Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cream Cheese Cookies ...


I saw this recipe at food52.com and I put it out of my head.

I am a sucker for a simple cookie. Shortbread? Three ingredients. Butter. Flour. Sugar. What more do you need?

A bit of cream cheese, perhaps? A little salt?

Yesterday, Angelo tweeted the link to these cookies. And I clicked. And there was nothing more to be done.

This morning, I put a stick of unsalted butter and three ounces of cream cheese on the counter to soften.

And now I am sitting at the kitchen counter, very aware that I am losing the light outside, but hoping that I can snap a shot of these lovelies in time.

Dangerous. Dangerous, I tell you, this recipe.

Five ingredients. Five minutes of prep. Twelve minutes of baking.

No good can come of this.

I must remember not to keep cream cheese on hand.

A couple of notes: The next time I make these, I'll lessen the amount of sugar by a few tablespoons. These are a bit too sweet for me. I want more of the cream cheese to come through. And I'm baking these at 375 and for a few minutes longer than called for in the recipe, as 12 minutes does nothing to brown the edges in my oven. But they're delicious, dangerously so, and the texture is both crumbly-sandy and chewy.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Day Of Lost Souls ...

Is "curmudgeon" gender-neutral?

I may be old.

I don't do Black Friday. Ever. And the more insane it's become, the more I sit, smugly satisfied, in my home. Right now, the coffee has just finished brewing and there is sun on my face. I am not cursing at a driver who just took my parking space. And I am not standing at a register in front of a tired worker who had to sacrifice part of his or her Thanksgiving so I could save an extra 20 percent.

I did not set my alarm for 2 a.m. so I could head out into a dark, cold November morning to claim a door-buster deal at 3. And I sure as hell did not camp out.

But this morning, as I was making my usual Internet rounds, I saw these, featured on a blog that I read, touting yet another "deal" site. And I just about lost my cool.


Cupcake stands?! Are you kidding me with this?!

And here's the sales copy from the site (to which I am not linking, intentionally):

We are extremely excited about our gorgeous deal today… Are you ready?

These cupcake stands make sweet cupcakes even sweeter. Yummy :o) They were featured in Brides Magazine this last August and they caused a huge buzz. So Cuuuuute!


A set of six, if you're wondering, costs $34.50 + $5 shipping.

So, $40. Not including any applicable tax.

Forty bucks. For six ceramic cupcake stands. Because ... why?

Do you know how many people are hovering just above the poverty line in this country?

Now, I get it: People are entitled to spend their money on whatever they want, right?

Right.

But we all know that a lot of the spending that goes on in this country is credit. I'm guilty of it, too. More so than many. Not having a job from time to time will bring about the need to put plastic into play.

But cupcake stands? Cupcake stands, people. I have to draw the line at cupcake stands.

A plate will no longer do? Your grandmother's cake stand? Perhaps a pretty silver tray?

Stop it. For the love of God, stop it.

John Pinette does a great riff on needless gifts. "Oh, a panini maker! How did you know?!"

My mom makes paninis. They're delicious. You know what she uses to press them? Bricks wrapped in aluminum foil.

Bricks are heavy. They press those suckers right down.

I'm sorry to be the one to have to tell you this, but no, you don't need a chocolate fountain just because you can buy one at Bed Bath & Beyond.

Mankind has existed for millennia without owning chocolate fountains. I'm quite confident that not only can we endure without them, we should.

I understand that I am coming at this from the perspective of an adult, an adult who has a lot and doesn't want any more. And I understand that Christmas – commercial Christmas, that is – is for kids.

I remember the excitement of Christmas morning, running into the living room and seeing it laden with presents. (I grew up in the time of bean-bag chairs. Those puppies came in huge boxes and took up a lot of visual space.) My father used to fire up the Super 8 camera with the light as bright as the sun and film us opening our gifts.

You should see the dance I did one year when I realized that my new panda bear had a radio in its back!

Thinking back on it, I wonder if Dad had sped up the camera or if I was just frantically happy.

I think I was just that happy. If I tried to move like that first thing in the morning now, I'd pull something.

But as I was saying: Yes. Christmas. Kids. Excitement. Sweet.

