Tidings Of Comfort And Joy

In 2009, I struggled with questions for which I’m still awaiting answers. Life is very complicated – unless it isn’t. As for the new year: I am hopeful that while our national discourse has taken a turn for the disastrously stupid and craven, in our own lives, we can think the smart thoughts and make the smart moves. For us – for you – here is what I wish –

In 2010 – and not a decade too soon – I want a political talk show host to finally turn to William Kristol and slowly, deliberately ask this important question:

“Bill, what the fuck is wrong with you?”

But our host can’t stop there.

“Bill, what the fuck is wrong with you? You’ve been saying the exact same things about different brown people around the globe since the first time we had the misfortune of hearing your name. You are always wrong. You hate yourself and every living being. You stink of death and misery and I can smell you from here. For the sake of your favorite sky god, what the fuck is wrong with you?”

Balm, like the laughter of little children, it is!

In 2010 – and not a decade too soon – I want a political talk show host to finally turn to Thomas Friedman and slowly, deliberately ask this important question:

“Tom, what is the matter with you?”

But our host can’t stop there.

“Tom, what’s the matter with you? To call you stupid is to insult stupid people everywhere and to call those things you think ideas is to dignify suggestions to lick frozen flagposts. You have absolutely no idea what’s going on in the world, the damage you’re doing or the political use to which you’ve been put. If you had any decency you’d put out a Times supplement in which you hand wrote apologies to every literate man, woman and child in the world, drew pictures for the rest and never wrote another word. There’s no excuse for your continuing to inflict yourself on a world desperate for adult interaction. What is the matter with you?”

Brings a tear to the eye, I know!

In 2010 – and not a decade too soon – I want a political talk show host to finally turn to Jonah Goldberg and slowly, deliberately ask this important question:

“Jonah, what in vomitrocious tarnation is your frigging problem?”

But our host can’t stop there. No. Our host is on a roll.

“Jonah, what in vomitrocious tarnation is your frigging problem? Your ancestors roll over in their graves every time you touch a keyboard. Actual fascists wink when you leave the room. You’re overdressed in pajamas and underdressed in a tux. No matter what your mom told you you are not a smart person. You just aren’t. You’re stupid and dangerous, and what is your frigging problem?”

Much like this magical moment –
– when for just an instant the truth was spoken, America heard it and laughed, laughter has the power to free us from the spell of tiresome, murderous trolls. I hope in 2010, many more heroes will slay evil with simple truths, delivered fearlessly. I wish this for you – for us – not just because it would be a pleasure and a delight to watch the venal meet justice on at least an Auntie Mame scale, if not on the Brothers Grimms’, but because we need it now. We stand at the crossroads of history. Let us hope the messenger comes armed with both a punchline and a broadsword.

The Shadow Of the Valley Behind Me

Last week, Topaz seemed to be running a fever, so we trundled off to the vet’s office, where the vet was very patient with 6.5 pounds of seething, hissing and shivering pussycat. I don’t want to get into humiliating specifics, but let’s just say that if the six and a half foot vet is intent on taking the temperature of the tiny angry kitty, LET THEM FIGHT IT OUT. Got that mental picture? Got it? Awesome.

In the evenings now, Topaz has taken to curling up on a velveteen pillow while I type a stirring missive or work on the family store’s website. Sometimes she stands on the keyboard and insists I admire her beauty, and how could I not? Though she will on occasion go so far as to nod off on my lap, Topaz is no lap cat. She is in her heart a panther, lounging in a tree, watching, always watching.

Nothing There But the Dust And the Rust

This is a picture of a sudden ensmartening. Yes, I made up word. Shut up!

Siobhan and I had lunch like lunching ladies, and Siobhan was squawking about dumb stuff it doesn’t take much thinking to see through. Naturally, I squawked a harmony part.

Siobhan: That’s like my favorite cooking instruction Remove from heat. No one follows that!
Tata: Omigod, so a few months ago, I was listening to a woman in my office talk about making yogurt and how the way she does it sounds like a lot less work than I put into it, when suddenly I realized that not only should I shut off the heat and remove the pot from the burner, but if I remove the milk from the pot, the temperature will drop sharply.

