Friday, January 22, 2010

The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming

Andrew and I have nothing going on this weekend or next. I shall use the time to study while Andrew plans to occupy himself by force-feeding me all sorts of peculiar Norwegian eel dishes and playing the music of Milton Babbitt at horrific volume twenty-four hours a day.

In two weeks, Alex will come for a visit, a weekend visit built around three college basketball games. That should be fun.

The following weekend is a holiday weekend—Presidents’ Day—and Andrew and I have a very special weekend planned in Washington. Over a four-day period, we shall attend a Mariinsky Ballet performance of “The Sleeping Beauty”, hear Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw Orchestra in concert, and attend a Bolshoi Ballet performance of “Spartacus”. Such riches are impossible for us to resist, and Andrew’s parents are of the same mind—they also decided that back-to-back appearances by the Mariinsky and Bolshoi, with a Concertgebouw concert thrown in for good measure, make Washington a splendid Presidents’ Day Weekend destination.

Everything is booked. It should be a wonderful weekend.

Andrew is trying to develop my interest in Bard’s SummerScape this August. He wants to attend performances of Franz Schreker’s “Der Ferne Klang” and Oscar Straus’s “The Chocolate Soldier”, neither of which sounds particularly appealing to me.

When Alex comes to Boston in two weeks, he will bring with him the Naxos set of “Der Ferne Klang” from Andrew’s father’s library so that I can listen to it and decide whether a trip to Bard is on the cards.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Best Of The Post-Election Jokes

The results of Tuesday prove that Kool Aid has a shelf life of only twelve months.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Burgersaal In Munich

Munich's Burgersaal, which we visited on August 1 of last year.

Monday, January 4, 2010

A Melancholy Final Two Days

Our last two days at home were sort of melancholy.

With the holidays over, our time at home was winding down—and we were not eager to leave.

The dog could sense our melancholy, because he was slightly unsettled on Saturday and Sunday. Andrew’s mother said that the dog understood that we would be departing soon, leaving him without his best pals—and she insisted that he was as sad to see us depart as everyone else because she could hear it in his “voice” (by which she meant the noises the dog makes).

The dog was particularly keen for affection from Andrew on Saturday and Sunday. He did not want to leave Andrew’s side.

We took him to the park early Saturday morning. We made the gesture for him, not for us, because it was frightfully cold. We did not remain at the park for long.

On Saturday morning, we had a major breakfast. We ate grapefruit, hot oatmeal, scrambled eggs, bacon, fried potatoes, toast, orange juice, cranberry juice and apple-cinnamon muffins warm from the oven.

After breakfast, Andrew and I went out to do some serious food shopping for Andrew’s mother. Alex accompanied us, because he needed to restock his own kitchen after spending ten days at his parents’ house. We took the dog with us, and he enjoyed his morning outing.

We visited two food stores. On our way home, we stopped at Alex’s apartment and deposited his purchases.

Once we returned home, we had a quick lunch—vegetable lasagna—and afterward all of us (except the dog) headed to Southdale to catch the first showing of the afternoon of “Nine”.

Everyone but me was already familiar with the source material: the Fellini film, “8 ½”, and Maury Yeston’s Broadway score.

“Nine” was not boring, but it was not good.

The project obviously had the wrong director. A French or an Italian director should have been assigned the project, and a different cast engaged (except for the actress portraying Mrs. Contini, who was convincing—and marvelous).

The film had the wrong “look”, the wrong “tone”, and the wrong tinctura.

Much of the film was laughable, largely because of fatal miscasting. Most gruesome was Judi Dench, a fat old cow, who was assigned a Folies Bergere number that, in the right hands, would have been a surefire success.

After the movie, we went straight home, because Alec and Lizbeth and the kids were to join us for our last night home.

We had Swiss steak for dinner, accompanied by mashed potatoes, white corn, lima beans, butternut squash and a pear-strawberry-nut salad. We had angel food cake for dessert, which Helena loves.

We spent the evening playing with the kids.

Early yesterday morning, Andrew and I took the dog to the park again, even though it was colder than ever. It was the dog’s last early-morning romp in the park for a while—he will now have to make do with an early-morning romp by himself in the backyard.

We had buttermilk pancakes and sausage for breakfast.

After church, we all returned home for a lunch of Quiche Lorraine.

Andrew and I spent a melancholy afternoon getting our things together.

In the middle of the afternoon, Andrew’s parents took us to the airport. It was painful to have to say “Goodbye” to everyone.

