Thursday, February 26, 2009

3 Years Today

Today is the third anniversary of my mother's passing. Next month she would have turned 79 years old. There are days when I really want to pick up the phone and call her for some reason or another. There are days when I want just one more day. But she's still around. There are lots of occasions when I realize that she has just moved on but leaves reminders around for me to see.

Most recently, I found myself thinking of her when they did the "dead montage" during the Academy Awards. My mother and I would watch together at times, with the World Almanac between us checking to see how old one of the presenters was or whether that person had won before and when, etc. My mother never really got hooked on the web, but it was made for her. I come by my archival traits genetically. My mother craved information.

Anyway, during the "In Memoriam" sketch during the Oscars telecast, the only speaking acknowledgment came from Paul Newman, who was one of my mother's favorites. She used to say that "he could put his shoes under her bed anytime." Wherever my mother is, I envision it as a place where she is well again, at an age where she was most happy, and is near all of her friends and family who left before her. But my mother, who hated not having a full table of guest, friends and family for any holiday, has surely had dinner with Paul several times since he got there. I won't think about what else might have happened.

It is also nearing Girl Scout Cookie time. Several stories crossed my radar screen recently, every single one making me remember the years my mother served as neighborhood cookie mother and our living room would be strewn with cookie boxes and the freezer would be stocked with Thin Mints, as they were the only cookie that really froze well. And they were her favorite. So again, wherever she is, I'm sure she's having a spirited conversation with Julie and Olave about these egregious sins being committed in this economic downturn. And I feel the pain of those in the last story. If I want a fix of Tagalongs or Samoas, I have to practically go out on the black market at my employer to find them.
  • "Rising costs bite into Girl Scout Cookie portions," seen via Buzzfeed from the Dallas Morning News
  • "Crumbling economy will make for thinner boxes of Thin Mints," from CNN
  • "Thin Mints and office politics," also from CNN
I love you, Mom. I miss you. Rest well, you've earned it. But you would have really loved that story about Teresa's daughter. But I'll tell it to Bill and he'll make sure it gets into the family history.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Stout Ginger Bread

Today was the finals of the "Great Gingerbread Bake-off" for the lunch table group. For several weeks we were all treated (?) to various ginger bread recipes. The idea was launched in the fall, ground rules were created, NJM was selected as a "control" (she did all of the baking - and Kudos to her for all her hard work). It's possible that by today we were all a little sick of ginger bread. I myself am not a huge fan of the ginger root, but I soldiered on. ADR was noticeably absent for the final tasting today.

So after several selections, here is the winning recipe (It was a close vote 3-2)! It comes from Mrs. OC - I am not sure where she originally got it from.

Stout Ginger Bread

  • 1 cup of oatmeal stout or Guinness Stout
  • 1 cup dark molasses (not blackstrap)
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tbsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • pinch of ground cardamom
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated (white) sugar
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • confectioners sugar for dusting
Special equipment: a 10-inch (10 to 12 cup) bundt pan (although this batch and all batches were prepared by NJM in a 13x9 glass baking pan).

Accompaniment: unsweetened whipped cream (also missing from the tastings)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter bundt pan and dust with flour, knocking out excess.

Bring stout and molasses to a boil in a large saucepan and remove from heat. Whisk in baking soda, then cool to room temperature.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and spices in a large bowl. Whisk together eggs and sugars. Whisk in oil, then molasses mixture. Add to flour mixture and whisk until just combined.

Pour batter into bundt pan and rap pan sharply on counter to eliminate air bubbles. Bake in middle of oven until a tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs adhering, about 50 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack about 5 minutes. Turn out onto rack and cool completely.

Serve cake, dusted with confectioners sugar, with whipped cream.

Cook's notes:
  • This recipe was tested with Grandma's brand green-label molasses.
  • The gingerbread is better if made a day ahead. It will keep 3 days, covered, at room temperature.
Serves 8 to 10.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Croissant Bread Pudding

LBA has a thing for croissants. I think he would eat them every day for breakfast. Is it the butter?

When I first saw this recipe on Cheverly Chef Scott's blog, I thought he had used Milk Duds in it, but he corrected me - they're bittersweet chocolate pieces. Yummy Goodness!
  • Unsalted butter for the baking dish, at room temperature
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 6 croissants, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 1 pound)
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into chunks
Heat oven to 375° F. Butter an 8-inch square or other shallow 2-quart baking dish. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, milk, cream, sugar, vanilla, salt, and nutmeg. Add the
croissants and chocolate and mix to combine.

Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish and bake until set and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, 30 to 40 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Make-Ahead Tip: Cut the croissants and chop the chocolate, then store them at room temperature in separate resealable plastic bags for up to 1 day.

Note: Scott followed this recipe up with one for caramel sauce, which would go well with this.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Where I Am Tonight AND Who I Am With

As I have reported here before, I am a volunteer usher at Ford's Theatre, here in Washington DC. The highlight each year is, of course, the gala that is held each year, which draws the cream of Washington politicians, and the President of the United States. Tonight the theater will have its grand reopening celebration and the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, will be in attendance. It is an event I have been waiting four years for. My previous three galas have been celebrated with the 43rd President and I am very excited to be in the same room as our new President.