My concern is that from the youngest of ages, we're grooming them to go for quantity, not quality. I knew a kid some years ago who would tear into a gift, barely glance at the contents, and then dive into the pile for the next present to unwrap. It wasn't about the gifts in that moment, it was about "more." And his little dervish self would rip everything open in about a minute or two, and then sit there, surrounded by new loot, disappointed that there wasn't more to open.

The gifts didn't seem to matter to him. That he had new things to play with was lost.

Sad, isn't it?

On the other side of that spectrum, a woman whose blog I read allows each of her children to choose three things each year.

Three.

I love that. Because since they will only be getting three things each year, they really think about what they want. And they dream up really fascinating ideas. And their mom, in turn, fulfills their wishes.

Now, granted, they have a fascinating mom who has created a beautiful, interesting home, and instilled in them appreciation and value for well-made things.

This woman, I am sure, would share my disgust at the notion of cupcake stands. I love that she thinks through how gifts would be wrapped, coming from the North Pole. Wooden boxes filled with reindeer moss for cushion and tied with real ribbon. Plush friends perched under the tree, waiting to be greeted, not suffocated in a cardboard box. I adore the thought and care she puts into the holidays to make them real and magical.

All of which is somewhat idealized, I know. I know that there are families who struggle, who want to give their kids something for Christmas and some things can be had very cheaply at big-box and dollar stores. But that's become almost our entire consumer culture: lots of stuff, for cheap.

The aforementioned mom rails against that mentality. She loves thrift stores and she has an amazing eye. She also reports that a lot of stuff ends up in thrift stores in its original packaging expressly because people simply have too much stuff and they jettison it in huge quantities. I admire her efforts to get folks off the more-more-more merry-go-round and put more thought into gifts, and save money, and save the planet.

These days, I only want practical things. For my birthday, I asked for rubber spatulas.

Consumable things are nice, too. I would happily receive a bottle of wine to share with someone over dinner.

(I'm just remembering that we used to visit my dad's mom on Christmas and take her a box of groceries. She was thrilled with canisters of coffee and the like. When anyone dared buy her actual gifts, even practical things like sheets or towels, she got angry. When she died, my parents found a lot of those items, still in their original gift boxes. She never used them. To her, what she had been using was still good. Even if it wasn't. One year, someone sent a pretty Christmas arrangement of flowers. She was annoyed that she'd have to add water to them from time to time. Message received, grandma. So we gave up on buying "things" and bought her food. I do believe I'm turning into my paternal grandmother. But I still like fluffy towels. Fluffy towels would be OK with me.)

All of which is to say, I would like for the holidays to be about people, about the spirit of giving in meaningful ways: spending time together, helping those in need, cooking for those we love, appreciating all that we have.

That's what I want more of in my life, anyway. Not a Lexus in the driveway with a giant red bow.

So instead of buying something for someone for the sake of buying them something, make this the year you put that money to better use.

Help someone.

Feed someone.

Provide someone with clean water on the other side of the world.

Loan $25 to an entrepreneur and then, when the loan is repaid, loan it again.

Buy a family a goat.

There are many, many ways to do good in the world.

And that is money well spent.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks ...

It is grey in my living room, barely lit from the gloomy light outside.

And suddenly, the space beside me looks bare. My mind expects a Christmas tree.

But not until tomorrow.

For today deserves its due, its complete and glorious due, for the reminder it brings to be thankful.

Thankful for another year.

Thankful for family.

Thankful for friends.

Thankful for wellness.

Thankful for warmth.

Thankful for comfort.

Thankful for clarity.

Thankful for kindness.

Thankful for all who share this life's stage and conjure ever-more-intricate and fascinating stories.

I am awed and grateful every day.

May the same be true for you.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bald Move ...

I am going to have someone shave my head.

I am going to raise $100,000 for St. Baldrick's and when I do, I am going to have someone shave my head at the St. Baldrick's event to benefit Donna's Good Things.

Not "I am going to try to raise $100,000 ... ," I am going to raise $100,000 for St. Baldrick's to benefit Donna's Good Things.

How, you ask?

