Sunday, November 30, 2014

Music Mystery

My piano lessons are going swimmingly.  I'm playing several fun ditties--"Cuckoo Clock," "Beautiful Brown Eyes," and "Alpine" something-or-other, from my Adult All-in-One Piano book.  And I've added several Christmas carols to the mix--"Jingle Bells," "Joy to the World," "Jolly Old St Nicholas," "O Christmas Tree," and "Deck the Halls."

But occasionally my mind wanders back to music I played 20+ years ago the first time I took piano lessons, for two or so months, after college (I think it was.)   They weren't great lessons; he was a young and unchallenging teacher, not really stressing that I learn to count or keep time.  But we rushed through all the major keys and I photocopied lots of songs I liked.  There were a few that stuck with me--"Musette" by Bach, a piece called "The Knight and the Lady," and this other piece, which sheet music I had lost (which I swore had a picture of a castle on it.)  I could sort of remember the tune, but not enough to play it, mainly because I don't play that well and I don't easily parse music into notes.

I looked in our books and online and finally realized that the book the music was in was John Thompson Modern Piano Course, which also had the aforementioned "The Knight and Lady.".  And when I showed Mama the cover on Amazon, she said she had  used that book as a child!  Which of course meant she still had it; I found it in a minute, down with the other piano books in the basement bookcase.  I flipped through it hurriedly, passing "The Knight and the Lady" but not finding the piece with the castle I remembered (there was a castle drawing, on another song.  See I'm more visual than auditory.)

I remembered that it might have been in one of the old costume dramas that I love, something based on Jane Austen . . . was it perhaps a minuet?  Did Margaret Dashwood play it?  Did Lizzie Bennet, only tolerably?  No searches yielded much help.  (But I liked this.)

So I went to the piano and began to fiddle with it.  Amazingly, I seemed to catch the cadence and soon had an idea of how it went, maybe even remembering playing it.  Mama wrote the notes down as I called them out, really simply:  e f e g g,  d e d f f, c c d d e, g f e d.  It sounded real, better than I could have made up in my head for sure, but she didn't recognize it.  And so I let it slide.

Until we came upstairs and I googled, "how to search for sheet music by notes" and came up with Musicpedia, which has a "Name that Tune" search.  I typed in my song with the notes Mama wrote down and kept trying to search.  And odd songs were coming up in the search results.  But I had all half notes.  And that isn't really what they are.  So I tried to guess when they were quarters and half and such, to make it sound like a melody--amazingly, the website let's you play what you come up with so I could tweak it.  But it took a long time to make it sound as close as I could recall.
And about an hour into this effort of tweaking and adjusting, it came up with this:

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus: piano sonata No. 11 in A K331, 1st movement

I was off two notes and in the wrong key, but it looked promising.  But my computer wouldn't play the melody from Musicpedia, so I found Mozart's sonata on YouTube:

That's THE SONG!!!!!

And guess what?  It is in the Thompson book!  Called "Air by Mozart," only there's not a picture of a castle.  (I guess my visual memory failed me where my auditory one didn't.)

But it is on the page opposite "The Knight and the Lady."

Talk about an earworm.

But I'm just absolutely astonished that a.) I could figure out the tune well enough to search for it (yay for my piano lessons!) and b.) that the computer could make sense of what I typed.  Isn't the internet amazing??

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Advent Activities Fifth Anniversary

The kids have already started asking about our Advent Activities socks and so I need to get our list going.  In searching through old lists, I realized we started this five years ago, in 2009. How time flies! See the lists here--20092010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.)  It has become the family tradition I had hoped it would, with many of the same activities.  So here is this year's list . . . to be amended, of course.

  1. Build gingerbread houses
  2. Host cookie party (Dec. 19)
  3. Make holiday wreath
  4. Stay up late, a la Solstice Camp Out
  5. Fondue dinner
  6. Make a snowman (weather permitting)
  7. Deliver gifts to vet, pediatrician, etc.
  8. Family game night
  9. Dinner by candlelight
  10. Watch "Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas"
  11. Make cards for teachers, babysitters, etc.
  12. Watch "Doctor Who" Christmas episodes
  13. Choose family holiday charity (seals?  owls?  cat project?)
  14. Deliver ELF bags to friends in need of holiday cheer
  15. Make treats for animals (birdfeeders? local shelter?)
  16. See Piano Guys in concert
  17. Piano concert at senior center
  18. Celebrate my birthday
  19. Go to Cookie Cafe.
  20. Buy stockings for the new cats.
  21. Sew buttons on Christmas stockings.
  22. See Hobbit:  Battle of Five Armiesi
  23. Go to NYC to see Rockefeller Tree, Saks' windows, and Teuscher chocolates, etc.
  24. See Into the Woods
Extras (just in case):  make fudge, have a welcome party for new cats, make paper chains/decorations, watch Geminid meteors (Dec. 13/14), make Elf doughnuts, make thank-you notes for after Christmas, make scarves for community coat closet, drive around looking at lights, caroling by phone, make reindeer food, write letter to Santa, read A Christmas Carol.

