Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Diary

[Family Christmas 1973, taken by my brother, so he is missing in the photo]

8:30 A.M.

I woke up early (6:30), which I didn’t expect to, but I guess I’m still following childhood habits on Christmas morning! (The rest of the year, not so much.) It’s now 8:30 and I have made several trips downstairs to dump some garbage. I do believe that I am the only one in this building up, which is surprising. Of course, not everybody is here. I realize that this is the first Christmas morning I have ever been here, or even the days leading up to Christmas, and following it.

After I got up, I lit an angel candle for the apartment and a vanilla-cinnamon scented candle for the kitchen. Then I sat down on the couch with a wonderful cookbook that my friend Patty gave me, The Early American Cookbook, which is made up of the favorite recipes and dishes of famous men and women throughout America’s early history. I wanted to figure out special dish to cook for breakfast. I had bought enough staples yesterday that I probably had whatever ingredients I needed.

I selected a dish I had never made before, “Mrs. Jefferson’s Egg and Tomato Bake,” which I think is fitting in that Thomas Jefferson is one of my favorite people in history. That dish is currently baking in the oven.

In order to even prepare that dish, I had to wash a couple of sink-loads of dishes. I won’t even tell you the condition of my kitchen (or the rest of the apartment); I’ll leave that your imagination. However, one of the projects I want to work on during this break is the apartment, so today is as good of a day as any to get a good start on it!

I also needed to throw away some garbage, thus the trips I made up and down the stairs. It was fresh and cool feeling outside, and very quiet, which is unusual for Hollywood. It had been extremely windy last night, and the evidence of that was shown by the large number of palm fronds that were all over the patio. The poor pool man is going to have quite a time when he comes to clean the pool! Even though the pool was covered with various palm tree detritus, the pool still looked inviting enough for a swim (but not this season!). Since I had used the pool so much in the summer, I wonder what the residents of would think if I went for chilly swim Christmas morning! (But I’m not that brave.)

The idea of maybe taking a nice walk later popped into my head, but meanwhile, I am getting my exercise by dumping this garbage—three trips up and down the three flights of stairs so far. And, sad to say, I’ve got several more trips of garbage-dumping yet to do! In fact, right now I’m going to do some more before my breakfast is done in the oven.

9:09 A.M.

The breakfast was good, although I think what made it was the fried bread crumbs and bacon topping, not the tomatoes and eggs. Of course, in a way, I may have lost all ability to correctly determine. While I was waiting for the eggs to bake, I was thinking of what to drink. I decided to follow our family’s “adult Christmas” pattern (which means that we who had once been children were now drinking adults...but there were still children present, in the form of my sister’s kids). We’d wake up, having something hugely sticky-sweet, such as a coffee cake or some kind of sweet rolls (something we wouldn’t normally have for breakfast 364 days out of the year) and coffee for those who want it. I decided to skip the coffee this Christmas morning.

Then, as we sat in the living room SURROUNDED by presents, we’d chow down on the coffee cake and Dad would place on the coffee table Dad’s punch (we know no other name for it), which really gets the present-opening party going, which will last all day until it is time for Christmas dinner.

We’d open our presents one-by-one, starting from the youngest in age and moving on up. I don’t want to open presents in any other way, because it is so much fun to see what everybody else is getting (we don’t just care about only ourselves) and, this is especially good if what somebody is opening is something that YOU gave them, which everybody else gets to see. As I think you can imagine, we were very careful and thoughtful gift-givers in our family, always working extremely hard to give amazingly wonderful gifts that were to be well-received, which they almost always were. Which is one reason why I am (kind of) glad to not be doing that right now, because I just don’t have that kind of energy this year. (But then again, here it is Christmas morning and I don’t have any presents to unwrap. Maybe I’m kind of stupid! I am also wishing that maybe I hadn’t opened Donna’s box of gifts so soon, as, other than a few people at work, she is the only person who gave me gifts this year.)

Huh, what’s that you say? You wanna hear about “Dad’s punch”? Well, glad you asked!

This is for sure a “crowd pleaser” no matter what your guests normally think about liquor. Dad says that this is his own version of a “French 75”, and I can see that is somewhat close…but no cigar. For one thing, Dad always liked to put in about five times the liquor than normally called for. I mean, Dad wanted the liquor! (Mom, too.)

I haven't made this in a long time and I think maybe I got one aspect wrong, but I already see that regardless, it has begun its desired effect. Now, this drink will send your brain right up to the stratosphere! It actually feels “spiritual” in a good and positive way, but I think maybe all it is is a very effective drunk.

