Deconstructing Baby It's Cold Outside, correctly

(edited to reflect an updated lyric.) Could you write this song now instead of the 40s (50s, 60s, 70s?) No, not with the same cheeky sense of fun. (Which is why, I suppose, people like me cling so fervently to the nice parts of the past.) And of course that might not be a bad thing in our world in which people must be suspicious of each other at all times, but it doesn’t make the meaning of it as it was created in the past no good now. Judging the hundreds of people who've recorded this song as if they've got no sense until you come along and straighten them out is just foolish.


This has upset me so much because it means much more than just getting it technically wrong. It means all of our recent past is subject to revision, to the point where everything I knew growing up is now “for all intensive purposes” to someone who doesn't see it in perspective.

We are better at a lot of stuff than they were 80 years ago when this song was written, yet that doesn’t mean they didn’t know how life worked. We can do Earth and universal goodwill and women getting great jobs in a way they didn’t do just then. But to take what they made and enjoyed and interpret it as something different now is doing them a disservice. You can never understand any history if you look at it only through your own current view. History revisionists are all on the wrong sides of things; don’t be one of them.


People who have no solid view of history, perspective, context, or songwriting style are interpreting this song as he says/she says, and also don’t even know how people used to talk before the 90s. But it isn’t like that. Each pair of lines works together.

(I really can't stay) But, baby, it's cold outside
(I've got to go away) But, baby, it's cold outside
(This evening has been) Been hoping that you'd drop in
(So very nice) I'll hold your hands they're just like ice

This verse means she went to the man’s apartment and has been having a good time. Now it’s both a little late and getting on toward clutch time. You probably don’t remember life before Britney and Justin were briefly a couple, but back when our parents (your grandparents) were young, and he’d just gotten back from his tour in Germany or Korea, they were celebrating the free world like you didn’t know they knew how.

(My mother will start to worry) Beautiful, what's your hurry
(My father will be pacing the floor) Listen to the fireplace roar
(So really I'd better scurry) Beautiful, please don't hurry
(Well, maybe just half a drink more) Put some records on while I pour


Look at what’s been going on. They’ve been sitting here talking in front of the fireplace. You might not remember that, either, unless you live in a cool old building, but apartments had fireplaces if they were big enough and in the north. She sat and watched while he made one, or maybe she made the first round of drinks, only her round was a little weak, because it’s maybe 1949, and she’s a girl like that. Why would she sit and watch him build a fire? Is she stupid and doesn’t know he’s setting a comfortable scene? No, people born before you knew the score. They just liked to pretend they didn’t. So now he’s freshened her drink, and she has put on a record. It was probably a ten inch long-playing record; twelve-inchers ended up taking over, but not just yet. Know how I can say that? Because I know stuff about before now that I didn’t get from a CBS crime procedural marathon or a Tumblr page. All these details add up to a more complete picture than the one you've got in your head.

(The neighbors might think) Baby, it's bad out there
(Say what's in this drink) No cabs to be had out there
(I wish I knew how) Your eyes are like starlight now
(To break this spell) I'll take your hat, your hair looks swell

Are you thinking she’s been sitting there in front of the fire with her second drink but has a woolen toque on her head like she’s about to fight with the storm? No. It’s a cute hat perched on her head to match her outfit. Her coat might have had a big hood that fit over it, or it might have been super impractical in order to look nice. (You might have wondered why hoods on women’s coats were and sometimes are still gigantic. It was to accommodate hairstyles and hats.) And all she notices about the drink is that the bourbon to soda ratio is narrower than hers was. It was a running joke before it got ruined by a few creepers. Not just women to men, but any old body takes a drink and says, “Wow, what’d you put in here? Everything?” That kind of thing. Maybe she set it down, maybe she kept sipping. We don’t know, but we also know the next line wasn’t “Shh, I demand you toss it back.” But did you think she never had a drink before? That’s no good, either. This isn’t the watered-wine and rataffia era, after all.


(I ought to say no, no, no, sir) Mind if I move in closer
(At least I'm gonna say that I tried) What's the sense of hurting my pride
(I really can't stay) Baby, don't hold out
[Both] Baby, it's cold outside

Her hat is now off. Know how I know? Because she isn’t saying no. She’s saying “she ought to.” People say ought to about things they really don’t want to do. “I really ought to get on that, clean that up, make that call, get to bed.” They’re trying to talk themselves into doing something when they would rather not just now, thanks. It’s a way of appearing diligent without having to be so, like if you see your neighbor is coming over and you haven’t cleaned yet, so you set the vacuum cleaner in the hallway. At the same time, she’s feeling him out. Will he give her a good reason to not have to say no?

Know how I know that? Because it’s basic human nature, and I’ve lived long enough and seen enough to know that. She’s going to say she tried? Not really, but if she did, nobody would be screaming at her that he took advantage of her. They’re gonna shake their heads a little, grinning, and saying things like, “Sister, what are you up to?”

And then both of them sing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” together, because they are in this together. She doesn’t want to go out there yet, but is keeping up a pretense because she’s supposed to, and so he’ll know they can carry on, but maybe not all the way. It’s code, which people have always used, only it’s a little different in each era.


