Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas in New York

Today would have been the day set aside for the Brave Astronaut family's annual excursion to New York City. However, we the Blizzard of 2010 and the planned family events for today - we may do an abbreviated version tomorrow on our way home.

Normally, our route involves, the Long Island Rail Road into the city and then making our way around the city, taking in the sights. We usually walk over to Fifth Avenue and then up as far as FAO Schwarz, where LBA and SoBA would surely walk out with something. We also like to take in the windows at Lord and Taylor and of course, the Tree at Rockefeller Center. This year LBA commented he wanted to go into the New York Public Library, which is Ghostbusters-related.

Getting to Fifth Avenue from Penn Station in NY usually means walking along 34th Street (passing Macy's, which also has great windows this year). The New York Times had an article some time ago about altering the way 34th Street looks (seen first on kottke). Basically, they want to do something similar to Times Square, that is banning cars in a block near Macy's and the Empire State Building. I just don't want to think what it will do to the traffic.

Speaking of the Empire State Building, kottke (again) profiled the Ric Burns documentary, New York, in which there is a great segment on the building of the building. Let us not forget, the Empire State Building went up in about two years, and under budget.

Finally, recently the Museum of the City of New York has announced that the majority of its historical photo collections of New York City are now available online.

Happy Holidays to everyone!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

On the Road North

Happy Boxing Day to all. The Brave Astronaut Clan is heading north today to visit with my family - for the second year in a row all of my siblings will be present for Christmas (I'm sure wherever my mother is, she's mad - she very rarely could get all of us together). We have a full lineup of "social aerobics" planned for the few days we will be up there, including a trip to NYC on Tuesday.

The challenge today will be getting to my father's in less time than it took us last year. It shouldn't be hard - as last year's trip clocked in at nearly 11 hours. I might have to use this bypass around the Delaware tolls, as I really hate those tolls and the backups they create (see the map at right, click to embiggen).

I hope that Santa brought you everything you wanted and more!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas to All and to All a Good Night

[full disclosure - I wrote this post in advance (and for that matter - have posted this story before) but I am quite sure that when this post goes live, I will be at home - with my two boys safely sleeping in their rooms - making sure that everything is ready for Christmas morning here at the launchpad. Mrs. BA is surely around somewhere, but I am likely taking a moment, sitting on the couch in the living room looking at the tree, with some Christmas music playing in the background. I will look over at the ceramic trees sitting on the mantle and think about how much I miss my mother (Christmas was her favorite holiday). Then it will be time to head to bed for Santa is surely circling the house waiting for no creatures stirring before he lands on the roof. LBA and SoBA have put out some cookies and milk for him and left some carrots for the reindeer.

You see, I believe in Santa Claus. Yes, I understand that all of the Santas that you see around at this time of year are not him, they just work for him. The real Santa exists, he is always there. My very best wishes to everyone out there for a very Merry Christmas and Peace and Love in the new year. Love to my wife, the very best one out there, my two wonderful boys, and to my family and friends. I hope that you will always hear the bell, as I do.]

From the Editorial Page of the New York Sun, 1897

We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:
Dear Editor-
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, "If you see it in The Sun, it's so." Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?

Virginia O'Hanlon
Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the scepticism of a sceptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to have men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive of imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest mean, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
If you are interested, here is the rest of the story.

Francis P. Church’s editorial, “Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus” was an immediate sensation, and went on to became one of the most famous editorials ever written. It first appeared in the The New York Sun in 1897, almost a hundred years ago, and was reprinted annually until 1949 when the paper went out of business.

Thirty-six years after her letter was printed, Virginia O’Hanlon recalled the events that prompted her letter:

“Quite naturally I believed in Santa Claus, for he had never disappointed me. But when less fortunate little boys and girls said there wasn’t any Santa Claus, I was filled with doubts. I asked my father, and he was a little evasive on the subject.

“It was a habit in our family that whenever any doubts came up as to how to pronounce a word or some question of historical fact was in doubt, we wrote to the Question and Answer column in The Sun. Father would always say, ‘If you see it in the The Sun, it’s so,’ and that settled the matter.