Andrew and I will see next Alex over the first weekend in February, because Alex will join us in Boston for a weekend of college basketball games: three games in two days.

Andrew and I will next see his parents early on the morning of Saturday, March 13, when we will meet up with them (and Alex) at Athens airport.

I do not know when we will next see Alec and Lizbeth and the kids.

It is possible we will not see them again until summer.

Friday, January 1, 2010

2010: Off To A Splendid Start

On Wednesday morning, Andrew and I had hoped to be able to sleep a little later than usual because we had not gone to bed on Tuesday night until midnight. It had been almost 11:00 p.m. when we had arrived home from the Minnesota-Penn State game, and by the time we had finished eating brownies and playing with the dog it was almost 12:00 a.m.

The dog had other ideas. At 5:30 a.m., he was ready to get his day started, and he let Andrew and me know it. We had to rise a few minutes later—otherwise, he might have started barking and roused everyone else from a deep sleep.

We took him to the park on Wednesday morning. He enjoyed his romp.

Andrew and I cleaned up once we got home, and we waited in the kitchen for everyone else to come downstairs.

It was a late morning for everyone but Andrew and me. Alex and Andrew’s father did not come downstairs until 8:00 a.m., and Andrew’s mother did not appear until 8:45 a.m.

For breakfast, we made omelets with tomato, green pepper, onion and cheese, and we ate our omelets with toasted Pepperidge Farm cinnamon bread (which actually is pretty good).

After breakfast, we all went over to Alec and Lizbeth’s house to spend the day.

The kids were waiting for us when we arrived. The day, above all, provided an opportunity for them to show us how they had learned to play with their Christmas toys.

The kids had a ball, and we had a ball. Even the dog had a ball (he struts around Alec and Lizbeth’s house like he owns the place).

We played with the kids and their toys literally all day (except when the kids were taking their naps). We moved back and forth between the kitchen and the family room as the various toys and games demanded. One of Tim’s Christmas presents was an indoor hockey game. He likes to play his hockey game in the family room. Another of Tim’s Christmas presents was a new set of building blocks. He likes to make things with his building blocks on the kitchen floor.

For lunch, we had chicken breasts baked in an apple-cranberry glaze. We ate the chicken breasts with peas, herb stuffing, butter noodles and an apple-cranberry salad.

When the kids woke from their naps, we ate scones fresh from the oven. Lizbeth makes great scones. Herself, she does not even like scones, but she makes them all the time because Alec likes them—and so does Tim.

Dinner was Yankee pot roast, with meat, potatoes and vegetables all cooked in the same cauldron. We had cherry crisp for dessert.

All day, Helena was able to eat much the same foods we ate, except her foods had to be pureed. Wednesday night was the first time Helena was given a taste of pot roast—pureed, of course—but she did not like it. However, Lizbeth says that Helena seldom likes a new food the first time she tries it.

Helena is not quite ready to walk fully unsupported. She walks around the kitchen or the family room, holding onto furniture, but she will not take steps across a room. If she wants to go someplace not supported by furniture, she will crawl, not walk.

There is one exception: if her Dad is kneeling two small steps away from her and holding out his arms, she will take two tiny steps on her own into her Dad’s arms. (Clearly, she understands that her Dad will not let her fall.) She will go no further than that at present.

Alec and Lizbeth and the kids are very happy in their new home. The house is big and light and airy, with high ceilings and lots of windows. It suits them.

We stayed until it was time for the kids to go to bed. It was a lovely day.

Yesterday was New Year’s Eve.

We stayed home all morning, because we had afternoon and evening parties to attend. The afternoon party was to last from 2:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m., and the evening party was to last from 7:00 p.m. until 12:00 a.m.

We ate very little for breakfast—a bowl of shredded wheat, and a bowl of strawberries and cream—and we ate nothing for lunch because we knew there would be mountains of food served at both parties.

We spent much of the morning getting ourselves and our clothes ready, as the parties were to be semi-formal.

Andrew’s mother had given Alex, Andrew and me satin bowties for Christmas specifically to wear to the New Year’s Eve parties. The bowties were red-and-black, appropriate for (and ONLY for, or so I was informed by Andrew’s mother) holiday parties. They had to be hand-tied, and I had not a clue how mine was to be tied. I had to rely upon Andrew for assistance—I dared not attempt to tie it myself, because the ties may be tied only once if they are to look right. They are intended to be worn only once and then discarded (because the correct “fluff” of a new tie cannot be recreated from a tie once tied).

