Books

I love to read, and books are my Kryptonite. I do try not to accumulate them, but this is a fairly hopeless task. Of course my local library is a great resource, there is no way I could afford or store all the books I borrow from there. But there is one slight problem, the folks at the library insist on taking time off for Christmas and New Years. And what if I was stuck in the house and didn’t have anything new to read? Well I went down to the library and stocked up in anticipation of the holidays (and the snow and cold). It would be a disaster to have time on my hands and no books.

The wonderful thing about the library is that they stock a wide variety of titles, in all sorts of genres, fiction and non-fiction. So I can always find something to carry off and peruse, even if I don’t intend to read the entire book.

And here is what I carried off: a sort-of biography, graphic novels, classic and modern British mysteries, a cookbook, craft book and essays. I have varied tastes, what can I say?

And then there are my books.

These are the books I got in England, I bought the two end books, the middle book was a gift.

And these books were all Christmas presents (from me, to me). I had pre-ordered the bird book is from an artist that I know from the internet. The other two books were recently recommended by a member of my women’s art group. I saw them and thought ‘I must have my own copy’ (I do get greedy sometimes). I think that it is lovely and comforting to be surrounded by books, whether it is a temporary thing, like the library books, or a temporarily permanent thing, like the books I own.

Traditions

I suppose that every family has it’s traditions around the food served at this time of year. And of course I have them too, although the older I get, the less important some of them seem. But there are certain foods which are essential, like these.

I realize that this does not look especially festive, but I make this every Christmas, and only at Christmas. I don’t put any decorations on it, so it doesn’t look like much,but it is really quite delicious. And here is the recipe I use.

This recipe appeared in the St. Louis Globe Democrat, just a tiny item, not even a featured story. But my mom thought that it sounded tasty, so she made it for Christmas one year and I loved it. The newspaper stopped publication in 1986, so this recipe probably dates from the late 70’s or early 80’s when I was still going back to St. Louis for Christmas. I cut the recipe out of the newspaper, took it home and promptly lost it. So I sent a letter to the food editor, she dug this up from the back issues, sent it to me, and I have been making it ever since.

Krakowska from Piekutowski’s is another important ingredient for a proper Christmas feast. I have been eating this for at least 60 years (although I don’t understand how this is even possible, as I am surely not that old). The owners were friends of my grandparents, and the store is still in the same location as it was then (which puts it in a very bad neighborhood). The Polish Pope himself said that this was the best Krakowska outside of the stuff from Krakow, which is high praise indeed.

Also one must do something to attract luck in the coming year, so at the end of the holiday season, one must eat some black-eyed peas for New Year’s Day. This seems to especially bring luck to farmers of black-eyed peas, but no matter (really, they don’t taste like anything special). But it’s part of the ritual of the season, so I do this every year (maybe this is the year I win the lottery). ūüėČ

Friends

Everyone needs friends. It’s nice to have someone sympathetic to chat with, or just chill with and enjoy their company. Pteri is no exception.

Brontosaurus are always going on about how delicious the vegetarian lifestyle is and how everyone should adopt this.

And this friend couldn’t agree more, yes plants are delicious. (Pteri has heard this all before.)

T-rex likes to go on about the joys of being a carnivore and great places to eat when not whining about the problems of having very short arms (although it means you never have to pick up a check). It’s interesting for a bit, still it is pleasant to be able to hang with one’s fellow dinos, whatever the topic.

But for real enjoyment it is great to hang out with the locals, wear silly hats, and send out a Christmas wish to all the distant friends.

Oh deer

We are currently in the season for outdoor decorations, and one of the more popular choices for decorating is deer.¬† ¬†Technically, I suppose that people are thinking ‘reindeer’, with sort of North Pole connotations.¬† ¬†But it’s easier to go with generic deer as a sign of the season.

If you are wanting to have outdoor lights anyway, why not a lighted deer?

This family of log deer are certainly cute and crafty, as well as being environmentally friendly.

Hey, wait a minute.¬† ¬†That’s not even a deer, it’s just a dog with an antler tied to his head (if you want to be a Grinch about it).

Well now we’re getting completely ridiculous, besides being rather abstract.¬† ¬†Nothing says festive like Rudolph the red-nosed car.¬† ¬†Really?

