Saturday, November 29, 2014

Sane Thanksgiving Cooking

My mother taught me how to cook (except for breads, cakes, pie and pastries - she's a quickbread girl and that's about it), and that includes our quintessential Thanksgiving meal. She also taught me not to get so frantic over doing something awesome for a meal. Keep it simple. Just roast a turkey, serve some mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, a veggie, maybe some rolls, and a pie for dessert. Phrased that way, it's not quite so intimidating, is it? Even when you're multiplying by a factor of 6 or something.

How to Sanely Produce a Thanksgiving meal:

Step Zero. Figure out how long it will take the turkey to defrost, and make sure it will be ready.

Step One. Bake pumpkin pie(s) and cornbread one night before. Also, hard boil a half-dozen or more eggs. Feel free to make the cranberry sauce, too. Your call. Ditto if you plan on making a yam or sweet potato casserole type dish - cook the yams/sweet potatoes the night before so they're ready when you need them. Maybe buy a couple baguettes as your backup bread. If you make your pie crust from scratch, now is the time.

Step Two. Bake any other pie(s) the next morning and clean up before starting everything else. Meanwhile, simmer turkey neck, maybe giblets, in a pot of water with a stalk of celery for however long you feel like it. Congrats, you just made broth. Make yourself some oatmeal and a pot of tea and relax and figure out how long you're going to cook that poultry. If you are stuck offering guests breakfast, keep it simple - oatmeal or something similar, toast/bagels and cream cheese or jam, and tea or coffee.

Step Three. Prepare cornbread stuffing - melted butter or broth, sage, onion, cornbread, any other herbs that strike your fancy. Maybe set the table for later.

Step Three. Put turkey stuffed with stuffing in oven at the appropriate calculated time. Put lard, butter, or vegetable shortening on breast. Additionally, take a paper bag and cut it to lie flat, then 'oil it' by rubbing it with the same sealant. Put over turkey. Make the cranberry sauce (cranberries, water, sugar) if you didn't last night. Take last night's hardboiled eggs and peel, then slice them lengthwise, smush all the yolk pieces together in a bowl with some mayo or yogurt and whatever seasoning strikes your fancy (dill is nice), and decant back into the half-egg shells. Congrats, you just made deviled eggs. Chop up some pieces of vegetables, and toss all that on a platter with a hunk of cheese, knife, and crackers. Open that jar of salsa and that bag of tortilla chips. That's your nibblies! Serve them in the living room, since the dining table is already set.

Step Four. Ignore turkey for appropriate hundreds of minutes. Occasionally, consider basting. Maybe even actually baste. Assemble any casserole dishes and put them in the oven at the appropriate time. Watch a movie, this is supposed to be a fun day for you, too. Put your feet up, you've been standing a lot and those deviled eggs are good.

Step Five. At an appropriate time based on when you plan to serve, cook mashed potatoes and one or two side vegies of your choice. Want some extra stuffing? Throw the rest of your stuffing into a pan, make sure it's nice and moist with broth or some turkey drippings or both, cover with foil, and pop in the oven. Make gravy, either from Bisto, or scratch, as the spirit moves you.

Step Six. Are you a roll or biscuit aficionado? You can make a plain biscuit from scratch in about 20 minutes (or cook biscuits from a can) - while the turkey is cooling after you pull it out of the oven. No joke. Or pull out the backup baguettes and warm them in the oven or microwave. Meanwhile, delegate opening any booze to someone else. Then, chow down.

In my experience, the people for whom Thanksgiving is more burden than anything else are the ones who expect themselves to produce a stuffed turkey, and potatoes, and a yam dish, and a green bean casserole, and brussel sprouts in a bacon maple reduction whatever, and a rice dish, and asparagus, and corn on the cob, and pumpkin, cherry, pecan, and apple pies baked from scratch, and a jello salad, and bread pudding, and bread/rolls/biscuits, and hot hors d'oeuvres. PARE IT DOWN. Whatever your signature, it'-ain't-Turkey-Day-without-it dish is (mine is cranberry sauce and the mashed potatoes) make sure you've got that precisely how you want, and then MANAGE the delivery of the rest. Steam your veggies in the microwave. Or cook the extra stuffing that way. Buy the canned cranberry sauce. It's the cook's day, too.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Immigration Update

Muy busy. Lots of people asking about the effect of President Obama's announcement Thursday. The short version is: did you come here as a kid, or do you have kids with green cards or who were born here? Have you been here for years? Got a clean criminal record? Then you might be eligible for something called 'deferred action' status and a 3-year work permit.

Someone called it amnesty this morning and I laughed. Amnesty would be the program implemented under President Reagan, which granted temporary residency and then lawful permanent residency (green cards) to people. This is just a decision (in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion) to not deport you right now, but maybe deport you later. A work permit is better than nothing, but it's not a green card.

