Wednesday, June 30, 2010

From the Ridiculous, to The Sublime

It's difficult to see the "Funny" in life when you've just lost your mom. Forget finding the "Ridiculous", which often inspires me to write. It's kind of like eating when you have a cold. You know the flavor is there, but it is masked by rivers of snot. Or, in my case now, rivers of tears.

Still, Ridiculous is all around me. I hear it. I feel it. And, if I could just rip these teary scales from my eyes...

I could see that I have been blessed with a legacy of Ridiculous.

You had to know my mother. But you didn't, so I will fill you in. "Meem", as she was known to the grandkids, and eventually many others who loved her, entertained early, entertained often, and entertained with a purpose. Every event had a THEME.

There were By-the-Sea dinners, preceded by By-the-Sea hors d'oeuvres served on real scallop shells, and wine served in antique nautilus goblets. Thanksgiving feasts for thirty with hand-carved turkey napkin rings. Swedish meatballs and glogg presented in Orrefors crystal on glorious antique Swedish tablecloths. And. She saved. Every. Single. Prop. Just in case, I guess, that theme rolled around again in the Theme Rotation.

Meem was the Queen of an ordered and orderly household. The dogs got their heartworm pills on the same day each month, and dinner was always ready at 6:30. There were no piles of "stuff" around the house. Every room was decorated in its own color scheme, and one room flowed to another. But no one knew Meem's secret. She was unwilling to part with a themey find, and she was damn good at finding someplace to store it.

The kitchen cabinets were time capsules of a life well-lived. Meem, in her later years, discovered the joys of plastic cutlery and paper plates, verboten in the days of china and polished silver. These items, in every hue and design, populated the outermost regions of the cabinets. Behind the paper and plastic were layers of exotic spices in exotic jars - vestiges of culinary adventures prompted by The Food Channel and many Junior League cookbooks; and Party City banners proclaiming congratulations to my dad's tennis team. In the very back of the cabinets I discovered boxes of Knox Gelatin Powder. My mother had the most beautiful hands...she could have been a hand model for Palmolive...and here was her secret.

The china cabinets were rife with cups and saucers, collected from here and there, near and far; dozens and dozens of designs that rarely saw the light of day at the same time. My father thought that they would be lovely keepsakes for her closest friends. We started handing them out, and I got nervous around Friend 48 that we would run out. We did not. Like Manna From Heaven, we would open another drawer, another cabinet. And find exactly enough cups and saucers for the friends we just remembered.

Eventually, we will have the Yard Sale of The Millennium...perhaps The Yard Sale To End All Yard Sales. The sheer volume of interesting stuff is ridiculous. The 30 custom-carved turkey napkin rings will find new life at a church serving Thanksgiving supper to 30 recent immigrants to the United States who have never had a turkey dinner. The Authentic Scallop Shells will grace a dorm room dinner, where the main course will be shrimp-flavored Ramen noodles. A newlywed will rejoice in the Junior League cookbooks...and I will know that Meem touched so many more than the folks who attended her theme dinners...sublime...

Friday, June 11, 2010

Everybody In The Bathtub!

Nancy and the Kitties are making gin!

A weird thing has happened to me since I moved to the country. OK, a lot of weird things have happened since then, but the one that's applicable here is, to quote Son One in the throes of the Terrible Twos, "I do it MYself!"

Perhaps it's because we are 10 miles from the nearest grocery store, unless you count the convenience store across from the Barber Motorsports complex, where you can buy Red Hots, fried pies, pork rinds and cheap beer at expensive prices. Maybe I've been inspired by my Super-Woman-Farm-Girl friend, Rachel, who grows her own wheat and hollowed out her own mushroom cave. Perhaps it's just because I CAN. Whatever the case, I find myself eschewing "storeboughten" in favor of in-house productions.

A polk plant caused The Great Polk Revolution, and two months of home-grown weed consumption in place of spinach. That led directly to growing vegetables in straw bales, and a devotion to the Dervaes family, and their urban homestead. (Thanks, Valerie!) At that point it was, of course, only a matter of time before I started making gin.

Well, I had all those herbs laying around...

And Megan over at Not Martha posted a link to this story at Gourmet.

The husband drinks gin, I make martinis. I am happiest making martinis when we have that very fancy, very French, very expensive gin in the house. It is made with "19 spices from all over the world". It smells divine, and the bottle is beautiful. Only the price tag is in poor taste.

Imagine my delight! A experiment with homegrown ingredients, and no real fear that I might kill someone (the original Polk Salad Experiment was a bit nerve-wracking until we both woke up the next morning.) I DID have to make a run to Whole Foods, fifteen miles away, for juniper berries - they don't carry them at the convenience store by the racetrack. But they probably have Juniper Berry Chewing Tobacco in a cute pouch. Then I pulled out that bottle of vodka that we keep around just in case someone who drinks vodka decides to stop by unexpectedly. (Since my sister is the only person I know who drinks vodka, and to my knowledge she has never been in the state of Alabama, that bottle has remained intact...for years. I sniffed it, though, and it smelled OK; so I proceeded.)