This is more like it, the real thing (although you can tell from the state of his antlers that I took this picture in the spring).   After spending the summer wherever they disappear off to, the local deer are back in the neighborhood.   And making a festive statement just by being themselves.

Cooking class

I admit that I love anything that has lots of sugar and butter in the recipe (although it does not necessarily love me back).¬† One of my friends has taken a lot of classes at a local cooking school, and she talked about how much fun this was.¬† So I decided I might give this a go, especially as the class used my favored ingredients.¬† And I found out how simple it is to make toffee, particularly if someone else does all the prep work.¬† ūüėČ

They had toasted and chopped 10 1/2 ounces of almonds and separated it into chunky bits and dust.   We put 8 ounces of butter, 8 ounces of sugar, 3 ounces of water and 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a pan and took it over to the induction stove top.

Here it is boiling merrily away.   Then we put in a candy thermometer, gave it a stir from time to time, and 25 minutes later it looked like this.

It is boiling hot at this point, so we carefully tipped in the large bits of almond (saving the fine particles for topping), and spread it out on a half sheet pan.   Then we sprinkled 7 ounces of chocolate chips over the top.   As it was boiling hot, the chips quickly melted and we slathered them over the top and added a fine almond dust over everything.

It doesn’t really look very appetizing at this point, in fact it looks rather like a large cow pie (although it smells much better).

Now it looks delicious!   As there were several groups of people in the class, we made different flavors of toffee and got to take home some of each.   So I have white chocolate raisin toffee, dark chocolate coconut toffee, dark chocolate and milk chocolate toffees.  Now all I have to do is package this up for friends and avoid eating all of this myself.

Art

On my recent trip, I ferreted out the location of an interesting destination.¬† ¬†I had seen an advert for the place on a friend’s website, so I decided that it was a must see.

And what might Novelty Automation be?¬† ¬†Well it’s got coin-operated machines inside, but they are not like regular commercially produced arcade machines.¬† ¬† They are all artist created, satirical machines (the only similarity to arcade machines is that it takes one’s coin).

Right inside the front door was this machine.¬† ¬†You put in the coin, crank the handle, and the spinner above the figures whirls around while the lamb on top shakes it’s head.¬† And then the decision.

The diorama spins up or down to show the final disposition of the lamb.¬† I got ‘pet’ which is how I would treat a lamb.¬† ¬†The other diorama has the lamb as the main course for dinner.¬† (Noooooo).

This artist has made a variety of machines, I hope that this one was not based on personal experience.

Of all the machines, this one was my favorite.   It is the art critic who will give a yea or nay as to whether something is art (note the plastic cow encased in lucite on the side, obviously it must be art).  I could not resist the challenge and so I put Pteri into the little box on the side of this machine.  Pteri rose up to be judged by this critic, how could he not be impressed?   Well it just goes to show the fickle nature of art criticism, Pteri was declared to be not art.  The judgement was obviously flawed, I assert that any picture (or art) can be improved with the addition of a pterodactyl.

 

Reflections

It is always interesting to see what turns out when one takes a photograph (although nowadays with digital photography one can quickly check the image).¬† ¬†Your brain sees the thing in front of you, and what the camera sees is what’s actually there.¬† And what’s there is often a reflection of the nearby buildings, cast upon the window glass.¬† ¬†I sometimes like the reflection better, because it is two images in one.

This reflection was taken deliberately as I liked the juxtaposition of the clashing styles.¬† The imposing classical dome of the V & A is reflected against the 60’s architectural add-on of the Natural History museum.

I liked the contrast of the smoothly modern shop selling Italian design, reflecting the townhouses that rise above shop fronts tacked on at street level.

This cow is well on her way to jumping over the moon, as she is already about to soar over this tall building.

Although the sky looks plain and formless ahead, the glass in this modern office block shows that somewhere quite near there is blue sky and fluffy clouds.  Lost in the concrete canyons of a city, it is lovely to be reminded of this.

Looking through the glass

 

There is a certain voyeuristic thrill in observing people unaware.  And large un-curtained windows, brightly lit on a dark night make this voyeurism inevitable.

