God Bless Us, Everyone: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

fezziwig

And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.  May that be truly said of us, and all of us!  And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!

    Is there one among us who is unfamiliar with the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come?  Who knows not that Marley was dead, to begin with, in fact, “dead as a door-nail?”  Whose tears of Tiny Tim’s untimely fate have not been shed?  A Christmas Carol, published by Charles Dickens, in 1843, has been adapted more times than the number of its pages (160) with portrayals as varied as Mr. Magoo and Alastair Sim.  Wikipedia has an exhaustive (and at times amusing) list:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adaptations_of_A_Christmas_Carol.  (I did not realize there had been a Jetson’s Christmas Carol — how could I have missed that?)  And here’s a completely new version:  novelist Neil Gaiman reading Dickens’ own hand-edited copy at a public reading at the New York Public Library:  http://www.openculture.com/2014/12/hear-neil-gaiman-read-a-christmas-carol-just-as-dickens-read-it.html.  Incidentally, there are several free, full texts of the novella on line.

      A Christmas Carol takes merely an hour or so to read from cover to cover, yet is filled with an indelible story, spirit, characters and lines we all know by heart.

Bah Humbug

Every idiot who goes about with “Merry Christmas” on his lips would be boiled in his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly in his heart

There’s more of gravy than of grave about you

Many many more, but most famous, “God Bless Us, Everyone.”

     I re-read A Christmas Carol this week, something I haven’t done for several years, and found it as touching as ever, more detailed than I recalled and surprisingly full of humor.  That Dickens was a funny guy.  I did not recall this humorous description of Scrooge’s reaction to Marley’s ghost:

His body was transparent; so that Scrooge, observing him, could see the two buttons on his waistcoat behind.

Scrooge had often heard it said that Marley had no bowels, but he had never believed it till now.

Marley's_Ghost-John_Leech,_1843

     So, yeah, it’s a classic, we know we know.  Get to the recipes.  I shall but before I do, may I wish you and yours the Merriest of Christmas, the Happiest of Hanukahs, the most blessed of Kwanzaas . . . and God Bless Us, Everyone.

MENU

When the Ghost of Christmas Past transports Scrooge to Fezziwig’s ball, a splendid repast is detailed.

. . . there was cake, and there was negus, and there was a great piece of cold roast, and there was a great piece of cold boiled, and there were mince-pies, and plenty of beer.

Negus?  Negus.  Apparently a concoction made of wine, hot water, lemon, sugar and nutmeg, invented by Col. Francis Negus in the 18th Century.  Thanks to Jane Austen (janeausten.com), I can share with you the recipe should you be so inclined to go all out Regency/Victorian at your book club.  http://www.janeausten.co.uk/negus/  I also tried to find the definitive answer for what “cold boiled” might be.  There are disagreements as to whether it is boiled beef, pork or chicken.  To all boiled meats I say:  NAY!

There’s another fine description of foodstuffs when the Ghost of Christmas Present appears surrounded by a mountain of comestibles.  This is quite the food pyramid.

. . . turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, suckling-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch . . .

My menu would include:

Chestnuts:  Preheat oven to 400.  Using a very sharp knife, mark raw chestnuts with an X.  Bake on a cookie sheet for 15-20 minutes.

Sausage and cheese plate with apple and pear slices

Turkey.  Now, let me tell you I’ve been elected/volunteered to be the family chef of the turkey for the past couple of Thanksgivings and by combining the wisdom of two of my favorite chefs, Mark Bittman and Ina Garten, I think I have come up with the perfect turkey recipe.

First, prepare the turkey by removing all the stuff inside.  Get out a stick of butter and let it melt a bit so you can mush it up.  Get your hand between the flesh of the turkey breast and the skin and rub as much of the butter on the turkey all over as you can but don’t break the skin off.  Salt and pepper the bird, inside and out.  Inside the turkey, I always place a cut orange and cut lemon to keep it moist during cooking.  If you want you can add rosemary under the skin with the butter.  Now, put more butter on the exterior of the bird.

Now, preheat the oven to 500 degrees (yes, 500! have no fear).  Place the turkey on a rack inside a roasting pan.  Add 1/2 cup white wine to the bottom of the pan.  Roast for 20-30 minutes without basting just until the top begins to brown.  Then turn the oven to 350 and continue to roast, checking and basting every 30 minutes or so.  If the top gets too brown, cover it with aluminum foil.  I had a 16.9 pound turkey this year and it took about four hours and was perfect and juicy and delicious.

I had never heard of Twelfth Cake, but researching it for the blog, I love the idea!  On January 6, the Epiphany, you have a 12th Night party and every draws a card with a character.  Then you have to act and interact as that character all night long.  The cake is an elaborately decorated spice cake.  http://www.historicfood.com/John%20Mollard’s%20Twelfth%20Cake.html.  I’m not about to try anything as gorgeous as this:

Twelfth-Cake-with-feathers

But I might try this recipe from the New York Times:  http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1644-english-twelfth-night-cake

MUSIC

Almost too easy. Skip the radio MixMas, or MixMess, that plays only Feliz Navidad and Holly Jolly Christmas repeatedly.  I’m listening to the Holiday Hits channel on TimeWarner Cable as I write this afternoon, Channel 850.  I love, love, love Songza!  A free app that lets you choose music to accompany your activity.  And of course, there’s spotify and pandora.  My buddy conductor Robert Baldwin has shared a blogpost that lists ten classical Christmas works, less well-known than the Messiah:  https://beforethedownbeat.wordpress.com/2013/12/21/lets-expand-our-holiday-horizons/.