Siobhan slapped her forehead.

Tata: I KNOW!

If I had a plastic bowl, I’d feel even smarter.

Fade Away And Radiate

I’ve had a bit of revelation. It’s not a big thing, so no jumping up and down, shouting, “Eureka!” for you and me, but look here: these are my grandmothers Edith and Gladys on Thanksgiving Day, 1965.

Though I accumulated a handful of additional grammas along the way, these are the two I started out with, and these pictures were recovered from a box of Dad’s slides. As far as anyone knew, these pictures didn’t exist, but when my cousins, sisters and brothers saw these pictures for the first time this fall, it was as if we had a window into the past we barely remember. Mom, all of 25 in these pictures, and Auntie InExcelsisDeo, then a wide-eyed teen, are the only people to ask about faces we don’t remember. Thing is: Mom and Auntie I. don’t remember, either. In forty years, the children of my nieces and nephews may not even have heard my name. Though these pictures were taken by Dad with nothing more in mind – probably – than his recording for himself this day in their shared lives, 44 years later, they become a reason to smile at the camera now and say, “Cheese.”

Raindogs Howl For the Century

Sometimes a meal is notable not just for its flavors or presentation, but also for what it is and means. This is our Christmas breakfast. Pete and I have worked like a dog team for a couple of months; we’ve really looked forward to today and planned every morsel. Last summer, we jarred blueberries and, in the fall, apple butter. A few weeks ago, I made and froze whole wheat crepes with fresh nutmeg and basil I’d dried. Every week, I make full fat yogurt. To make this breakfast, I thawed the crepes in the fridge and heated them in a glass pie plate. Then I opened a jar of blueberries into a saucepan, added a handful of Craisins and simmered for about five minutes. A 4 oz. jar of apple butter whirred in the microwave for 20 seconds, then another 20. Into a bowl, I added a pinches of basil, allspice, cinnamon, brown sugar and about a teaspoon of a honey-ginger mixture we found at the Asian market.

For the next two months, we will sometimes eat what we preserved and experiment with the fruits and vegetables we dehydrated. Miss Sasha is ready to begin working with a nice selection of dried items – for SCIENCE! It is a little odd to suddenly know: this is the time we worked and waited for, and now we can relax a bit. And so: breakfast, simple and important. Happy day to you, my darlings, whatever you celebrate.

We Smile Without Any Style

Daria: In the grocery store, guess what I found next to the green Jell-O?
Tata: Graham crackers and Ipecac?
Daria: Margarita Jell-O and Strawberry Daiquiri Jell-O. So I bought it. You know why?
Tata: We have lots of children to confuse with our enthusiasm for gelatin?
Daria: Because we’re not getting busted for pot brownies.

She’s going to have a great time with the in-laws.

And the Starling Flew For Days

For most of the day, PIC was hosed. Whoops! Domain names can evaporate faster than expensive shampoo. Anyway: problem solved. Hooray for me! And thank you to everyone who called to ask in what new and exciting way I’d fucked up this time.

So let’s talk about building. The unnamed university closes for ten days. This gives me time to check a few important tasks off my To Do List:

1. See a few of my closest friends, goddamnit. You know: the people I almost never see in person anymore.

2. Those things in this giant old house I never get to clean and drive me out of my tiny mind? I’m going to clean those. Oh yes. I will clean them.

3. My hip is kicking my ass. I’ve been exercising every day, but for the next two weeks, I’m going to try to fit an hour of yoga every day. If I can’t make a dent in the amount of pain and stretch out my short temper, I’ll have to present myself back at the doctor’s for some sort of humbling treatment plan like a normal person. I am not normal! Two weeks of winter yoga concentration will help. Grrr! Bark! Bark!

So there you have it: I’m going to sleep in, rest up, clean up, catch up and stretch out, and when it’s over, I hope to be ready to start fresh with a better fucking attitude. One more day at the office, and then: the real work begins.

Laughing Babies And Sneezing Dogs

What the fuck is wrong with my people?