With your help. And the help of everyone you tell. And the help of everyone I know in the media who will help me spread the word.

This is Donna. This is Donna's Cancer Story, written by Donna's Mama, my amazing friend Sheila.

She and her husband, Jeremy, are two of the most extraordinary people I have the great privilege to know. Sheila and I went to high school together. We lost touch after graduation, but reconnected on Facebook in September 2009.

I was happy to hear from her. I was not prepared to learn that her daughter was in hospice.

On October 19, 2009, Donna died. She was 4.

I didn't have the chance to meet Donna, but she has changed my life.

As her parents wrote in her obituary, "Donna was singular."

She lived a large life in her short time here.

Her parents continue to parent her by doing good things in her name.

And I'm asking you to help me to help them do even more.

Share this post. Share the link to my St. Baldrick's page. Ask everyone you know to share it and contribute what they can, because $100,000 can accomplish a lot of good things.

My love and gratitude to you.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Designed For Doing ...

Ow.

Twinges of ow. That's what I'm feeling this morning. Twinges of ow and stiffness.

Geez, I'm out of shape.

Not that I've ever been in really great shape. I've never been one for exercise. In grade school, I loathed the President's Physical Fitness Something or Other. And I loathed the 600 most of all. Running around the school parking lot three times. Running? Please. I started out in a half-hearted jog and then walked. And pull ups? I was expected to do pull ups? Please. If I ever have to claw my way up a building's facade or face falling to my death, I'm going to count on adrenaline to kick in, but until that day comes, no, I can't do a pull up. And I'm OK with that.

But yesterday, I consulted my to-do list and then I consulted the weather, and with the slight threat of rain last night, I decided that I best get my outdoor chores done Saturday, lest rain prevent me from doing them on Sunday.

And here we are.

Ow.

But my yards look fabulous. All my outdoor chores are done for the season and I do not have to think about cutting my grass again until March. Maybe April. One never knows with the snows in these parts.

My back could be more pleased with me. An Advil last night probably would have been a good idea. But for all the bending and stooping and crouching and carrying I did yesterday, it's not nearly as pissed as I expected it to be.

All of which was reminding me yesterday that I really need to get back to some semblance of fitness.

In the closet off my office, I have taped on the wall the photo of Hilary Swank that ran in Vanity Fair when she did "Million Dollar Baby." The Hollywood issue, perhaps. She's running on a beach. She has the most lithe body I've ever seen. It's amazing. It's inspiring.

Mind you, it's taped on a wall where I rarely see it. But when I go in that closet, she impresses me every time.

I can't imagine I will ever look that way. Apparently, running would be involved in achieving that look and as I'm known for saying, "I don't run unless chased."

But I miss how I felt when I worked with Brandon the Hunky Trainer. Not that I shall be rekindling my love-hate relationship with him. I never hated him, mind you, but a couple of those machines he made me use were bastards.

Today, I have much laundry to tackle. And between me and my washer and dryer are many stairs. Eleven, I believe. Eleven down and eleven up. All day long.

I ask my back to cooperate.

Or maybe Hilary Swank will stop by.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Richly Blessed ...


I am a fortunate woman, that's who I am.

Winding down another birthday, thinking back over the past few days.

I have many wonderful friends and an equally wonderful family.

I am at that age where birthdays are a pleasant notion, not the excitement-inducing events of my youth.

A long, leisurely lunch on Friday with friends. A long, leisurely dinner with one brother last night. Coffee and a little nosh with my folks this morning, then dinner with them, along with my other brother and his family, tonight.

Food and wine and variations on cake.

My mother arrived this morning with a mixed bouquet of rubber spatulas and roses.

Yes, you read that right.

I don't want for anything, but I had mentioned recently that I need more rubber spatulas – a baker can never have enough – so she bought lovely white roses for me, and tucked rubber spatulas among them. My mom is clever that way.

And there were other gifts from her and my dad and others, none necessary but all very kind.

And the kindest cards. I am awed by the expressions of love.

And a flurry of emails and posts and tweets.

I am richly blessed, indeed.

And most of all for simply being here for another year.

