Thursday, September 19, 2013

To Every Thing There Is A Season--My Version Of Ecclesiastes 3

How breathless and incredulous do you find yourselves to be that it is beyond mid-September already?  This was the most Unsatisfying Summer of them all.  It was dreadfully uncooperative on a variety of fronts:  weather, tomato production, Good Hair Days, and hormones.  And something, something is growing unabated in my yard that will not be hindered nor killed.  We had to engage a Lawn Service just so that the locals would stop running past our house.
It's time, then, for a little End Of Summer Housekeeping here at the Dept.  Just a few little Natters and Nits to sweep out; a bit of Polishing Up to do to get ready for Fall.
1. The Island Of Misfit Stuff. Last weekend was the Big Garage Sale at my brother's lakehouse in Amish country.  Sadly, it was not an extravaganza.  This was due mostly to the unrelenting rain of Day One.  It not only ruined sales, it ruined my cute navy Marc Jacobs flats.  I did sell our canoe, however, so that was good.  St. Patsy had her very own table of goods, and sales were brisk, especially for the "handmade" dreamcatchers sent to her by her adopted Indian kids from the reservation.  Still unsold are my black lace negligee, my Where's Waldo kids' sleeping bag, and my various framed art prints.  All of those have been in multiple sales now, with the sleeping bag leading the league with six.  That's okay, considering my brother has a Joe Namath suit in there that has seen ten sales.  Both items are priced at four bucks.  Bets on which goes first.
2. Is It Just Me? You know, I carried eight, eight-foot tables laden with merchandise (assisted by my brother) in and out of that garage numerous times.  We carried a seventeen-foot aluminum canoe several times in rain- and dew-soaked grass (once down a hill), and lifted and carried the boxes repacked with the unsold merchandise, and I was fine.  Was I sore? Oh, hell.  But a few days later, as I was in my chair, taking care of emails, my foot apparently fell asleep, and I didn't realize it.  When I stood up, it buckled and I rolled my ankle. It's all swelled up and hurts like hell.  Did I cry like a big baby?  Oh, you know that I did.  I felt--and feel--like a huge idiot.  Can you imagine?  "What happened to your ankle, Nance?"  Um, I stood up.
3.  Hey, Look Me Over!  Probably you've noticed a different look here at the Dept. of Nance.  Blogger very unceremoniously nudged me to update my blog to one of their new layouts.  I'm still tweaking it here and there (thanks again, Ortizzle!) to refine its look.  Please email me or leave a comment here if there is something you notice that's awry, or something you particularly like or dislike.  It will help in future iterations or over at The Tie Report, which is next on my To Do List.  As always, I appreciate your comments, feedback, and criticism.  For right now, I am simply echoing the little favicon--that martini that shows up in your browser tab next to the name of my blog--for my design.  I am not a big fan of blue or green, but it was a quick design motif I could grab. 
4.  One Of Our Own.  I'm sure that many of you have wondered where Nancy, our jolliest of commenters, has been.  We haven't heard much from her as of late, and she has been missed, I know.  She will be telling the story of her absence at her own Elderblog site on Friday, 20 September.  If you haven't ever been there, please plan on spending some time in her archives.  Her stories are short and very like O.Henry's--they often have a twist of the unexpected.  The best part is, all of them are true stories from her own life, which has been one of varied experience and much history.  Here is the link; go and read some Nancy!
Sigh.  Despite its balkiness, I'm a bit sad to see Summer take its leave.  "The cukes are almost done!" warns my friend at the farm stand.  "So are the tomatoes.  Eggplant's coming in hard right now.  But the beans...," she frowns a little and shakes her head.  I already know.  My basil is almost over, and so are my chives. Already there are hard squashes like acorns, delicata, and my favourite, butternut, at the stands.  Mums are there, too, like grandmotherly cushions of colour.  Chubby cabbages nudge onions.  Knobby potatoes settle in.
Autumn begins a sort of settling overall.  There is a pervading restfulness that quells the riot of Summer.  It's quieter, more reflective.  Are you still in Summer Mode?  Have any Natters or Nits to unload and spiff up your headspace?  Sweep them out in Comments.
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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Yellow (Cake) Journalism

