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Sunday
Dec012013

Right Coast Newport and Thanksgiving Leftovers

When I lived in Newport  (the one on the Left Coast), one of the local magazines coined the phrase “Affluenza” which meant visibly (though perhaps not actually) wealthy.  Mercedes and BMW’s aplenty.  Bling everywhere. 

McMansions.  This is actually the neighborhood that become The OC, under construction.

The women wore “short, black and tight.” Surgically enhanced everything.  The men were wealthy.  Or at least highly leveraged.  Shortly thereafter came the rise of “The OC” and “Real Housewives of Orange County” both filmed in my neck of the woods.

That’s nothing compared to Newport, Rhode Island.

What does this have to do with Christmas (you ask?)

We visited the Newport Mansions this past weekend.  In December, three of the largest are open and decorated for Christmas. 

I thought The Hearst Castle was grand, but it’s dwarfed by The Breakers, Cornelius Vanderbilt’s weekend cottage. 

Measuring a mere 135,000 square feet, with 70 rooms, it sits on the Cliff Walk, and dares you to compare it to anything but Buckingham Palace.  We also visited The Elms, a cottage built by the coal magnate, Edward Berwind, who supplied the fuel for Vanderbilt’s steamships, then his railroads, Carnegie’s steel mills, and Rockefeller’s oil refineries. 

Cozy arrangement, no?

Not to be outdone by anyone in Paris, Cornelius’s daughter Alva Vanderbilt, built The Marble House.   Modeled after The Petit Trianon, the smaller of King Louis XV’s palace at Versaille, Alva stole architecture (and sometimes other things like mantels and ceilings) from anything French.

Mrs. Vanderbilt:  “If it’s good enough for King Louis, it’s good enough for us.”

Her husband:  “Whatever, dear.”

Well, she did wear the pants in the family, being an heiress and all.

The dining room chairs were made of bronze and covered in gold, to match King Louis' chairs made of silver.  They weighed in at 75 pounds for the guests, and 125 pounds for the armchairs.  A servant behind each chair was required to help each guest pull up a chair to the table.

The estimates of what it would take to build The Breakers today, at $22 Million, seems way off base.  I’d say more like $100 Million.   Not including the furniture and the drapes.

From my perspective, once you have seen one coffered ceiling stolen from a palace in France, you’ve seen them all.  I was more fascinated by the kitchens and butler’s pantries.

But it was not the buildings that most impressed me.  Yes, clearly these were built to portray immense wealth and power.  And they do.  But it was the men who built them that fascinated me.

The Men Who Built America is a very recent documentary from The History Channel. (See the Link at the bottom of the side panel on the Fun Stuff page.)  We happened to catch it while channel surfing over the Thanksgiving Weekend, and we were hooked.

I don‘t remember learning much about these men in school.  It seems history went from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War, to the Mexican American War, to the World Wars.  Yeah, we discussed the Industrial Revolution, but that was a cast of thousands.

Vanderbilt, Carnegie, Rockefeller, JP Morgan and Ford.  Those names are familiar to all of us.  But did we really understand what they did, and how these five changed the face of America?

Did you know they all knew each other?  Did you know they competed, coerced, spied on, blackmailed, attempted murder and partnered with each other? 

They defied the US Government.  They bought the US Government.  They bought themselves a President.  (Sound familiar?)

By today’s standards, Carnegie and Rockefeller had a combined net worth of more than 3 Trillion dollars.  Today, they would blow past Bill Gates and Rupurt Murdoch as if those two were standing still.

Four episodes, 90 minutes each, covering Vanderbilt’s rise just after the Civil War, through Henry Ford’s defiance of the Automotive industry to produce a car that even the workers making the car could afford.  If you have a chance to see it on the History Channel, don’t miss it.  I just purchased the DVD collection from their web site.   A steal at $29.95 with a 25% coupon.

Perfect to settle in front of a fire with a bowl of Turkey Paprikash Soup, and Cranberry Chutney, my take on Thanksgiving Leftovers. 

Friday
Dec142012

Real Men Make Quiche

No one makes better Quiche than my husband.  Faster maybe,  but not better.  Being the methodical fella he is, it takes him a good four hours to make his famous Quiche recipe. 

While working at a Long Island grocery store as a kid, he learned how to make Quiche in the deli department, and has not deviated from it for thirty (Happy Birthday, dear) years.

The crusts must be purchased from the freezer department.  They must be Oronoc Orchards. 