Ford's has undergone a major renovation and has only just reopened. I was in attendance last Friday night for a preview performance of "The Heavens are Hung in Black," the first play of the 2009 season. It stars David Selby as President Lincoln and takes place in the months between the death of Lincoln's son, Willie, and the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. You can read a review of the play here and you can read more about the renovation of the theater here.

Tonight's celebration will feature performances from James Earl Jones, Jessye Norman, Joshua Bell, Jeffrey Wright, and Kelsey Grammer. Richard Thomas (John-Boy!) will serve as emcee for the evening and Lincoln Medals will be bestowed upon George Lucas and Sidney Poitier. As I said, can you understand why I have been looking forward to this? A new era of new programming for the gala (read: no more country music!) makes this Brave Astronaut a very happy boy.

And while, yes, the theater did get all new chairs, the entire renovation is amazing. There are now elevators in the building, an expanded lobby, with a gift shop and concessions. A new museum will open in the late Spring. It is such a grand venue here in Washington. I urge anyone who lives here or is planning on coming to Washington, to make some time to experience a play at Ford's. Perhaps I will even be there to help you to your seat.

Monday, February 9, 2009


Picking up on the financial ruin you all are suffering if you didn't eat crepes on Candlemas Day, here's a story that rose to the surface a few months ago. The recession has evidently hit the luxury food market. Here's some "lobster history."
The Brave Astronauts invited our good friend NJM to dinner on Christmas Eve. She was very kind to bring lobster rolls, a traditional meal on Christmas Eve in her family. My family usually had hamburgers and my father's homemade potato chips. Her recipe for lobster rolls appears below.

In keeping with the ever-worsening economy, to make things worse, the sales of champagne are also "losing their fizz." I guess it's good to know that if we are all forced back to church to pray for our financial well-being, there's always good, nutritious "Jesus, bread of life" to eat.

NJM's Lobster Rolls
  • dinner rolls
  • approx. 1 lb cooked lobster meat (you can use claw or tail meat - ask her to tell you the story about scoring the meat for the Christmas Eve batch in a state the prefers crab to lobster)
  • approx. 1/3 cup mayonnaise
Hollow out dinner rolls. Mix lobster meat and mayo together so the meat is bound together. Place meat inside the hollowed out rolls. Broil in the over for approximately 5 minutes, just enough to brown the tops and heat the meat through. This amount of meat should yield about 10-12 rolls.

If you ever find yourself on the east end of Long Island, go here and try the lobster rolls. They're fantastic. While the rolls prepared by NJM were absolutely swoonworthy, give me some drawn butter and a whole steamed lobster and you won't hear from me until I'm ready for seconds.

Friday, February 6, 2009

A 6-6-6 Meme

This was created by the venerable archivist, Terry, who blogs here. He created this meme. Here is my own take on it:

Rules: Six categories, with six entries each done in six minutes without Google (I didn't use Google, but I did consult my iPod).

Six songs with numbers in the title
  1. 867-5309 (Jenny)
  2. Route 66
  3. One More Night
  4. 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover
  5. 99 Red Balloons
  6. Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)
Six songs with a color in the title
  1. Purple Rain
  2. Little Red Corvette
  3. Blue Suede Shoes
  4. Blue Bayou
  5. Man in Black
  6. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Six Songs with Animals in the Title
  1. Cats in the Cradle
  2. Honky Cat
  3. Me and You and a Dog Named Boo
  4. Free Bird
  5. A Horse with No Name
  6. Bye Bye Blackbird
Six Songs with Body Parts in the Title
  1. I Only Have Eyes for You
  2. My Eyes Adored You - "Carried your books from school, made believe you were married to me. You were fifth grade, I was sixth, when we came to be."
  3. Open Arms - that one's just for OC
  4. Ain't that a Kick in the Head
  5. Brown Eyed Girl - it's my ringtone when Mrs. BA calls
  6. Heartache Tonight
Songs with a Country / Place name in the Title
  1. Born in the USA
  2. China Grove - not here.
  3. America the Beautiful - though I really, really love the version below.
  4. City of New Orleans
  5. Georgia on my Mind - while I love this song, it will always make me think of this show.
  6. Goodnight Saigon
Songs With a Job in the Title
  1. Working at the Car Wash Blues
  2. Son of a Son of a Sailor
  3. Operator
  4. The Candy Man - but only sung by him.
  5. The Entertainer
  6. I Wanna Drive the Zamboni

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Spanning the Web . . . .

