Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Party is Over - Giving Thanks Never Ends

I've just wrestled the turkey carcass out of the crockpot, strained the stock and set it aside to cool so I can skim off the fat. I think I enjoy leftovers after Thanksgiving even more than the meal itself.

There were sixteen of us for Thanksgiving dinner on a balmy Tucson afternoon. Chris took some upholstery fabric I have had stashed for years; raided the fridge and pantry for seasonal fruits and vegetables and created a stunning table setting.

Despite my planning we had far more food than necessary and everyone left with goody boxes. The desserts were decadent - pumpkin mousse trifle with gingerbread (Gourmet Nov. 2009 - a keeper); chocolate cream pie; pistachio and pin-nut torte; apple pie; pecan tassies; berry crumble and home-made pine-nut brittle and peppermint bark. Sybaritic!

Turkey times two - apple cider glazed and cherry-wood smoked were moist and full of flavor. The artisanal ham is so good that I stowed that away for my own doggy bag! And the gravy was lump-free, bursting with flavor and oh so good.

There was a general pitching in to help Thursday night but I was still left with a wreck of a kitchen and spent yesterday morning cleaning up. I didn't mind. Turkey leftovers are now nestled under crust and the resultant pot-pies are in the freezer. The stock will become the base for soup.

We got a call via Skype from the kids in Ethiopia - they had seventeen for dinner and reported a perfect turkey and trimmings. I love this holiday, it makes so much sense to take the time to give thanks.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Here, Turkey, Turkey....

Counting down to the big day. Not stressed, not especially organized either. I decided about twenty years ago that these big holidays had to be fun, and if they became an ordeal, then I wasn't participating. Bring on the finger-licking, the pretty table, the oopsis and triumphs - but don't expect me to get stressed! I'm not the headless one running around here - that is the fate of the poor turkey!

Thanksgiving is at my house this year. Praying for temperatures in the mid-seventies so we can eat outside in the Sala Fresca. Also praying that the roadwork crew take a break and cut the dust and noise. last year we were all up at the cabin but work and kid schedules this year made it more practical to stay in town. The usual crew will be here - a great mix of family, old friends, new strays, and in the case of my youngest son - girlfriend of the season. His sister and I have bets on how long the Thanksgiving girl will last. Seems that he brings one to a family gathering and the relationship fizzles within weeks! he's being mysterious this year, not confirming that he's bringing anyone.

As of today the count is 16 adults plus assorted kids. At this stage of the game I say "what the heck," and tell everyone to plan on food for 20. That's what I love about this holiday - stretching the table, the turkey and my heart. Thanksgiving is an inclusive event - doors should be opened.

A group of us composed of family and old friends have been taking it in turn for years now to host the holiday dinner. Things work out really well no matter who does the planning. If you are short of ideas, check out our reader contributed TG favorites. My daughter not only assigned dishes but printed out recipes for everyone on her turn. I have a more let the chips fall approach with very loosely worded guidelines. It will come together. I know I'm in charge of turkey. I co-opted Jim and Chris to do a repeat of their fabulous smoked turkey too. I ordered an artisanal apple-smoked ham (exorbitant price so it had better be good.) Personal trainer, Gene, who is also a good friend, got assigned stuffings; daughter, Lisa is the dessert queen; youngest son is the master of mashed potatoes - although he blew it one year when he added horseradish. I know others are bringing a sweet potato dish, soup, appetisers. I'm doing all the greenies. I'm sneaking in brussel sprouts in a recipe from the Minimalist - shredded, flash fried with bacon and fresh figs, drizzled with balsamic. As a tribute to the last issue of Gourmet, I'll follow their turkey recipe and some side suggestions. Have also printed out Chef Nassar's fool-proof gravy recipe for the lucky soul who'll be assigned to that task.

We'll miss the Ethiopian crew this year - Ben and Annie are hosting Thanksgiving in Addis Ababa. They tell me they have one American couple and ten British as guests. We've been trading recipes and plans so as to feel connected. Our plan this year is breakfast at my daughter's house - her newly renovated kitchen will make its family debut- followed by cooking at my house. Noise, chaos, good wine, good friends, family. What more could one give thanks for.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Help - There's a naked snake in my garden, and baby, it's cold outside!

Shades of Adam and Eve - a snake is coiled somewhere in my garden shivering! I suppose I should regard the neatly discarded rattlesnake skin outside my gate last week as a gift - but we're dealing with a seriously paranoid woman here when the word "snake" is hissed. Now all I can think is that it's out there, naked, lurking, and as the evenings get colder, looking for an opportunity to slip into something comfortable and coil up inside.

I spent a lot of my growing up years in parts of the world where snakes and nasty insects were common and dangerous. I developed an irrational fear that persists to this day. I'm probably the only woman I know who routinely shakes out shoes before putting them on. So the snakeskin combined with a scorpion sighting and stomping has left me wary. My son-in-law has just called to tell me there are two young Bobcats in his driveway - now that's an incursion I encourage.

Living in the desert is a privilege and one that I treasure but on occasion the up-close with nature thing gives me the creeps. Years ago, in a house I was remodeling, I wandered into my bathroom, barefoot, bare everything actually and horrors - a small coral and black snake slithered behind the toilet. Common sense told me it could be either a coral or a king snake - one poisonous, the other friendly. I took no chances. I summonsed my daughter. "There's a snake in the bathroom," I told her - quite calmly I thought. "Get it!".

She sauntered in past me, a broom and dustpan in hand, as I huddled on the bed. She sauntered out again equally casually pausing only to say, "It's OK, it's a baby, I'll drop it over the wall."
Whew - raised her well, I thought and snuggled into bed with a good book. She appeared in my doorway. "You know, Mom, where there's a baby, there's a mother and since snakes mate for life, parents are probably in here waiting for you."