The cheese must be the exact ratio of Swiss, to Jarlsburg to Lorraine.   We have since found that there is no longer any Lorraine cheese to be found anywhere.  There seems there is a story going around that the factory burned down, but I found no hits to prove that to be true.  I did find several other hits where queries about the disappearance of Lorraine cheese were met with the same mysterious story from the trusty folks behind the deli counter.   I even found a hit that claims it is illegal to lie down and fall asleep in a cheese factory.

Emily (Latella):  “Nevermind.”

The cheese must be grated by hand, using a box grater.  The cheeses must be mixed by hand.  The eggs are whisked two at a time, no matter how many Quiches are being made. 

The heavy cream must be individually measured by the cupful for each pie, and poured into the two wisked eggs.  And then the mixture is seasoned with salt and white pepper, before being poured into each pie shell.

Then, and only then, is the ham or spinach added to the top of the pile.  By the time he’s finished, the pie shells are full to the brim, carefully moved to the middle rack of the oven, and baked. 

For nearly 90 minutes.

I learned how to make Quiche from the Joy of Cooking, and we nearly got divorced when I tried to get him to alter his process.  Not his recipe, mind you, just his process.   

Nope.

I had convinced him to let me play soux chef.   Made all of the pie crusts myself.  I’ll never offer to do that again.  Two, maybe.  Six?  Fogettaboutit!

Six pounds of cheese to grate, you say?  That’s what a Food Processor is for.  Ok,  good idea.

Mix all of the cream and the eggs together and then measure them out?   I could see him drawing up the papers in his head.

Scald the eggs and cream together to cut down on the baking time?  You would have thought I had suggested he divulge his Recipe for Quiche Lorraine.  (Luckily, he doesn't get to edit this blog.)

But no matter what we serve at our Christmas Day Brunch, this dish always gets rave reviews.   Chris would make it more often, but it would be unfair to all of the other quiches.

Monday
Dec032012

Next Time make it Bracciole

When I pictured having a husband in my life, one of the first chores I thought of having help with was a Christmas Tree. 

Yeah.

No.

My father got the tree for my mother, put it in the stand, and brought it in the house.  From there, it was her deal.  Why shouldn’t I have expected anything different?

From my earliest trees, it was always an event.  I’ve always been a big fan of “choose and cut” trees, having grown up on a tree farm.  Depending on where I was living at the time, it was as much as an hour to find a place where trees actually grew.  I would make a day of it.  I’d have a meal all prepared, have my ornaments out and at the ready, and not a drop of anything to drink until the lights were on the tree.

Someone once showed me how to wrap the lights around each branch, and from that point on, it became one of the biggest chores of the season.  Since I was single, it was me getting the tree, getting it home, getting it in the stand, getting it in the house, and getting the lights on it.

Not without incident.

Take the year I decided to have the tree delivered to my house.   I thought I would finally have some help, and for a mere $25 fee, actually have a man bring the tree in the house. Didn’t quite work out that way. 

I was in Newport Beach at the time, and there were Christmas Trees available on every corner.  I thought it would be easy to get my tree delivered on the spot.  When I went to the tree place, they were not able to deliver until the following week.  And I’d already planned my Saturday event around having the tree that evening, and decorating with a date.  A date that stood me up, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I later found out the reason he stood me up was because of his wife.  But that’s another story.

It took the tree guy nearly 45 minutes to tie the tree to the top of my car.   He could have driven it to my house and been back in that time, and gotten paid for his efforts, but no.

As I’m driving up the hill towards home, I happen to look in my rear view mirror, and what do my wondering eyes behold but a tree rolling down the hill.  Odd.  Where did that come from? 

Oh.  Right.  It was my tree.

I pulled over to the side of the road, got out of the car, looked at the tree laying on the shoulder, and did what any normal woman would do in that situation. 

I cried.

Miraculously, a truck pulled over almost immediately.  A nice young man got out, and after introductions and a couple of attempts at putting the tree in the car, he said,

“Where do you live?”

I pointed to my condo complex, because it was within sight.  He threw the tree in the back of the truck, and said, “I’ll just follow you, it’s easier.”

Smart guy.

When we got to my place, and he put the tree in the bucket of water I had ready, he said to me,

“Next time, ma’m, maybe you should have your husband help you.”

Right.  Next time.