These folks are enjoying the cozy ambience of the pub.¬† ¬†I wasn’t really aware of the people, I actually took this picture for the sign, which I thought was hilarious.¬† It was only when I was picking images for this post that I noticed the people.

Not shown are all the folks standing in front of this building, smoking cigarettes and drinking beer.¬† This side of the building is across the street from a church which bears the sign ‘commit no nuisance’.¬† So I assume that is why the smokers are not on this side.

Who could resist taking a glance into this shop window?¬† It is obviously the sort of place a very hip person might patronize.¬† It’s minimalist, modern and spare, yet there stands¬† a statue of wrestler Hulk Hogan in the window.¬† Why?¬† Perhaps it indicates that they only cater to professional wrestlers, although surely one’s glasses would be toast in the ring.

Nearby hipsters were getting a new do.¬† ¬†Most likely something cooler than before.¬† It’s not the sort of shop where old guys hang out and swap lies, which is the sort of place my brothers would go to.

Here’s another view of across the street.¬† ¬†Again, it seems to be a sort of hip, minimalist office.¬† Perfect for a early evening meeting before heading out, perhaps to the ancient pub.

 

Fashion

I am not much of a fashion plate, I typically spend about a minute to decide my fashion choice of the day:  is it a short sleeve or long sleeve black shirt, is it denim shorts or leggings.  Then the ultimate deciding factor:  is it clean enough to wear?  But I do enjoy looking at fashion, and when I am on holiday I like to stay in a very fashionable neighborhood.

This was the view from my recent vacation flat, an atelier with worker bees busily making incredibly gorgeous clothing.¬† ¬†I’m not sure who’s design workshop this was (maybe Carolina Herrera or Stella McCartney?), but I found myself envying the people who would wear this and I wanted them to make one fitted to me,

 

And right around the corner is this ready to wear boutique of a designer.   I admit that I like the dark coat, but I would probably balk at the price for such a utilitarian item.

This is much more to my taste, although as they are not in plain black, I don’t think I could wear them.¬† ¬†(Also, I would probably resemble a sack of potatos rather than a goddess).¬† But I would definitely cut this fabric up and use it in a quilt.¬† Right in front of this shop the Petticoat Lane street market was going on, where one could buy a man’s shirt for 10 pounds (more my price range).¬† ūüėČ

 

Just up the street from the flat was this tempting display (okay, now I am being sarcastic).   Pretty much everyone has stocking cap for when it is really cold, or when one needs to rob a bank or gas station, but I suspect that this one might cost a bomb.  The hooded puffy jacket with the skirt might cause one to think that one was a recently escaped mental patient, so I think one should leave the price tags on the outfit.  (Does this remove the doubt?  I doubt it.)

 

American Football

In some places football is more than a sport, it’s more like a religion.¬† ¬†But as I grew up in a city with a fairly awful professional football team, and went to university with a terrible college football team,¬† I never became a fan. (Except that football is a great excuse for parties and boozing, so I guess I am a fan of sorts, sometimes).¬† ¬†My college was playing against the local team, and my friend didn’t want to go, so I thought ‘what the heck (or something quite similar)’.¬† I had been to a game of the same two teams about 30 years ago, so perhaps it was time to do this again.

And as this local university is a military academy, they had a military pre-game show.  It does require a certain talent to be able to jump out of an airplane and land in the center of the stadium.

It’s a lovely stadium, the sun was shining, and we had been drinking delicious Bloody Marys in the parking lot.

The teams had to do a bit of running about before the game starts, so there was no excitement just yet.

Whenever the home team scores a goal, a squadron of cadets comes out and does the same number of push-ups as the score.¬† ¬†And the score was rather large at the end.¬† ūüėČ

Halftime means that a marching band must come out, but I must say that I found their outfits rather drab, even though they were excellent musicians.  (Marching about in formation is certainly something everyone in the military does.)

After the game was over, I realized that I had not taken any pictures of the actual football players.¬† ¬†So here’s a picture that shows some of the football action on the giant stadium screen.¬† ¬†When one is at an game, the players are the ants down on the field.¬† When one watches at home, the television cameras always bring the action close.¬† ¬†And this game was being televised, so there were camerapersons racing up and down the sidelines.¬† ¬†All in all it was an interesting experience, but perhaps I shall wait another 30 years before I do this again.