I have a bunch of random things that I have been meaning to toss out here. None, on their own, warrant a post alone, so here's the big bucket of Internet goodies.
  • If you want me I am likely playing either of these two new Flash games that I tell myself, sure, I'll only play for a few minutes. Then it's midnight. Ameobas and Filler.
  • From Jason Kottke (are you following him yet? Is his blog in your reader yet? Why NOT!) - his best links from 2008.
  • I had grand ideas of coupling this outstanding poster with some great recipe involving Breakfast Cereal, or perhaps reconstructing Ally Sheedy's sandwich recipe from this movie. But have a look at the poster and laugh.
  • I was recently on the 6th Floor Blog and they were discussing cheese. Then I saw this. I had recommended they go to Artisanal, if you have a cheese thing, you have to go - I think it's a law. Perhaps they can just get the clock. Maybe they'll buy me one.
  • People wonder and marvel at the ease of the Washington Metro system. They recoil in horror at the prospect of riding the New York City subway. How do you think they'd react to a commute from Omega Centauri to Cygnus? That transfer at Galactic Center is a bear!
  • One of the best gifts received by my two sons were large Scrabble tiles with the letters of their names. Thanks OSGs! Now I need one of these.
  • Although I LOVE the commercial (nearly spit my drink the first time I saw it - thank God for TiVO so I could verify that they indeed had said that) - I do NOT need one of these, I think.
  • One of my other favorite places to visit is Google Sightseeing. The other day they profiled the Very Large Array in New Mexico. I've been there. It's very impressive, but as Mrs. Brave Astronaut says, they couldn't come up with a better name? It's like calling Hoover Dam, the "Really Big Dam."
  • Wouldn't you expect this place to be a little bit bigger? Or is it a case of "forgive me for the crudity of the model, [He] didn't have time to build it to scale or paint it?"
  • Do you have any money? I would so buy this phone number. And my names not even Jenny - then again neither is the guy who currently has it. It can currently be yours for a cool quarter million dollars on eBay.
  • Finally, you all know of my dental troubles. At least I'm not this kid.

Monday, February 2, 2009

It's Groundhog Day

I know, I know. Usually I will use this day to remind people to eat crepes as it is Candlemas Day (You can click on "crepes" and get the recipe - remember to eat crepes or suffer the sadness of financial insecurity for the rest of the year - oh, wait). However, I spotted this blog entry last year a few days after February 2 and loved it so much, I wrote most of this 2009 post on February 3, 2008. It is the day the Giants won the Super Bowl. George Bush is still President, but when this comes out of draft form, he won't be. And yesterday was also Super Bowl XLIII, so congratulations to the six-time Super Bowl Champions Pittsburgh Steelers. Here is an embed to the Super Bowl Ads from yesterday.

So to the topic of Groundhog Day. The blog post that got me going is here. Here's the gist. This person took notes through the course of watching Groundhog Day and believes that Bill Murray's character lived through the same February 2 for 4 years.

These are the days actually seen in the movie:

  1. February 1
  2. February 2, #1
  3. "You're playing yesterday's tape"
  4. "Meet me in the diner", "Don't drive on the railroad tracks"
  5. Punches Ned
  6. "Nancy Taylor, Lincoln High!"
  7. Bank robbery -- "I've seen this film over 100 times"
  8. Interrogating Rita
  9. "Sweet vermouth on the rocks with a twist"
  10. "I like to say a prayer and drink to world peace"
  11. "I studied 19th century French poetry." (He has a good French accent on the quotation, and is a good dancer.)
  12. Insincere snowman. Slapped in the face.
  13. Slapped in the face.
  14. Slapped in the face.
  15. Slapped in the face.
  16. Slapped in the face.
  17. Slapped in the face.
  18. Slapped in the face.
  19. Slapped in the face. Notices ice sculptures.
  20. "Rough night."
  21. "It's cold out there every day."
  22. "What is... Mexico."
  23. "A thousand people waiting to worship a rat."
  24. Smashes clock.
  25. Smashes clock.
  26. Smashes clock on floor, kidnaps groundhog, blows up.
  27. "Aw nuts." Drops toaster in bathtub.
  28. Steps in front of truck.
  29. Jump from bell tower.
  30. "I'm a god." "I've been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted, and burned." Throwing cards: "Six months, four to five hours a day."
  31. Gives money to bum. First piano lesson.
  32. Second piano lesson.
  33. Has learned ice sculpture.
  34. Not bad at piano.
  35. Hits on Ned, takes bum to hospital.
  36. Feeds bum, gives CPR.
  37. Final Groundhog day! Very good at piano.
  38. February 3.

Now, beyond the days we actually see, much time is implied:

  • Between days #6 and #7, at least 100 days passed: the time to see the movie 100 times, and also to fully memorize the plan for the bank robbery.
  • Between days #11 and #12, he may have just memorized a single quotation (but his accent is good) and he may have already known how to dance (but that seems unlikely). So I think we can assume at least a few months passed.
  • Between days #21 and #22, he memorized the entire Jeopardy show, which would take at least a few viewings. It's possible he did that while learning piano, or French.
  • Some time before day #30, six months of card throwing. But that could have all been after midnight, and overlapped with any other activities.
  • We saw "burned" and "electrocuted". That leaves at least five days (and presumably more) for "stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, and hung."
  • How long does it take to learn ice sculpture, if that's all you do? Six months? A year?
  • How long does it take to become a good piano player, if you begin in your early 40s when you have your first lesson? Consensus among those present at casa del jwz was "at least two years."
So. Based on evidence presented in the movie, he re-lived February 2 for at least four years.