The Art of the Draw

We went to an art demo and book signing by Jan Brett this morning . . . at the IKEA, of all places (I guess it was the Scandinavian tie-in.)  Organized by RJ Julia Bookstore to benefit Read to Grow, the event was well-organized and fun.  There was a huge Hedgie character walking around, two Santa Lucia maids, books for sale--and even her painted rock-star travel bus outside that we posed in front of!  

Brett herself spoke and drew for upwards of 45 minutes, encouraging all of the children there to embrace their individual creativity, as unique as their own fingerprints.  And she gave a lesson on how to draw a bunny--basketball body, egg-shaped head, almond eyes, not a cotton tail, shading the edges, using prismacolor markers for blending; she takes an hour an inch, I think she said, and finds inspiration all over the place.  The resulting work is that bunny above.  Sis was ecstatic, especially when Brett brought out her own "bun-bun" and showed the audience.  

We waited awhile, in orderly and calm fashion, to have our copy of The Animal's Santa signed.  It went faster because we ran into our friend Miss M who works for Read to Grow.  She used to play with the kids when they were very little--puppet shows and fairy houses at the beach, baking cookies at her house; we've even been to a concert or two of her band.  We don't see her as often anymore--we changed churches and she's had a long run-in with cancer--so it was especially good to chat today.

And eventually it was our turn.  Sis very happily chatted with Brett about wanting a bunny.  Brett told her she had wanted a horse when she was young and finally got one when she grew up.  They posed for a picture and then we were off. . . . to buy foodstuffs in the IKEA marketplace

A delightful, inspiring morning.

Friday, November 28, 2014


We've heard that the snowy owls are back in the area and so, tonight, we headed out owling.  After reading how to be quiet and scan low to the ground since snowy owls fly low looking for prey, we dressed warmly and brought the binoculars Pop gave us.  But we were not layered enough for a stiff wind and temperatures below freezing on the beach.  Still, we spotted seagulls, ducks, and geese, and a very pretty sunset.  But no owls.  Probably too windy. We ended the evening with hot chocolate.

But we'll try again.  

Pink Friday

Pie for breakfast. Leftovers.  Turkey stock simmering.
Puzzles.  Qwirkle.  Legos.  Crochet.
Our traditional first carols--"Christians and Pagans" and "All I Really Want for Christmas." Piano music. Sonos holiday playlist.
Maybe a movie later.  And/or going to look for snowy owls. 
A pretty perfect Thanksgiving Friday.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Our Groaning Board

Hoping you and yours had a great, grateful Thanksgiving!

We did . . . and we had SNOW!  Not any accumulation, but fluffy flurries and real snowfall for hours off and on.

And so much food, obscene really:
Texas trash chex mix
baked brie
cinnamon dough roll ups
cornbread dressing
oyster dressing
giblet dressing
canned cranberries
*cranberry relish
NPR Mama Strindberg's cranberries
Grandmother's pickled beets
*creamed spinach
brussel sprouts (actually leftovers from Mama's office dinner)
green bean casserole
*sweet potato casserole
*mashed potatoes
*mushroom stromboli
lime jello salad
chocolate pecan pie bars
*apple pie
*cherry pie
*blueberry pie
pumpkin pie

We didn't make it all ourselves, despite my starting cooking on Monday.  Because my sous chef, Goo, had to work at the hospital, we ordered out several of the dishes, in small amounts, to try (marked *.) We wanted to cut down on the work and have enough leftovers to send to the new doctor.  We did.

Some of those other dishes were made by the kids.  Sis helped with the chex mix and then made cinnamon dough roll ups with my leftover dough for the brie.  She put so much cinnamon sugar on the inside that they turned to delicious sugary goop.  Bud, in consultation with Mama, had decided to make oyster dressing and giblet gravy--he spent half the morning in the kitchen helping out--toasting 15 slices of bread, tearing them up, shredding the turkey neck and organs (he drew the line at hard-boiled eggs in the giblet gravy, though, despite it being something my grandmother used to add--I guess so we could know which gravy to avoid!!  Alas, I don't have her recipe, so Mama, who was in charge of Bud's cooking, used the one in the NYTimes.)  And he was so excited and proud.  And, when dinner came, he ate and ate and ate, loving his creation.  Best.  Thanksgiving.  Food.  Ever.  So I think we have two new additions to our regular menu.