(I simply must go) Baby, it's cold outside
(The answer is no) Baby, it's cold outside
(The welcome has been) How lucky that you dropped in
(So nice and warm) Look out the window at the storm

Now here she says no, but it’s the kind of no he understands, not the kind you’re thinking of. She’s set a boundary. He was going too fast. But does she get up? No. She’s pressed up against him, that’s why, still performing her ought tos. She doesn’t stand up so he’ll stop kissing her, and he hasn’t pinned her down so she can’t move, because they are singing this thing together. Remember, this was written by a married couple, who performed it at a party for their friends. Their friends laughed because they understood it like you don’t. They knew the score.

(My sister will be suspicious) Gosh your lips look delicious
(My brother will be there at the door) Waves upon a tropical shore
(My maiden aunt's mind is vicious) Gosh your lips are delicious
(But maybe just a cigarette more) Never such a blizzard before

This is the verse that tells you the truth you don’t wish to know. He moves in for a kiss. She’s murmuring at this point, as their faces meet, and then when they do kiss, she decides maybe she can hang around a little longer, timing it with however long it takes to smoke an unfiltered cigarette. The cigarette was important, even though it seems really grosstastic now. She can sit up and he’ll light one, but at the same time, she can let him know that kiss was so good, she’ll be around for a few more. It’s another piece of cultural code. And the sister, the brother, the aunt? Now she’s just making up stuff. It isn’t a firmer defense, it’s a weaker one, but she is required to make it in this game.

(I got to get home) But, baby, you'd freeze out there
(Say lend me a comb) It's up to your knees out there
(You've really been grand) I thrill when you touch my hand
(But don't you see) How can you do this thing to me

Do you borrow a comb from a man who creeps you out? And she put her hand on his when she asked. Why is she touching him and asking to put something in her hair that he has had in his hair? Because she likes him, that’s why, not because rohypnol is taking over .

She knows he knows she’s into him, and he also knows she’s not taking him too seriously, and so he’ll ask again, because she’s not offended, she’s just going by the rules she’s set for herself, which are more about pacing than anything else. She’s indicating to him that she’s got people looking out for her, but at the same time, is making her own choice about what position she is taking with him on the couch.


(There's bound to be talk tomorrow) Think of my life long sorrow
(At least there will be plenty implied) If you caught pneumonia and died
(I really can't stay) Get over that old doubt
[Both] Baby, it's cold
[Both] Baby, it's cold outside (Sung together again)

That was the truth about 1949 or so, and is sometimes still the truth now. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. You draw your own line, but everyone else reads it according to their own, though sometimes they’re hypocrites about it, making their own decisions while judging others for making the same one.

You know how “they” say everyone thinks they’re an above-average driver? It is a truth not universally acknowledged that people think everyone else but them is dumber and needs life explained to them. The internet has made this worse. You Google a thing and learn a few talking points, and it never crosses your mind that the person you’re explaining it all to has maybe actually read whole books on the subject or has first-hand experience at it. Your insular confirmation bias bubble leads you to believe you’re the one who uncovered the truth, only actually, not only has it been there a lot longer than you knew, you have only a few pieces of the picture in the frame, and not the whole thing. Sometimes you don't even understand the frame, like when I first saw Impressionist paintings in a museum, and wondered why they were in big ornate gilded things, until someone explained to me that those frames were correct for the period, even though they didn't match the new painting style. That taught me something.


People take old texts like the Bible, and they translate them into modern languages. But they can’t make direct one-to-one translations without knowing what the writers meant by certain words (and phrases, since a word could mean something different when used with another,) because they aren’t what they mean now. Shakespeare is the same way. People who study the language of Shakespeare must decode it according to how he used words and how they’d be taken then, not how they wish for them to be taken now. We put on a play with Shakespeare’s intent, by understanding the context in which he wrote. We don't say, "Sorry, Hamlet doesn't get to mean that anymore; we changed what his words meant."

We can play with it a little, though, without ruining it.


Happy Holidays to you

This is from a Google Plus post, December 24, 2013.

Troll some ancient yuletide carols, rest you merry if you can, and embrace history, which has the wonderful word "story" in it. Life, the universe and every little thing is a story. In the northern hemisphere, especially in the areas where it is cold at this time of year, the season of holidays is a season of lighting lights and creating warmth, shutting out the long dark cold nights. In the U.S., the holiday season lasts about six weeks, and is a combination of many stories and traditions passed along over the centuries. It's a weird and wonderful thing.

Six weeks later, we reach the mid-point of winter, and six weeks after that, our axial tilt starts pulling its downward shift as the sun rises higher in the sky overhead.

These are the things to embrace, even in our artificial environments. These are things still worth noting and celebrating. No matter whatever else changes, the seasons are bound by our position in the sky, and they were so before we populated the land; thus, the very idea that they are subject to this or that narrow band of thinking is absurd! It is just as personally meaningful or meaningless as we each choose, but it remains what it is regardless of that. It's the star stuff of which we are all composed.

Life is mystery, magic, physics, and wonders still to behold: a rich tapestry of history to which we are always adding. The dictionary of the universe, and of God as you like, is so much bigger and broader than the one in all our heads. It's limitless, unbound by any one person's or single group's petty definition or understanding of How Things Are. No matter how much we seek to understand it, and how much we learn, it's still more than we can ever grasp. So let's have some fun while we're at it.


Personal Favorite Classic Holiday Films

This is partly a "best" list, but I can concede there are some good ones I left out, because they aren't personal favorites. If I were to make a real "best" list, I'd make it longer, to include a few more you might expect. Hover over the links to see which are video and which are text. Also, at least half of these are available complete on YouTube.