When my middle boy was around eight, he stomped into the kitchen one morning demanding , "Where are my green shorts".
"In the dryer"
"Oh, no. Mom you washed Walter".

Walter, it transpired, was a small snake he'd put in his pocket following an early morning desert foray. We never did find Walter, neither in the washer nor dryer. Needless to say, until we sold that house, I looked everywhere for that snake, imagining him lurking, growing into anaconda proportions, thriving in the water pipes.

For several years we had a ranch way out - I was talking to the FBI on the phone one day, (it's a really long story - but no, I am not in the witness protection program) when I saw my fearless cat, Samantha, on the step about to swipe at a rattler - I shrieked, dropped the phone, grabbed the cat and slammed the door. I forgot to hang-up. About two hours later a siren broke the peace and a sheriff's truck screeched to a halt in front of the house - before I could get outside, two officers with guns drawn, hurtled into combat action and raced toward the door. That one was really embarrassing.

I finally wondered if I should turn in my "mother" badge following my most shameful snake episode. This time a very real, very large and very angry rattler (the resident terrier had taken it on) was coiled in strike position on the patio. I called Rural Metro Fire Department - they offer critter removal service - and as soon as I called, locked myself in a closet. Fire engine and firemen arrived; my three children answered the door. "Where's your Mom?", the fireman asked. "Hiding in the closet," my six-year old replied. My ruin was complete.

Off to close the doors, check the screens and go on-line to find a Mongoose or two - maybe I'll find one in Connections Shopping Deals!

Perverse of me, perhaps - this poem has been a favorite for years.


by D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930)

A snake came to my water trough
On a hot, hot day, and I in pajamas for the heat,
A snake came to my water-trough
On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,
To drink there.

In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob tree
I came down the steps with my pitcher
And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough before me.

He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall in the gloom
And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, over the
edge of the stone trough
And rested his throat upon the stone bottom,
And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small clearness,
He sipped with his straight mouth,
Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body,

Someone was before me at my water-trough,
And I, like a second-comer, waiting.

He lifted his head from his drinking, as cattle do,
And looked at me vaguely, as drinking cattle do,
And flickered his two-forked tongue from his lips, and mused a moment,
And stooped and drank a little more,
Being earth-brown, earth-golden from the burning bowels of the earth
On the day of Sicilian July, with Etna smoking.

The voice of my education said to me
He must be killed,
For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold are venomous.
And voices in me said, If you were a man
You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off.

But must I confess how I liked him,
How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet, to drink at my water-trough
And depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless,
Into the burning bowels of this earth?

Was it cowardice, that I dared not kill him?
Was it perversity, that I longed to talk to him?
Was it humility, to feel so honoured?
I felt so honoured.

And yet those voices:
If you were not afraid, you would kill him!

And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid,
But even so, honoured still more
That he should seek my hospitality
From out the dark door of the secret earth.

He drank enough
And lifted his head, dreamily, as one who has drunken,
And flickered his tongue like a forked night on the air, so black,
Seeming to lick his lips,
And looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air,
And slowly turned his head,
And slowly, very slowly, as if thrice adream,
Proceeded to draw his slow length curving round
And climb again the broken bank of my wall-face.

And as he put his head into that dreadful hole,
And as he slowly drew up, snake-easing his shoulders, and entered farther,
A sort of horror, a sort of protest against his withdrawing into
that horrid black hole,
Deliberately going into the blackness, and slowly drawing himself after,
Overcame me now his back was turned.

I looked round, I put down my pitcher,
I picked up a clumsy log
And threw it at the water-trough with a clatter.

I think it did not hit him,
But suddenly that part of him that was left behind convulsed in
undignified haste,
Writhed like lightning, and was gone
Into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure in the wall-front,
At which, in the intense still noon, I stared with fascination.

And immediately I regretted it.
I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.

And I thought of the albatross,
And I wished he would come back, my snake.

For he seemed to
And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
Of life.
And I have something to expiate:
A pettiness.
me again like a king,
Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,
Now due to be crowned again.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Pack Rat Saga Continues - No more rides to the park

I'm about to bring in the heavy guns - haven't a clue what they are but I need help big time. With damage by pack rats now topping over $1,000 I'm far less inclined to find a humane solution to what has become a plague.

Since early September, between the professionals and myself , we have trapped and removed more than 23 of the critters. I've lost count. I'm neurotic and fast becoming obsessed! I look for signs of them everywhere. Chris from Animal Experts has broken up with me, "it's never ending"
he says, "Suck it up and accept that you live in the desert."

Sometimes my traps spring without catching one, at other times the bait disappears but the trap doesn't shut. The last one I caught was massive and probably a Norwegian Rat as opposed to pack rat - it rattled the cage and gnashed its teeth at me. Nothing daunted, I took it the mandatory six miles and released it in the wash - or did I? Now I'm convinced that once out of the trap it hopped under the undercarriage of my car and hitched a ride right back "home". That will explain the extensive damage to wiring in my vehicle that knocked out turn signals and compromised steering. The dealership called with the good news, bad news - "not a fault in the car - but significant pack rat activity under the hood." I can just hear that wretched rodent telling his buddies how sweet is revenge... and copper wiring.

Since the initial and horrifying in-house invasion of 18 months ago when they ate the inside of the wine fridge and lined their nest with the fringe from a Turkish rug, to the take-over of the garage where washing machine is housed and its subsequent destruction - I've been nice. I've been reasonable. I've offered bribes, free trips out of the area, vacations in the desert, woolly jumpers for the little ones, ostrich feather boa's for mom - but now it's all out war. I'm open to suggestions.