Ever since losing Dave so suddenly, I am acutely, acutely aware of the gift of every birthday.

Please do see them thusly.

Be grateful for every one that comes your way.

Here's to another year of discovery and fun.

My love to all who shared the days.

I thank you.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Makes Beth Happy, November 10 ...

The Makes-Beth-Happy Word of the Day is:

Lump!
As if you need a reason why? It's awesome! It's fun to say! Lump!


The Makes-Beth-Happy Recipe of the Day is:

Saint Joseph's Day Cream Puffs
aka Puffs Filled with Toasted Walnut Cream


Toasted walnuts? Cream? Puffs? Sign me up.


And the Makes-Beth-Happy Objet of the Day is:

Everglades Round Tray

I don't need a lime-green, faux-croc tray, but it makes me happy.
(Though I'd be even happier if someone would have thought to cheat that seam to the back.)

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Good Times, November Edition ...


The November cookie installment for the angelo:HOME blog features Bittersweet Baci. From an unlikely inspiration, as inspirations for cookies go.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Some People Just Don't Care ...

Jesus. It's so simple.

That's the amazing thing about revelations: They're not intricate. They're not complex. They're simple. They're right there, on the face of things. Like "He's just not that into you." No mystery. Plain as day.

Puttering around the kitchen this morning, I was half listening to "House" coming from the other room. It was the all-Cuddy episode, the show that was shot from her perspective for a change. In it, she, the dean of medicine, is doing battle against Atlantic Net Insurance. She wants a 12-percent bump in hospital reimbursement. Atlantic Net is offering 4.

She finds the CEO, having lunch, and this exchange ensues:

Cuddy: While Atlantic Net Insurance has a marketing budget that's more than our Pediatric's ICU and Transplant Units combined, your PGA sponsorship could pay for our Walk-In Clinic. And the money you spend to fuel your two private jets could fund our air ambulance service for the next 3 years.

CEO: Your point being?

Cuddy: Your growth may be good for your bottom line. But ours allows us to save lives. And I would rather not have to announce to the press how selective your company appears to be when it comes to cutting costs.

CEO: Morgan was right. You are one tough gal. You can portray me as a rich bastard in the press all you want, just as long as I stay rich.


Today, I heard that line of dialogue as if for the first time.

And it finally hit me, with regard to all that is going on in the world today:

Some people just don't care.

Period.

Some people just don't care.

My brain has been trying to comprehend how some people can be so selfish, so consumed with the pursuit of wealth, so detached from the plight of so many.

And now I get it: Some people just don't care.

Some people just don't care that millions of Americans are unemployed. Some people just don't care that people have been and will be evicted from their homes. Some people just don't care that so many citizens are unable to afford health care.

Some people just don't care.

Of course, now my brain is trying to comprehend why some people just don't care. Is empathy learned? Is it generosity genetic? Why are some wealthy people, like Warren Buffett, saying, "Please, raise my taxes. Make me pay more" while others think they're nuts? Why are Republicans in Congress so blatantly protecting the rich while making ordinary Americans suffer?

Because some people just don't care.

Now, there may be larger issues at play. Maybe these people see their entire worth as human beings reflected in their bank statements. Maybe their only validation can be found in their ability to purchase a $6,000 shower curtain. For one of their bathrooms. In one of their homes.

Or maybe to think that way gives them too much benefit of the doubt.

Maybe they're just selfish. Period.

Me, I give what I can. Which is not to pat myself on the back, but to illustrate a point. I don't have a job at the moment. Not a "real" job. I freelance, and sometimes, there is money coming my way and sometimes, there is not. But the last time I sat down to write out bills, I wrote a check to a food bank that was looking for contributions toward providing food to families for Thanksgiving.

It wasn't a big check, but it was something. And I could have justified not sending any money. But I had a few dollars in my checking account that, at the moment, I could spare. My debt will not be erased by that $25, but if a family has a meal for Thanksgiving because of it, in my heart, that is money well spent.

And in a larger sense, I believe that generosity is repaid. Not literally. I do not expect to happen into $25 because I sent $25 away. But in the end, everything can be reduced to love or fear. Keeping that $25 would have been an act of fear, fear that more money would not be coming my way. Letting that $25 go was an expression of the belief that money will continue to come to me.