Perennial favorites I never miss:

It’s a Wonderful Life 1946: I've never not loved this movie, and I could watch it several times a year. I have it on DVD now, because I wanted to always see it without commercial breaks. We watch it every year on Christmas Eve while drinking eggnog and eating cookies.  I think it's kind of a perfect movie.

Holiday 1938: I first saw this as a teenager as part of a double feature with Bringing Up Baby, but to me, it pairs better with The Awful Truth, one of the funniest movies ever made. Holiday has more pathos and tension, and is not a perfect movie, but it is still very funny, and one to hug and adore. TCM is showing it three times in the next three months; watch or record it when you can.

The Man Who Came to Dinner 1942: has a wonderful cast and lots of funny moments. It's staged very much like a play, which is enjoyable. And it has a lot of in-jokes that are extra funny if you know the references, but are still funny if you don't. It was written by Kaufman and Hart, who also wrote the hilarious You Can't Take It With You, which was adapted for the screen in 1938.

Desk Set 1957: This movie is gorgeous. It teams Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, a pairing I'm not overly fond of, but I like the offbeat nature of it, and all the supporting cast. As not a Tracy fan, this is my favorite role of his. It looks like one kind of movie, but behaves like another. I have this one on DVD as well, and watch it a couple times a year.

The Bishop’s Wife 1947: This is more of a true Christmas film than the previous entries, and I think it's one of the best, because of the cast and the nearly gross sentimentality. It's tender and meaningful, but also humorous. Monty Wooley has a sweet role, completely opposite his role in The Man Who Came to Dinner.

The Shop Around the Corner 1940: I love the setting of this film, and the real caring nature of it. It also feels like a play, and could have been too stagey if not done just right, which it was. When I was younger, I really disliked Margaret Sullavan's character, but I appreciate her more now. I always appreciate Jimmy Stewart. Deeply.
I like these next four, but need to be in the mood, because I'm terrible at watching certain kinds of tension. Honestly, though, it's mainly me. I've watched them all with other people who don't get the same sensation from them, and I do make sure to see them each year.

It Happened on 5th Avenue 1947: In this movie, people without homes for various reasons all end up in a mansion together for the winter. Don't look up too much about it; the story is really fun if you don't know how it will go. I always have this "fear of discovery," but of course, it's a comedy. You know it will eventually all come right for every one. It's got kind of a ham-handed message, but that's part of its charm.

Holiday Affair 1949: This is really good; I'm just never a fan of Robert Mitchum. It's a charming light romance in which a woman ends up choosing the man I would turn down, but that's how these things go, and everyone else is happy in the end. The mother and child scenes are really very good.

Bachelor Mother 1939: David Niven and Charles Coburn are in this film, and I love them both. Ginger Rogers plays the woman mistaken for a single mother, and finds herself going along with the narrative assigned her. I don't generally enjoy stories which go that way, but she's so good and they're so good, and if you've never seen it, you'll laugh.

Remember the Night 1940: This stars Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray, who are devastating together in Double Indemnity, which was released a few years later. This one's mostly light-hearted, and they have real chemistry between them, which is why, I suppose, they did three more films together. But it's another thing wherein someone has to pretend to be someone they aren't, and a little of that goes a long way with me (which is why I hardly ever watch Christmas in Connecticut.) There's a fairly recent remake of this story, but I don't recall the name because I didn't like it.

And that reminds me to mention sometime this week I'm going to share a "contemporary" Christmas film list, but it will be all TV movies, because I enjoy those far more than the broad comedy ones that tend to appear on the big screen these days.

Marzipan Cookie Dough: three pro-tips and a caveat

My mom made these so perfectly, but I’ve had them dull or too hard or too crumbly. They require a light hand, mainly. This v. old Betty Crocker recipe calls for 2 1/2 cups flour, 1 cup butter, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tsp almond extract. That’s all. Mix, shape, chill half an hour, bake at 300º for about half an hour.

First I double and slightly change the recipe; increasing flavoring and decreasing flour. I use four bowls and into each one I put a stick of softened butter, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1/2 tsp almond extract. It’s easier to do this than to divide the dough after adding the flour.
CameraZOOM-20141207144827214Then I color it before adding the flour. That’s tip #2. Tip #3 which my mom didn’t do because it would have been very pricey back then, is to use gel colors. CameraZOOM-20141207145247198
Then I add 1 1/8 cups of flour to each bowl, and stir just until it will all stick together. It does not look as weird as this photo. I don't have an explanation for this. CameraZOOM-20141207150424886
The caveat: I usually use King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour for most cookies. But today I bought an organic variety, and it is darker. So two of the bowls got a darker flour which changed the color considerably. I’ll have to rethink how I shape the cookies, and then I’ll probably roll them in colored sugar, which I dyed myself because it’s easy and cheap and you can do whichever colors you like.

So why am I showing you dough and no cookies? I'll be honest here. I got the cramps. The dough will keep til morning.

Christmas, cookie misnomers, feeling internal

I've decorated a bit extra for Christmas this year. I even bought a second little tree for my front room where I read and listen to music. 20141206_105601

As the kids no longer ask for piles of toys each year, money for gifts is not a big concern. I'm trying to get the boys to just collude on something they'd like to enjoy together, as two of them tend to want very little, and the other one wants everything, yet is not at all greedy or grasping.

