Friday, November 28, 2008

So, About the Gravy

A long time ago, in a rundown Victorian house in a small town in Pennsylvania, a young mother was worrying about the gravy for her Thanksgiving dinner, especially because the family had a notable guest, Fr. John Schmalhofer, the assistant pastor at the church.

It was probably only the fifth or sixth Thanksgiving dinner the young woman had ever prepared by herself, and though she was a pretty good cook, gravy does not necessarily have a dependable result. Sometimes it can be lumpy, sometimes too thin, sometimes tasteless. Greasy? Scorched-tasting? Yes, it could turn out all those things.

Turkey gravy was made on top of the stove, in the roaster that the turkey would have just vacated, from the drippings of the roast turkey. Dry bird? Few drippings. Roasted too long? Burnt drippings. Over-basting? Oily drippings. 

To bring the short story to its long history, the young mother was me, getting concerned about screwing up a guest's Thanksgiving dinner by making a lousy batch of gravy. Fr. Schmalhofer was hovering around the stove watching me fiddle with the food when I told him that making gravy was the most stressful part of Thanksgiving preparation.

"Here," he said, "I'll help." And he extended his hands over the heated roasting pan with its pre-gravy substance, and said a prayer over it! 

I was surprised; I didn't really think priests had time or inclination to pray over such mundane things. And I don't remember what the prayer was that he said, just something along the lines of "Heavenly Father, please bless Sand's gravy and make it turn out well. Amen." 

Yesterday we celebrated our 33rd Thanksgiving together. The bird was delicious, the pie was exquisite ... and that gravy was so perfectly rich and delicious that guests asked for more of it to crown the meat and potatoes. Bernie and I both thanked Fr. Schmalhofer (wherever he may be these decades later)  for the continued efficacy of his blessing, just as we have every Thanksgiving since the one at which he was our guest.

This is a fact: I have never made a bad batch of gravy, be it beef or pork or chicken or turkey since Fr. Schmalhofer said his prayer. Bernie and I joke that maybe one day Fr. Schmalhofer will be known as the Patron Saint of Gravies. 

Silly story? Maybe. But it gives me the opportunity, every time I make a gravy, to reflect on the efficacy of prayer, and to be comforted that God cares about us so much -- even in the little stuff.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


What with finishing up NaNoWriMo, I was left with one day to focus on preparing for Thanksgiving.

We don't get VERY elaborate with the day. We have a turkey, stuffing, a veggie, cranberry sauce (which Bernie makes from fresh berries), and pumpkin pie if I have the time and energy to make one. Close friends and we alternate where we'll eat a Thanksgiving meal; this time it was at our house.

THE question on everyone's lips was, "Are you going to make pumpkin pie?"

I honestly believe that I have the secret to the best pumpkin pie in the entire world, and I can also honestly say that everyone who has eaten it agrees. Thank God my mother made me learn how to make it, and thank God I figured out how to do it in the microwave for even more spectacular results than the original recipe.

Anyway, I managed to find a "banana squash" of substantial proportions, and yesterday, cut that sucker up and cooked it, drained it, pureed it and put it up for future use. (And baked four turkey thighs so that the family would not be fighting over dark meat.) Cutting up and peeling pumpkin is a pain in the ... back. By the time I was done, I was exhausted, and stressed, too, not knowing how the new microwave would do with the old recipe.

At this time, the grand dinner is done, the guests gone home; from first bites there was superlative praise for the turkey, and for the gravy, which was truly phenomenal (maybe that will be tomorrow's post) ... and then, the pumpkin pies absolutely knocked everyone off their feet. They were so perfect, so delicate, so flavorful that I could get a big head over the experience if I didn't know how much recipes like that leave to chance.

I'm tired, to be sure, but the feast was grand, and all of us -- all of us at the table knew how lucky and blessed we are, and were glad to give thanks to God for all that we have received.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


There is something about brown eggs that I love.

Yesterday, when I went to buy eggs, Bernie 'egged' me on to spend the extra dollar to get brown eggs, and so I did, a lovely five dozen of them.

They're so pretty, with their subtle gradations of color, and these eggs are of a very good quality, from a local poultry farm -- the shells are clean and healthy, the taste excellent.

I note here that we shifted to buying locally produced eggs after we got two dozen from the supermarket whose shells were so fragile your fingers could go right through them if you weren't careful, and the cooked smell of which almost was fishy, quite unpalatable.

Bernie commented on the ride home that I, with my two flats of eggs in my lap, looked like a woman who counted brown eggs as "wealth."

I have to separate eggs tomorrow when I make my pumpkin pies ... I think Friday is a good morning to invest some of this wealth making taters and eggs with the egg whites. Mmmmm. Holiday!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Climate Change

I don't have any image to go with this post, and I don't think I want one.

Everyone knows the country is struggling economically. The housing market has tanked, foreclosures are all around, people can't get credit, CEO's have stopped bragging about how much money they're able to steal from companies that they mismanage. Retail sales are 'way down for the start of the frenzied Christmas shopping season.

