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.

Floodland And the Driven Apart

It’s Saturday night, the Saturday night before Christmas. After a month of long hours, fatigue and re-reheated dinners, Pete and I have just a few days to go before we both finally get two days off in a row, which we have not since the summer. You know what this means, don’t you? Exactly: the bread machine’s running and I want to talk about food.

What’s normal and ordinary culinarily for each of us will be different, depending on factors like where we live, where we travel, what kinds of people live around us, our ethnic backgrounds, our economic status and how adventurous we are. Here, all kinds of people from all over the world move and open restaurants. You can eat your way around the globe and never leave the county. But to really learn about one ingredient, you have to stay home and roll up your sleeves. I don’t recommend you go to this site unless you don’t mind sites that shout commercials at you, so here’s my current obsession: achiote paste.

A traditional Mexican sauce or marinade of Mayan origin, that is made by grinding annato seeds with spices, chiles, and added to other ingredients such as fruit to create a mild red paste used to flavor foods. Pork is often seasoned with Achiote by rubbing the pork and wrapping it in a cornhusk or banana leaf before steam cooking the meat. The sauce is also used on fish and poultry. Achiote may be referred to as annatto seed paste or recado rojo.

When we had the chance, we’ve smeared it on fish, pork, chicken and tofu, all of which turned out great and interesting. Achiote comes in several forms, which we haven’t found in the grocery stores. We’re going to search the bodegas in my old neighborhood for better ingredients. Those days off can’t come soon enough, because I have a new experiment to make all science-y, and I can’t wait to taste the results.

Waits A Beautiful Day

I declare today never happened.

Tomorrow: we have a do-over.

Yours is the coming snow.

Yours is the sun to follow.

Now, let’s agree that Little Debbie cakes are an abomination you should never, ever stuff into your socks and we won’t speak of this unfortunate incident again.

It Before It Grows

Tostones de panapen!

In the big struggle to get over myself, which is quite a climb, I could use a set of cleats. The fruit thingy has a hard, waxy rind. Even my sharpest knife had trouble slicing through it. The center is dense, and I don’t know if it’s edible, so I cut that out and made a mental note to look that up. Further: the panapen previously putting in a cameo appearance developed a delicate but inescapable aroma very quickly and went mushy within days; the pictured panapen is a worthy understudy, but it too was making plans to become One with the compost pile. Fortunately, once the skin came off, the seeds came out and I’d cut it into similar size chunks, the panapen merged with hot oil and magically transformed into tostones instead.

To make tostones, you take chunks of platanos or panapen, fry them lightly in hot oil, mash them flat and fry them to golden brown. Drain, sprinkle with sea salt. Nom, nom, nom. Tostones de panapen have a crisp outer shell, a soft, sweet center and a nice crunch. Eat while still warm for maximum happiness. You want that, right?

Me You Don’t Even Hear What I’m

In the context of the national healthcare and insurance debacle, some terrible truths about real life horror and love disappear into smoky political horsetrading and policy gaps. This video arrived in email today from my friend, poet and a photographer Dwyer Jones, whose personal story kicks the shit out of most people’s. Please watch this performance by Laurence Cantor of Dwyer’s Caregiver’s Resume. Please listen. Please overlook the filmmaker’s kind of adorable errors.

Dwyer’s wife, a painter and poet in her own right, is notably absent here in story form. We who have the accidental privilege of good health and relative stability can imagine a sudden bad break for ourselves – a car accident, a shadow on the X-ray – but we can’t follow a chain of events starting with someone else’s misfortune that ends with the loss of everything we have and are. As long as health care is a shell game with clear financial winners and broken losers, catastrophic illness or injury anywhere around us threatens each of us and there’s no protecting ourselves from it. We think we can by tut-tutting when our cousin smokes or when Uncle orders a steak or when Mama pours herself a scotch, but clucking doesn’t help. Clicking your seat belt won’t prevent the semi from missing the exit ramp. Some suffering is random; it is without meaning and that’s all there is to it. The best we can do is provide health care for all people so the suffering doesn’t spread.

And when suffering does spread, it is the duty of an enlightened society to refuse to make it worse.

Crossposted at Brilliant@Breakfast.