I'm lonely; the girls aren't around, and I can't spend any time outside these days. Even getting out to do things that need doing costs me so much energy, it defines the entire day. Today I'm going to Costco, so I need to know in my head every single moment of dinner preparation ahead of time, so that I'm on top of it later on. But inside I'm doing better; I can run up and down the stairs again, and make more of each day. 20141205_140303

So I'm making odd little crafts, doing some weekend baking, working to take pleasure in my surroundings. DSC_0439

It's tough on the boys, because they still all have only learner's driving permits. (It's a long story, and not interesting.) They need more practice than they're getting. Anyway. About cookies...

This morning I was looking at an old BHG cookbook called Cooking For Two, and a recipe mentioned rusks. I looked that up to learn they are twice-baked toasts. Thicker than Melba, more like what we'd call biscotti, only plainer. Apparently, people in the UK used to put them in baby bottles, which freaked me out a little, but most people did survive what parents used to do. A baby will learn to expect what it is given, so we try to do better with that these days.

Of course, what we call biscotti are not really what they call them in Italy (I'm not looking up the name, I think it starts with c) and not what my grandma called them, either. When my grandma, mom, and aunts made biscotti, they used 5 cups of flour and 6 eggs plus a few other things to create soft, round, barely sweet and very plain cookies that were then dipped in powdered sugar icing and sometimes had sprinkles added. They made pans and pans of them. And Grandma would shape some of that same dough into braids at Easter, and bake colored eggs right into them. (You just cook the eggs before dying so they are barely hard-cooked. Mom worried over this, but I have the internet to verify things.)

When we visited their house, we usually brought Stella D'oro Anisette Toasts for Grandpa, and these you'd recognize as biscotti, though actually, they have more of a spongey texture to them when dipped in coffee. The name has changed, I suppose because they aren't like what we are used to now. Or something.


I'm sure you know by now that the singular of biscotti is biscotto, which is actually just a cookie, after all. If you say you want a biscotti, it's kinda weird.

But today or tomorrow, I am going to make marzipan cookies. How can marzipan be a cookie, you ask? Well, it can't. They are called that because they are little almond-flavored cookies which are colored and shaped to look like marzipan. My mother labored lovingly over them every year. I do not. When I do make them now and then, I tend to cut them like shortbread. But this year, little fruits will be the order of the day.

I also like to make biscotti, by the way, our way in addition to the old way now and then. There's no point now in quibbling over the name; I just call the grandma kind "Easter cookies," but in fact, if you look them up online, you'll also see them referred to as anginetti.

CookiesClick on the photo to see a recipe. Below is the ingredient list I use:

For cookies:

6 eggs
5 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups confectioners' sugar

2 1/2 tablespoons baking powder 

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter, softened

1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla (or anise or almond)

For glaze:

1/2 cup warm milk

1 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
 (or lemon or vanilla)
1 (1-lb) box confectioners' sugar (about 4 cups, unsifted)

Colored sprinkles


The kids are just at school today, after all

I get the notion behind renaming Columbus Day Indigenous People's Day, but I don't think it's quite the right idea. Turning it into a day of mourning won't be more meaningful to most people; the ones with righteous indignation will always have that, and the rest will go on same as usual. And we all know by now that everywhere in the world was or is a group of people turned out by old time Europeans, or sometimes someone rather closer at hand. People did that to each other on a regular basis. It has shaped our world, and it is a history lesson that everyone should learn, lest it again be repeated. But turning Columbus Day into an annual acknowledgement of the people he hurt is not the way to teach that lesson.

I feel sort of bad for the people who like their Italian-American parades, as they're connected to the figure now known to have done so much harm to the regions he explored. Are any of the known world explorers worthy of national celebration anywhere? Probably not. I don't think ethics was a high priority on any of their codes of behavior. But exploration itself is still something to celebrate or acknowledge generally. So I'd rather see the day, if there must be one, be a celebration of something positive for everyone, rather than a shaming of something negative that most of us can't grasp as a part of ourselves, though we must keep telling future generations that no one culture has autonomy over the others.

I'd like to see something conjured like Melting Pot Day. Independence Day celebrates the founding of the United States, but it wasn't so many generations ago that only a certain number of various ethnicities were allowed in. Chinese men could come work, but they couldn't bring wives and make more Chinese. At one point people were worried about too many Italians, too many Irish, too many Jews, and of course, too many Mexicans. But immigrants are what most of our ancestors were, and immigrants built the foundations on which we make our way. We like to say we're a quarter this and a quarter that, because when we are honest, we like this about ourselves, that "world travel" made us who we are. That's something we could do positive arts and crafts and church dinners for. Italian-Americans and people with indigenous backgrounds could have their parades, and we'd eat each other's favorite recipes from Grandma, or just a whole lot of what they call "hotdish" in the upper midwest.

We'd celebrate the blending of it all, rather than dissect it for measurement and comparison.

I remember, I remember

Visiting cemeteries on Memorial Day when I was a child. Just whoever was dead and around, you know, but of course it didn't start out that way. Here's information I culled about Memorial Day, and how it is different from Veteran's Day (and to my mind, should remain so.) I liked our cemetery tradition, I mean, I like how that's what it became. But as I grow older, I'm more connected to more history, and I like that, as well.

