Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Soundtrack for the End of the Year

Happy New Year! Here are the melodies we're humming as we say goodbye to 2014.

In October American Idol star Casey Abrams came back to Nora's little elementary school, where he attended as a wide-eyed second grader, to serenade the children and give them a few life lessons about perseverance. The stories of grit, urged on by his former teacher (and probably administration) to rationalize the visit as "educational," were beside the point; his phenomenal musicianship, control and range on the standup bass, piano, penny whistle, guitar and that amazing instrument that is his voice showed how hard the man has worked. He sang "Stuck In London" for the kids and its monkey lyrics and catchy tune were a big hit.

Nora with Casey Abrams

Randy and I discovered the two soulful guys of El Camino singing on the outdoor patio at Baja Beans in Pescadero, Mexico on a brilliant bright day during spring break. Love the melodies, love the harmonies, love love love the happy expat vibe. Randy are I are going back to the Baja next month to celebrate my birthday. We're leaving the girls with my Aunt Joan and the thought of traveling without them makes me both wistful and excited.

Our friends Bobby and Julie played the MCA in November, covering David Bowie's Station to Station album, with some Iggy Pop sprinkled in. Lots of fun, cool video backdrop, the crowd ate them up with a spoon!

I only grabbed a couple seconds of video of "TVC 15" because I was having too much fun to waste time fiddling with my phone, but you can get a taste of the fun:

Here's Bowie with the entire song, enjoying himself thoroughly.

Here's "Potatoes and Molasses" from the poignant and lovely mini-series Over the Garden Wall, brought to you by one of the guys who makes our favorite kid/adult cartoon Adventure Time. You can see the influence of Shirley Temple's "Animal Crackers In My Soup." And check out this original demo!! Watching this five day series became a family gathering in our house. The sweet antics of cartoon Wirt and his funny little brother Greg played against the gorgeous animated backdrops of autumn in the country changing into cold winter in the woods comforted us as we moved into the darker season.

I discovered Sia this year and found out she was the tortured talent behind "Let Me Love You Until You Learn To Love Yourself" and Beyonce's "Pretty Hurts" and melancholy songs for Rhianna, David Guetta and others, monster hits with anguish right behind the beat. The artist has fought her way back from drug and alcohol addictions and is having a moment of her own right now. I'm obsessed with this video, the soaring chorus "I'm gonna swing from the chandelier/I'm gonna live like tomorrow doesn't exist" and the eerie girl who dances like a banshee, who dances like I feel when I hear a song like this.

So thrilled I've got Mia turned onto musicals now, yay! She wanted to be my date for Damn Yankees from Light Opera Works in Evanston this summer and I couldn't pull her away from "You've Gotta Have Heart" and "Whatever Lola Wants," even though the hour was late and the intermission just beginning. Earlier this month we went downtown to see Newsies with our friends Katie and Mary in what is turning into a sweet holiday tradition. Here's the joyous "King of New York" with plenty of fun tapping.

My brother's youngest daughter Chloe flew in this last weekend to visit the French consulate and get her student visa to study in Vichy this coming spring semester. We had just seen Into The Woods the day before she arrived and we were still high from Sondheim so what a thrill to learn that Chloe played Beanstalk Jack on stage in Kansas City! We spent much of our brief time together warbling "There Are Giants in the Sky and "Bring Him Home" from Les Mis. Now the girls have the 15 minute Prologue on heavy rotation. I can't get enough of Little Red Riding Hood's "The woods are just trees/The trees are just wood/I sort of hate to ask it/But do you have a basket?"

It's a secret why I'm posting this last song, but if you watch the Variety of videos that I Show on this blog, you can probably figure it out. A little challenging to sing with that wide range, but I'm looking forward to the fun of it, whee!!

Happy 2015!!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Gratitude 2014, Part 1: Thanksgiving

My favorite holiday, all about food and family and friends and fun, the one day a year I drink some sweet white wine and then some more, no worries because all we're doing today is cooking and eating and laughing and talking together, the candles are lit and the mood is hyggelig.

Dear Sally and Erik are here from Saugatuck and merry Uncle Sid, my father's little brother, with his wife Kathy and Sid's son Matt with his lovely wife Kris and their two girls who are such sweeties and play all day with our girls, all the second cousins screaming with laughter over Mario Karts and chattering happily as they color the cute holiday gift tags that Sally brought for the girls to craft.