Readers, in the interest of Journalism, I simply must offer up this post to you.  Not so terribly long ago, that Bastion Of The Fourth Estate, The Huffington Post, published an article that I found to be absolutely awful.  Not only was the writing terrible, but it took up a subject that was already trivial at best and tried to elevate it to some importance by instituting a ranking system that was so flawed, so idiotic, so arbitrary, so contradictory, that not only did I feel it necessary to comment, but my son Jared also wanted to add his thoughts.

Here is the objectionable article, one titled The Best Cakes, In Order.  What follows is a pointless and inane fluff piece (including photos!) of cakes, from worst to best.  (Huh?)  I would summarize it for you, but it is impossible and incoherent.  Is it even possible, then, to rank The Best Cakes, In Order?  Oh, absolutely it is.  Jared and I have done it, and so will you, in Comments. 

Nance's Best Cakes

Firstly, let me say that I prefer Pie, but if Cake is the thing, then I have a few Cake Rules, and they are:  1. The Cake must be cold; 2.  The Cake must be dense;  3.  The Cake must be moist.  I would add that the Cake must be devoid of all coconut, but if the other three are in place, I can put up with it.

1.  White Cake
2.  Chocolate Cake
3.  (Real/Fresh) Banana Cake
4.  Angel Food Cake*
5.  Lemon Pound Cake

I am a Cake Purist.  I don't like a lot of fancy bullshit cakes.  I don't like decorator icing or white canned frosting.  If I had my way, all cakes (except Angel Food) would be the consistency of banana bread.  Fluffy cake with a lot of crumbs is a failure to me; how do you know you've even eaten anything?  And, again, let me restate my disdain for the Cupcake: hard to eat, stupidly trendy, usually dry, overly frosted, never as complexly flavoured as it's touted (Blueberry lime mojito vanilla mint! Nope.).  *Angel Food Cake is the exception to almost everything. It is wonderful and I have no idea why.

White Cake, like Wedding Cake, is the best Cold Cake ever.  Does it have a hint of almond flavouring?  Yes, please.  Does it have Hershey's chocolate frosting?  Save me another piece.  I almost never make this Cake because it is worky, separating eggs, storing and then remembering to use the yolks.

Unlike the stupid article, I don't differentiate among chocolate cakes.  I like them all. (Except German Chocolate; hate that coconut stuff.) My mother made one called "Lazy Lady's Cake" with vinegar and cocoa, among other ingredients.  She frosted it with homemade frosting with little chunks of pineapple in it. I always loved it. I make it once in a great while, and once I used orange juice and orange zest instead of pineapple, which was crazy good.

The only other one I want to discuss is Real/Fresh Banana Cake.  If you have never taken a yellow, butter, or vanilla cake mix and added a couple of mashed-up bananas to it, then you have not experienced full Cake Enjoyment.  I hoard overripe bananas in the freezer because I detest waste of any kind.  I pull them out for baking.  Just cut back on the oil about half.  Frost with Hershey's chocolate frosting and put it in the fridge.  You're welcome.

And now it's Jared's turn:

I want to first start off by saying that I do not particularly care for cake. Aside from the following five cakes, I find cake trivial and, frankly, vastly overrated. Two reasons: 1.  Most Real dessert lovers eat pie. 2. The rest of them eat cobbler.

When Nance approached me about the cake post, I was excited. I like blogging with my mother. Also, it allowed me to think about something other than dumpsters and basketball.  This is nice.  It did, however, lead to a soul-crushing discovery. Red velvet cake = liar. There. I said it. It’s just white cake with food coloring? And cream cheese frosting? This is bullshit. What a waste. I will never eat it again. Ever. Over it.