“ ‘Well, I’m just going to write The Sun and find out the real truth,’ I said to father.

“He said, ‘Go ahead, Virginia. I’m sure The Sun will give you the right answer, as it always does.’ ”

And so Virginia sat down and wrote her parents’ favorite newspaper.

Her letter found its way into the hands of a veteran editor, Francis P. Church. Son of a Baptist minister, Church had covered the Civil War for The New York Times and had worked on the The New York Sun for 20 years, more recently as an anonymous editorial writer. Church, a sardonic man, had for his personal motto, “Endeavour to clear your mind of cant.” When controversal subjects had to be tackled on the editorial page, especially those dealing with theology, the assignments were usually given to Church.

Now, he had in his hands a little girl’s letter on a most controversial matter, and he was burdened with the responsibility of answering it.

“Is there a Santa Claus?” the childish scrawl in the letter asked. At once, Church knew that there was no avoiding the question. He must answer, and he must answer truthfully. And so he turned to his desk, and he began his reply which was to become one of the most memorable editorials in newspaper history.

Church married shortly after the editorial appeared. He died in April, 1906, leaving no children.

Virginia O’Hanlon went on to graduate from Hunter College with a Bachelor of Arts degree at age 21. The following year she received her Master’s from Columbia, and in 1912 she began teaching in the New York City school system, later becoming a principal. After 47 years, she retired as an educator. Throughout her life she received a steady stream of mail about her Santa Claus letter, and to each reply she attached an attractive printed copy of the Church editorial. Virginia O’Hanlon Douglas died on May 13, 1971, at the age of 81, in a nursing home in Valatie, N.Y.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Christmas Drinking Game

As everyone prepares to settle down and enjoy family and friends for the Christmas holiday, here's a little something to help lighten to mood - when the family and friends prove too much (from the Daily Meal).
"It doesn't matter what you have in your glass — eggnog, punch, a warm cocktail, Champagne — chances are you're going to be drinking a lot this holiday season. Why not up the ante this Christmas with a fun game that actually turns typical holiday occurrences into an incentive to drink? Just print out the rules below, and let the imbibing begin!"
Take One Drink if:
  • Someone recites the "You'll shoot your eye out" line while you're watching A Christmas Story.
  • Someone asks if you have been naughty or nice this year.
  • A family member asks about your love life. (For singles: If you're in a relationship yet. For couples: When you're getting married).
  • Someone tries to guess what is inside a specific present.
  • A kid complains that a sibling has more presents under the tree than they do.
  • One of the Coca-Cola commercials with the super-cute polar bears plays on TV.
  • Someone recites more than one quote from Elf.
  • Someone gets called Scrooge or a Grinch.
Take Two Drinks if:
  • Someone is wearing a Santa hat or an ugly Christmas sweater (if they're wearing both at the same time, finish the drink).
  • You run out of wrapping paper on Christmas Eve.
  • Someone says, "I think Santa forgot..." on Christmas morning.
  • Your mother-in-law says she would have made something differently finish the drink if she says she would have made it better).
  • Someone comments that It's a Wonderful Life is their favorite Christmas movie. [everybody take two drinks - because it is my favorite Christmas movie]
  • You know most of the lines to Wham's "Last Christmas."
Take Three Drinks if:
  • Someone fakes excitement over a gift.
  • Someone makes an bad or inappropriate mistletoe joke.
  • An ornament breaks (take an extra sip if the cause was a pet's tail).
  • If some item of the Christmas meal gets burnt.
  • A family member starts to sing after one too many glasses of eggnog (or other Christmas cocktail).
Finish Your Drink if:
  • A visiting family member tells you you've lost weight (and you know you haven't).
  • It actually snows on Christmas morning.
  • You receive something you know has been re-gifted.
  • Someone accidentally reveals to a young child that Santa doesn't really exist. Oops.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Birthday Cake Recipe

I guess it's bound to happen periodically, when my birthday falls on a Monday (it happened in 1971, 1976, 1982, 1993, 1999, 2004, and this year). So the Brave Astronaut clan celebrated at home yesterday with some great friends, a big pot of chili, and an outstanding cake made by Mrs. BA. Just in case you were wondering, I have the best wife in the whole world.

