender one medium onion, chopped**. Add one 15oz can beans***, drained, rinsed, and mashed; 1 cup tomato sauce ****, 1 t. chili powder*****, 1/2 t. salt, and a dash of pepper. Stir until smooth and hot. Add 1/4 to 1/2 pound cheddar cheese******, shredded, and bacon bits. Stir until cheese is melted. Serve over cooked rice. Serves six.

* If you are going totally meatless, start with 2T oil and omit bacon. We eat this dish year-round.
** The original recipe called for half onion, half green pepper. Green pepper doesn't fly in this house.
***I use red beans. The original recipe called for kidney beans. The original recipe also did not mash the beans, but most of my family won't eat beans they can see. Mashed and/or refried are OK. Go figure!
**** An alternate, especially if you are using unmashed beans, is 2 medium tomatoes, diced, plus 1/4 c. (reconstituted) beef bouillon or tomato juice. I sometimes throw in about 1/2 t. powdered bouillon with the tomato sauce.
*****Even with the medium-hot chili powder I use, this is a relatively mild dish. Heat lovers can add more to taste.
****** I use the full 1/2 # of extra-sharp cheddar. Monterey jack or pepper jack would probably work, too. I always shred my own cheese; the pre-shredded tastes "floury" to me.

An additional advantage to this recipe is that it's quick. If all the ingredients are on hand, you can whip up the whole thing in the 20 minutes it takes the rice to cook. If you're serving a big crowd, it doubles nicely, but you need a big pan.

Have a lovely weekend (what's left of it), and I promise another post early next week.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Vale, Alleluia!

Today is the last Sunday before Lent. Depending on your tradition, it may be called "Last Epiphany", "Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time", or probably some things I've never heard. I grew up calling it "Quinquagesima", which roughly means "Sunday within 50 days of Easter." At any rate, in the more-liturgical Christian denominations this is the last Sunday until Easter on which "Alleluia" can be sung or said as part of the mass/service/liturgy. I even have heard of places where all the special music for Easter had to be fully rehearsed by today (well, OK, by Tuesday) because nobody was allowed to even practice songs containing Alleluia between Ash Wednesday and Easter.

I don't know of anybody today who is quite that stringent, but I do like the custom of saying Farewell ("Vale" in Latin) to Alleluias by tossing a good number of them into the music for Quinquagesima. My favorite case of this was a couple of years ago when we happened to hit this Sunday at Arwen's parish. Alleluias were liberally distributed through all the songs, capped by Song of Thanks, in which the chorus consists of "Alleluia" repeated sixteen times. Since it also has six verses (and they sang all of them) and starts with the chorus, that was 112 of them. Almost enough to last me till Easter!

Unfortunately, in my current parish the music director -- although a wonderful and talented person -- is a convert not raised in any church, liturgical or otherwise. The rhythms of the church year are not something that come naturally to her. So the only Alleluias the choir sang this weekend were in the Gospel Acclaimation. (It was a good long one.) So I'll sing some to myself these next two days, and then reluctantly bid farewell to Alleluia. Until Easter!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Musical Monday -- Ambient Music Edition

I have to admit that while I love music, sing in the choir at church, and play both flute and guitar (neither one very well any more,) I tend to not turn on music around the house. I attribute this to the fact that as I get older, I have learned that I can only handle so much going on around me, and when the kids were a bit younger adding music to the mix put me on fairly continuous sensory overload. This lead to grumpiness and other negative stuff. So although Roger and the kids listen to a fair amount of music, with and without headphones, I am almost never the one turning it on.

Several years ago when George was still living at home and bought his first MacBook (out of his retail job earnings,) it came with a "free" iPod nano. I've lost track of how many and which kinds of iPods my kids have bought -- Tommy currently has a "touch" model -- and George decided that the free one should be "Mom's iPod." He loaded it up with the music I requested, acquired a cute pink "skin" for it, and gave it to me. And I listened to it maybe 20 times, and that's a generous estimate. Quite aside from the sensory bit, I am not a headphones person, which I've known since I got my first transistor radio back in the late 50's. (Yes; I'm old.) I eventually passed it on to one of the girls. And that was that.