Anyway, the way Dad makes it is in a large sterling silver punch bowl (because you are going to serve a crowd). I don’t have the silver punch bowl, so I just used a crystal pitcher, which even that is probably too much drink for this poor single body.

Pour in one whole bottle of champagne and one whole bottle of vodka, then add a certain portion of…well, for years Dad used frozen pink lemonade concentrate, but the past couple of years he used frozen limeade concentrate, which was a huge hit, so that is what I used this year. I don’t remember how much, I think one can of the frozen juice, but today I think I used too much. You repeat the above recipe, bottle-by-bottle of champagne and vodka and can of frozen juice concentrate until the punch bowl is nearly full. Then you fill the bowl with tons of ice (I think the ice is probably necessary to dilute all that liquor). This is a drink that will make you HAPPY very FAST!

I had made it one time (with the lemonade) for a party I gave when I was in law school and you wouldn’t BELIEVE the goings-on that happened that evening. [I mean, some guys took to walking around with their cock and balls hanging out of their unzipped pants which the girls seemed to enjoy instead of running away screaming, and one friend, whenever he had to take a whiz (which was often), simply used a handy wastebasket…he was having so much fun that he didn’t even want to “leave the party” for the time it took to go to the bathroom. Yet, even with all that, not one person vomited. It’s a high like you won’t believe, but it doesn’t make you sick.] All of which reminds me, I’ve got to get back to giving parties….

For myself here today, I used one split of champagne, which I poured into a measuring cup first to see how much a “split” was (it’s basically a cup), and then poured in a matching amount of vodka, which was kind of hard to do, because I am used to making drinks by the jigger, not by the CUP (by the 1½ ounce, not buy the 8 ounces)! But anyway, I poured it in, and then put in a cup’s worth of limeade concentrate and then filled the pitcher with ice cubes.

I think maybe I should have put in only half a cup of limeade; the “lime” in this mix is a bit too intense for me.

So far, I’ve had only one old fashioned tumbler full of the punch and already my head is a hot air balloon several thousand feet above my body. And during our adult Christmases, we would keep drinking this punch ALL DAY until the entire Universe was spinning and about the only way we could walk from one end of the room to the other was to lie down flat on our backs in the living room. Not that we were drunks or anything.

This really makes me miss Dad. He was sure some bartender, LOVING to mix drinks for guests, who loved to come visit and enjoy his drinks. This is part of the reason that after my parents got old enough that most of the friends of their own generation died, they merely moved down to the next generation and made friends. Of course, it was mostly due to the fact that they were cool, loving, and brilliant, but one can’t discount the positive effect of the liquor! Mom always said that it ISN’T a party without liquor, and to her, a “party” was two people sitting together in the same room.

Gosh, what great people they were!

[Dad at the bar, Christmas 1985]

2:00 P.M.

Well, I spent most of the morning looking for a particular cookbook out of which I wanted to make several dishes for my Christmas dinner. It’s the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Cross Creek cookbook, one of my favorites. I know it saw it around here somewhere a couple of weeks ago, but now it is nowhere to be found. I carefully looked on every bookshelf and restacked numerous stacks of books that I have no place to put, so they are all over the floor. I also have hundreds, if not thousands of books in boxes in storage in various locations. I can’t even imagine what books are in those boxes at this point, but I do know that the Cross Creek cookbook isn’t one of them. It really hurts my heart to have so many wonderful things that I not only can’t use, I can’t even find, or, worse than that, remember that I have. I somehow feel good about all that, though, for some reason. A solution will come, a decent place to move to, I can’t help but keep feeling that. It’s unreasonable to have to live this way and therefore there is a solution that I will be willing to take.

I wasn’t terribly set on those Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings recipes, anyway (pecan-stuffed chicken, cream of peanut soup, and so on), so found a recipe for stuffed whole chicken on the Internet that looked good (and it sure smells good cooking right now!), and I adapted an Adele Davis recipe on chestnut dressing so that I could use the pecans I had bought. I think it will all turn out okay, so I am happy.

When the Cross Creek cookbook finally does turn up (I will be happy to find out where it actually was!), I will laugh and then treat myself to recipes from it some other time. One of the things I really plan to do STARTING NOW is do a lot more cooking, and by that I don’t mean the simple, easy to do (diet) crap that I have been making lo these many years, but delicious, wonderful recipes that are a joy to prepare and even better to eat. Careful with the portions, though. But today, Christmas Day, to hell with the portions.