Sis photobombs the mashed potatoes

Of course, we all had to say what we were thankful for before passing plates.  Family, friends, food, health, satisfying and supportive employment, current and incoming cats, and their gifted class.  And the really big knife Mama was wielding on the turkey.

The kids played Hex Bugs with Ma and Gong, spreading track all over the living room floor (Gong had bought them their first bugs a few years ago, at the Liberty Science Center.)   Bud played Christmas tunes on the piano.  Later, they played a frog origami game, trying to knock each other's paper frogs off the table by ramming them with their own, all by blowing on them (one breath each turn only, but it could be sustained.)

Otherwise, we spent a lot of time out in the flurries, watching the first snow of the season come down (yeah, all of New England got snow yesterday but us.)  The kids kept trying to catch the flakes on their tongues.  They even managed to hit me with a few mini-snowballs.  And I got a great picture of geese overhead; you can almost hear them honking!   In the evening, I enjoyed staring up and seeing the flakes materialize above me out of the night air, swirling like I was flying through a tunnel.  I still love snow.  (We even started a new "first snow" ritual:  watch Frozen!)

And I like Thanksgiving, too.

Today's Poem-A-Day from

When Giving Is All We Have

Alberto Ríos1952
                                              One river gives
                                              Its journey to the next.

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.
We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.
We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—
Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.
Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:
Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.
You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me
What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made
Something greater from the difference.
Cheater's Giblet Gravy
4-6 cups gravy (either from the traditional batch or canned/purchased)
turkey giblets
salt, pepper, turkey stock/bouillon, to taste

Remove giblets from turkey carcass.  Simmer in water until cooked.  Shred and add to gravy, with any additional drippings from the roasting pan.  Season to taste.

Mama Hungry


Lucy Buffet's Oyster Dressing

  • 12 tablespoons/1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, divided, plus more for baking dish
  • 1 (8-inch-square) baked and cooledcornbread, preferably on the sweet side
  • 15 slices white or wheat bread, toasted and cooled
  • ½ large white onion, finely chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, finely chopped
  • ½ large green bell pepper, finely chopped
  • ½ cup chicken broth, plus more as needed
  • 2 dozen freshly shucked or jarredoysters, preferably Gulf oysters, drained and coarsely chopped (reserve the oyster liquor)
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce, preferably Crystal
  • ¼ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh sage, finely chopped, or 1 teaspoon ground sage
  • 1 ½ teaspoons truffle salt or sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground white pepper


  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by 13-inch baking dish.
  2. Crumble cornbread into a large bowl. Tear toasted white or wheat bread into very small pieces, add to cornbread, and toss to combine
  3. Melt 8 tablespoons butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add onion, celery and bell pepper; sauté, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Cover pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are almost translucent, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove cover, add broth, and cook, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, for 2 to 3 minutes. Continue to cook mixture for 1 more minute, then remove from heat, add to bread mixture, and stir to combine.
  4. In a medium bowl, stir together oysters, lemon juice, hot sauce, parsley, sage, salt and white pepper. Add to bread mixture and stir well to combine. If dressing seems too dry, add a little oyster liquor and up to 1/2 cup more chicken broth; mixture should be very moist.
  5. Pour dressing into greased baking dish. Cut remaining 4 tablespoons butter into small pieces and scatter over top of dressing. Bake until top and sides are browned, 40 to 45 minutes.
  6. from NYTImes

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Canned Beet This!

Having started shopping last week and cooking on Monday, today I'm doing some fun prep while I'm waiting for it to snow.  (In fact, I think it might have just changed to snow now!  It'll probably change back and forth a few times.)   Yesterday, I made those delicious chocolate pecan bars, plus 7 Up LIme Jello Salad, Mama's cranberry horseradish relish, and even some Texas Trash/Chex Mix with the kids. Today I made some granola for breakfast and put up a jar of Grandmother's Pickled Beets (well, that sounds more impressive than it is.)  We have a bit more to do tonight and then all the regular cooking tomorrow.  Should be great.  And so, I'm enjoying the calm before the storm--both literally and proverbially. 

Happy Thanksgiving!!!