So, here it is, the Definitive Cake Power Rankings By Jared:

1.  Oatmeal Cake. And not just any oatmeal cake. Not some bullshit “my mom made it” oatmeal cake. I refuse to deal with that. Know why? BECAUSE MY MOM MADE IT AND IT CAN KICK YOUR MOM’S CAKE’S ASS. That’s why. Dense. Moist. Rich. My mother’s oatmeal cake may be her crowning dessert achievement. And that is saying something. I could eat an entire oatmeal cake right now. And I’m not even hungry. Not even a little. Plus, you know a cake is powerful stuff when it can make me have a glass of milk. That. Is. A. Serious. Fucking. Cake.

2.  German Chocolate. It is the most dominant common cake of all time. Coconut, chocolate, and whatever that stuff is that binds the coconut together. I love that shit. And it has never lied to me the way that red velvet cake has. I know exactly what it is. And it loves me back. Unconditionally. Ever had a piece of German chocolate cake on the front porch with a coffee? No? Idiot. Go do it. Also, it is a textural tour de force. Crunchy, soft, gooey in all the right ways. It is as if someone asked for perfect and then this cake showed up. I consider this to be the Germans’ finest contribution to the world.

3.  Carrot Cake. Does not taste like carrots. Also, don’t bog down my carrot cake with some sort of dried fruit frivolity, i.e. raisins. Also, who doesn’t love an excuse to eat cream cheese frosting? Carrot cake reminds me of fall. It tastes the way that a fall breeze feels when you’re wearing a long-sleeved shirt and jeans and walking down to the store for something unimportant. Just a little frivolous. A little bit warm in the right way. But it also leaves you satisfied:  Good. Now I did that. And I am better for it. That’s what carrot cake does.

4.  Angel Food Cake. Light. Airy. Borderline whimsical. Just dense enough to feel like you’re eating something, but not enough to make you regret if you have a gigantic piece of it. Throw some blueberries with it. Slap a strawberry up there. Go on. It is so universal. It is the Ritz cracker of cakes. Anything + Angel Food Cake = Delicious. That’s science.

5.  Bacon Cake. (Kidding. But how come this isn’t a thing?) Yellow Cake. Just a plain old yellow cake with chocolate frosting. But not too much. Because that is silly. Just enough to make it so that you can press the back of your fork against the paper plate to make sure you get each last crumb. Every time I think of it, I envision it on a paper plate. I like it better that way. That’s the right fucking way to eat yellow cake, dammit. Throw it in the refrigerator, please. Because it is ridiculous not to. Everyone likes yellow cake. I don’t like it, Jared. So…ha! Liar. Fool. Sillyheart. Everyone likes it. There is nothing to dislike about it. It’s like trying to hate a cup of cocoa after shoveling snow or hugging your grandmother on a holiday. If you hate yellow cake, you hate hugs. And grandmothers. Is that the kind of thing you want to stand for?

Ah, dear Readers.  What a lot of fuss about Cake.  Whether or not poor Marie Antoinette ever really did say, "Let them eat cake",  I have to say that I like this takeoff much, much better.

Again, however, I prefer pie.   We await your Comments. 

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Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The Everchild Equation--A One Act Playlet For Your Enjoyment

Curtain closed.  Spotlight illuminates center stage.  Solitary figure walks out of wings and stands in spot.  It is Nance.  She faces stage, begins soliloquy.

Nance:  Human nature is a funny thing.  As adults, we do grow older and taller, but we remain children in the face of many things.  I found this out last week, when I was taking care of St. Patsy after one of her minor surgeries.

Curtain draws wide to reveal a sunny, beautiful, pastoral scene of a wide lawn and a fishing dock over a lake.  St. Patsy is seated in a padded lawn chair; Bobby, a 50-something man, is standing at the lake's edge, trimming brush.  Nance goes to St. Patsy and fusses with her chair.

Nance:  Mom, are you sure you're comfy here?  Do you need anything?  Do you have your sunglasses?

Patsy:  I'm fine, Nance.  Now go and fish for a while.  Go on!  Did Bobby fix you a pole?

Nance:  Yes. (lifts pole with bobber from beside chair) I'll be right over on the dock.  Let me know if you need anything.  (walks up and onto dock; tosses line in)

Bobby:  (after a moment or two)  Any bites?