I mentioned that Roger listens to music; usually he plays it from his laptop while he's working in the home office. If I did want to hear music during the day, the office was somewhere something that suited my taste was likely to be playing. Until about a year ago.

Last summer Roger got a new laptop. Because his laptop is his work machine, he installed a particular Linux distribution which meshed with the system his client at the time was using*. Which was great, except that the Linux release had no sound-card drivers for the particular machine he wanted. No sound card = no sound = no music. Even though there are other computers in the office which did have working sound, they just weren't convenient enough, for things like turing the music off quickly if the phone rang. So the office became mostly silent.

And I missed the music. Apparently, with fewer kids at home, my overload was reduced, and I was starting to enjoy having some music around. But now it was gone again.

Last week while I was away helping Arwen while Blaise was in the hospital, Roger decided to update his laptop. The customer he had last summer is no longer in the picture (job completed), and he and Tommy decided that maybe a different
distribution of Linux would solve some ongoing problems with the touchpad. Which it did. And it also had sound drivers! As I sit here typing I am listening to The New World Symphony coming from the desk to my left. I'm delighted!!!

* Tech speak -- don't worry if you don't understand it; I just parrot the explanations they give me.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Whatcha Readin' Wednesday -- Lord Peter Wimsey

I can't remember when I first read a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery. I can't even remember which one it was. My best bet is that it was sometime in the 1970's, as I read my way through the library stacks in my hometown in Pennsylvania, and then in my new town in Ohio. I do know that once I had read one, I kept looking for them until I had read them all (12 novels and a couple of short-story collections.) And I passed this enthusiasm for Dorothy L. Sayers' creation along to my daughters.

Last Christmas, looking for an unexpected-type present for me, Roger discovered a non-fiction book -- The Remarkable Case of DOROTHY L. SAYERS, by Catherine Kenny. (Kent State University Press, Ohio) I have been slowly working through it, and am finding it interesting. But what I have mostly learned so far is that it was time for me to revisit the Peter Wimsey books, in order. I like to reread favorite series straight through (Narnia, Harry Potter, Amelia Peabody and more), but I've never actually done it with the Wimsey stories. This is probably because I only own some of them, based on what was available (usually at the Friends of the Library sale) when I had funds to buy them. But between my tattered paperbacks and the library's storage section, I've managed to collect them all.

I have finished the first three (Whose Body, Clouds of Witness (my least favorite), and Unnatural Death), and expect to polish off The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club before dinner, as soon as I post this. I am intrigued to notice things that Kenny mentions in her book; mostly that the stories, and Lord Peter, mature as the series progresses. Kenny makes the argument that Gaudy Night and Busman's Honeymoon, which have always been my favorites, are actually well-rounded novels which only incidentally have a mystery as their focus, and I'm starting to see what she means.

I also got from the library Thrones, Dominations and A Presumption of Death by Jill Paton Walsh. The first of these is Walsh's attempt to finish an incomplete manuscript by Sayers; the second is her own plot continuing with the same characters. I read these when they first came out, and at that time thought they were acceptably "Sayers-ish", but we will see whether that still holds directly after a read-through of the real thing. I'll keep you posted!

Monday, February 09, 2009

Grandma Update

Well, it turns out that even Grandma was an optimist. Blaise finally got out of the hospital yesterday. He was always "getting better"; it just takes a long time for such tiny ones to get their oxygen levels up. He and Arwen are now trying to get this "normal living" thing down.

I had to come home on Friday, but Katie took my place, and Arwen's good friend Lauren flew in for a couple of days, since Bryan was already into negative vacation days. I am ever-so-slightly jealous, since they are going to get the new-baby-cuddling fun that I missed, but Camilla needed me last week, so I just need to suck it up. But I may need to go and visit again soon.

I will have a regular post up in the next day or so, but I just wanted to reassure and thank those of you who have been wondering and praying.