Maybe some people don't know that. Maybe some people don't believe that. Or maybe some people just don't care.

I find that immensely sad.

I was raised otherwise. Or I'm predisposed otherwise.

And I'm glad.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Dry Cleaning, Past And Peanut ...

Doreen is an accountant by day, a job for her I find fascinating because she is so much more interesting than "accountant' conjures.

(Then again, so is Nat – Hi, Nat! – but hey, someone has to add up the world's numbers and make sure they balance. Then again again, my mom – Hi, Mom! – always amazed me with her 10-key dexterity, and while she wasn't an accountant, per se, she did the books for my parents' business and neither of them ever ended up in trouble with the IRS. But Mom doesn't come off as the numberly sort, either. But I digress.)

Anyhoo, Doreen has a keen eye for the interesting and the silly and the incongruous and the absurd, so it came as no surprise, on a recent visit, that she had kept aside for me two dry-cleaning bags she'd recently received.

Behold, the 1960s!


The copy reads: "Cuddly & Soft AS A KITTEN – Sweaters and Knitwear Luxuriously Dry Cleaned – Whether it's Lush Angora or a Man-Made Fabric... your Sweaters and Knitwear never had it so soft. From our Custom Cleaning Process to our Personalized Finishing Service... a labor of careful attention to the smallest detail is our rule. P.S. You can check the Cuddly Softness of your freshly cleaned Knitwear and Sweater against the next Kitten you meet."

Meow!

I love that there's a P.S. The Excessive Capitalization is Unnecessary, but to Each His Own.

On the other hand, we have this one, which looks like it was drawn by Charles Schulz:


"LOOK GREAT, FEEL GREAT IN YOUR FRESH CLEAN CLOTHES – EXPERTLY CLEANED WITH CARE"

I never really thought about the need for someone to design dry-cleaning bags. Love the juxtaposition, though.

Thanks, Do!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Aim Higher ...

I'm not going to write about her because the last thing she needs is another search result in Google.

But you know who I'm talking about, the woman who deposed Paris from the famous-for-being-famous throne.

What a circus. What a joke.

My brain keeps asking, "Why does anyone care?"

Why the television show? Why the merchandise?

When did vapidity become a virtue?

I was sad the night the world learned that Steve Jobs had died. But I was glad that so many people cared.

Yes, let's mourn the loss of a visionary. Let's celebrate all that he contributed to the way we live.

More of that, please.

More substance.

Of course, stories are emerging about how difficult he could be, how demanding.

Well, yes, I expect so.

It takes a lot of effort to change a part of the world. You need people to help you who are up to the task.

But the awesome thing about Jobs is that he set the bar so high because he knew people could reach it.

More of that, please.

In high school, English Teacher Dave used his own grading scale. I've written about Dave before.

Dave used to piss me off.

But his expectations made me work harder.

Back in the day, I thought of it as "getting" an A out of him.

Oh, Beth.

I didn't realize at the time that I was getting an A out of myself.

I wasn't making him give up anything. He was making me try harder.

And I am so grateful for that. I still thank him from time to time.

Which is not to say that there isn't a place for fun, for escape. Of course there is.

I am not the self-righteous sort who proudly proclaims that they don't own a TV.

I like TV. I like "House." I like "The Daily Show." I like a few things on HGTV.

But kids. Really? "The Real Housewives of ... ":

... New Jersey ...

... New York City ...

... Miami ...

... DC ...

... Orange County ...

... Atlanta ...

and ... Beverly Hills?

Really?

And "Big Rich Texas" and "Toddlers and Tiaras" and "Jerseylicious" and "Jersey Shore"?

Why?

Just why?

What is the world gleaning from any of this?

I understand that it's the junk-food equivalent of programming.

But we can't live on junk food. Look at us. We're trying. It's not working out well.

And so the alliterative one's announcement this week made me a little nuts.

All that money, wasted. Well, not for her. She'll do just fine.

But where does it end?

I used to joke with my friends that "Idiocracy" is here, but it's not really a joke anymore.