The whole time I was looking for the cookbook, and also doing some sorting and cleaning up while I was at it, I was, of course, enjoying Dad’s punch. I see that with more of the ice melting, the limeade isn’t too bad, so maybe I did make it right after all. It FEELS right, anyway.

While I was looking through stuff, I found a pile of papers that had been Dad’s, one of which was his top-level security clearance application he had filled out so that he could work on government contracts with the Atomic Energy Commission. It’s very cool in that it has a resume of all the schools he went to, and when, and all the jobs he ever had. It has every address where he lived ever since he got married, and the dates he and Mom lived there (and me, too, for most of that). I’m going to put those addresses and dates on a spreadsheet so that I can get a good picture of my personal history in that regard. Some of those moves were confusing to me when I was young and the memories have gotten distorted, so now I will understand their timing more.

5:00 P.M.

I got a “Merry Christmas” phone call from my friend Bob in Palm Springs. He was having a quiet day himself, too. He said the view from his apartment was glorious, the setting sun was reflecting gold on the snow-dusted mountains. He makes me feel thankful for the job that I have. For one thing, all this time off we get right now. He works at a Petco and worked yesterday and will work again tomorrow. I guess he was lucky he hadn’t had to work today, too!

He all but hates it. When I met him, he was office manager of a very small business in Beverly Hills. I worked there, too, for a while. The owner retired a couple of years ago and closed down the business, so Bob was out of a job. Bob took this as a good time to get the hell out of Dodge (L.A.), but Palm Springs, where he went, doesn’t have much of a job market. Bob’s biggest problem job-wise is that he never learned computers (they used typewriters in that office), which means that he is utterly unqualified for any office job, now. Thus, the retail sales job at Petco. Actually, retail wouldn’t be so bad for him, except he’d rather the product be a fine line of men’s clothing, something like that. But he enjoys being with the animals and pet accouterments, it’s just that he is lonely there. All the other sales people are “young kids” and he can’t relate. Also, the company is extremely badly managed.

But he was feeling hopeful in his phone call. The company brought in a new hotshot manager to “whip the store in shape for the essential holiday retail season”, some young female martinet whose abrasive attitude rubbed Bob the wrong way from the get-go. He had a meeting with her to let her know that her manner was not working with him (he really didn’t care if he got fired), but she was having none of his advice. “This is the only way I know how to be,” she said. Too bad.

So he wrote a letter of complaint about her to upper management and apparently so did several others. Perhaps most telling of all was that the store had its annual Christmas party and according to Bob, only two people showed up, and he sure wasn’t one of them. “Who were the two?,” I asked. “The new manager and the assistant manager,” he said. (He had been told this by the assistant manager.) I guess that party might have been fun for those two if they were into S&M and it took place in a dungeon. Anyway, this kind of thing is a strong indication to upper management that things aren’t good out there. Of course, their solution will probably be to fire all the sales staff, but Bob thinks they will actually get rid of the manager. Well, we’ll see.

6:30 P.M.

I guess I ought to give an honest review of my dinner, which seemed to take forever to cook (you know how the indicator on that meat thermometer seems to NEVER get up there to the top where the “poultry” temperatures are?). The chicken was okay; it wasn’t bad, but I wouldn’t serve it to company. I think the recipe called for cooking temperatures that were way too high, but I am used to slow-cooking a whole chicken in the oven overnight (comes out tender and juicy beyond belief), which of course I didn’t do for this. The person who submitted the recipe said that her family never eats the skin. At first I took this as her telling us how holy she was (no matter what diet I am on, I detest the idea of throwing away the skin and therefore never do), but now I realize that with that recipe you CAN’T eat the skin, which dries up and turns into pork rinds or chicken jerky. The chicken inside the skin was okay, a little dry but at least not burned, but only merely acceptable. I guess if someone likes “extra crispy” when they get Kentucky Fried Chicken, this would be okay. But it could be that my oven runs hotter than it should.

The hybrid stuffing that I made was the best part. What was wrong with that, though, was that there was about a cup’s more of it than I could fit inside the chicken, so I put it on the baking pan all around the chicken on the outside. Big mistake. Although I think that was something I could do with the pecan stuffing recipe I had hoped to make, if only I had found the cookbook. However, being exposed like that (instead of safe inside the chicken), it all burned to charcoal and it looks like I I will have a horrible time cleaning out that pan! Also, it absorbed all the juices as they dripped during cooking, so I couldn’t baste properly. Instead, every so often, I sprayed olive oil on the chicken. I had never done that before, so maybe it was that that contributed to the crispy skin, I don’t know.

