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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WTF: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer

WTF---Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot

    There’s a secret, multinational cabal that’s infiltrated all levels of the US government, except for the Postal Inspector, has uploaded every gigabyte of digital information into one mega-computer called “The Beast” and plans to dominate the world, or extinguish it, no one is quite sure which, by monopolizing access to it.  On the other hand, there’s this group of potheads growing cannabis-laden plant-based computers who have a secret neurotransmitter-altering eye test that is opposing them.  So we’ve all got that going for us.

    Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a strange, strange and strange first novel by David Shafer, a Portland, Oregon resident with a journalism degree from Columbia whose recent work history includes taxi driving and carpentry.  It received rave reviews from The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/06/books/book-review-whiskey-tango-foxtrot-may-be-the-novel-of-the-summer.html, Salon, http://www.salon.com/2014/07/27/whisky_tango_foxtrot_a_techno_thriller_with_a_soul/, and USA Today, http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/books/2014/08/06/whiskey-tango-foxtrot/13596045/.

    Shafer claimed to the Portland Tribune he is “chuffed” about all this.  http://portlandtribune.com/pt/11-features/230438-94091-david-shafer-chuffed-by-success-of-techno-thriller.

     Chuffed sounds suspiciously like some of the words used repetitively in the novel.  Car windows don’t go up and down, they zzzzzzzzz.  Screen door don’t open or close, they shrrrngggg.  There is no such thing as walking like a spider, there is “spidering.”  I listened to the audiobook, read by Bernard Setaro Clark.  Clark’s voice annoyed me to no end.

     The plot involves three 30-somethings who all seem awfully self-involved.  Laila, a NGO worker who witnesses something she shouldn’t have; Mark, a best-seller author and top of the line B.S’er who never met a drug he didn’t like; and Leo, the poor little rich kid orphan who is either crazy or smarter than the rest of humanity.  Perhaps the self-involvement of these people is the point?  I mean, I hate to disagree with the New York Times, which called Whiskey Tango Foxtrot the “book of the summer,” but wasn’t this kinda already done in The Matrix?  Or Avatar?  Or that novel back in the 90s that was about how energy flowed between all living things but you had to work a 12 step program in order to see it?

matrix1  Avatar-Movie-HD-Wallpaper-3

     Laila and Leo synch up to work with the anti-multinational monopoly group which goes by the moniker “Dear Diary.”  No kidding.  Mark has been working with The Committee without actually being aware of it; unsurprising, because Mark is aware of very little in his own life, including where he was the night before.

    I don’t know.  Maybe techie, dystopian, derivative, paranoid conspiracy thrillers just aren’t my cup of tea.  You might love it.  At the very least, you know the food and drink will be good.

MENU:  Whiskey

Jack Daniels’ Whiskey Birthday Cake

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

2 ¼ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) butter

2 cups firmly packed brown sugar

4 eggs

½ cup Jack Daniel’s® Tennessee Whiskey

1 cup chopped pecans

1 package (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

Hot Buttered Whiskey Glaze (recipe follows)

Heat oven to 325°F. Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Set aside. Melt butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Remove from heat. Stir in the brown sugar, eggs, flour mixture, and Jack Daniel’s®, stirring well after each addition. Pour batter into the greased pan. Sprinkle evenly with pecans and chocolate chips. Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until center of the cake is firm and edges begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool on a wire rack and drizzle with glaze. Makes 16 servings.

Note: Cake may be baked in a greased 10-inch tube pan. Increase the baking time to 1 hour. Cool in the pan 10 minutes. Turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely. Drizzle with the glaze.

Whiskey Glaze

2 cup melted butter

2 cups powdered sugar

3 tablespoons Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey

1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Blend well with a wooden spoon. Drizzle over warm cake.

By the way, the Jack Daniels’ website has some fantastic recipes.  http://www2.jackdaniels.com/default.aspx

So does the Makers’ Mark website:  https://www.makersmark.com/sections/14-recipes

Find something you like and go with it.

MUSIC:  Tango & Foxtrot

You can stream tango music straight from any number of music apps.  My favorite is Songza.  I typed Tango in the search field and received an hour or so of fabulous Argentine Tango music.

Songza didn’t give me any foxtrot tunes, but iTunes did.  https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/50-foxtrot-songs/id581137337

If all that gets you in the mood for a little dancing, here’s a lovely clip of two of the best dancing to Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.  Fred, Ginger & the Foxtrot.  http://youtu.be/5hIxvmCypE8

     Cheers!

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