So here is how I made gin. First I put a bunch of juniper berries in the vodka. Some of them sank, and some floated. I let the bottle sit overnight on the counter, with an army of countertop appliances around it so the cats couldn't knock it over. The next morning I sniffed it (oh, OK...I tasted a tiny little bit!) and then added - in no particular order - a few peppercorns, a star anise, a spoonful of fennel seeds, a couple of cloves, a broken bay leaf, too much cracked cardamom (because it is my favorite spice), a sprig from each of my two rosemary plants, two purple basil leaves, the last shoot from my cilantro plant, a twist of grapefruit rind and another of lemon rind. And a cranberry. That was not in the recipe, but I had one, so what the hell. Now, that comes to 13 additives. The very fancy, very French, very expensive gin has 6 more ingredients, but maybe some more things will grow in the straw garden before I make the next batch. And I THOUGHT I had cinnamon sticks, so I really intended to add one of those this time.

By midday, I sniffed again...and yes, I tasted (just a tiny bit, though!) And, like magic, it smelled (and tasted, although I don't LIKE gin) like gin! With too much cardamom! Coffee filter in the funnel, decanted into another bottle. It had a bit of a golden color - true gin would go through another distillation to make it clear - but it looked like sunshine!

So, around 5 PM I chilled the shaker, crushed the ice, poured my homebrew, dribbled in the dry vermouth, and set my creation gently in the freezer to await The Moment of Truth...

Thumbs up! High Five! Passed muster with flying colors! And I'm thinking...Nancy's Herb World and Designer Gins! You Pick 'Em, We Pickle 'Em! Anyone know how to grow star anise?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Down and Dirty in Alabama

Blood sport is nothing new around here; we have cock fighting, for example. And Alabama-Auburn football. But today is the Superbowl of Blood Sport; the Nirvana of Nastiness...beyond the Extreme Rugby Championship, or no-holds barred cage's...The Alabama Primaries!

This is a primer for anyone who wishes to run for office in the Yellowhammer State. First, you will need some funds to play ads every seven minutes on every radio station and every reality TV show broadcast throughout the state. For a solid month. Clearly, that requires a lot of funds; so you might need to meet people who are engaged in illegal activity. They generally have more funds than people who are not engaged in illegal activity. Some recommendations include, but are not limited to, gambling cartels, friends of ex-CEOs and politicians who are currently incarcerated, and teachers' unions. These funds will then need to be properly "washed", because talk show hosts on those radio stations where you are advertising have no gratitude; they insist on "following the money" that you have given them. Bank insiders, PACs with confusing names, and fake websites make the "washing process" a bit easier.

Then you need some name recognition. It's helpful if you already have a moniker like "Young Boozer" or "Twinkle". (These are actual names of actual Alabama candidates, and this writer has no earthly idea if they have followed the recommendations outlined here.) If you are not lucky enough to have a fancy name, but you are a doctor, you can change your name - legally - to "Doctor"; which will instill trust in your constituents when they see it on the ballot. Or you can make billboard-sized signs and put them up on public property, especially along interstate highways. (Notes: Do NOT remove these interstate signs when the election is over. They will be useful when you run again in the future. And while you are "off-roading" in the Ford 150 posting your own signs, you can mow down those of your opponent. Just be sure you don't have one of them stuck in your truck grill when you show up at your next fundraiser.)

Next, you will need a commercial. Here is the text, suitable for radio, along with the action, for your TV ad. " __________________ is YOUR candidate for _________________. (Candidate, smiling, holding important-looking book.) _________________ is just like you. S/he is TIRED of career politicians. _________________ is a small business owner/farmer/hard-working American. (Candidate, smiling, filing/driving tractor/wearing hardhat.) S/he is proud of his/her Alabama values (Candidate pushing child on swing and smiling at spouse.) ___________________ is a conservative Christian (Candidate holds Bible and walks up to church) and has been a Sunday school teacher/lay pastor/acolyte for _____ years. (Candidate shakes hands with folk in front of church.) Vote for ___________________ for _______________. (Closeup of billboard-sized sign with candidate's name and website info. Unless you are running for Agricultural Commissioner. Then it is best to point a rifle at the camera.)

And you will need a "Don't Vote for My Opponent" commercial. If you are creative, this is your opportunity to shine! This is no time to burden yourself with the truth - it is not required under Alabama law. Compare your opponent to livestock! Insist that s/he does not believe in God! Note that his/her money came from illegal sources! (Yes, I realize this miiiiiight be bordering on the truth...) It is also fun - if you are, for example, a Democrat - to make up an uber-Republican PAC name and buy a bunch of air time to accuse your most likely Republican opponent of being a "Liberal". The sky's the limit!

One final strategy: Identify the jurisdictions that typically have 120-130% voter turnout. If they're in your pocket, you're ahead of the game. Go for the Bonus Points!

That should get you through the Primaries. Stay Tuned for "How to Win a Runoff!"