New Year’s Resolutions

I’ve given up on “traditional” and “be a better person” resolutions. They’re just too hard to make happen in a single year. Instead, I’ve embraced “how to have more fun  and self-educate” resolutions and they are as follows…

In 2010 I plan to:

1. Relearn to play the violin. Seriously, this year I mean it. I’m going to go back to basics to remaster all my favorite solos starting with Kriesler’s “Praeludium & Allegro”. The good news is I can still play the Preludium part … the allegro bit is a hot mess.

bowl much?

2. Go bowling more often. When Annie and I ventured into Bowlmor Lanes the other night, I hadn’t been bowling since an elementary school birthday party. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard… or broken so many nails… in one night.

3. Start going to gallery openings. I know I swore that I would never be one of those, but now that I’m thinking curator, I have to admit a new found interest in the way commercial galleries present their art works. The free wine isn’t a deterrent, mind you.

4. Read more Dickens. And James. And Dostoevsky. And Crow… oh, hell… just knock more titles off my to-read list.

5.  Start to cook my way through the Escoffier Cookbook. The cookbook has 2,973 recipes. A lot of them have foie gras. yum. So far, I’ve completed 2. That leaves 2,971 to go. I should add, that this book was written before the recipe was standardized — that means no formal ingredients list or step-by-by instructions. It’s written like a 1920s textbook and doesn’t have pictures. By the time I’m done (sometime in 2013), you’ll be able to send me off to the Bocuse d’Or.

6. Learn German. I’ve already purchased 3 teach-yourself books. They’ve been gathering dust since October. By this time next year, the VonRecklinghousen ancestors will be proud…

7. Get to bed earlier and wake up earlier. What was it that Ben Franklin said… about being healthy, wealthy, and wise? If I want to keep my toes in Prada and my brain in a PhD, I’m going to have start with the small things…

8. Go to the ballet and opera more. It’s just something I want to do… like train for a half-marathon

9. Shut my drawers and the kitchen cupboards. It’s a bad habit I have — leaving things open. And I often walk into things when they’re left open…

10. Drink more champagne. what could be wrong with that?

11. No to make a resolution to lose weight or find a boyfriend. Those are so 2009….

Holiday Hangover

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.  I have committed the Capital Sin of gluttony and encouraged others to join me in my sinning.

And guess what, Father? I don’t  feel the least bit guilty about it.

It took me 3 months to lose  those pesky 10 pounds. Thank You, Christmas, for I believe that in the 2 days spent celebrating you, I successfully ate all 10 back on… and then some. There were two glorious pounds of butter spread among the dishes consumed over two days, and if they’ve fallen to my hips, so be it.

Last year, I wrote a short blog about how Christmas turns me into a Victorian house wife, a worshiper at the altar of the Cult of Domesticity (that is, at the stove). This year I could more or less write the same post. On Christmas Eve, as the leg of lamb sat marinading in the kitchen, I took a short break to prepare the dinner menu. Yes, that’s right. I spent 45 minutes designing and writing out menus for my 8 dinner guests. Apparently, I missed the memo that it was 2009, not 1869.

There’s mistletoe hanging in our kitchen. How idly it sits. The chefs move too fast and with too much concentration on the tasks at hand to make use of it. As for the guests… even if they wanted to steal a kiss, there isn’t room for them in our pre-20th century farm house kitchen. They’ll have to wait for the post-party clean up.

That reminds me, mistletoe is one of my favorite holiday traditions. There’s something cute about it — it represents a sort of innocent romance that seems to suit the Christmas season (a hell of a lot better than Victoria Secret Angles in Santa hats (bleh)). It’s supposed to be used by courting couples. Do couples court anymore? Maybe they should.

I didn’t finish wrapping presents until 4PM Christmas Day. There’s a rule in our house about presents — they have to be under the tree 24 hours before they can be opened, and then all members of the household have to be “in the mood” to open them. Usually, this means we don’t open gifts until the 28th. This year, it was Boxing Day. And then I remembered that I forgot to wrap two more presents for my dad. Oops. New Years Day for those ones I guess…

Christmas comes and goes too quickly. We keep the tree up until Jan 2. And the lights outside our house are allowed to hang there until February. The gifts and dinner parties may be over, but we try to hold on to the holiday spirit for as long as possible… the holiday pounds, well, those we run to lose as quickly as possible. See you at the gym tomorrow?

Christmas Eve Dinner 2009

In case you were curious about what I was cooking for my guests…


Three-Lettuce Salad

With golden beets and dried cranberries

J&J’s Shrimp Cocktail

~

Herb-Roasted Leg of Lamb

Au jus and wine sauce

Housemade Butternut Squash Raviolis

in pancetta-sage brown butter

Sautéed Mushrooms

~

Rum Cake

Apple-Cranberry Crisp Pie

Assorted homebaked Cookies

with whipped cream

The Three Ghosts of Christmas

“I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.