Grandmother's Pickled Beets
beets (2 cans beets, drained; or equivalent raw beets, peeled, sliced, and simmered until tender, 30-60 minutes)
1 cup vinegar
2/3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt

Please beets in big jar.  In saucepan, combine vinegar, sugar, and salt.  Boil 5 minutes until hot.  Fill beet jars.  Do not cover.  Let cool to room temperature; cover.  Set in refrigerator overnight.  Ready to eat in 12-24 hours.

my paternal grandmother

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Block Island Blanket

Not happy with my Block Island merino as a crocheted piece--it was too stiff--I ordered some huge knitting needles and got to work.  In two days, I had my small lap blanket all done, reminding Mama and me of the steely blue colors of our Block Island vacation.  And the knit stitches and variegated sections remind us of the waves, sky, hills, and rock walls.


My Block Island Blanket
50mm circular knitting needles
160 yds super chunky merino yarn

Cast on 30 stitches.  Knit the entire skein, stopping when you have 4-6x the length of a row leftover.  Bind off.

Mommy Hungry

Monday, November 24, 2014

Raising the Bar

Pecan pie is the favorite of my father-in-law and so I make a pie every Thanksgiving.  I like it well enough, though it is a distant second behind pumpkin or even Lime Jello Salad (but who are these people who make strawberry pie second only behind apple on Thanksgiving??)  And so I usually have most of a whole pie leftover.

This year I want to try something new:  pecan pie bars, which I've seen in several places.  I've also seen chocolate pecan pie increase in popularity over the years.  And so this year, I'm going to combine them--chocolate pecan pie bars!  The chocolate apparently cuts the sweetness of the corn syrup, which is good.

Though, I think it will still mainly be my FIL who eats them.

(Except for the half of the batch that I'm giving to Mama Teacher for her FIL, also the only pecan-pie eater in her family.)

My Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, at cool room temperature*
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract, optional, or the flavor of your choice; eggnog flavor makes a delicious holiday shortbread
  • 2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • *Since butter is such a critical element in these cookies, we recommend you use a top-quality butter. Our test-kitchen choice is Cabot.
  • 1) Preheat the oven to 300°F. Lightly grease 9 x 13" pan If you worry about the shortbread possibly sticking in your particular pan, line it with parchment, and grease the parchment.
    2) In a medium-sized bowl, beat together the butter, sugar, vanilla, and almond extract, then beat in the flour. The mixture may seem a little dry at first; keep beating till it comes together. If it absolutely won't come together, dribble in up to 1 tablespoon of water, until it does. This is a stiff dough.
    3) Press dough into prepared pan, smoothing the surface with your fingers, or with a mini rolling pin.
    4) Use a fork to prick the dough all over; this allows any steam to escape, and prevents the shortbread from bubbling as it bakes. Prick the dough in a random pattern, but it looks nicer pricked with some kind of symmetry.
    5) Bake the shortbread until it's a light golden brown across the top surface, and a deeper golden brown around the edges, about 35 minutes.
  • 6)  Allow shortbread to cool while you make the pecan filling. 

  • 1 ½ cups pecan halves (170 grams)
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (56 grams)
  • ¾ cup dark corn syrup
  • 4 large eggs
  • ½ cup packed light brown sugar (100 grams)
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder (5 grams)
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  1. Preheat oven temperature to 350 degrees. Spread pecans on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast nuts, shaking pan occasionally, until fragrant, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool.
  2. Make the filling: In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter and chopped chocolate, stirring until smooth; cool.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together cooled chocolate-butter mixture, corn syrup, eggs, sugar, cocoa powder, bourbon and salt. Pour the mixture into the prepared shortbread crust. Arrange pecans over filling. Transfer to a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the filling is just set when the pan is jiggled, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove pie from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack before serving.
  4. A combo from King Arthur Flour and the NYTimes

A Different Prep

Besides prepping for the "new" cats or even for Thanksgiving, I'm prepping for a lecture that I'm giving in less than two weeks at a tea at the historic house.  And I'll be talking about clothing in the colonial time.

By getting dressed in front of a house full of women.

I'll start in a body stocking with my shift or chemise on top and the proceed to put on stockings and garters, stays or corset, pockets, two skirts, bodice, apron, mob cap, and maybe even straw hat and cloak for outdoors.  All of this while discussing the history of corsets, changing understanding of the effects of soap and shampoo or lack thereof, bathing and cleanliness, lice, seasonality of clothing, fabrics, and myths such as women dipping their skirts in water to keep from catching fire while cooking, wearing decorated pockets on the outside to attract a husband, and, if we venture into Victorian times, having ribs removed!


So, I've got the garters, silk knee-highs, and bodystocking on order and am otherwise ready to go.

Should be lots of fun.

Though, isn't it the audience that I'm supposed to picture in their underwear??

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Fingers Crossed

After having sick children home three days last week, with fever the last two days and a trip to the pediatrician on Friday, I think the kiddos are coming out of it.