The cornbread came out good, though, although I can take virtually no credit for that as I took the easy way out and used a Marie Callender’s mix. So easy, pour the mix into a bowl, add water, stir, and then pour into a cornbread baking pan. Interestingly, mine came out better than the cornbread does in the restaurant. In the restaurant, the bread is crumbly and you can’t eat it with your hands, it just breaks apart, so I eat it with a fork like cake. The home version, though, hung together nicely.

I also went easy with vegetables and merely cooked up a frozen package of artichoke hearts, which I felt was different from the usual fare of peas, corn, broccoli, or various beans, that I eat every day. Ah, they were a bit too fibrous and not all that exciting. But that was my fault; I could have made something a little more interesting. (The recipe I was GOING to cook out of the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings cookbook is a truly sinful “carrot soufflé”.)

Having enough starch with the bread crumbs in the stuffing and the cornbread, I decided against the other dishes I considered, some form of rice, or maybe garlic mashed potatoes. What I already had was enough, so that was it.

For dessert I had gotten a Sara Lee frozen pumpkin pie and some vanilla ice cream, but after all that dry and baked other stuff (and the ultimate result of a faint odor of "burnt" in the air), I couldn’t get into baking yet something else, and my palate craved something cold and creamy, so I just had the ice cream by itself.

9:00 P.M.

I suddenly got very sleepy and decided to lie down and take a nap. I woke up about a half hour ago and figured that maybe that pumpkin pie might be nice, now. So I put it in the oven along with an oven thermometer to check the accuracy of the oven’s thermostat. That will be ready in about another half hour. Meanwhile, I fixed myself an eggnog. Again, I took the easy route (remember, I still actually have the flu) and simply bought “store-bought” eggnog. For liquor, I put in a jigger of dark rum and a jigger of Crown Royal and dashed nutmeg on top. That went down so easy, I just might make another one to go with my pie. I do have more ice cream, but I think I had enough with Christmas dinner.

It looks like this holiday was more about drinking than anything else. I went through the pitcher I had made of Dad’s punch and enjoyed every drop. I knew with my first drink of the stuff that I wasn’t going to go driving anywhere today, Which is fine, I am perfectly content to stay home.

9:35 P.M.

The pie is ready, but I am supposed to let it sit and cool. The oven thermometer read a perfect 350, but the dial was set at 375, so it actually cooks a little LOWER.

10:30 P.M.

The pie was good enough that I had two pieces. And what the heck, it needed to have ice cream with it, so I succumbed to that. While I enjoyed my pie, I also enjoyed watching on my computer all my favorite music videos that I had bought from iTunes. I’ve long loved music videos and decried the decline of MTV. Now it looks like the iTunes store may be taking up some of the slack. It's a good thing I bought this iMac with the huge, wide-screen monitor!

Bedtime:

I’m writing this final section the day after the fact. Around 11:30 P.M., I got into bed, but read a couple of chapters out of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism, which is the third or fourth book I have gotten in the “PIG” series, which I love. I hadn’t known before that the word “capitalism” was a pejorative devised by Karl Marx, capitalism’s gravest enemy. Prior to his coining of that word, it was known as “Free Enterprise.” However, free enterprisers willingly adopted Marx's word "capitalism", because they understood that capital, which you get when you don’t spend all your money but save for future productive investment, is a foundation of free enterprise. Those who agree with socialists somehow think that free enterprise is bad, but that’s because they didn’t have the foresight to save their money. Envious of those who did, they devised a method of stealing it (“'fair’ reallocation of assets”) from those who have it and giving to those who don’t (themselves). Isn’t there a fable about this? The grasshoppers and the ants, maybe? Is that really saying that socialists are a plague of locusts? Yes, I do think that is exactly what that is saying. But no wonder socialism is always a clock that gets wound once and then runs down and eventually stops. It’s run by people who don’t understand money, and when you systematically steal it from those who do, you remove their incentive to make more of it. So you kill the goose that lays the golden egg. Wow, I’m just now realizing how much economic sense exists in old fables!

Anyway, it was a quiet, but enjoyable Christmas. No complaints…just a non-frantic feeling of bliss.

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