So, that should leave you all set for a great book club discussion of A Christmas Carol, or a 12th Night party, or just . . . a great meal.

Happy Reading!

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C’est Magnifique: The Suitors by Cecile David-Weill

Seaside Resort in the South of France 1927 by Paul Klee 1879-1940

“Seaside Resort in the South of France,” by Paul Klee

In Cecile David-Weill’s delightful romp through the South of France, two sisters attempt to save the family’s summer home, a seaside villa near Cap d’Antibes, from their father’s intended sale by romancing wealthy men.  The plan is to seduce some unsuspecting rich guy, get him to either buy the place or cause enough fear in Dear Old Dad to make him rethink his position.  Along the way, the girls relive some favorite childhood memories, reencounter old loves, reacquaint with one another and find out their mom uses cocaine to remain svelte.  Ah, sisters.

maas 129 “Two Sisters,” Jean Claude Richard

The Suitors‘ action occurs over three weekends in the family’s final summer at their bonne maison.  Laure and Marie take turns inviting prey, ahem, I mean potential suitors.  Oprah’s magazine called the novel “Downtown Abbey” set in France during our current century.  http://www.oprah.com/book/The-Suitors?editors_pick_id=40551.  The Wall Street Journal review compared it to Nancy Mitford’s work.  http://online.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324678604578342244051488344.

I think it has some elements of Jane Austen myself.  Societal chasms, money issues, mother-daughter tete-a-tetes in the bathroom of the luxurious estate.

L’Agapanthe has nothing flashy about it.  No balustrade or row of columns overlooking the sea.  It is a Mediterranean villa, built around a loggia like a monastery around its cloister, the complete opposite of a house with a view.  As if the sea had decided to behave like an experienced courtesan and simply suggest its presence, with bright touches shimmering through the shad of lush plants and undergrowth, instead of flaunting itself under the windows of L’Agapanthe like a trollop.

Of the many divine things about The Suitors, I particularly enjoyed the meticulous detailing of the daily life which guides the servants.  David-Weill includes menus for each lunch and dinner, the room assignments of each weekends guests on the Secretary’s Name Board, the chauffeur pick-up schedules, the staff lunch notebook and even the cupboard inventory. I also enjoyed the weary wisdom of narrator Laure, a recently divorced, single mom.

I agreed with all my single friends who had looked around without finding anyone seriously desirable, and I had taken up their mantra:  “where are all the men?”  As far as I was concerned, the answer was “Wyoming!” – and only half in jest, because on a trip there I’d seen lots of men who seemed completely well-adjusted, perfectly happy with their horses, their cowboy duds.  . . .

I used to say that I loved men but not unconditionally.  I wanted them to be, in descending order of importance:  nice, intelligent, ready to be happy, forgiving of themselves and others, generous, and wise.  They had to have no fear of women, be virile, fond of making love but at eh same time past the frolicking-with-bimbos stage.  I’m demanding, I know.  Especially since they had to be successful in their careers; otherwise they were bitter or limited in their outlook on life.

Good luck with that, girlfriend.

the suitors

David-Weill knows whereof she writes:  her father was chairman of the merchant bank Lazard Frères, and the family spent their holidays at Cap d’Antibes.  I discovered that salient fact after reading The Suitors and wish I had known there was a potential roman a clef element to the novel.

I’m hosting book club next week and I hope the other members of my group enjoyed The Suitors as much as I did.

MENU

David-Weill includes two recipes in the back of the book.  I will be using her recipe for Coeur a la Creme.  But since it’s December and hovering around 40 degrees, I will not be serving the warm weather food that makes up most of the menus in the book.

Cheese Sticks — made with puff pastry (much easier than gougeres)

Haricots Vertes

Chicken with Cremini and Chestnuts (adapted from The Barefoot Contessa’s Barefoot in Paris)

1 cup mushrooms, cleaned and sliced thinly

1 cup of roasted, peeled chestnuts (I used Trader Joe’s package of peeled chestnuts, the whole thing)

6 chicken breasts

Shallots

Minced garlic (3 cloves)

1 cup red wine

1 cup creme fraiche

1 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Butter, salt, pepper, flour

Preheat oven to 375. Salt and pepper the chicken, then dredge it in flour.  Heat 2 tbsp butter in large sauté pan and cook the chicken over medium-low heat until browned on both sides.  Then place in a dutch oven or large casserole dish.

Add 2 tablespoons melted butter, to the pan with shallots, mushrooms, chestnuts and garlic and sauté over medium heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Add the mix into the pan and reduce the liquid by half over high heat.  Add the creme fraiche, cream, lemon juice, 1 teaspoon salt and 3/4 teaspoon pepper.  Pour the sauce over the chicken and bake for 15 minutes until the chicken is heated through.