Yesterday at Kroger, veterans were handing out paper poppies for Memorial Day. They are to honor the war dead, of course, and I got to thinking about how people confuse that with Veterans Day, maybe because of how Remembrance Day is honored overseas.

You see, Memorial Day began here after the Civil War, but the poppy tradition was added after World War 1, and that tradition is followed in the UK and Canada, and a few other places, specifically on November 11. The first poppy was worn by an American in 1918 as a symbol of remembrance, inspired by the poem "In Flanders Field," by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian doctor who fought in the war. And because we already had Memorial Day, when Armistice (now Veterans) Day in the U.S. was established, it was to honor all veterans, living and dead. Of course, no one then wanted to imagine another such war could occur...

So here's some information on Memorial Day, from the VA, and from a quiz at this blog: I left out her bonus question as it was not quite correct, though mostly.

Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 8.21.06 AM
Why was May 30 chosen as Memorial Day?
 —The last Monday of May was chosen to coincide with the time when flowers would be blooming all over the country.
What was the first state to officially recognize Memorial Day?
—New York
How do the soldiers of the 3rd U. S. Infantry participate in Memorial Day?
—Since the late 1950s, on the Thursday just before Memorial Day, around 1200 soldiers of the 3rd US Infantry place small American flags at each of more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery. They then patrol 24 hours a day during the weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing.
What does the National Moment of Remembrance Resolution ask Americans to do on Memorial Day?
—Americans are asked to observe a moment of remembrance and respect by pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence, or listening to taps, at 3:00 p. m.
Who presided over the first Memorial Day?
—General and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant
When was Memorial Day first celebrated?
—May 30, 1868. It was observed by placing flowers on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers during the first national celebration. Gen. James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, after which around 5,000 participants helped to decorate the graves of the more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers who were buried there.
What is the birthplace of Memorial Day?
—Waterloo, N.Y. is considered its birthplace because the residents were the first people to proclaim a day, May 5, 1866, to honor soldiers who died in the Civil War. They closed their businesses and placed flowers and flags on the graves of their soldiers.
When did Congress declare Memorial Day a national holiday?
When should the American flag be raised from half staff to full staff on Memorial Day?
—At noon.
Who was General John A. Logan?
—Maj. Logan was the head of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), an organization of Union Civil War Veterans, who took charge of Memorial Day celebrations in the Northern States. He first declared Memorial Day a special day to honor Union soldiers killed in battle.


Keeping Christmas

I miss my daughters. Here are some good and bad photos for them, of decorated bits. The tree in the window and the one in the second photo are both made from tomato cages. Aaron put up the porch lights and Theron helped me decorate the tree. The ornaments on the floor were on the crabapple tree last year. I haven't decided whether to do that again. And then we have to hang the wreath. This neighborhood is Big on wreaths; it would be like the boy bouncing the ball out of rhythm to not have at least one, preferably several.


For lack of things to say, holiday dinner planning, miscellanea

Here's some stuff I wrote down just now, to organize my thoughts a bit.

Green BEAN Delivery: produce (they always have good seasonal lineups prepared)
Jungle Jim's: turkey, bread for stuffing, wine
Kroger (posh:) flowers

also to buy:
aluminum foil
cake flour
frozen bread dough
maple syrup
sour cream

to make ahead:
orange marmalade
pie crusts
chicken stock
banana or apple bread
pumpkin pie filling

to do:
organize refrigerator
clean dining room floor
check up on Christmas ornaments
call for dishwasher repair

Whenever we've had dishwasher trouble, it's been at Thanksgiving. When our freezer died, it was Christmas Eve. It's just like that in my life, so I just factor it into my whole "doing things the hard way" system.

Because like, I usually buy orange marmalade for the turkey. And then I made a couple kinds of marmalade a few weeks ago, realized how shockingly easy that is, and thought, "why on earth have I been buying it?" I'm kind of a condiment junky, anyway. It makes better sense to just make enough to use, instead of adding yet another little jar to the collection.

I glaze the turkey with orange marmalade, but it's also basted with a sherry-orange juice butter. I forget who I got the original ideas from, which I just got to combining over the years to suit my tastes.

And there's a bit of orange zest in the cranberry sauce and the mashed sweet potatoes, so I am having oranges sent with the produce delivery this week.

Certain flavors always to be expected if you eat my Thanksgiving dinner: maple, and orange and almond. The green beans (and sometimes Brussels sprouts, but not, I think, this year, as it's a tinier group than usual,) are sauteed with garlic. In this manner, I prepare traditional American holiday foods with a hint of the Mediterranean ancestral memory built into my brain. 

The boys voted on cherry pie with the pumpkin pie for this year. I have cherries in the freezer, so that's a happy thing. Probably I will do the sour cream crust recipe I got from Bon Appetit for blueberry pie around 20 years ago. SourcreamcrustCake flour is made with a softer wheat and is a good thing to add to pie crusts containing butter. This is baked at 400º for 50 minutes with a filling made from 2 lbs of fruit.

And then they prefer the flaky shortening crust for pumpkin pie, rather than the buttery tart-style ones I tend to use otherwise. The cherry pie is flavored with almond extract, in reminiscence of my mother. She bought canned cherries (not the pie filling,) and cooked them to a rich thickness with almond extract, sugar, and flour. The scent wafting through the house was magical.