Nance:  Nope.  These worms are mostly dead.  But I don't really care.  I just wanted to fish a little.  It's gorgeous out here!

Bobby:  We really lucked out.  Hey!  See that? (points a little to his right)  Right there.  It's a snake.  Mom, see it?  That little thing just poking out above the water?  Watch. Right there, going toward the dock.  Snake!

Nance:  (horrified and paralyzed) No it's not.  Where?  No it's not.  Bobby, don't. 

Bobby:  (casual and oblivious to his sister's trauma, as usual) Yeah!  Right there.  It's probably gonna come in and sun itself on the rock there, or on the steps to the dock.

Nance:  SHUT UP.  No it's not.  NO IT'S NOT.  Mom!

Patsy:  Oh, Bobby.  It's probably not.

Bobby:  I lost sight of it now.  It probably went under the dock and will come up--

Nance:  (in a major panic)  What?!  No it can't!  There's no way!  Bobby, stop it.  I mean it now.

Patsy:  (calmly, almost disinterested) That snake is already gone.  It's under the boat or--

Nance:  Mom!  The boat is right there!  It's right in front of the dock, sitting there!  What are you talking about?

Bobby:  Mom, remember that huge blacksnake I saw out here that one time?  That thing was as big around as--

Nance:  Shut up.  I have a bite.  (begins to reel in and lift pole; screams as she pulls up the snake, which had been briefly attached to the worm) OH MY GOD!  WHY?  (throws pole down on dock and runs screaming into yard)  WHY, MOM? WHY?  MOM!  WHY?  MOM!  ALL I WANTED TO DO WAS FISH!

Bobby:  What?  What happened?

Patsy:  (calmly; shading her eyes with her hand) Wow, Nance.  I've never seen you run so fast.

Nance:  (tearfully) Did you see it?  Did you see it?  Oh my GOD.  That stupid snake!  That stupid, stupid snake was on my line!  All I wanted to do was fish and that stupid snake had to ruin it.  Why?

Bobby:  Was it really?  Where is it?  Is it on there?

Nance:  No.  It fell off.  But not before I saw the whole stupid, awful thing.  Its mouth was open!  It was disgusting. 

Patsy:  (conversationally) You should have seen her run, Bobby.  She really ran.

(Bobby has walked over to the dock, where he inspects the now empty hook.  He picks up the bait container and looks at the worms.)

Bobby:  These worms are dead.  They're no good anymore.  If you're done fishing, then, I'm just gonna dump them out.  (leans over; shakes them into lake)  Was that snake really on there?  Are you sure?

Patsy:  (adjusting her visor)  You should have seen her run.  I'm surprised she didn't throw the pole into the water.

Nance:  (indignant)  Yes, it was on there!  The whole thing was on my line!  I didn't know there were snakes down here!  Now what will I do?

Bobby (grins; to Patsy)  There's all kinds of snakes down here.  Remember when Ken was here and found that huge snakeskin in the yard there?  And the one guy down the road said he saw a python out here one time.

Nance:  Oh shut the hell up.  (gives him The Finger)  A python.  (glances around)  Let's go  up.

(End Scene 1)

Scene 2

Scene opens in Rick and Nance's living room. St. Patsy is asleep in the chair, left.  Rick and Nance are on the couch, center.  Nance is finishing her story about the day's events to her husband, who is exhausted from his first day at his new job.

Nance (earnestly)  He just would not stop yammering away at me about snakes for the rest of the day.  It was awful.  I think you should call him or send him a text message.

Rick:  (stifling a yawn; surprised)  What?  Your brother?  I should call or text your brother?  And say what?

Nance:  And tell him to quit it.  Quit it or you''ll beat him up.

Rick:  I should call Bob and say, Quit teasing my wife or I'll beat you up.  Is that what I'm supposed to do? 

Nance:  Well, I feel like you should do something!  You weren't there to protect me from the snake!

Curtain, finis

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