Andrew’s father wore a Windsor band tie, also of red-and-black satin.

We looked like we were impersonating 19th-Century diplomats, ready to present our credentials to The Court Of Saint James.

At the afternoon party, prime rib cooked to perfection and fresh Alaska salmon of the very highest quality were the primary attractions. Chocolate truffles of the very highest standard and genuine French petit fours of a quality I had never experienced were the stars of the dessert table. Everything presented was at the very highest level of taste and discrimination.

As a general rule, I would be unable to judge good champagne from bad, but the champagne served at the afternoon party was STUNNING. It may have been the first time in my life I had tasted fine champagne, and I was very impressed.

“This must be $100.00-a-bottle stuff” I said to Andrew, very quietly.

“No, I think it must be more like $300.00-a-bottle stuff” was Andrew’s answer.

We did not allow ourselves to eat too much, because we knew we would be facing more food at the evening party. We made do with one serving of prime rib (served with cold asparagus, with each spear wrapped in prosciutto and some kind of fancy Italian cheese) and one serving of cold Alaska salmon (served with fresh vegetables). For sweets, we limited ourselves to four petit fours and three chocolate truffles. We had one glass of champagne with the prime rib, and a second glass of champagne with the salmon, after which we declared a moratorium on champagne. We drank espresso with our petit fours.

Everyone at the party was exceedingly gracious, but I find myself having little to say at these affairs. I remained at Andrew’s side, or at another family member’s side, all afternoon. I was unwilling to branch out and go independent.

We left the party shortly before 6:00 p.m. We went home for an hour in order to feed the dog and to give him some company as well as to watch the first hour of the Insight Bowl, which matched Minnesota and Iowa State, Alex’s two favorite teams.

The evening party was very similar to the afternoon party. Indeed, even the guests were much the same, substantially overlapping the guests at the afternoon party.

The main foods were cold duck, cold beef tenderloin, and Alaska crab. The primary desserts were an array of fancy liqueur cakes and giant fresh strawberries dipped in chocolate.

Once again, the presentation of the foods was exceptional. The keenest attention to detail was apparent everywhere the eye looked.

We were not particularly hungry—the afternoon prime rib probably had had something to do with that—and we skipped the cold duck and the cold beef tenderloin and the Alaska crab. We ate a few oysters on the half-shell and a few strawberries dipped in chocolate and that was about it.

A little champagne goes a long way, and we did not drink any champagne at the evening party. However, we had a snifter of brandy, and the brandy was to die for. To the best of my recollection, I had never had brandy before, and the brandy HAD to have been top-of-the-line, because it was magnificent.

We left the evening party at 11:15 p.m., but we were far from the first guests to depart.

The hosts had never expected their guests to remain until midnight in order to see in the New Year—and, not exactly night owls, we had had no wish to stay until the very last minute.

When we got home, I asked Andrew, “When are we going to host a party, and throw away $50,000, perhaps more, on food, flowers, spirits and musicians?”

“Never” was Andrew’s answer. “Everyone knows we are not party types and no one expects us to throw that kind of party.”

This year, unlike the last three years, Andrew and I actually managed to stay up until midnight to welcome the New Year. The dog was not impressed—he wanted everyone to go to bed as soon as we arrived home so that he could go to bed, too—so a few minutes past 12:00 a.m. we all went upstairs to turn in.

Because of the dog, Andrew and I had to get up early this morning, although we would have preferred to sleep in. We did not take him to the park this morning; we made do with a romp in the back yard.

For breakfast, we had genuine French toast, made with genuine French bread and coated in French caramel butter and powdered sugar. It made for an appropriate New Year’s breakfast.

Alec and Lizbeth and the kids came over in the middle of the morning, ready to celebrate New Year’s Day with us. We played with the kids all day while keeping an eye on the bowl games.

We had Andrew’s mother’s chicken noodle soup and egg salad sandwiches for lunch, lemon bars warm from the oven in the middle of the afternoon, and pork loin for dinner. We ate the pork loin with fresh homemade applesauce, red cabbage, parsnips, Brussels sprouts and fancy potatoes cooked in cream and chives. We had bread pudding with cream sauce for dessert.

The kids had a good time . . .and so did everyone else.

The dog looked pretty spiffy today—he was wearing one of our holiday bowties from yesterday’s parties.

2010 is off to a splendid start.