I usually write about frivolous subjects, but I can’t do that today after reading about the abduction, torture and execution of 36-year-old Maria Santos Gorrostieta, the mother of 3 children and the former mayor of the small town of Tiquicheo, Mexico.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Friday, November 23, 2012
As soon as she started walking, around ten months old, she insisted on having a purse slung over her arm every time she went out. If there was no purse handy that coordinated with her outfit, anything that resembled a purse—say a spare shopping bag with handles—would be drafted into use.
Another essential accessory, one that didn’t even exist when my kids were young, was the cell phone. Toy cell phones didn’t entertain Amalía for long—she quickly learned how to snatch Mommy’s phone when she wasn’t looking to call Yiayia and Papou. If they didn’t answer, she’d leave a voice mail (“Hola! Hola!”)
But THE accessory, the one that fascinates Amalía wherever she goes, is shoes (which she calls “patos” for “zapatos” since she’s speaking more Spanish than English at the moment.) Even at eleven months old, as we sat in the airport to fly to Greece for summer vacation, Amalia walked around to fellow passengers checking out everyone’s footwear. This man on the left below offered to trade shoes with her, but she realized her shoes wouldn’t fit him. The silver pair in the middle photo served well throughout Greece and the pink ones with flowers are the ones she wanted to wear in Florida instead of the solemn black ones that brought on the fearful tantrum,
Below you see her in the late, lamented “Hello Kitty” sparkly silver shoes that were such a hit in Nicaragua, but one of the pair went AWOL in the new H&M store in South Beach Miami. The lone survivor will be decking my “shoe tree” come Christmas.
Halloween, when she wore a ladybug costume, posed a perplexing accessorizing challenge. You can see that she’s not sure the black cat purse was the right thing for a ladybug ensemble, but the ladybug shoes (sent by her honorary Yiayia Eleni) were perfect. The distressed look on Amalía’s face is because she HATED the antennae on the ladybug costume, (Why do my parents want to dress me like a bug?), but her cooperation was won when baby-sitter Maria José bribed her with a cookie.
One day in Miami Beach, when one of her Mommy’s strappy green flowered espadrilles broke, there was an emergency stop at a Parade of Shoes store and Amalía thought she’d died and gone to heaven. Aisles of shoes, and most of them within reach! She raced up and down, dragging shoes to show Mommy, sure she would buy them all, but in the end, everything was returned to its spot in the display.
Next accessorizing challenge: Christmas. I have a feeling she’s not going to agree to the reindeer horns. But she did see some gold, fur-lined boots at Target...
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
The Turkey—don’t stuff it! A turkey roasted with the stuffing inside takes much longer and then you have all those risks of food poisoning if you leave the turkey & stuffing un-refrigerated long after taking it out of the oven. Stuffing baked in the turkey comes out soggy. I prepare my stuffing on top of the stove and serve it in a covered casserole. And if you have vegetarian guests, as I often do, you can serve them vegetarian stuffing.
The directions are on the back of the Pepperidge Farm Corn Bread Stuffing package—Melt 6 TBSP butter in a saucepan, add a cup of chopped celery and a cup of chopped onions, cook for 3 minutes. (Then I throw in sliced mushrooms and maybe this year chopped apples and cook some more. You could also add chopped chestnuts or pecans and crumbled bacon or sausage.)
When everything is softened, you throw in 2 1/2 cups water or broth (if you’re not going for vegetarian) and stir and you’re all done.
As for the turkey—I always get a fresh turkey, even though it costs more, so as not to have to defrost it for days and then find it still frozen in the middle on Turkey Day. I get my turkey from a local butcher called Sir Loin's and I always quiz them when I pick it up to make sure that the turkey had a happy, cage-free childhood and adolescence and was dispatched in the most humanitarian way--not that that frees me from the annual lecture from any vegetarian guests. I generally cut an onion and a couple oranges in half and put them in the cavity before putting the turkey in the oven. Put a tent of aluminum foil over it as soon as it gets brown. Every half hour you should baste it with pan juices (You poured broth into the roasting pan at the beginning.) . For the last 15 minutes I baste it with Maple Bourbon Glaze which also gives a nice color.
Green Bean Casserole and Candied Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows: I don’t make them. I came to realize that nobody eats them. What I do make is: Parmesan Potato Casserole which is mashed potatoes in a casserole dish with a lot of butter and cheese, cream and eggs stirred in and then you bake it with some cheese and parsley on top. I cook Wild Rice mix straight out of the Uncle Ben box. Artichoke hearts alla Polita with peas and dill. Corn and red pepper casserole. Brown and serve rolls –cook them in the oven after the turkey comes out. (Don’t forget, the turkey needs to sit for a half hour to soak up the juices.) Stuffed mushrooms as an appetizer.