Since Bernie works for an auto manufacturing firm, we're watching the crash and burn with concern. His plant is a joint venture between GM and Toyota, sort of an entity unto itself. GM is dying, Toyota is just slowing down a little. A flip of the coin how we might land as this mess escalates.

The Grew-Up-Better-Off-Than-The-Great-Depression part of me says, "We'll be fine, things will be back to normal in no time." Once again people will start throwing money away like maniacs on things they neither need nor can effectively use; vacations will be planned for exotic Disneylands and gambling resorts. Birthday parties and kindergarten graduations will be lavishly bedecked with Jumpy-Rentals and goodie bags and storebought cakes with icing an inch thick.

The other part of me says, "Ouch."

I was at the grocery store today, and was drawn into a conversation, the first sentence of which that I heard was "You know, my wife was totally against it a couple months ago, but now she's done a complete turn, and thinks it might be the only way to go." The man looked at me and said, "Hey, we have to fight back with this. We can't just go under and lose everything."

Having no idea what he was talking about, I was sort of relieved to hear his companion say, "My sister had to do it. She lost her job when they just suddenly closed the gym she managed. She had an extra room, so they rented it out -- they had no choice. What are you going to do?"

Sort of relieved.

Here we are, in broad daylight, buying sustenance for the family, and the discussion turns to renting out a room in one's house to a stranger in order to make ends meet. In order to stay in one's house. You can be relieved that they weren't turning to prostitution or drug dealing to stay in their house, but it's hard to be completely at ease with the idea of people having to rent out part of their own house in order to stay in it.

The book that I've been writing this National Novel Writing Month puts a family directly in harm's way, set in these economic times. I thought it would be easy, and thought I could even work in some dark humor about bad cooking. But as I've written sentence after sentence, the real possibility of people ending up in such a situation has very few funny angles at all. It's a matter of survival, of doing whatever you have to do to keep afloat.

Talking to a lady the other day who just bought a house nearby, she mentioned that they had been looking for the "right" house for two years. "You can't believe what some of these places looked like," she said. "Appliances gone, fixtures just ripped out of the walls, the places trashed ... because when you get a foreclosure, well, they just take every thing they can possibly take."

Guess they take a form of revenge, too, destroying the place so that the bank takes a loss, as well.

I had a number of places I had to shop today, and one of them was Target. Business was so slow that employees were actually approaching customers to help them find stuff, which is just about stepping into some weird fantasy world. And there was a lot -- a lot of clothing that was marked down. Cutting prices to get any kind of profit ... wow.

Just wow.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

First Fog of the Season

The deck around the pool was wetter than it had been for the last "rain."

The sky to the East was white.

The grass was wet, the trees dripping.

It was the first fog of the season, not a thick one, but reminding us of the solid white days ahead.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Dia de los Muertos

Whoa, it rained last night!

These are some of the drops that hung on my fern pine this morning, the dim light making me use a low-light exposure.


Today was Dia de los Muertos, and at Mass, our pastor talked about purgation and the afterlife. It's not popular nowadays to talk about death, or -- heaven help us -- purgation. No one believes they are going to die, and no one believes they will be held accountable for all the little shit (or big shit) they did in their lives. Popular media spouts that people become angels when they die, and all of them go to heaven.

If you study the religions of the world, you find that not one of them says that is the case. Instead, most of them talk about a period or journey that requires souls to leave behind them that which they think was important in life: beauty, wealth, associations; or to embark on a journey that strives to attain something that is beyond beauty, wealth, or associations. Only after leaving behind the earthly stuff, or striving for the non-earthly stuff, is completion, or Heaven, attained. 

The interim time between death and "heaven" is about purgation, if the soul hasn't bothered to deal with it before.

 (Yes, I believe there is a "Hell" -- a place without God for those who have no desire or interest to be with God. That's also what my church teaches. God is not a machine-gun pointed at every soul's head. God does not demand, "Love Me or I will kill you." But God will allow anyone the choice of existing outside of Heaven.)

What makes me fixate on Purgation today? Why, my mother's condition, wasting slowly away with Alzheimer's Syndrome. 

My mother was always a very proud (arrogant) person, always always always ragging and bragging about how she had raised the family up from poverty to prosperity. (We're talking small town prosperity here, not riches, BTW) Now, though she is declining in health with Alzheimers, she is well-kept with 24-hr care in her own home. Her financial acumen of her mid-years has borne fruit: she can live in her own home, amidst all her (meager) possessions, and need not go to a nursing home.

But all her pride is being taken away; this is her time of Purgation. Her ready wit, her savvy about money, her care for her property -- all gone. Her control over her estate, the doorways of her home, her ability to light a wood fire in the furnace and heat her home -- all gone. Her family -- God help us, all of us were her possessions -- is all beyond her reach to control and manipulate. 

Her care-givers make sure she dresses or is dressed appropriately; they take her where she might want to go; they take care of her property and her bills are all paid by a trust fund. She could smile and accept that she is in comfort, but she does not.

Instead, she pretends that there is nothing wrong with her, and fights every offer of help, and hates that she's been taken care off.

I watch her, in her purgation, and wonder what she'll let go before the end.

And I pray for her.