Potato Gratin

Coeur a la Creme

MUSIC

I’m very excited about the music.  I found a C.D. of 20 songs for $9.99 on iTunes — A Christmas Eve in Paris!

Happy Reading!

The (Fabulous) Burgess Boys, by Elizabeth Strout

 

 

 

So Don’t Forget folks,

That’s What you Get Folks . . .

for Makin’ Whoopee

Image

 

Much to his chagrin and surprise, the rule applies even to golden boy, Jim Burgess.  “A football player and president of his class, and really nice looking with his dark hair, but he was serious too.”  Jim has grown up to be first a prosecutor, then a nationally-known criminal defense lawyer, tapped even for OJ Simpson’s dream team.  He marries a lovely girl, Helen, they have two lovely children and they live in a lovely apartment in New York City, light years away from the small Maine burg in which the Burgess boys grew up.  But from the night Jim’s sister’s son, Zach, throws a pig’s head through the front door of a Shirley Falls, Maine, mosque during Ramadan, Jim seems to see that times, they are a’changing.

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In The Burgess Boys, Pulitzer-prize winner Elizabeth Strout’s follow-up to Olive Kitteridge, the relationships between Jim and his younger siblings, Bob and Susan, the twins, takes center stage.  The novel explores the often dark effect of our siblings’ impressions upon our own adult self-esteem.  Ever since the Burgess’ father died in a tragic accident, all three of the kids , the whole town, have blamed Bob.  “Bobby Burgess ‘was the one who killed his father’ or ‘had to see a doctor for mentals.’ . . .A few times BoT.  bby babysat, and he would take turns carrying us on his back.  You could tell you were clinging to someone kind and good.”

Jim sees Bob’s kindness as a weakness to be exploited, generally addressing Bob as “knucklehead,” “slob-dog,” and “mental case.”  Susan hates him.  In turn, Bob and Susan adore Jim.  But despite his family position, it is Bob who is sent to first deal with the mess Zach has gotten himself into.

As the situation unravels and the mystery of Zach’s action unfolds, other secrets come to light.  One of which puts a serious dent in Jim’s suit of armor.

He becomes a victim of his own lust, much like so many other politicians and public figures of our day.  Jim reminds me of no one so much as Eilot Spitzer, the New York Governor deposed from office by a prostitution scandal.  Golden boy, accomplished lad, everyone’s favorite guy.Image

I found Susan completely unlikeable.  Bob, adorable and sweet and worthy of rooting for.  Jim probably gets what he deserves, but the book leaves us without any real answer other than the one set out in the prologue, when an unnamed narrator encounters Jim’s wife at some point after the events involving Zach are over.

I’d had some wine — I suppose that’s why I stopped — and I said to her that I’d come from the same town Jim had grown up in.  Something happened to Helen’s face that stayed with me.  A look of quick fear seemed to pass over it.  She asked my name and I told her, and she said Jim had never mentioned me.  No, I was younger, I said.  And then she arranged her cloth napkin with a little shake, and said, “I haven’t been up there in years.  Nice to meet you both.  Bye-bye.”

You don’t know them.  The narrator’s mother advises her.  “Nobody ever knows anyone.”

MENU

The Burgess Boys’ mother was described as the kind of woman who made hamburger helper covered with a sheet of orange cheese or roasted a chicken without any spices, even salt. But they loved baked goods.  My menu would improve upon the Burgess mom’s menu and include a gift from my own grandmother’s recipe box.  Whoopie Pies are also from Maine if you’d like to try to make those.  And lobster.  

Roast Chicken WITH SPICES (here’s Ina Garten’s “Engagement Roast Chicken” recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/engagement-roast-chicken-recipe.print.html)

Spinach salad with fresh (Maine) blueberries, goat cheese, walnuts and poppyseed dressing

Mama’s Fluffy Yellow Cake

1/2 cup shortening                                               2 1/4 cups flour

2 teaspoon orange rind                                        2 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon lemon extract                                 1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/3 cup white corn syrup                                  2 eggs

1/2 cup milk

Cream together shortening, flavoring and syrup.  Add slightly beaten egg yolks.  Sift in dry ingredients adding alternately with milk.  Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites.  Bake in 350 degree oven 30-35 minutes in two layer pans.

MUSIC 

I can’t resist.  Make it a mix of:

The Doobie Brothers

The Allman Brothers

The Avett Brothers

The Isley Brothers

The Everly Brothers

The Jackson Five

The Osmond Brothers

And include the Fabulous Baker Boys for fun!

CASTING

Now this is a movie I can cast.

Bob:  Once again, another reason to mourn Philip Seymour Hoffman.  He would have been spot-on perfect.  In his absence, let me suggest Jon Favreau or Oliver Platt.

Jim:  George Clooney.  Perfection.

Susan:  Melissa Leo

Helen:  Tilda Swinton

AND FINALLY:  Are you dying to see the video of Michelle Pfeiffer singing Makin’ Whoopee?  http://vimeo.com/47799871