Then there was the year I decided to use up all of that cathedral ceiling space with a 9 foot tree.  I went to the local tree place, and picked out a beauty.  I even had my gardener -- (OK, I know that sounds ridiculous, but when your yard is all of 100 square feet, it doesn’t make sense to invest in yard equipment, it’s actually cheaper to just have someone else do it) -- scheduled to help me with my tree.

The difference between an 8 ½ foot tree and a 9 foot tree is more than just the six inches in height I discovered.  The trunk of the tree was also about six inches bigger around, and there was no getting that thing into my tree stand.  Nor any of my neighbors tree stands.  After several attempts to trim the trunk with his chain saw, my gardener even threw in the towel.

Back to the tree place to purchase an extra large stand, one with three legs more than four feet in length to support a tree as big as I had purchased.  As I’m paying for the stand, the tree guy says to me,

“You know you have to drill a hole into the trunk to get it onto the spike in this tree stand, right?”

Right. 

“Do you have a drill that big?”

How big?  As big as my forearm it turns out.

Nope.

Out of the goodness of his heart (not to mention the $125 I shelled out for this tree), he loaned my gardener his drill.  Back again to my house, where Frank (that’s was my gardener’s name), proceeded to drill into this poor tree, and then it takes both of us to get the tree into the house and then back to the tree place to return the drill.

By this time, it’s nearly 6pm, and I have to string 1200 lights on this monster.  It took me nearly four hours. 

Did I test the lights before hand?

No I did not.

I’ll remember to do that.

Next time.

Good thing dinner was ready. 

This year, Braciole, made the day before.

 

 

Sunday
Dec022012

It's that Time of Year

Mr. Popper's Penguins 

We watched it last year at least three times, and when viewed again this year, we still giggled all the way through it.  That warrents its addition to the list.  Jim Carry again, so if you are not a fan, you probably won't like it.  He's out of costume, and plays a rather cold but sophisticated character.  Thawed by the end of the movie, of course.

Elf

I was never a particular fan of Will Ferrell (unless you don't count Cowbell), but this movie is original, charming, funny, has a great soundtrack, and Will is utterly charming in it.  When you call our home phone in the month of December, you will hear Chris say, "Buddy the Elf, what's your favorate color?"

We can't figure out why Grace The Girl doesn't like it.  Perhaps letting a very tired seven year old who still believed in Santa watch a giant elf having a fist fight with a fake Santa wasn't the best idea.  She's never quite gotten over it. 

I did ask her the other day if she still believed in Santa.

She said, "I don't see any reason not to."  Wise Girl.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

If we let her, Grace would watch The Grinch 24x7.  (So would I.)

A Charlie Brown Chrismas

I have both the movie and soundtrack version.

Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol

When I want to watch this movie, Chris runs upstairs to his cave and puts on the Twilight Zone marathon, and Grace buries her nose in a book.  Seriously.

Mr. Magoo is an annoying cartoon character I couldn't stand as a kid.  Politically insensitive, it likely wouldn't get broadcast in today's world.   It's the music that gets me.  It took me years to find it for sale and now seems to be back in the mainstream. 

Miracle on 34th Street

Lots of remakes, but there's not beating Natalie Wood in her very first role.  I don't even mind the colorized version.

The Lion in Winter

Katharine Hepburn, Peter O'toole, and at the beginning of their careers, Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton. 

Its a Wonderful Life

Never one of my favories, but Chris loves it.  Its also on everyone else's list.

A Christmas Story

Recently voted by a poll in Vanity Fair as the most overplayed movie.  Thanks, TNT.

The Men Who Built America

Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Carnegie, JP Morgan and Ford.  You know their names.  Now watch their stories.  One of the best historical documentaries we've seen.  You might do better at The History Channel website and get all five segments together.

Christmas

On a music side, we have all the standards, but a very recent addition is a recording from Bruce Cochburn.  He's not your mainstream musician, nor is this group of songs your mainstream Christmas.  But it is different, and beautiful in a haunting way, and has become the first piece of music we play on the morning of December 1st.

James Taylor at Christmas

This would not have made the list since it's more of a jazz rendition of the old standards.  However, his rendition of Auld Lang Szne has made me listen to what we normally hear when the ball drops in a very different way.

Monday
Dec192011

The Flute Theory (Cont'd.)

  

Chris:  “Honey, where are the December glasses?”

Everybody has their toys, even when they are grown-ups.  These are my toys.  (Flute Theory, explained.) And I’m very good at sharing my toys, so if you show up in December, chances are you’ll get handed one of this filled with something bubbly. 

We only serve the best champagne in this house.  Did you bring any?