Gravy—open a can. I’ve tried about a million “No fail turkey gravy” recipes over the years and I manage to fail every time. Gravy is a big nuisance right at the end of the cooking while everyone’s waiting to eat. What I do is open a couple cans of store-bought turkey gravy, chop up some of the neck and liver of the turkey (which have cooked in the roasting pan alongside the turkey), add a nice splash of some liquor—like sherry—or you can throw in some of the pan juices. Who’s going to know that it came out of a can?
Orange-cranberry relish—you can make this up to a month ahead and keep it in the refrigerator. Everybody loves it and it makes even the driest turkey taste better. Pick over and grind in the blender a one pound bag of cranberries. Grind up a couple oranges—pulp and rind. Mix together with two cups sugar or more. Chill in the refrigerator--the longer it sits the better it tastes. I always make a double recipe.
When the kids were little I would have them cut with scissors a jagged edge for hollowed-out orange halves to make little baskets to hold the cranberry relish—I’d put the baskets surrounding the turkey. Or nowadays I surround the turkey on its platter with green and purple bunches of grapes.
Pie dough—Pillsbury refrigerated. I don’t have the magic touch for “from scratch” pie crust that grandmas always brag about, and I’ve never had any complaints. When I do some clever crimping around the edge, the pie crust looks completely homemade and tastes fine.
Placecards and menus—Making the placecards or favors is a great way to keep children busy and out of your hair. I used to have mine make favors/place cards that were turkeys fashioned out of (store bought) popcorn balls with a ladyfinger for the head and neck, three toothpick legs to stand, red or orange cellophane tied around the popcorn ball and gathered for a tail.—The three-legged turkey was then stuck in a large flat cookie, where the name would be written using those cake-decorating tubes. The kids really got into making these “resemble’ the person it was for. Now we have creative young guests, Sophie and Natasha Butler-Rahman, making the place cards for Thursday (Last year they even made those holiday crackers that pop open to reveal goodies inside.)
The centerpiece is always the same—I have a basket shaped like a cornucopia, filled with various fruits, nuts and some fall flowers that have survived in the garden. Couldn’t be easier. Candles in candleholders. Also I've acquired a bunch of rubber turkey finger puppets which Amalia has already commandeered. And yes, everyone has to tell what they're thankful for.
I always print out on the computer a small decorative menu for each plate so people know what they’re eating. What they won’t know is how easy it was, unless you tell them.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
The Mystery of the Monarch Butterflies of Michoacan, Mexico
They are one of the great mysteries—and beauties—of nature. No one knew where the migrating Monarch butterflies spent the winter until 1975, when the mountaintop in Michoacan, Mexico was discovered by an American named Ken Brugger and his wife Catalina Aguada. The Bruggers had answered an ad in a Mexican newspaperasking for volunteers, placed by Dr. Frederick Urquhart who had been trying to find the Monarchs’ wintering place since1937.
The discovery of the Monarchs’ winter hiding place, according to another scientist, was “Like discovering the eighth wonder of the world.”
For the native Purépecha Indians, the place of the Monarchs had never been a secret. At the beginning of November every year, the church bells rang, signaling the arrival of millions of butterflies (which had flown all the way from the United State and Canada.) The Purépechas believed that the mariposas were the souls of dead children, and the annual arrival frightened them, so they did not speak of it to outsiders.
One of Mexico’s most celebrated poets, Homer Aridjis, who was born in a small village near the hibernation site, had known about the butterflies all his life, since he first discovered them while exploring near his home. Here is what Christine Potters, an American fellow blogger, whom I met during my recent trip to Morelia, wrote about Aridjis in her excellent blog “Mexico Cooks”
"In the town of Contepec, Michoacán, a small boy, Homero Aridjis, born in 1940 as the youngest of five Greek/Mexican brothers--used to climb Cerro Altamirano near his home to look at the monarch butterflies that flooded the forests for almost four months in the winter before they left again, heading north. No one living in his area knew where the butterflies came from or where they went. "When I began to write poems," Aridjis said, "I used to climb the hill that dominated the memory of my childhood. Its slopes, gullies, and streams were full of animal voices--owls, hummingbirds, mocking birds, coyotes, deer, armadillo. The natural world stimulated my poetry." But of all of these animals, he says the monarch butterflies were his "first love." Aridjis won Mexico's very prestigious Xavier Villarrutia Award at age 24 and years later, monarchs were still making their appearance in his writing. His 1971 book, El poeta niño, includes a beautiful poem that goes like this: "You travel/by day/ like a winged tiger/ burning yourself/ in your flight/ Tell me/ what supernatural/ life is/painted on your wings...."**"
Early on, after the discovery of the hibernation site, Aridjis became an activist trying to protect the butterflies’ hibernation place and to prevent the deforestation of the fir trees on which they depend for their survival in the winter.