At least long enough to go to school for 2 1/2 days before Thanksgiving, even if they aren't totally well . . . I have things I have to do for the holiday!!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Thank You!!!

Sis and Bud send their thanks to Granny Q for the science experiments book!!  They looked at it today while they were home from school and can't wait to try some.

Early Christmas Present

There has been a change of plans at the Hungry household.

We're getting two "new" cats.

Remember the cats which a co-worker of Mama's has to give up because of allergies and a French bull dog?  Well, he hasn't been able to find a good family for them.  And so, before sending these over-10-year-old cats to a no-kill shelter, he wrote to Mama again.

And we said yes, we'd take them.

I used to volunteer at a wonderful no-kill cat shelter in Chicago and they are generous, loving places . . . filled with dozens and dozens of cats.  The cats settle in with each other (those who can't cope, don't make it.)  They're safe and well cared for, but it's not quite a home.  And their previous owner really wanted them to have a family.  And we have a family that loves cats . . . .

We've consulted the vet, friends who do cat rescue, and experts who have written about combining cat households.  It's do-able. 

And if it doesn't work--for our cats, for the new cats, for any allergies--we found a no-kill shelter nearby who will take them.  We're pretty clear-eyed about that.

So, some weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we will meet the new cats, take them to our vet, and slowly integrate them into our household.  Sis is very excited; Bud is concerned our cats won't like them (which will no doubt be true for awhile.)

And in case you're confused or don't understand, here's the persuasion:


Sis missed school on Tuesday.  Bud missed school on Thursday.

Both are missing school today.

A cacophony of coughs, but no fever.  Just lots of congestion.  And did I mention coughing?

So, it's hot honey water, chicken soup, and tv today.

At least it's not next week, with kids sick on Thanksgiving.

(And, Aunt Banana, it means they're home to call Cousin Hungry on her birthday!  Lambeth, we'll call Mrs. Lambeth trans-Atlantically tomorrow!)

Thursday, November 20, 2014


I've been playing with Granny Squares, learning a versatile pattern to add to my repertoire.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Played Barbies with Sis tonight (yes, she has a couple.  From the in-laws.)  After dressing her blonde Barbie--named Lizzie--in a fabulous lamé outfit with purple kinky boots, she announced that it was time for the party!  A party to benefit the baby seals.  'Cos Lizzie has a doctorate--"but doesn't need to be called 'Dr.'"--and is also a wealthy philanthropist who arranges events to raise money and awareness of environmental issues and endangered animals. For $5 a ticket.  She also has a few dolphins.  And a monkey.  

All her friends came, in their skimpy dresses fit only for a red-light district--Charlotte, Julia, and my doll Violet, who owns a pizzeria, which she works at in a purple and silver lamé dress.  And brown leather kinky boots.  I added short pants for modesty.  (BTW, did Barbies always have such huge butts and hips?  Or is this the Kardashian model?  Velcro was busting out all over.)

Then they had a gymnastics competition, after taking off those kinky boots, because Lizzie is considering doing the Olympics.

Her mom told her she could.


Baby, It's Cold Outside

The car read 23F, several hours after sunrise, and that's not including the wind chill.  It was a hat-mittens-scarf with heavy coat kind of day.  And it's not going to get much warmer.

Lots of tea for me . . . and the smart cats have each found patches of sunlight in the upstairs bedcovers.  

And to think it will be 60F+ again early next week.

I'm wishing for snow, myself, but not quite the amounts of upstate NY!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Thoughts and Prayers

Sending love to a friend, who is having open-heart surgery tomorrow (a planned, not emergency, and relatively straightforward procedure.)  We wish him well and will keep him in our thoughts and prayers.

Slow Holiday Food

You know I fiddle with the menu up to and including the holiday cooking itself.  And today I'm thinking of so-called Indian Pudding.  You know, cornmeal mush with molasses and spices, sometimes served over ice cream.  The very first time I had it was at the now-defunct Silvermine Tavern in Norwalk, with either Gommie or Lambeth.  It's a Yankee dessert, never on Texas menus, and I was game to try.  Mushy sweet goodness.  I've had other versions since then and like most of them, from Plimoth to Boston (both Durgin Park and Union Oyster House) and even my own kitchen (we made Pumpkin Indian Pudding once.)  And so I'm returning to the idea, without really wanting to complicate my menu . . . . voilà, slow cooker!!  (And I came across a more genuine recipe--from Durgin Park--baking for 5-7 hours!  Wonder if I could do that in a slow cooker?!)  Maybe I'll make it as a pre-holiday treat this weekend.