As the first snow fell at the foot of the Italian Alps, the centre of Coccaglio presented an idyllic scene. In front of its 18th-century church, the flakes came to rest on a magnificent Christmas tree, rising almost to the height of the Roman tower opposite.

But in this town of 8,000 inhabitants between Milan and Venice, the approach to Christianity’s most sacred festival has been marked in a very special way. On orders from the local council, controlled by the conservative Northern League, police have been carrying out house-to-house searches for illegal immigrants in an action dubbed Operation White Christmas. The operation is due to finish on December 25.

No, really. What the fuck is wrong with my people?

The migrant population has soared in Italy’s industrial heartland, making it fertile territory for the League, with its xenophobic rhetoric. A League poster at the last general election showed three white sheep kicking out a black one.

Coccaglio’s registered, non-Italian population rose from 177 to 1,562 in the 10 years to 2008. In Brescia, non-Italians outnumber natives in the centre, which is lined with halal butchers, African markets, Chinese bazaars and takeaway kebab shops. Suspicions exploded into fury last month in the town nearest Coccaglio, when a Moroccan man was arrested on suspicion of attacking and raping a local woman. Eyewitnesses said he risked being lynched as he was escorted from the carabinieri barracks.

Franco Claretti, Coccaglio’s mayor, confirmed the police operation would end on Christmas Day but that was a coincidence and claimed the White Christmas tag was invented by a local newspaper headline-writer rather than his council.

This time, I goddamn mean it.

laretti said he tried to set the record straight when he was first contacted by the national media, but the resulting report had a more explosive element: a comment attributed to one of his councillors that “for me, Christmas is not a festival of hospitality, but one of Christian tradition, of our identity”. Again, Claretti said the councillor was misquoted and that what he really said was that hospitality had to be extended all year, not just at Christmas.

In his rectory on the outskirts of Brescia, Father Mario Toffari, head of the diocesan office for the pastoral care of immigrants, lifted his shoulders and opened his arms in a classic Italian gesture of scepticism.

“If that is the way it was, all they needed to do was take it back,” he said.

The League had repeatedly exploited Christian symbols for its own ends “and the symbols of Christianity ought not to be used against anyone”, said Toffari.

Christ Almighty, it’s like people have never read that book they jabber on about.

The operation in Coccaglio is the product of legislation promoted by the Berlusconi government giving mayors wider powers to flush out illegal immigrants. Under Italian law, councils can withdraw the right of abode six months after the expiry of an immigrant’s residence permit if he or she cannot show an application has been submitted for renewal.Claretti said the police were delivering letters telling immigrants whose permits had expired to prove they had applied to renew them. But Toffari said the normal procedure was to post a letter inviting the recipient to go to the town hall. Sending round the police was “like saying these people could be dangerous and need to be checked in a special way”. Claretti said that dispatching registered letters would have cost his council €3,000 it could ill afford.

“Besides, if there is a letter they just put it to one side; if they see a police officer, they take it seriously. As far as I’m concerned, this is a gesture of politeness. If someone has nothing to hide, he or she has nothing to fear.”

After l’affair d’Amanda Knox, which I saw coming on the Italian news from the very beginning, I’ve been wondering what’s going on in Italy, and now I know. It’s become Maricopa County, Arizona, which has become Rwanda, which is the Jim Crow South, which is Medieval Spain, which is Palestine, which is Weimar Germany, which is anywhere decent people are out-numbered by violent xenophobes.

The people whose history provides the road map for what happens next cheerfully repeat that history. It’s so far beyond stupid I can hardly believe my eyes.

Like Cold Water In A Hot Glass

Siobhan: Last night, I roasted a 9 lb. chicken in an hour. The skin was crispy and delicious.
Tata: Liar! At 20 minutes per chicken pound, you should still be roasting.
Siobhan: I butterflied it so it roasted flat and I swear it was an hour.
Tata: You get home from work at quarter to bedtime and still you get a roasted chicken for dinner? I am so buying a chicken and trying your method.
Siobhan: Look at these amazing pictures!
Tata: Jesus Christ! Your one-hour roast walks like an Egyptian!