Nevertheless the path up the mountain to the butterfly sanctuary was clean and paved with cement and stairs, punctuated by frequent benches. Once inside the gates, our group was assigned a local guide, Guadalupe, (men named Guadalupe are called “Jose”, we learned) but he scarcely said a word during our climb—it seems his only function was to watch us to make sure we didn’t harm the vegetation and the butterflies and didn’t get lost. We had brought our own guide from Morelia—Raymundo Solorio Vargas (email: email@example.com ) who gave us a moving account of the deadly storm a year before.
In our itineraries for the trip, Susana had quoted an account of a storm in 2002 that killed a majority of the wintering Monarchs. It turns out that the butterflies, who don’t move, but cling to the fir trees when the weather gets cold, can survive temperatures well below zero, if they have little liquid in their bodies, but if they are wet, as they were in 2002, they freeze. On the day after the storm, acording to Lincoln Brower, an entomologist at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, “We were wading in (dead) butterflies up to our knees.” He and his colleagues estimated that 500 million monarchs had died from the storm—five times more than they thought had even existed in the colony.
The scientists feared that only a fraction of the usual number of butterflies would return the next year, but to their delight, they found that the devastated Monarch population had returned to normal.
In my visit last week to the butterfly sanctuary at El Rosario, I learned a lot, including how to tell a male butterfly from a female. A male has the two dots that you see below on the back part of his wings. The dark veins on a female are wider
An adult butterfly lives only about four to five weeks, The eggs are left on the milkweed plant, three or four days later the brightly striped caterpillars emerge, and during the next nine to 14 days they shed their skin five times. On the sixth molting, the caterpillar transforms into a chrysalis, and after eight to 13 days, the adult butterfly emerges. (This is illustrated by a five minute film in Spanish for visitors at a theater inside the Rosario sanctuary.)
Three days after emerging, the adult butterflies develop sex organs and, five days later begin to reproduce. This cycle occurs three times during spring and summer as the butterflies travel north into the US and Canada until, in the fall, the fourth or “Methuselah” generation is born. This fourth generation will survive seven or eight months, will perform the astounding feat of traveling from Canada and the United States to Mexico, and after mating, the females will return back north again to the United States. (The male Monarchs in Mexico after enjoying the 72-hour mating season in February, during which they will mate with numerous females, will then drop dead—their work is done. Only the females fly back north to lay their eggs.)
Our guide told us that only one day in ten will provide the optimum conditions that we saw on Valentine’s Day. As we started up the steps toward the apex of the walk it became clear this was a harder trek than I expected. (We walked 2008 meters up and 2008 meters back for a total of 6 kilometers, our guide told us—And when we started at Rosario we were already 1850 meters above sea level.)
The butterflies were a constant commotion all around us. As one book said, the miracle is that they never collide. In spots where there was water, like a small stream over the road, they clustered.
It was a transcendent experience, even for those who have no religion. No wonder the Purépecha Indians thought the butterflies were the souls of their dead children.
We all took photos and then we realized, as one of the women in our group remarked—there is no way a still photo could give any idea of the indescribable experience we had. So I tried for the first time to take some videos with my camera, and I’m attaching below a link to one of those videos. It lasts 55 seconds and if you watch it to the end, you will see some of the members of our group.
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Trending now as number one topic on Yahoo is not a search for the breakdown of electoral votes, but the burning question: Was Diane Sawyer drunk? Evidently ABC and her colleagues are saying she was merely exhausted from staying up night after night memorizing election facts and figures. I say, never mind if she was celebrating Obama's win off camera; she still did a great job. I think Diane Sawyer's wicked smart and gorgeous to boot.
Salon has listed the 20 top sore losers after the election results came in and Donald Trump has won first and second place in this race for two tweets , one of which he has deleted after cooling down a little. This is what Salon said about Trump:
I think the painting of Trump on Salon (above, by Benjamin Wheelock) is probably adding to the mogul's anger and disappointment over Romney's loss, so I thought I'd repost a portrait of Trump which hangs in his estate Mar-a-Lago, which is now a private club. This is the way Trump prefers to see himself portrayed:
I first posted my photograph of this painting after a lunch at Mar-a-Lago in April 2011 when the Donald and his family passed through and greeted us visitors. This is what I posted about it:
Lunch at Mar-a-Lago with the Donald
Someone passed this self-aggrandizing photo on to political blogger Andrew Sullivan, whose blog is Goliath to "A Rolling Crone's" David. When Sullivan posted it, hilarity ensued, but no one knew where the photo came from in the first place until another political blogger, Michael Shaw, traced it back to my humble blog and my pocket digital camera. Suddenly I was getting 3,000 hits an hour--a heady experience for a novice blogger. If you want to read more about the brouhaha, click on
"Somebody's Playing my Trump Card"
Meanwhile I'm going back to search the internet for more sour-grapes tweets from Trump and explanations of Diane Sawyer's slurring. It takes my mind off the rain, sleet and snow in the nor'easter which is fast heading our way. (Now where did I store that snow shovel?)