Slow Cooker "Indian Pudding"
3 cups whole milk
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing cooker
2 large eggs
1/3 cup molasses
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 cup dried cranberries (optional)
Garnish: ice cream, whipped cream, or light cream
Grease the inside of your slow cooker with butter and preheat on high 15 minutes.

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, whisk together milk, cornmeal, and salt, and bring to a boil. Continue whisking another 5 minutes; then cover and simmer on low 10 minutes. Remove from the burner and add butter.

In a medium-size bowl, combine eggs, molasses, and spices. Add some of the hot cornmeal mixture to the egg mixture to temper the eggs; then transfer egg mixture into the pot. Stir in cranberries, if you like.

Scrape batter into the slow cooker and cook on high 2 to 3 hours or on low 6 to 8 hours. The center will be not quite set.

Serve warm topped with ice cream, whipped cream, or light cream.

Durgin Park Indian Pudding
3 cups milk
1/4 cup black molasses
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup yellow corn meal
Vanilla ice cream

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Mix together 1-1/2 cups of the milk with the molasses, sugar, butter, salt, baking powder, egg, and cornmeal. Pour the mixture into a stone crock that has been well greased and bake until it boils.
Heat the remaining 1-1/2 cups of milk and stir it in.
Lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees and bake 5-7 hours.
Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Girls on Block Island

Mama and I just got back from a long weekend in Block Island, Rhode Island, our first visit to the summer resort.  Yes, we went on a very wintry weekend when most of the island was closed--and it was wonderful!  In fact, I'm not sure I'd like it in summer with 10-15,000 extra people at all.

Instead of strictly chronologically, I'll break it down by topics.

The Ferry
I've been on ferries before, but never had to back onto one where they squeeze the cars in so tightly that you have trouble getting out of the car!  It was a good thing Mama had that rearview camera!  We grabbed all of our winter gear, plus our sandwiches, and headed upstairs to the top deck.  The ferry from Port Judith to Block Island is much smaller than the Bridgeport-Port Jefferson ferry and rocked much more in the open water.  Good thing neither of us are prone to seasickness!  And luckily we had our heavy coats, hats, mittens, and scarves, with that wind chill.  But we loved the ride.  Especially because I spotted a seal in the harbor on the way over!  (We saw two on the way back!)  I've never seen seals in the wild.

The Inn
Most of the places to stay on the island are closed this time of year.  We stayed at the 1661 House (which dates, instead, to the late 19th-century), which overlooks the marshes and the ocean.  And our room had a wraparound porch taking it all in!  It was a great room and we spent a lot of time watching the light and sea changes.

The marsh from our room
Same view, different light

Sunrise from our room

View from breakfast
And another, on a different day

The Food
One of the challenges of a mostly-closed island was procuring meals.  Our hotel had hot breakfast every morning, with eggs to order, and a delicious grainy bread.  We stopped at the only grocery store when we arrived and picked up various snacks, including a tasty French lime-coconut soda, some cheese sticks, and those yummy Tate's chipless cookies.  We came back a time or two to pick up bread, cheeses, and chips for lunch.    But there were a few restaurants open.  We had an amazing dinner at Eli's the first night.  Warm goat cheese and arugula salad, tuna nachos, bread with sundried tomato-garlic pesto, a homemade gnocchi with fontina cheese sauce and broccoli, stuffed duck breast on mushroom bread pudding, incredible warm bittersweet chocolate bread pudding and milk chocolate custard, and a maple sugar cheesecake with plum compote and pecan streusel.    One day for lunch we ate at the little municipal airport--clam chowder, crabcakes (shockingly made with those fake crab sticks!!  But still good, Mama said.), and homemade wild blueberry pie--all with pilots landing and taking off and coming in for food.  We also got food from Channel Marker--another cheesy pasta with broccoli and also chicken, a stuffed flounder, a great harvest salad with apples, cranberries, and provolone in a lemony poppyseed dressing. More bread and butter.  Can't imagine we could have eaten better if all of the restaurants had been open!

The Birds
There were so many birds!   Once, from the porch, we saw Mr. and Mrs. Mallard fly right past us at eye level.  And they quacked--just like all those duck calls my dad has practiced all my life (even playing 45s . . . and duck calls first thing in the morning!)  Lots of sparrows and seagulls and something called a junco.  There were many birds we couldn't recognize.  Once, driving past the dunes, we slowed to watch a raptor in flight.  It wasn't one we knew, though--not a red-tail hawk--brown with a single white stripe across its tail feathers.  I looked it up online--perhaps a young Blackhawk who hasn't changed colors yet or a Northern Harrier??  Who knows.