So I do much the same thing, but with frozen cherries instead of canned.

I miss my faraway daughters a lot right now. However, I like to make things as great as I can for my sons. It would be crummy of me to put in only half effort for half the family. Thanksgiving dinner has always been my special gift for them, and hopefully they'll all always have good memories of that.

It's a basic menu, but all fully homemade except the dinner rolls, and the bread for the dressing.

Orange-glazed turkey with sherry cream gravy
Sage and onion dressing
Orange-spiced cranberry sauce
Sauteed green beans
Maple mashed sweet potatoes
Raised dinner rolls
Pumpkin pie
Cherry pie

Mother's Day and Me

There's something truly charming about the unpredictability of Mother's Day for me. You see, I really care about my birthday. I love to be feted and congratulated for being here. Presents are a bonus; something I kinda hope for, because who doesn't like a present? And I have a family of really terrific gift-givers. But it isn't ever required. I just really love the idea of birthdays, and of people being glad I have mine. I really like cake. Last year I made my own birthday cake and dinner, and those of us who were here really enjoyed it.  

Mother's Day is different. If there wasn't one, that'd be fine by me. I know my family loves me. And sometimes they, either in a group or a couple of them individually, splash out and do something grand for me. Other times, there might be mostly nothing or an offer to vacuum or make dinner.  I would like someone, this year, to offer to reorganize the pantry and then actually do it, but it isn't as if I couldn't point my finger and say, "You. Pantry duty. Today." to whoever is at hand when I think of it.  Or just do it myself, as usual. 

One year there was a big breakfast and an iPod waiting for me. It was pretty great, but it didn't make me expect something equally as grand and splashy the next year. Which is good because that didn't happen. Anyway. The person who came up with the idea of Mother's Day later disowned it because she was appalled that it became a marketing tool. Personally, I always tried to teach my kids as they were growing up that all these "special" days can be marked, if we choose to, without buying things. Especially Valentine's Day. I want a homemade card or no card, thank you. (That's not really true. Just if you carefully choose a card to give me, I still expect you to write something in it besides your name.) 

There are a couple things I don't own I'd like to own, like a fabulous Italian espresso machine and a violin, if anyone is actually making a birthday gift list. But really, someone else making a cake and saying, "Hey, you" would be enough. Or not even the cake part. I'm good at celebrating me, after all. As to Mother's Day, I was actually planning to spend some time in the giant fancy cemetery tomorrow, and so mostly I'd just like to ask for nice weather; slightly gloomy, perhaps, but not too cool. 

The foods and blessings of our people

As Jeff Smith wrote in The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American, "Italy had no tomatoes, Ireland no potatoes, and Switzerland had no vanilla or chocolate. Spain had no bell peppers or pimentos and China had no corn, peanuts or sweet potatoes. These last three edibles kept most of China alive at the beginning of this (20th, of course,) century." Whenever I read this list I always wonder what on earth people ate before Columbus bumped into Central America and ravaged the place searching for spices. 

black walnuts 
vanilla beans 
sweet potatoes 
kidney beans 
lima beans 
navy beans 
string beans 
bell peppers 
wild rice

You might know that in this very large country, people settled in different areas depending on where they came from, almost from the very beginning. Starting just after the country was officially formed, and particularly increasing in the 1850s because of German shipping innovations, the mostly English United States began filling out with Germans, Swedes, Poles, Lithuanians, then came the Irish, Italians, Chinese, and all the rest. People from all over the world created the United States, and nearly all the food we now think of as "American," by taking the resources available to them here and applying their ancestral creativity and frugality to them.  

I hope we all understand by now that it's too simple and too silly to say, "Your ancestors did this awful thing," "your ancestors did this other awful thing." They all did, you know. They did awful stuff, to the land, and to each other. Disputing that or calling one group worse than another is very silly. They've each had their turn. I am not directly related to any American slave owners, but I'm certain that a number of my ancestors were just as awful as anyone else in other ways. Because in all periods of history, people are truly awful in some ways and just wonderful in others. It is the way of humanity. 

This Thanksgiving, as we raise a glass of wine in honor of blessings received, we can thank the Spanish for bringing vines to California from Mexico; vines that had originally been stuck there by the murdering Cortès. We can thank the Chinese men who dug and planted and built the California vineyards of the late 1800s before being shoved out in favor of "white" labor. We can thank the French and Italian and Spanish families who continued their innovations here after a severe epidemic in Europe destroyed many crops, and we can thank the people who clung to their efforts through the long painful period of Prohibition.

We should enjoy that glass of wine with the knowledge that we can make the best of who we are with all we have, and that being able to share our best with others is the richest blessing of all. Leave the squabbling over who is worst for another day, or maybe finally give that up for good.

My Valentine Perspective

My dad used to give me a little box of candy every year on Valentine's Day, and he'd give my mom a large one. One year he gave me 6 red roses, and told me that my first dozen must come from a man who loves me. Well, that never happened, and he's gone now, but somehow it's a memory I truly cherish, because it was done with such complete love. I don't remember when the candy tradition ended, sometime around when my parents divorced, when I was 15. 

Don't get me wrong, I never asked for the dozen roses, or felt it was some sort of right! It was just somehow, well, Dad said it would happen, so I assumed it would. :-) Because I loved him completely, too, even though we ended up living so far apart, until he died two and a half years ago. 