I am a middle-aged Italian woman. If I cannot roast a decent chicken, half my family would end up down at St. Peter’s making a novena, but first, you gotta buy a chicken because in New Jersey people have stopped paying each other in chickens. I know. That might be a reason to move to Delaware. Anyway, Pete and I love the Sunday ritual of grocery shopping for everything we need and new stuff we’ve never seen before. Today’s find was lingonberries next to canned mandarin oranges, and the only other place I’ve seen those in New Jersey was IKEA. In other news, we bought a chicken and I began cackling and leaving hairpins floating in mid-air from wherever I scrammed. Yes, we had a snow storm and I spent a lot of time with a broom. What?

While we were at the grocery store, we disposed of a heel of stale bread in an ecologically sensitive manner by starting a seagull riot.

If there is anything you can count on in this life it is that seagulls in coastal parking lots are interested in whatever flies out of car windows. Suffice it to say we will be shredding stale bread at home before the next time we stage a similar antic.

Dad told me that when he lived in Europe, he went to an audition or an entrance exam for a cooking school, probably in Belgium, but I’m not 100% sure. What I am sure of is the test was boning a chicken without breaking the skin. Dad put his knife down. The school took him anyway, saying, “What the hell. It’ll improve American cuisine.” I’m not saying I can do that; I can barely operate the can opener. So what me think I could sculpt this chicken? Simple: I am not very bright and have a proclivity for violence.

Note: that’s why you love me.

I did that Martin Yan trick where you hold the chicken by its legs and swing it like a contented toddler, then swing it again by its wings. The muscles relax, making it much easier to cut the flesh around the thigh and pop the joint. If you’ve done this procedure on both sides of a chicken, you know it takes a matter of seconds. If you haven’t, take my word for it: a matter of seconds. I put down my knife and picked up the kitchen shears. I cut up the side, through the ribs and behind the wings. It’s kind of hard to tell from this picture, which looks like I am giving Uncle Fester a piercing no one will mention at the family reunions.

As I cut up the second side, there was a very satisfying SNAP! behind the wings that told me not only that I was done, but that I had done it right. Years ago, I had a boyfriend who nearly fainted as I quartered a chicken.
In my heart, I know he slept with one eye open after dinner that night. At least the chicken was tasty. Pete took these pictures and when I turned the top and bottom over and pressed down, there was another satisfying SNAP! along the breastbone. Yes, dinner will be tasty.

This is the picture of sound effects made by uncooked chicken. Like POW! and BLAM! Batman-style, this is what SNAP! looks like.
Ta da! In related news, I’d rehydrated parsnips, sugar plums and a mixture of leeks, carrots, celery and fennel and tossed them into a roasting pan to form a bed. I like fruit and unusual veggies in my roasting mix; they make for unique, complex gravies. This is one of those views of an uncooked chicken that reminds people that chickens were once alive, and good. Appreciate that this was recently a living thing and waste nothing. Toss the giblets into that pan, huh?

So Ta, you ask, did you have any trouble with this technique? You bet your ass, I did. Knives are usually honed to have a straight edge and a diagonal side. They intersect, forming a sharp point. This is an advantage for right handed people, but I am left handed. Knives mostly work if they’re truly sharp, but when your pressure is on the wrong side, you’re working against your tools. Similarly, I have three sets of kitchen shears and here you can see what a struggle it was to use them with my right hand. If I get the correct tools, I might be a real menace to Poultrykind.

Into a bowl, I spooned, poured or pinched a whole mess o’ my favorite herbs and spices, then added enough olive oil to make a paste. Chicken skin separates easily from the flesh if you pull gently, and if you smear some of that mixture on the flesh, you will be rewarded with fragrant, moist chicken. I also smeared a bit on the outside and around the edges that tend to burn, then sprinkled some achiote powder. Siobhan said she’d set her oven at 350 degrees and set her chicken on a silicone mat. Pete panicked when I brought out the ancestral Silpat, so we resorted to the contemporary roasting pan.

Within ten minutes of putting the pan into a heated oven, we could smell the chicken. An hour later, we let it rest. Siobhan was completely right: this method works. I don’t know why, but it does. And you should try it.