Cousin Sally and Aunt Kathy

Sally's sister Chris comes too, with her daughter Beth who works for Loyola's Public Health Program but who will always be a babe in arms to me, bringing tiny sweet potato tartlets and a huge basket of luscious orange rolls from Chris and Sally's mom's recipe. The orange rolls, gooey, rich and glistening with orange zest, sugar and butter, are one of the treasured vintage recipes honored at this retro-themed dinner. We have dear departed Aunt Theresa's Heavenly Salad and Aunt Ruth's Marinated Tomatoes (this year soaked in a homemade version of the usual Wishbone Italian dressing) and the night before the feast I carved radish and celery flowers, trying the imitate the precise cuts made at Thanksgivings long past by the careful hands of our Grandfather Edgar, a watch repairer and jeweler by trade.

Radish roses to the left

Sally and Chris's brother John walks in at the very moment we are sitting down to eat, to general cheers, just like in a sitcom and the rest of the day unspools in the same charmed way, down to the sweet end with big bowls of sweetened whipped cream and five kinds of pie and these cunning little acorn shaped spice cakes split with maple icing made by Kris and her girls Sophia and Elise.

Acorn spice cakes

If I'm a little tipsy and slurry and inappropriate, so be it, we're all family and who isn't grateful for a little grace and forgiveness? A dollop of understanding goes a long way today and as Kris says, "cousins are forever friends."

My favorite holiday, for what better quality to practice than gratitude and thankfulness? And the laden table is both a delicious reality and a perfect metaphor for all the different things that sustain us during this dark and bare season: loving family, supportive friends near and far, friendly neighbors, patient teachers, restorative personal time, inspiring art, beautiful nature, good work.

And that precious sustenance is even more treasured now because this year was a hard one. I will continue that part of the story in another post. Happy Thanksgiving, dear ones.

Lydia's Orange Rolls
as prepared by Joan Winthers

Makes ±3 dozen rolls, depending on how thick you slice them.

Combine: (Mom always used a 2 cup pyrex measuring cup here)
1 package dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
2 Tablespoons sugar

Scald 1 cup milk in a saucepan. Add one stick of butter. Let butter melt, stir to combine and set aside to cool.

Once yeast is revived and ready to get to work (5 -10 minutes)…
in a mixer bowl, place
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
yeast mixture (from above) 
scaled milk/butter (from above)  
4 cups flour
1 teasp. salt

Mix into a tacky dough. Place in a greased bowl, note size of dough blob, cover with clean towel, and let rise until double in size. (I just use the mixer bowl.) Depending on conditions, the first rise usually takes about an hour.

While dough is rising, wash two oranges and grate zest into a bowl. Add 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup melted butter. Mix to make a paste. Cut the naked oranges into wedges and refresh yourself with a snack. Then grease three muffin tins.

When dough had doubled, give it a poke to deflate. Divide dough in half and roll one half into a long rectangle on a well-floured counter. (Mom used a canvas pastry cloth for rolling with a matching sock over the pin.) Spread half the orange zest mixture on the rectangle of dough, roll into a long snake, and cut into 1-inch cross sections (as for cinnamon rolls). Place in greased muffin tins. Repeat process with 2nd half of dough and zest. 

Place rolls in a cozy place and cover with clean dishtowels. When doubled in size, place in 350 degree oven and bake for 15 minutes. Once nicely browned, remove from oven and turn muffin tins over on to cooling racks. Warning: The zest filling will be very hot. Do not let rolls cool in pan. The zest filling with harden and the rolls will have to be torn free.

Pro tip: For Thanksgiving, Mom would bake the rolls after the turkey had been taken out of the oven to rest before carving. This results in still-warm rolls for the dinner table. Unbeatable!

Heavenly Salad

One cup sour cream
One cup sweetened coconut flakes
One cup miniature marshmallows
One can drained pineapple chunks
One can drained mandarin oranges
One cup halved fresh grapes

Combine all ingredients. It is recommended to give this task to a child, who will love to mix the white sweet mess. Garnish with strawberries and sugar. Minnesotans are rumored to use brown sugar.