My mom gave me a card every year, and of course I always made one for her. Sometimes we added little gifts. When I was 14, she gave me my stuffed lion, Jean-Serge. I still have him. She died when I was 24, otherwise I expect we'd have continued the tradition.

For a long time during marriage, Valentine's Day became this serendipitous thing for me. Once in awhile, there'd be some big ol' surprise, a great surprise. Most of the rest of the time, murmurings about commercialism. So, having so many kids and just wanting some fun in the middle of winter, I'd come up with little surprises for them each year, and we'd make some fun treat to eat. When they were little a couple of them would sneak a card onto my pillow, as well. It was very sweet. 

So that's what it came to mean to me; some small gesture of affection I received from my parents and then gave to my children. Now I am reflecting on this because this year it's just me and the three boys, all teenagers, nice boys, but not into hearts and flowers. It didn't matter that much until it was "suddenly" no longer relevant.

I'm not in a great hurry to become a grandparent, but it will be nice to someday have small people to share the fun parts of love. My mom died before she was able to do that with my children, but I hope to live a long time into the future. 

some things never change

When I was a little girl, the only soda I would drink (other people called it “pop,” but I couldn’t,) was 7-Up. I hated all the fruity things, root beer gave me a headache, and I thought Coke and Pepsi were cloying, though I probably wouldn’t have used that word. Dr Pepper is delicious to me as an adult, but I didn’t like it back then, either. Sprite was no good; it was a sticky 7-Up wannabe. 

So it delights me to collect the 7-Up ads from my babyhood. There are a few others in the blog, back a-ways.

Well, this one is from before I was born…


In the mid-late 60s, 7-Up ads were always sort of alive, to me. They matched the product very well, I think. But I’d drink only the original version now, as I find the HFCS to be metallic on the tongue and phlegmy in the throat.

This stuff here was as crisp and sharp as the photo indicates, and clean on the throat.

It might not surprise you that I could never drink the soda out of a can or bottle (they were all glass then, children!) and insisted on a glass. There was a soda around briefly in the late 80s called Rondo that I could drink from the can, but it didn’t last long. When I was a teenager, I discovered Pellegrino, and then that was the only sparkling drink I enjoyed until I rediscovered Dr Pepper about 25 years ago. (Yes, I am that old.)

Anyway. Always a bit fussy, but only about certain things. :-)

Christmas wish list—now greedily updated and expanded!

I make one every year, though I never show anybody except the web.

Nero Wolfe: The Complete Classic Whodunit Series

La Bella Lingua by Dianne Hales

Crosley iSolo

The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter

new iPod earbuds

2011 wall calendar

new canvas, paint, etc.

ummm...I could think of more things.

I'd like a new cardigan. I prefer zippers to buttons, and it can't be too oppressive or too baggy. And I'd like a new computer, but not smaller; I think it's weird that the MacAirs are so small. I would like to go up to 17 inches, not down to 13. On the other hand, I would find an iPad very useful, or I would find a Nook rather useful.

I'd enjoy a new camera. Mine's pretty much outdated and outmoded at this point.

I'd like to have my car detailed and to finally have the XM radio installed. I could have had Sirius put in when we got it, but we already had XM, so I've been using a noisy external unit all this time.

Probably I'll end up getting several of the less expensive things for myself over the next year, however, gifts are still fun to think about.

Swinging Smooth Yule

If I were sending my dad a CD this year, this is how it would go. I can't send him one anymore, so I've provided it here for you. Er, if you don't know how to "assemble" it, let me know. 

Screen shot 2010-12-06 at 1.49.34 PM

Cool Yule


Winter Wonderland

The Merriest

Winter Weather

Jingle Bells

Baby It's Cold Outside 

Shake Hands With Santa Claus

I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm

Cool Yule


Here's a cover if you want one:


I'm bringing sexy back/Keeping Christmas

Yeah, I mean, I'm starting to get what might be considered well? It's still partly theoretical, but forecast indicates continuing improvement. 

So let's have some fun with one of today's cheesetastic article from The Daily Mail. Unlike other people who decry this as the worst of British publishing rags, I'm often tickled by it. And I don't figure they outright make stuff up so much as enhance or extrude it for maximum sensationalism. That one guy who was trendy for awhile coined the sentiment "truthiness." That mostly applies. 

I also think they don't take what they publish as seriously as do their readers. They know they're printing material for extreme reaction, and are probably often giddy about the responses they get. It's a numbers game.

And this here? This is comedy gold. I've excised portions of it because it's way too freaking long, so this is the (still long) clip show version, with my own (sans-serif) comments and links added.

Saturday, Dec 04 2010
 Merry Christmas? Along with millions of other middle class mothers, I can't afford one

Last updated at 3:34 AM on 4th December 2010

Less than five years ago, Christmas for me meant leisurely afternoons in Harrods buying a pretty embroidered cushion, some bath oil and a toy or two here, some smoked salmon and a box of chocolates there.

Shopping in a global superstore among the well-heeled is a relaxed pleasure — or should I say, it was. 

For today it is merely a gold-tinted memory, as remote and exotic as going to Timbuktu.

This year, the arrival of the festive period has sent shivers down my spine. And not because of the cold.

Like many thousands of families across Britain, I have experienced a dramatic downturn in my fortunes in the past year or two.

To put it simply: I may be middle class, but I’m poverty-stricken.