The cake comes from the Buttercup Bakery Cookbook. I picked it. It was awesome. As a birthday present to me (I'm sure it's just for me), it appears that Magnolia Bakery may be coming to DC.

White Layer Cake with Chocolate Chips
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2/3 cup (1 1/3 sticks unsalted butter, softened)
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and lightly flour two 9x2 inch round cake pans. Line the bottoms with waxed paper.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix the milk and the vanilla extract together. Add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the milk and the vanilla extract mixture, beating well after each addition.

In a separate bowl, on the high speed of an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold into batter, making sure no streaks of white are showing. Then gently stir in the chocolate chips.

Divide the batter between the prepared pans. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cake cool in pans for 10 minutes. Remove from pans and cool completely on wire rack.

When cake has cooled, ice between the layers, then ice the top and sides of the cake.

[Here is the icing I chose]
Chocolate Whipped Cream Frosting
  • 2 cups heavy cream, chilled
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
In a mixing bowl, combine the cream and vanilla. In another bowl, sift the sugar and cocoa together. Then add them to the cream and vanilla. On the medium speed of an electric mixer, whip until soft peaks form but the mixture is stiff enough to spread.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pasta and Peas!

A popular (and quick and easy) meal around the launchpad for the boys is "Pasta and Peas." It's not quite boxed mac and cheese, which appears as well, but just what it says. Cook some pasta, throw in some frozen peas, sprinkle a little cheese on top, and serve.

My new grocery love, Wegmans, had this recipe on its Twitter feed in early November - it's a good variation that should even appeal to the grownup set.

Fettuccine with Prosciutto & Peas

  • 1 box (16 oz) Italian Classics Fettuccine, prepared per pkg directions; keep warm (reserve 1/4 cup pasta water)
  • 1 pkg (24 oz) Italian Classics Parmesan Cream Sauce (Prepared Foods)
  • 1/2 pkg Food You Feel Good About Petite Sweet Peas (Frozen Foods)
  • 1 pkg (4 oz) Italian Classics Prosciutto, cut into 1/2-inch strips
  • 1 pkg (0.25 oz) Food You Feel Good About Italian Parsley, chopped
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  1. Heat sauce in braising pan on MEDIUM. Add peas and prosciutto; simmer 5 min.
  2. Add pasta, reserved pasta water, parsley, and lemon zest to pan; toss to combine.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Summer Blockbusters

With the first snowfall here in the DC area, it is as good a time as any to trot out this list of Top Summer Blockbusters (seen first on kottke, from Time Out New York to help warm you up. It is also Pizza / Movie night at the launchpad and on screen tonight is likely to be The Empire Strikes Back (#7 on the list below) possibly with a Christmas special appetizer. It is going to be SOOOO TINSEL!

Here's the list of 30. According to Time Out the movies are ranked as "the biggest fun machines of all time: the movies designed for maximum impact."