The Citizenship and Immigration Service will be releasing more instructions, so we immigration lawyers know what forms to file, etc., but won't be accepting applications for at least a couple of months. This isn't like the President snaps his fingers and a whole new system springs into existence. It's a bureaucracy. It takes time to promulgate stuff.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Old Street Woman

Old Street Woman
Sidra M.S. Vitale

Every day she occupied the same spot on the street: grey, grimy. She, too, was grey and grimy. Not the kind of panhandler who cracks wise with passers by, the kind who flirts with the public. She was too tired for that. A broom that looked her age leaned against the wall behind her.

After the lunch rush, one of the baristas from the ubiquitous mermaid-encrusted corner coffee shop brought her a small bag with food in it. She ate it slowly, carefully, then sprinkled the crumbs out where the birds, and the three o'clock dog, could get it.

At three o'clock, a dog trotted purposefully down the sidewalk toward her, its owner inattentively dragging along at the end of a long leash behind it. Finding its offering of crumbs, it stopped briefly to accept them, made a brisk acknowledgement of the gift, then moved on, owner none the wiser.

Time ground past. Day after grey day, perpetually shortening, so that the people who might stop and give began wrapping up in scarves and hustling past to their next warm destination.

Occasionally, do-gooders would stop and ask her what she needed, shaking their head when she told them her cat was missing. “How long have you been on the streets, sister?” “Many years.” They'd exchange kind looks and not say the obvious: any cat of hers was long gone. A product of dementia, even, never existed.

On the coldest days of winter, she slept under the vent behind a hotel, broom propped up against the wall. A little circle of thaw, drawn out by man's machines, as an afterthought. Thrown-away heat.

But always she returned to her spot on the street, grey and grimy, with her broom propped behind her.

Year after year slowly eroded to smooth concrete dust, covering the old woman, until there was only fall, never autumn, in her hair, in her eyes, in her hands. Only the grey season and the three o'clock dog's daily walk remained.

But. One day, there was a sound of squabbling. Children, perhaps.

A squad of baristas from the mermaid's coffee shop were moving very quickly down the sidewalk, one of them carrying a cardboard box. Exclamations of “I can't believe it!” “Just left them there!” “Cruelty!” peppered the air around them.

“Here,” said the one who gave the old woman food sometimes, when they drew even with her. “Do you want to see? It's kittens.”

The old woman drew forward. A little litter of five peered back from their box, its holder suddenly proprietary. “How cute!” she told them. But did not touch. (Old street women don't touch.)

“We're taking them to the animal shelter.” “It's a disgrace.” “Who could do such a thing!”

“Yes,” said the old woman, to none of them in particular. “It's a disgrace to abandon kittens. You're doing the right thing.”

No one saw the black one disappear from its place in the box, masterfully, as all cats can.

It did not emerge again until escape was certain, and the box bound for a no-kill shelter was well away.

A small, all black, kitten. Blue eyes.

Slowly, as if re-learning the route, it climbed up the old woman and touched her cheek with its paw, looking intently at her face.

She looked back, concrete and dust and age falling away. “I have been waiting for you.” she said. And placed the kitten gently on her broom, pulling herself astride in one smooth, practiced motion. “Please don't fall off again. We have a lot of time to make up.”

High up above the clouds, the sky is not grey.


Monday, May 12, 2014

Book Review: The Extinction Parade, vol 1

I got the chance to read this through my subscription, and I'm so glad I did. It's a fascinating premise by Max Brooks (World War Z), even for those who aren't huge fans of zombie stories (like me). The zombies aren't really the point, or at least not so far. What is, is the threat to the way of life of vampires. Equally fascinating (and quite logical) that the main characters, as vampires, live in the developing world or elsewhere where there is sufficient room to fake papers and never seem to age. A very nice change from the traditional European motif.

Well-written and lovely art.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Fearing Me is a Good Idea

This is the world I am working toward:

If I do not say 'yes', you may assume that if you touch me, I will kill you.

A world where you don't get to say, "Oh, I didn't know you wouldn't be OK with my touching you," and get away with it.

A world where you don't get to push my boundaries at a bar and claim innocence and non-reprisal.

Nope. The world I am working for is the world of swift, merciless reprisal.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Observations on Studying The Great War

Observations On Studying The Great War
by Sidra M.S. Vitale, July 2012

The inhabitants of these British Isles
Are the descendants of berserker invaders,
and mad hillmen known never to yield the field of battle.

Only the mightiest survived those bitter clashes.
Their offspring have proven unquenchable heroes
on red European fields.

I still think this is one of my better poems.