Five years ago, I earned £1,200 a week from my work as a TV and film producer and would have thought nothing of spending £45 on a pot of gold-lidded lusciously scented body cream as a Christmas present for a distant cousin.

These days, I am lucky if I earn £500 a week as a writer.

We know that, in the United States, middle-class encompasses a huge economic range from Walmart to Macy's and a little beyond. And it's not all about economics, of course. Here, it's largely a state of mind. But while "well-heeled" may also be relative, it's not really what we think of when we think of middle-class, is it?

I won't compare her income ranges to ours; that's also extremely relative, even more so here than there. My own family's household income would be considered fairly high in many parts of our country, yet in New Jersey, it's fairly ordinary. But we can look at prices contextually. That £45 pot of body cream? 70 dollars. For someone she barely knows. So you see the kind of thing she means here.

Personally, if it were just me and my partner, we’d tighten our belts and be done with it. 

But I have a six-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old step-daughter — not to mention six godchildren and about a dozen other children, ranging from teenagers to toddlers — who I need to buy presents for. (I think she means for whom she must buy gifts. Also, twelve.)

Just as I used to do as a little girl, my daughter has written a wish list to Santa and is confidently expecting him to wiggle down the chimney with a sack bulging with goodies ranging from a violin to Silly Bandz, the ubiquitous rubber bracelets all the rage among young girls.

She has been aglow with anticipation and her face lights up every time she hears the word ‘present’.

Incapable of treading on her dreams, I decided I might be able to afford stockings if I filled them with lots of little, cheap things that would give the illusion of bulk and plenty. 

So, far from perusing the aisles of Harrods, I found myself checking out the bargains at Poundland.

I discovered excellent deals like giant Toblerones for under £1 — but still, it was not the place to fill an entire stocking. Yet even the most reasonable of places, like Asda, no longer seem that cheap.

I have made it a golden rule not to spend more than £5 on a stocking present, and am horrified by how many items like window stickers, sets of crayons, colouring books, little plastic puppies and so on cost well over that. Even Silly Bandz just squeak in at £4.99, depending on where you buy them.

Yes, she's fallen so far, she's gone from the equivalent of Sak's Fifth Avenue to the Dollar General Store or Five Below. That's her version of "middle class poverty." Hee. The truth is, she just never bothered to notice how much anything cost before, or what it might actually be worth. Reality is a cruel, mad bitch in that scenario.

By the way, Asda is sort of Walmart; the shinier version.

I tried the internet, but quickly filled a virtual basket that came to over £320 so, feeling queasy, I abandoned the website.

Oh, boo hoo.

And when I went back to the shops, all I could think was: ‘I can’t afford this. Why am I here?’

And it’s not just presents I can’t afford. There are the time-honoured rituals, like the annual visit to the local pantomime or to a London show, that are now out of the question. Tickets for the musical Wicked were £90 when I last looked.

Then there are the decorations that suddenly seem oh-so-expensive. 

My mother always had a glossy, fat-berried holly wreath on our front door, but today something similar can cost well over £40, even if you try to track one down cheaply in a local market.

What my mother did save on was tree decorations — we had a few red and green baubles and some lengths of lank tinsel that were wrapped in tissue and carefully put away each year. 

I still own a few surviving baubles and some tiny birds made out of pipe-cleaner that will make it on to our tree this year.

She has to reuse Christmas decorations!! Really crappy ones, because there is no middle ground between disposable excess and pipe cleaners. I feel like crying about that 70 dollar wreath, myself, but I'll hold it in.

Long gone are the days when you just bought a supermarket turkey and shoved it in the oven.

Now, we are made to feel like lousy cooks if we haven’t soaked it in a spicy brine full of expensive Maldon sea salt, cinnamon sticks and maple syrup for days beforehand.

My mother was lucky because my grandmother provided us with tin upon tin of home-made mince pies and a Christmas cake. I would love to bake, but I don’t have time.

Picture 3

Even wrapping paper has become a source of irritation.

My mother spent hours wrapping presents, turning even a mundane gift into an enticing, beribboned box worthy of one of the Three Kings.

Picture 1

Following in her footsteps, I used to buy ribbons from VV Rouleaux — now their price of £50 for velvet and silk ribbons seems truly shocking. Obscene, even. So I was thrilled to spot a six-pack of gold twine at Tesco for £2, and I’m hoping that will do the trick.

Picture 2

Now you're starting to think this is a joke, right? She's gone from 80 dollar ribbon to 2 dollar twine. Is it inconceivable she has enough time to brine a turkey but not bake a g-d pan of cookies? Of course not. She's kind of one of these "can't see the forest for the trees" types, I'm thinking.

The whole thing has become one big headache.

This June, I finally paid off the last of my credit card bills. I have not used one since. I know, in reality, as Christmas Day creeps up on me, I am bound to dust off one, persuading myself that my family’s and friends’ presents are paramount.

I wish I were brave enough to do things differently. But the truth is I’m just too squeamish about disappointing my children in the short term — even though in the long term I would probably be doing them an enormous favour.

So with Advent upon us, I can only look to the next few weeks with a creeping sense of dread.

Cry ‘Bah Humbug’ if you must. Call me spoilt if you wish.

But the fact is, I wish I could cancel Christmas.

Be brave, Charlotte. Be brave. Take some Paracetamol (acetaminophen) and charge forth.

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