Feel free to discuss in the comments.
  1. Jaws (1975) - clearly the Summer Movie Blockbuster of all Blockbusters.
  2. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) - "Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?"
  3. Star Wars (1977) - the first, the original, the only one really worth watching (and by the way, that is the proper title - none of this "New Hope" crap.
  4. Ghostbusters (1984) - another popular choice in the Friday movie lineup.
  5. E.T. (1982) - not one of my favorites.
  6. Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) - the movie / documentary that almost swung an election.
  7. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
  8. Terminator 2 : Judgment Day (1991) - really?
  9. Face/Off (1997) - um, really, really?
  10. Aliens (1986) - don't know if I would put this higher on the list from the original
  11. The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) - I'll give them this one. The third was possibly the best of the trilogy.
  12. Jurassic Park (1993) - nothing says summer like man-eating dinosaurs
  13. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1998) - this was an OK movie, but it's getting a little better with age.
  14. Die Hard (1988) - I just saw an article that listed this as a Christmas movie. Well kinda sorta, I guess it is.
  15. Total Recall (1990) - The Governator gets another movie on the list?
  16. The Truman Show (1998) - If only we'd known this would spark "real" reality television, we might have smothered this film.
  17. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) - I know I speak blasphemy to many, but Harry Potter is just not my thing.
  18. Animal House (1978) - "Thank you sir, May I have another!"
  19. Batman (1989) - In this case, the first is the best.
  20. Gladiator (2000) - A Hero Will Rise
  21. Pirates of the Caribbean : The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) - I'm kinda not a big fan of the Depp.
  22. Gremlins (1984) - Again, a Christmas movie in the summertime.
  23. In the Line of Fire (1993) - Good for you, Clint, finally getting on this list.
  24. Star Trek (2009) - in this case, the last is one of the best.
  25. Wall-E (2008) - pass.
  26. The Dark Knight (2008) - It comes close to being as good as the first one, but only because of Heath Ledger.
  27. Back to the Future (1985) - A great film that on my list would be higher than here.
  28. X-Men (2000) - a lot of the superhero genre is lost on me.
  29. Armageddon (1998) - again, Bruce Willis!
  30. Independence Day (1996) - Mr. Summer Blockbuster, Will Smith, gets the final entry.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Upside-Down Pizza Casserole

[photo from here]

As has been mentioned here, Friday nights at the launchpad are usually pizza and movie night. I came across this recipe and wonder if it might be a popular choice in the regular lineup. Schedules are such that dinner for the boys often deteriorates to whatever can be produced quickly, wherein quality is often sacrificed.

But this looks like it might be OK, albeit not the most nutritious or healthy, but a fun substitution. Or maybe one could make pizza lollipops.

  • 1-1/2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 1 15-ounce can Italian-style tomato sauce
  • 1-1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (6 ounces)
  • 1 10-ounce package refrigerated biscuits (10 biscuits)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a large skillet cook beef until no longer pink, stirring frequently. Drain off fat. Stir in tomato sauce; heat through. Transfer mixture to a 2-quart rectangular baking dish. Sprinkle mixture with cheese.
  2. Flatten each biscuit with your hands; arrange the biscuits on top of the cheese. Bake in the preheated oven about 15 minutes or until biscuits are golden. Makes 5 servings.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

My Christmas List

The other night I flipped on the TV and found that it was time for the yearly showing of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Then last night, it was "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." Once we get "The Year Without a Santa Claus," the trifecta will be complete. There is also this special coming up on December 9, which is "so tinsel!"Yesterday, the Brave Astronaut Clan, along with the OSG family, Special K and J in PA, headed into the country in search of the perfect Christmas tree. The launchpad is mostly decorated on the interior (except for the trees) and outside lights went up today, so Christmas must really be here. Now is someone coming to write out all the Christmas cards?

If you haven't finished your shopping yet and you were looking for a little something for a Brave Astronaut that you love, here are a few ideas. This marked the first year I think that LBA followed in his father's footsteps by looking intently through the Target toy catalog (although in my day it was the Sears catalog) to help inform Santa what he would like.

In no particular order:
  • One of the many catalogs that have come to the house of late was the Signals catalog. I actually enjoy this catalog, interesting though this year it came addressed to LBA and not me. I found this plaque, which I really liked.
  • Stephen King has a new book out again this Christmas (after last year's Under the Dome). It is called Full Dark, No Stars and it looks to be good and creepy, just like you expect his stuff to be.
  • I would really like a new padfolio. I'm not picky, just one with a pad. My current one is being held together with packing tape. I could also use a new card holder / money clip (kind of like this one).
  • I missed this when it was out in the theaters and for that matter, live, but I am sure a DVD is on the way at some point. Billy Joel also has a new CD out with some of his greatest hits remastered. He must need money to pay for his dual hip replacement.
And for those of you out there for which money is no object, any of the items from the
The Neiman-Marcus Christmas Book, which is celebrating 50 years of the His and Hers gifts with its "special gifts" section, including:
Of course, if you are interested in what the going rate is for the gifts in the "Twelve days of Christmas," you can check here. The total cost of this year's gifts is $23439.38, up 9.2% from last year. Happy Holidays!