Their faithful Friend and Servant, C.D. December, 1843.”

putting up the Christmas tree... an epic tradition

And it was with this little letter to his readers that Charles Dickens began his classic “A Christmas Carol.”  Whether it’s through Mickey Mouse, or Kermit the Frog, or Jim Carrey, or Bill Murray, or Dickens himself, you’ve heard the story of Ebeneezer Scrooge’s transformation from frosty miser to merry man of charity. Dickens warned us, his novel is a ghost story, a merry moralizing ghost story.

A century an a half after Dickens published the novel, his great-great grandson, tours the world reading the tale aloud to throngs of holiday merry-makers. Dickens’ story is so well-loved because it speaks to the power of Christmas to warm the heart. Ultimately, “a Christmas Carol” is exactly what its title says it is — a joyous song about the many miracles of Christmas. Though, as I’ve grown a bit older (only a bit) and a bit wiser (only a very, very little bit), I’ve come to realize that it is not only the Scrooges of the world who are haunted by the 3 Ghosts of Christmas. For all of us, the Christmas present teams with the spectres of Christmases past and Christmases future. Truthfully, Christmas is more haunted than Halloween.

I’m lucky. Most of my ghosts of Christmas past are Caspers. They’re friendly and warm memories of tree-hunting, dinner parties, caroling in front of the fire, and the exciting exchange of gifts. This is not to say every Christmas past was as perfect as a picture print from Currier & Ives, but I have been more fortunate than most to be able to spend my 24 Christmases with the people I love most. As for the ghost of Christmas Present? He promises to bring another Eve and Day passed in good cheer.

But the Ghost of Christmas Future, whether for Scrooge or for us, is less friendly. With his inevitable visit (which usually comes once all the guests have gone and I’m alone in front of the fire), comes a sense of uncertainty. For how much longer will I be this lucky? What will my Christmas look like 10 years from now? Will I still be preparing dinner for my family? Will that family be bigger? Smaller? There’s always a pang of fear with the thought that one day I might spend Christmas alone. Without the benefit of siblings or family in this country, it’s not a total stretch of the imagination. I think of the many things that have happened since last Christmas — of my friends who married, of my friends who broke up, of my cousin’s passing, of my family’s reunion. Uncertainty is the one certainty that comes with every new year, and it’s the post palpable at Christmas.

Luckily, I tend not to dwell for too long on the darker spectres that loom in the future. I prefer to start planning my menu for next year’s Christmas banquet… maybe, I’ll bake a pie. Everyone loves a pie.

~~~~

“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited…Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time…as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know if, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” – Scrooge’s Nephew

Why I’m Not Going to Read Julie & Julia and Why you shouldn’t NetFlix the Movie

Don’t hate me — I’m not a bad person. But, the truth is, Julie & Julia is a bad movie.

First of all, Amy Adams is not captivating or compelling enough to play opposite someone with the presence of Meryl Streep. Yes, I know Adams was nominated for an Oscar when she played opposite Streep’s power-hungry Sister Aloysius Beauvier in Doubt, but in Doubt, Adams was a supporting character whose childish innocence is a foil to the sinister fanatical Streep. In Julie & Julia, her character is an equal. But Oscar nominee or not, Adams is not Streep’s equal.

Second, Julie Powell as she is portrayed is not a captivating character. In theory, her story is great — a failed author works for the city helping mop-up the emotional mess of 9-11, in frustration turns to blogging to find renewed sense of purpose. Yet that story fails to be interesting on screen. Most uninteresting is the fact Julie can cook. Everything she cooks, even before she begins the Julie/Julia project is “amazing.” Lame. I wanted her to actually learn how to cook while working her way through Julia Childs’ “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” I wanted stuff to burn, fall on the floor — in short I wanted Julie to be more like Julia… a little imperfect.

Next, there’s the sex problem. I really didn’t expect to see, or want to see for that matter, Stanley Tucci make out with Meryl Streep or Chris Messina make out with Amy Adams in a movie about mastering the art of french cooking. While “French,” “lover,” and “food” are all terms that meld beautifully with one another in most circumstances, they fail here.

There is hope for redemption in Meryl Streep’s masterful portrayal of the American icon, Julia Childs. Streep’s voice and mannerisms morph uncannily into Childs’. You forget it’s Meryl Streep on screen. The problem is the Julie segments distract horribly from Streep’s Oscar-caliber performance. While Streep deserves the recognition, the movie is so weak on a whole that I feel it’s a crime to give the project any sort of trophy. it’s a shame — Julia Childs’ life is worthy of a film and Meryl Streep was born to play her… but Julie & Julia is the wrong bio-pic.

What a missed opportunity.

Books I don’t have shelf space for but really really want for Christmas

1. Neverland: J. M. Barrie, the Du Mauriers, and the Dark Side of Peter Pan by Piers Dudgeon
Svengali, Daphne Du Maurier, Peter Pan, and intrigue — I couldn’t ask for more!

2. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
One of my favorite movies… I should have read the book

3. Lewis Carroll by Anne Higonnet

4. The Gardner Heist by Ulrich Boser

5. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

6. New Art City by Jed Perl

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