Our best bird experience was Saturday night's owl banding expedition with the locals of the Nature Conservancy.  We met in the pitch black--at 7 pm!--under a dense blanket of stars, more than I've ever seen.  I even saw two shooting stars!  Several of us on the walk saw them, someone yelling out, "Super shooter!"  Scott, the master bird bander with 100,000 bands and tens of thousands of net hours, was focusing on Saw Whet owls, for Project Owlnet.  He'd put up nets and had been banding owls for 3 weeks, drawn by a recording of the Saw Whet call.  (I should say it was also because of Pop that I knew about banding birds, though he was on the retrieving end of duck and goose bands when I was a child.)  In just an hour, he had two when we arrived and caught a third while he banded the first two.  The owls themselves are tiny, about 6" long and just around 100 grams (one child thought he said pounds!), with huge eyes and even bigger ears completely hidden by their feathers.  They have special wing feathers and feathers on their legs so that they are silent--we could see them as they were released but couldn't hear them fly away at all.  I guess the mice can't hear them either.  The owls were very quiet and subdued, not visibly upset--we even got to stroke them.

We were one of about 40 people, probably the only off-islanders.  In fact, people kept recognizing us as not being from around there.  There was also some island humor--with repeated, "I didn't know there were this many people still here" and "The island is going to tilt with all of us standing here."  Everyone knew everyone, but us--such a small community (and we though our CT town was small!  This one is smaller than our elementary school community!)

The Wildlife
We saw other wildlife, mainly deer.  Big huge deer.  Not our skinny, probably starving CT deer.  We were driving island-slow and so saw several of them before they bounded off.

And then there were the alpacas!  At the farm across the street, there were alpacas, llamas, a zedonk (zebra-donkey hybrid), small horses, furry cows, an emu, and a yak.  The hair of many of these were used for yarn sold at the lovely North Light Fibers.  More on that in a bit.  We also got a tour from our innkeeper to see the animals who had been put away for the winter--three kangaroos, three lemurs, some kind of crane, and three rabbits including a Flemish giant.  The kangaroos were smaller that I expected and so soft.  I must admit to some ambivalence about wild animals in a small New England barn.  It's perhaps one thing to keep domesticated animals for shearing their fleece, but kangaroos and lemurs aren't domesticated and serve no other purpose besides entertaining visitors for profit.

The Landscape
Block Island has no natural harbor, but two were created by settlers after decimating the native Naragansetts (who went from 3,000 in number in 1700 to only 51 people 70 years later.)  There are cliffs (where the Naragansetts threw their enemy Mohegans after a battle) and also marshes.  Originally it was all forested, according to Verrazano's 16th-century diary,  but the settlers deforested it.  Now there are scrubby plants and trees.  And so many rock walls, demarcations of the farms that once covered the island.  I loved those rock walls, outlining those bumpy hills, and the scrubby hedges.  In fact, in a few ways, it reminded me of the English countryside.

I imagine the island is bright green and blue during the summer, with flowers and such, but in fall it was all steely blues, grays, and white, both from the typical Rhode Island gray-shingled houses and the leafless brush, watery skies, and wintry seas beyond.   And when I bought some alpaca super soft chunky yarn from the North Lights fiber people, I got it in those Block Island colors.

Block Island crochet project

I liked the cliffs less, not being so fond of heights.  At first, I crocheted in the car while Mama went to the outlook, but I eventually got up my courage to join her.  And it was amazing, in its way, even if it was the murder site of the Mohegans.  I particularly liked the view of the lighthouse in the distance.

The walk to the cliffs

The cliffs with the Southeast Light in the distance.

Cliffs again

Despite it being a beach place, we only really went to the beach once, for Mama to fly her kite.  There certainly was no shortage of wind.  While she flew her kite, I searched for sea glass and did find a few "mermaid's tears," as I've also heard them called.

The Lighthouses
Before even getting on the ferry, we visited the Point Judith Light, with its black and white daymark.  See, we love lighthouses.  We've visited them around the Great Lakes and in parts of Florida.  And now, after a brief interval for babies, we're starting to take in those of New England.    So the two lighthouses of Block Island were a definite attraction.  In fact, we watched sunset at each of them.  First, the double-gabled, brick Southeast Light near those cliffs, where we watched a glorious pink and mauve sunset on our first night.  Secondly, from further away across a pond, the North Light (for which we didn't traverse the sand to see up close.)  Both lights are lit at night, which is a marvelous sight.  We especially liked seeing the green glow of the first order Fresnel of the Southeast light at night so up close (it's not far from the main road.)  Architecture, maritime history, sometimes even women's studies (there were women lighthouse keepers, though not on Block Island as far as I know.)   We love lighthouses.

Southeast light at sunset
Watching the sunset from the lighthouse

North Light
North Light at sunset

The Labyrinth

Probably my favorite spot on Block Island was the labyrinth.  It was on a hill overlooking the North Light, accessible by climbing a stile over one of those great rock walls.  Mama and I walked the labyrinth on Saturday morning.  And it was a very special affair.  I've read about and walked a temporary labyrinth before (see here and here) but this was my first turf labyrinth.  I tried to clear my mind of preconceived notions of labyrinths:  all the metaphors for life--every walker walks it alone, even if there are others there; how you can't see where you are going necessarily, or how long it will take; it's a circle, a cycle, of life, not a straight line; everyone walks the path differently--some start in the middle, some walk in and walk out in reverse, there are slow and fast walkers, some even dance.  But all of those ideas, and more, came quite naturally.  And because it was a turf labyrinth--cut into the sod--some parts were wider, some narrower, some deeper, some flatter, some easier to walk than others, all with a sense of having been walked before.  There was a Buddha placed outside one edge, where previous walkers left trinkets such as notes, bracelets, and even, oddly, a toothbrush; I passed him several times back and forth.

As I walked, I repeated my metta meditation, "May all beings be safe, be happy, be healthy, live with ease," as I heard the nearby windchimes on a house, wind, birds, and some animal in the hedge.  My thoughts drifted  . . .and it came to me as I walked:  the point of the labyrinth isn't getting to the end, it's the walk itself.  And for me, the same could be said for a spiritual path in life--it doesn't so much matter what the answer at the end is, meaning the afterlife, but the fact that I consider such big questions and try to live according to my answers.  And for me, compassion, such as metta or hospice, is the key, even if I don't always manage to walk the walk, so to speak.

In the center was a pile of stones, with some water, and a few tokens.  I didn't have anything to leave and so just stood.  Mama had passed me earlier--we touched hands on a few passes--and was waiting for me there; she started back before I did.  Thinking on it, I imagined that motherhood was the center of my own labyrinth--I didn't know I was walking towards it, but now everything centers around it.

I took a few photos as I walked, people have been recording spiritual experiences for time out of mind so I didn't think of it as interrupting it.  You can see my shadow in a few of them.

I departed the labyrinth with a thank you in my heart, filled with big thoughts and emotions, which seem smaller and perhaps cliche typed in a post, but I felt them all quite sincerely; it was beautiful.  I sat in a comfortable chair, perused the notebook in the mailbox with other people's musings, and left my own simple one. Mama even left a trinket in the Geocache box there.

Final Thoughts
The island is small. Everyone knows everyone.  By name.  They even know each other's pets--we said we saw a yellow dog wandering at sunrise and the innkeeper said, "Oh, that's so-and-so's dog."  The hotel people own the yarn mill.  The waitress works with the Nature Conservancy guy, too.  And everyone seemed to be at the owl walk! Though we were only there three days, we ran into the same people several times.  And they remembered us.  One waitress greeted us at the grocery store, "Hi Girls!  Hope you're having a good morning."  I can see if we lived on an island, we would be "the girls," just as lesbian couples in small towns often seem to be in books.

Small can be good--no traffic lights, no traffic (at least not the other three seasons), no commutes.  No chains, little commercialism.  Lots of nature, a very direct connection to nature.  We wouldn't need to send sixth graders to "Nature's classroom" camp for a week if we lived there.  But, as one staff member told us, many families with high schoolers leave the island or ship them to boarding school for a more academic education.

Things are expensive (and I'm not even talking about the average $1.5 mil houses)--there's even a sign in the grocery store that costs have to reflect freight prices on the ferry.  And apparently electricity is very pricey.  Everything comes over on the ferry--constructions supplies, gasoline, even those kangaroos and lemurs.  Going back and forth across the ferry requires lots of advanced planning, since there are only about 25+ spots.  Unless there is a secret residents'-only number of spaces.  There is an urgent care clinic on the island, but no doctors or dentists that we saw.  I imagine locals must plan days on the mainland.  But Peapod does deliver via ferry!

Despite being very small and quite isolated, it was very urban and urbane  You can tell that the islanders are not isolated, are quite sophisticated, quite the opposite of a stereotypical small-town--even the opposite of our own CT town in many ways.

I loved being there--we had a wonderful restorative weekend--but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to live there, though I can't completely pin down why (though I think lack of diversity--in class, race, sexual orientation, etc--might be a real factor.  Oh, and summer and tourists.)  But we can't wait to take the kids back.  And Gommie and Pop, who would love it.